The Murres of Egg Rock

On Easter Sunday I walked west on the former Highway One at Devil’s Slide on the San Mateo County Coast. My destination was the common murre success story that is Egg Rock. This somehow seems appropriate, given the day.

I remember driving this white-knuckle stretch of Highway One. The current roadway is routed through a tunnel to the east. Peregrine Rock is on the left.

As I passed “Peregrine Rock“, so named because of the nesting peregrine falcons on the cliff face, two juvenile rock wrens were perched out on the retaining wall. I took a few photos of the obliging wrens and then headed down the road to the Egg Rock lookout.

This juvenile rock wren was very accommodating.

Egg Rock is a collection of rocks just off the coast of Devil’s Slide. It is the scene of an alcid success story. Egg Rock supported a breeding colony of about 3,000 common murres. A murre is a seabird that superficially looks like a penguin. They spend much of their life at sea but come ashore to breed.

In the early 1980s the colony saw a rapid decline due to gill netting, a change in weather patterns, and pollution. The colony collapsed altogether and no murres nested on the once populous rock. In the middle 1990s a murre restoration project was started. By 1996 just 12 murres where observed on Egg Rock. The restoration project employed murre decoys, mirrors, and broadcasting murre calling in order to bring murres back to Egg Rock. And it slowly began to work.

By 2005 there were 328 murres and by 2014 the murre population reached 3,200 birds. The murres of Egg Rock had finally recovered to their pre-1980s numbers.

Road cuts are a geologist’s gift. Here is the sedimentary uplifted rock of Devil’s Slide.
A sign of spring: a Bewick’s wren in song.

Bookend Bird

When I first arrived at the Canopy Tower, I headed directly up to the observation deck. Spring migration was in evidence as many swallows, mainly barn, headed north.

The gray sky was also filled with black and turkey vultures. To the north I saw two white hawks come together, interlock talons, and spiral towards the ground, wings held out at a tight angle. Spring was definitely in the air!

Directly above, vultures turned. A black, a turkey, pause, and then, the king! The two-toned adult with the head of many colors shouted our: king vulture!

The king vulture (Sarcoramphus papa)  was and is an amazing bird to see on my first stint on the Canopy Tower’s observation deck and I would not see another king anywhere else in Panama until . . .

April 12, 2018 6:20 AM.

My final day in Panama

When I assented the stairs to the observation deck, I had added 98 lifers to my list and my world lifelist stood at 1,037 species. I had finally reached a personal birding milestone.

This was no mean feat that took almost 20 years, six countries, 11 states, thousands of miles, many shoes, and four pair of binoculars.

This morning on the observation deck I was seeing the usual suspects keeled- billed toucan, palm rangers, scaled pigeon, red-lored parrots, and migrating swallows.

To the north I spotted the unmistakable profile of the wanderer. Peregrino as it’s known in Panama, the peregrine falcon. There was much rejoicing as the peregrine passed over our heads and out of sight.

Peregrine falcon.

Shortly afterward, as most of the observers headed down for breakfast, I saw a small kettle pf vultures was over head. Black and turkey and then a much larger vulture was among them, the king, my bookend bird: the king vulture.

This was a great bird to end my time on the observation deck of the Canopy Tower on my last birding on the isthmus of Panama.

King vulture.


PEFA Goes to School

I have my morning rituals in my early morning work routine. I arrive at least an hour before my students so the campus is peaceful. I plan for the day, make copies, review the day’s math and language arts lessons, correct student work, and do a bit of housekeeping.

There are a few avian routines that are also part of my morning ritual. The first is usually to check the field and backstop for the red-shoulder hawk pair. They are there most mornings, perched on the baseball backstop, helping to rid the field of gophers. I also check the food court for the resident white-crowned sparrows and juncos that scatter to the bushes before my footfalls. When I head out to the teacher’s lounge to make copies, I check the cypress that looms in the back of the school.

I call this tree the Kite Perch because it is frequently topped by a local white- tailed kite. I sometimes find an American crow but this morning I spotted a bird that stood out. Even without my binoculars, I could identify this raptor, but I wanted it to fly to confirm its existence. I was able to take a few far off phone photos in the beautiful morning light.

A phone photo of the Kite Perch. That tiny speck christening the top of the cypress is the avian death angel: the peregrine falcon.

After about five minutes the falcon lit out north, it’s powerful wing beats talking the peregrine in a straight line toward the PEFA Perch near Crystal Springs Road.

This was a great way to start the school day. The only downside was that I was not able to share it with my students.


Binoculars of the Gods and the Wanderer

Saturday March 11th, 2017 (~10:30)

Standing in the vast parking lot outside the Wild Birds Unlimited store in Novato, clutching my new purchase, packed in a box like a very expensive single malt Scotch, I spotted a black sickle shape, high in the sky, silhouetted against a cloud. The shape stilled in the sky, calmness before it’s storm. I pointed out the shape to Dickcissel. The shape then folded in it’s blades, forming a slick arrow, dropping from the sky. The arrow sped toward it’s moving target, somewhere beyond the plaza’s buildings, only seen by the speeding, feathered arrow.

I fumbled with the green box, removing it from it’s elegant sleeve. I unzipped the dark green soft case and raised my new binoculars to my eyes, picking out the bird that was now flying level, heading to the east, holding a bird in it’s bright yellow talons.

This was my first bird seen through my new Swarovski El 8.5 x 42s, a peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus)! You can’t get a much better parking lot bird than this!

These binoculars where the fourth pair I have owned. Each new pair got a little better that the previous. Brighter glass, lighter weight, a nice and comfortable feel in the hand. The binoculars I now hold are top of the class, light years ahead of all my other pairs. You can’t get any better than Swarovski. I look forward to a lifetime of lifers and other birds!



“No flesh-eating creature is more efficient, or more merciful; it simply does what it was designed to do.”

-J. A. Baker

On one Saturday I was birding Natural Bridges State Park when I saw a bird in direct flight. Stiff wingbeats, with prey clutched in it’s talons. It perched in the top of a Monterey pine at the back entrance to Natural Bridges. I knew what the bird was and I headed closer to affirm my hunch and see what it had taken for it’s mid afternoon repass. Dark helmet with sideburns, a bird that is affectionately called “Elvis” by hawk watchers on Marin Headlands Hawk Hill. Peregrine Falcon, Falco peregrinus, the fastest animal on planet Earth.

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