County Birding: San Mateo and San Francisco Counties Part 1

On Saturday morning, Grasshopper Sparrow and I headed east on Highway 92, our destination was Parkside Aquatic Park in San Mateo. Our plan was to do some San Mateo County birding. I hoped to add some new birds to my San Mateo County list and Grasshopper was hoping to add some lifers to his list!

This park lines Marina Lagoon and it is a great place for ducks, geese, herons, and waders. But we where here for the rare county duck, the redhead. After a short search, we spotted the distinctive duck with two females.

The appropriately named redhead. This is a male at Parkside Aquatic Park.
A pouch of American white pelicans foraging in the lagoon.

There were plenty of other birds to looked at such as a green heron, a group of American white pelicans, and the stunning hooded merganser.

I love the contrast between this beautiful male hooded merganser and a white house’s reflection on the lagoon.

Our next stop was to Bair Island Wildlife Refuge. Our target bird was a Pacific golden-plover that had been seen a few days early by the legendary San Mateo county birder Peter Metropolis. When we arrived, it was low tide which meant that we were looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack or a plover is a vast mash that was full of other birds. We joined Chris Hayward, a local birder who is also a spotter on many pelagic trips leaving from Pillar Point Harbor. Chris had not yet seen the plover. We were joined by another birder, the more eyes the better.

In the marsh were many ducks and peeps. Grasshopper spotted a male Eurasian wigeon. That was the only rare bird we recorded at the refuge. So we left Chris to continue the search and we headed back north on Highway 101 to the next exit to look for some more county ducks at Nob Hill Pond, so named because the pond is located behind a Nob Hill supermarket.

When we first arrived , when checked the channel near the San Carlos Airport for the continuing female long-tailed duck. We had tried for this bird for about five times, without success. We failed again but we would try again after trying to get a very rare duck on Nob Hill Pond.

This duck is common in northern Eurasia but rare in Coastal California. This is the smallish diving duck called the tufted duck because of the prominent tuft of feathers emitting from the back of it’s head, most noticeable in the male of the species.

Grasshopper spotted the tufted duck through the scope. It’s tuft was growing in length like my Covid hair! There is nothing like young eyes! Well spotted Grasshopper Sparrow!

Finally, the tufted duck is ours!! On the right is a stunning male canvasback.

We headed back toward the airport to continue on search for the continuing female long-tailed duck. We had whiffed on this species on about five attempts but we adopted a now-or-never approach to this sought after species.

As the the time neared noon, the reflections where intense and from our position, the birds where backlit. Panning with the scope, all we where seeing where buffleheads. Being diving ducks they appeared and disappeared giving us renewed hope followed by disappointment when an bufflehead surfaced. No long-tailed.

After about a 20 minute search the female long-tailed duck appeared near some pylons on the east side of the airport. County bird and a lifer for Grasshopper!

After a three county duck day we headed back to the hacienda in San Mateo. Grasshopper had spotted a rare west coast sapsucker a few weeks before. Because it was rare, he was unsure of the ID, he submitted his photos to some San Mateo County birder and his sighting was confirmed. (This is the correct approach for a young birder, well learner Grasshopper!)

Over some afternoon suds, Grasshopper said excitedly, “woodpecker!” I was able to get some photos of the sapsucker in the oak in the backyard. A yellow-bellied sapsucker, a fourth San Mateo County bird! Not bad for a day’s worth of county birding.

On Sunday I found a bird in San Francisco on Lake Merced that had not been recorded in this location since 1977. Those were the days when birders were few and the optics were poor. But with a open buttoned shirt and bellbottoms, the 1977 birder must have looked sharp!

To be continued. . .

A great bonus was a backyard yellow-bellied sapsucker in Grasshopper Sparrow’s backyard. Four San Mateo County county birds!