Santa Clara, CA: 1st attempt

Robert Furrow
Date of Green Big Day: 04/15/2012
County, State: Santa Clara, CA
Species Total: 157
Biking, hiking, or other? biking
Best Bird of the Day? Osprey

Species List

Sunday, April 15th 2012, I embarked on a Santa Clara county (CA) green big day by bike, leaving from my house to head up into the mountains then to the bay and back home.  It was a stunning day, with a total of 157 species found over 90 miles of biking and 5 miles of hiking, from 1:25am until 10pm.  Unbelievably, outrageously fun.  Some of the highlights were the continuing COMMON LOON(S) onShorelineLake inMountain View, an OSPREY over thePalo AltoFloodControlBasin, 2 HERMIT WARBLERS singing in Monte Bello Open Space Preserve, a SNOWY PLOVER at State andSpreckles St. in Alviso, and 7 species of owl.  Below is a walk-through of the day, followed by the overall list.



I headed out at 1:25am, feeling pretty alert but wishing I had gotten a bit more sleep.  The first bird of the day was a night-singing NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD.  But the second species was a more exciting BARN OWL.  Biking up Moody Road in Palo Alto towards Page Mill Road, I stopped at the fields just before the entrance to Hidden Villa.  In addition to 2 GREAT HORNED OWLS and a WESTERN SCREECH-OWL, 1 NORTHERN SAW-WHET OWL also responded to a recording by giving its quavering, ascending saw-whet call several.  The habitat is a little funky, so I stayed around and listened to see if the song would slowly morph into a screech-owl song, but it seemed to be a classic saw-whet.  Further biking up Page Mill added 6 more GREAT HORNED OWLS, 7 WESTERN SCREECH-OWLS, and 1 more NORTHERN SAW-WHET OWL.  Reaching Monte Bello Open Space Preserve, I realized that my rear brakes had been rubbing for the ride, helping me understand why it felt more tiring than usual.  Easy fix.  Monte Bello offered up 3 BARN OWLS, 5 GREAT-HORNED OWLS, 3 WESTERN SCREECH-OWLS, 1 NORTHERN SAW-WHET OWL (watching me from a branch while I was trying to induce some nocturnal Pacific Wren song — I actually got to see it!), 1 LONG-EARED OWL, and 1 NORTHERN PYGMY-OWL (sounded off at 5:50 am, heard from .5 mile up the Indian Ridge Trail).  The only thing I missed was Common Poorwill, but not for lack of trying.


Alright, time for dawn.  It was a clear sky with minimal wind, so things were looking good (hence the good owling as well).  I ended up hustling down the Canyon Trail before listening much elsewhere, picking up a singing HERMIT THRUSH and a few pipping PYGMY NUTHATCHES.  PILEATED WOODPECKERS were pretty easy to hear.  Then I busted hump up to the junction of the Canyon and Stevens Creek Trail, where the HERMIT WARBLER I encountered the day before was again singing its funky song.  A little further up the Canyon Trail had another HERMIT WARBLER singing, and 2 more unseen birds singing ambiguous songs (hermit/townsend’s).  Up around the sag pond on the Canyon Trail, there were multiple RUBY-CROWNED KINGLETS and BLACK-THROATED GRAY WARBLERS, plus a bonus FOX SPARROW lurking silently among singing SONG SPARROWS on the pond.  A quick sprint to the parking lot added YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER, ASH-THROATED FLYCATCHER, PURPLE FINCH (flyover), and WESTERN BLUEBIRD.  Hopping back on my bike, which I had left by the pond pre-dawn, I booked it back down the Canyon Trail.  Now the TOWNSEND’S WARBLERS were awake, and I had at least 6 in Monte Bello proper.  Continuing down trail, I skidded to a halt at the first sight of a robin-sized bird flying across the path.  A lingering VARIED THRUSH!  Then on down and onto Stevens   Canyon Roadin Cupertino.  The AMERICAN DIPPERS were both around the third bridge.  Not visible most of the time, but singing away very persistently.  And the picnic areas by the junction of Stevens Canyon and Mt. Eden Road still had LOTS of TOWNSEND’S WARBLERS.

Stevens Creek Reservoir offered up 4 COMMON MERGANSERS, visible where the creek opens into the reservoir, just south of the fire station (it’s hard to get a good vantage onto this area).  But I was way disappointed to fail in my search for Rufous-Crowned Sparrow.  I had a staked out bird that was present as recently as Thursday, but no luck today.  The area did at least have a pair of ASH-THROATED FLYCATCHERS and 2 BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHERS.  Moving on to McClellan Ranch Preserve, a DOWNY WOODPECKER called by the entrance, and a HOUSE WREN was my only one of the day.  Onward and upward (downward?), I got onto Foothill Expressway, and passed under 280, adding WHITE-THROATED SWIFT.  My parked car was waiting off of Foothill (a few blocks from my house), so that I could pick up my scope and change into dry shoes.  Then I headed to the Stevens Creek Trail, which didn’t offer much until after getting north of 101.  Here there was another DOWNY WOODPECKER, another FOX SPARROW, and a female HOODED MERGANSER that flew in behind me right as I was leaving to head into Charleston Marsh – a nice bonus.  Not much of note through the marsh, except for my nemesis the GREEN HERON.  Taking the service road past the amphitheater, I had my first (but definitely not last) BULLOCK’S ORIOLES of the day.


Scanning Shoreline Lake in Mountain View, the first bird I laid eyes on was a COMMON LOON.  I wasn’t positive there were two, as I didn’t devote much time to scanning.  But several times I would see a loon twice during a single right-to-left scan of the lake.  Never saw them at the same instant, however.  The lake also had 2 EARED GREBES, 1 HORNED GREBE (mostly basic plumage, but just starting to get horns), and 3 SURF SCOTERS.  At Charleston Slough, the tide was exposing the flats, with many peeps about.  Then I was distracted by an OSPREY soaring over theFloodControlBasin(woot) and 5 TREE SWALLOWS.  I would be back in this area soon, so I busted hump over to Palo Alto to see the mouth of San Francisquito Creek.


After hearing my second flock of CEDAR WAXWINGS (I can’t remember where I heard the first) and catching up with a flyover GREAT-TAILED GRACKLE on Geng Road (but not Spotted Sandpiper), I scanned the appropriate side of the mudflats at the end of San Francisquito Creek.  Among the more common birds, there were 30 SEMIPALMATED PLOVER, 2 LONG-BILLED CURLEW, 15 BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER, and two species that were exclusive for the day: 3 WESTERN GULLS (although I would later realize that these were out of county, in San Mateo – curses) and 10 SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHERS.


Around Palo Alto Baylands, there was a CLARK’S GREBE (the first of about 20 for the day), a GREATER SCAUP in the duck pond, and a flyover BONAPARTE’S GULL (somehow my only 1 of the day) and HERRING GULL.  Coming past Byxbee, the bridge between the bay and Mayfield Slough produced a calling CLAPPER RAIL, as well as a perched PEREGRINE FALCON.  Scoping the bay from a bit further towards Charleston Slough, there were 8 AMERICAN WIGEON, 2 NORTHERN PINTAIL, LESSER and GREATER SCAUP, 2 CINNAMON TEAL (maybe escaping the high water of the Flood Control Basin), and a very pale THAYER’S GULL.  And I was surprised to see that the gull colony in the Flood Control Basin had 3 THAYER’S GULLS and a GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULL.  At this point I decided to count how many species I had seen so far (it was 1:30pm).  I was surprised to see that I had 142 species already.  Seemed too high.  I assumed I accidentally over-counted by 10, and decided not to count again until it was over.


The Shoreline area didn’t have many new potential species (I missed the Shoreline Lake Common Goldeneye — bummer), so I worked my way down to Crittenden Marsh and A2E.  Nothing new on A2E, but there were both CLARK’S and WESTERN GREBES.  Crittenden Marsh no longer has its big groups of American Wigeon and Northern Pintail, but there were 2 NOTHERN PINTAIL left.  Passing Moffett Field, I had my first WESTERN MEADOWLARKS.  Reaching the Lockheed Ponds inSunnyvale, I didn’t find any Wilson’s Snipe, but there were 4 COMMON GALLINULE, 3 BUFFLEHEAD, and a 2 CINNAMON TEAL amongst more common ducks.  Also a flat tire.  I had a spare tube, and I also threw a patch on the first tube in case I got another flat.  I think getting flat tires is becoming a biking big day tradition, so I maybe I should build 15 minutes into my route for that.  At least I was stopped at a nice spot, and not on Foothill Expressway.  It was 2:40pm now.


At the Sunnyvale WPCP, 1 GREEN HERON was about.  But no luck with the Burrowing Owl.  Sheesh, I was starting to get nervous.  Then pond A4 did not yield any Red-breasted Mergansers (no merganser sweep for me — doh).  Maybe they’re on the SWPCP ponds now?  Or gone.  But it’s worth a check.  Working over to the Alviso Marina, a freshwater marsh had a flyby GREEN HERON.  Reaching the marina, the wind was really whipping, and I decided I didn’t really feel like biking the levees over to A16.  This might have cost me American Pipit, but c’est la vie.  Instead I went down State Street over to State and Spreckles.  There were good numbers of shorebirds, including 1 SNOWY PLOVER roosting near 20 foraging SEMIPALMATED PLOVER.  Over to Jubilee Christian, where I found nothing new (again, no Burrowing Owls!), but enjoyed the 30 or so AMERICAN WIGEON (didn’t see the Eurasian — wish I had known to look harder, as my route still had some time padding to it).  There was also 1 LONG-BILLED CURLEW here.  Looking back over the same fields from Los Esteros Road, a small pond hosted 2 LESSER YELLOWLEGS, and there was an AMERICAN KESTREL foraging.  Sunnyvale Water Pollution Control was dominated by CALIFORNIA GULLS.  I didn’t see any Mew Gulls (my only real gull target left), nor any Bonaparte’s Gulls.


A nice surprise was in store.  After seeing 2 WESTERN KINGBIRDS alongZanker   Road, I had a calling LOGGERHEAD SHRIKE about a 1/3 mile north of the Zanker-237 intersection.  Awesome!!  I had figured I would spend the rest of the evening (it was 5:45pm) around the SFBBO Coyote Creek Field Station (access is limited).  Due to construction, there was an unpleasant detour over 237 to get to the entrance.  Inside, the wind was keeping things pretty quiet, and there was nothing of note on the waterbird pond.  Not looking forward to the first leg of my ride back to Palo Alto, I decided to bust out around 7pm while there was still some light.  I made it back to A4 before full darkness, but still found no mergansers.  At the SWPCP, I finally found a BURROWING OWL (my first 7 owl day).  And a calling SORA was my final bird of the day.  I tried for Wilson’s Snipe at the Lockheed Ponds, but to no avail.


The road home was long, with a fierce wind.  I decided to bike over to the In-N-Out near Google for a double-single with extra toasted bun and a chocolate shake (my order of choice).  Good fuel, helping me with the last leg to see my front door at 10:05pm.


Overall, it was an amazing day.  The route was pretty cool, although I didn’t need to go to Coyote Creek.  Instead I should have put in more time around Alviso, probably.  As for choosing the day, it seemed to be a decent compromise between wintering birds and spring arrivals.  A week later might offer up Western Tanager (a bird I may have distantly heard, but not definitively), Cassin’s Vireo (again, a few short phrases heard while riding, but not after stopping to get a good listen), Western Wood-Pewee, Olive-sided Flycatcher, and maybe some other migrant warblers and flycatchers.  But not necessarily, and a lot of birds would become harder to find (Horned Grebe, gulls, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Hermit and Varied Thrush, Yellow-rumped and Townsend’s Warbler, Fox and crowned Sparrows).  160 or bust next year!  The full list is below.


Santa Clara, Santa Clara, US-CA
Apr 15, 2012 1:25 AM – 9:40 PM
Protocol: Traveling
95.0 mile(s)
Comments:     These are the total (very rough) counts for species seen on a biking big day across the county.  Started in the mountains, and finished in Alviso.
158 species (+1 other taxa, and 1 out of county – Western Gull)

Canada Goose  50
Gadwall  30
American Wigeon  40
Mallard  200
Cinnamon Teal  10
Northern Shoveler  1000
Northern Pintail  4
Green-winged Teal (American)  150
Canvasback  20
Greater Scaup  30
Lesser Scaup  15
Greater/Lesser Scaup  100
Surf Scoter  3
Bufflehead  4
Hooded Merganser  1
Common Merganser  4
Ruddy Duck  800
California Quail  20
Ring-necked Pheasant  8
Wild Turkey  5
Common Loon  1
Pied-billed Grebe  15
Horned Grebe  1
Eared Grebe  20
Western Grebe  30
Clark’s Grebe  20
Double-crested Cormorant  60
American White Pelican  12
Great Blue Heron  6
Great Egret  15
Snowy Egret  10
Green Heron  3
Black-crowned Night-Heron  30
Turkey Vulture  8
Osprey  1
White-tailed Kite  6
Northern Harrier  5
Sharp-shinned Hawk  1
Cooper’s Hawk  2
Red-shouldered Hawk (California)  6
Red-tailed Hawk (Western)  8
American Kestrel  1
Peregrine Falcon  1
Clapper Rail (San Francisco Bay)  1
Virginia Rail  3
Sora  1
Common Gallinule  4
American Coot  200
Black-bellied Plover  40
Snowy Plover  1
Semipalmated Plover  50
Killdeer  10
Black-necked Stilt  200
American Avocet  200
Greater Yellowlegs  6
Willet  50
Lesser Yellowlegs  2
Long-billed Curlew  3
Marbled Godwit  70
Western Sandpiper  400
Least Sandpiper  100
Dunlin  40
Short-billed Dowitcher  10
Long-billed Dowitcher  300
Bonaparte’s Gull  1
Ring-billed Gull  20
Western Gull  3 (out of county)
California Gull  150
Herring Gull  5
Thayer’s Gull  3
Glaucous-winged Gull  3
Caspian Tern  2
Forster’s Tern  30
Black Skimmer  2
Rock Pigeon  60
Band-tailed Pigeon  40
Eurasian Collared-Dove  8
Mourning Dove  20
Barn Owl  5
Western Screech-Owl  11
Great Horned Owl  13
Northern Pygmy-Owl  1
Burrowing Owl  1
Long-eared Owl  1
Northern Saw-whet Owl  3
White-throated Swift  15
Anna’s Hummingbird  10
Acorn Woodpecker  30
Nuttall’s Woodpecker  10
Downy Woodpecker  3
Hairy Woodpecker  4
Northern Flicker  10
Pileated Woodpecker  3
Pacific-slope Flycatcher  6
Black Phoebe  15
Ash-throated Flycatcher  5
Western Kingbird  2
Loggerhead Shrike  1
Hutton’s Vireo  20
Warbling Vireo  7
Steller’s Jay  40
Western Scrub-Jay (Coastal)  50
American Crow  30
Common Raven  20
Northern Rough-winged Swallow  40
Tree Swallow  10
Violet-green Swallow  60
Barn Swallow  60
Cliff Swallow  150
Chestnut-backed Chickadee  30
Oak Titmouse  25
Bushtit  40
White-breasted Nuthatch  2
Pygmy Nuthatch  2
Brown Creeper  10
Bewick’s Wren  30
House Wren  1
Pacific Wren (Western)  4
Marsh Wren  15
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher  3
American Dipper  2
Ruby-crowned Kinglet  10
Wrentit  25
Western Bluebird  2
Hermit Thrush  1
American Robin  30
Varied Thrush  1
Northern Mockingbird  20
California Thrasher  15
European Starling  150
Cedar Waxwing  30
Orange-crowned Warbler  20
Common Yellowthroat  10
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Audubon’s)  15
Black-throated Gray Warbler  5
Townsend’s Warbler  10
Hermit Warbler  2
Wilson’s Warbler  15
Spotted Towhee  20
California Towhee  40
Savannah Sparrow  15
Fox Sparrow (Sooty)  2
Song Sparrow  30
White-crowned Sparrow  45
Golden-crowned Sparrow  30
Dark-eyed Junco (Oregon)  30
Black-headed Grosbeak  15
Red-winged Blackbird (California Bicolored)  80
Western Meadowlark  10
Brewer’s Blackbird  10
Great-tailed Grackle  1
Brown-headed Cowbird  40
Hooded Oriole  6
Bullock’s Oriole  5
Purple Finch  4
House Finch  30
Lesser Goldfinch  40
American Goldfinch  10
House Sparrow  20

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