On Tuesday, my wife and I travelled 1750 miles (2,800 km) from our home of thirty years in Morelia, to the region in which I grew up, the San Mateo Peninsula of the San Francisco Bay Area in California. This is not a birding trip; we are trying to deal with many logistical life issues that have accumulated over the past several years. But will I bird? Of course I will!

In fact, I already have.

Every time I have made this trip in recent years, I have hoped to be able to participate in a field trip of the local Sequoia Audubon Society. And each time, my schedule and theirs did not mesh. But this time, it turned out that not one, not two, but four S.A.S outings had been planned for the days we would be up here.

I won’t be able to go to all of these. But I was up bright and early on my first full day here, for the first available field trip. (The second one, on this very Saturday morning, is expected to coincide with some heavy, late rains. I expect that no one will be going.) We went to Woodside’s Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve, and a restricted-access section, at that.

My only other experience with an Audubon Club field trip anywhere, on a cold October morning in the American Midwest, was frankly kind of a bust. But this one was a wonderful experience. Leaders Emily and Sonny were very knowledgeable, and clearly had much experience in making outings enjoyable for a mixture of experienced and beginning birders. And yes, several of the of the dozen or so “followers” were also very knowledgeable. A pair of ladies seemed to know more about plants and butterflies than about birds, which I enjoyed.

Kudos also to Davena, who managed the signups for the trip and other logistics. She has been sharing all sorts of information with me about seabird sightings along the San Mateo county Pacific coast, since she found out that was a potential area of growth for me. According to my list, which somehow ended up being the official group list, we saw 41 species in about four hours. 23 were birds I could also expect to see in Michoacán, which will be the subject for a later post. 11 were new for my California lifelist. Of these, two were “eBird lifers”. I had much hoped to see California Quails, which I saw many times as a child growing up in California, but had never seen as an eBirding adult. To my shock, I had also never included a Wild Turkey on an eBird list before Tuesday. Both were welcome additions.

Two other species also warmed my California-boy heart. When I was a teenager, Band-tailed Pigeons found my birdfeeder by the house in which I lived. Their wingbeats sounded like clapping when they would take off. So by the time we had 30 of them coming for cracked corn, I would hear thunderous applause every time I opened our home’s back door. The neighbors, confusing these for undesirable Rock Pigeons, eventually complained, and I had to shut down the Band-tailed Pigeon buffet. (At Jasper Ridge, we saw 20. In theory they can be found in central Mexico, but I’ve only seen a couple there.)

And a big part of the soundtrack of my hill-climbing days had to do with a little bird called the Wrentit, a California specialty with a call like a pingpong ball bouncing down stairs. None were seen at Jasper Ridge, but their call rang out everywhere.

And then there was my one true lifer for the trip. I had pointed out to my neighbors an odd cuk-cuk-cuk-cuk call as we came around a bend in the path. Then we heard what might be drumming. Finally, a birder up front cried out, “A Pileated Woodpecker!”, and we all rushed up for a fantastic view of this, the third-largest surviving woodpecker in the world. It was busy knocking big chunks of bark off a tree branch, and did not seem at all concerned about our presence. Davena cried out, “My nemesis!”

Unfortunately, this wonderful encounter occurred just after my “new” (used) travel camera ran out of charge. We have far to go before I’ll get that relationship in order, I can assure you. This post’s small number of photos serves to confirm that fact.

The day started, and ended, with lots of Violet-green Swallows.
Everyone seemed very excited to see Ash-throated Flycatchers. Me, not so, considering how common they and their close relatives are in Michoacán.
It’s always good to see a California Scrub-Jay. But this one just would not come out for his photo.
There was banding going on.
This one was a Song Sparrow.

The two birds at the top of this post are Double-crested Cormorants, seen on the Reserve’s reservoir.

On Sunday I’ll be off to the coast for my next Audubon Society field trip. I’m hoping to do better with my “new” camera.

Written by Paul Lewis
Paul Lewis moved from California to Mexico in 1983. He lived first in Mexicali, and now lives in the historic city of Morelia (about halfway between Guadalajara and Mexico City), where he and his wife pastor a small church. He is the author of an internationally distributed book in Spanish about family finances and has recorded four albums in Spanish of his own songs. But every Monday, he explores the wonderful habitats and birds found within an hour of his house, in sites which go from 3,000 to 10,000 feet of altitude. These habitats include freshwater wetlands, savannah grasslands, and pine, oak, pine/oak, pine/fir, cloud, and tropical scrub forests.