Barrow's Goldeneye

We conduct four Christmas Bird Counts in our part of Northern California, the first of which is the Fall River Christmas Bird Count coming up in just about two weeks. In contemplation of this event, my Audubon chapter scheduled an outing to Fall River and McArthur (location of the previously posted Snow Bunting – see map).

We began birding at Fall River overlook, a vista parking area overlooking a canyon. We often find Canyon Wren there but not this day. We did however spot a few Steller’s Jays (Cyanocitta stelleri) and some Dark-eyed Juncos.

Steller's Jay

Next stop would be Fall River Lake where we were hoping to find some reported rarities. We noted a Barrow’s Goldeneye (Bucephala islandica) drake (featured image above) amongst several Common Goldeneyes (Bucephala clangula) on the river leading to the lake.

Among the many species seen on the lake were Common Loon (Gavia immer), Lesser Scaup (Aythya affinis), Clark’s Grebe (Aechmorphorus clarkii) …

Clark's Grebe

and Bonaparte’s Gull (Chroicocephalus philadelphia) – this one photographed at Don Edwards NWR.

Bonaparte's Gull

Did I forget to mention seeing California Quail (Callipepla californica) …

California Quail

and Black-billed Magpie (Pica pica) on the way into the lake?

Black-billed Magpie

Leaving Fall River, past the local Bank Swallow nesting site, we head over to Rat Farm Road, a hot spot for raptors, leading to Horr Pond and Big Lake. We did see several Red-tailed Hawks (Buteo jamaicensis) and American Kestrels (Falco sparverius) but no Prairie Falcon (Falco mexicanus) which I know are there since I just spotted one a couple of weeks ago. We also see Rough-legged Hawks (Buteo lagopus) here during the winter but not this day.

At Big Lake we saw thousands of American Coots (Fulica americana) and huge flocks of Red-winged (Agelaius phoeniceus) and Brewer’s (Euphagus cyanocephalus) Blackbirds as well as American Goldfinches (Spinus tristis) and Bufflehead (Bucephala albeola).

Bufflehead Drake

Heading out Island Road to Eastman Lake we got Tundra Swan (Cygnus columbianus), Greater white-fronted Goose (Anser albifrons), the Rough-legged Hawk, a Merlin (Falco columbarius) and Snow Goose (Chen caerulescens).

Snow Goose

One of the first birds we spotted upon arriving at Eastman Lake was a Red-breasted Merganser (Mergus serrator), a rare bird to see inland here. We also added several Pied-billed Grebes (Podilymbus podiceps) and a handful of Eared Grebes (Podiceps nigricollis).

Eared Grebe

A flock of thirty-six Black-crowned Night-Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax) were obvious, roosting on the edge of the lake.

Black-crowned Night-Heron

All in all, eight enthusiastic birders had a great time, and I got a lifer! Back at Fall River Lake a Swamp Sparrow (Melospiza georgiana) had been reported hanging out for the past few days, but it had been hunkered down and difficult to find. We met an out of town birder on the way in who had heard the bird calling adjacent to the parking area, so that’s where we looked. We all got out of our vehicles and spread out, waiting for a glimpse of the rare bird.

The sparrow popped up right in front of me for about five seconds as I called out “I got it!” Unfortunately, by the time the others came over, the bird dove back down into the brush, never to be seen again. Of course I had no time to get a photograph but here is the Swamp Sparrow from Wikipedia.



Written by Larry
Larry Jordan was introduced to birding after moving to northern California where he was overwhelmed by the local wildlife, forcing him to buy his first field guide just to be able to identify all the species visiting his yard. Building birdhouses and putting up feeders brought the avian fauna even closer and he was hooked. Larry wanted to share his passion for birds and conservation and hatched The Birder's Report in September of 2007. His recent focus is on bringing the Western Burrowing Owl back to life in California where he also monitors several bluebird trails. He is a BirdLife Species Champion and contributes to several other conservation efforts, being the webmaster for Wintu Audubon Society and the Director of Strategic Initiatives for the Urban Bird Foundation. He is now co-founder of a movement to create a new revenue stream for our National Wildlife Refuges with a Wildlife Conservation Pass.