Birding is that rare activity in that it can be wonderful done solo, yet can be just as wonderful and absolutely birdalicious with others.
I enjoy birding with other people, both for the camaraderie and the contest. It also makes for better birding, as multiple eyes can find more birds, can teach me new birds, and can just be downright a lot of fun – and it makes me a better birder.
Some of my greatest, most fun, learning experiences have come through my local Audubon chapter, Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society.
(NOTE: Sorry for a lousy lack of photos in this diary. I had major internet connection problems before publishing this, and am struggling at a nearby coffee shop to write and update. Photos just ain't working for some reason, and I'm on limited time here before I get kicked out!)
When we first moved to San Jose – 15 years ago this month – I wasn’t a birder. (And, having moved down here from Fairbanks, Alaska, I really regret that. Think of all the birds I saw in Alaska but never put names to!)
Soon after, my wife got hooked while covering a Christmas Bird Count for a newspaper she worked for in Porterville, CA.
She brought that enthusiasm with her when she moved back here, and I got hooked as well.
We joined Santa Clara Valley Audubon, and one of the ways we started learning was by going on bird walks with SCVAS. Even though we were raw rookies, the birders leading those trips always had time to let us look through their scopes and to teach us the new birds we were excitedly seeing.
Soon, our life list grew. More important, our friend list grew as well.
Every month the club newsletter, The Avocet, offers a list of half-day and full-day birding trips, as well as many multi-day birding adventures that are planned.
We have taken overnight trips to such places as Susanville, Sierra Valley, and Tulelake. The group also makes an annual trip to the Panoche Valley, which is south of Hollister.
The day trips cover the whole range of the area, from north of San Jose, to the coast, to the western hills, to the southern tip of San Francisco Bay.
While the longer trips sure are fun, and provide for outstanding birding, the shorter trips are also worthwhile to observe the birds that are found right here.
In the San Jose area, the following are some of my favorite birding areas.
Palo Alto Baylands/Shoreline Park: This is one of the best birding areas around here. These are close together at the edges of Palo Alto and Mountain View. You can get on a bike at Baylands and work your way on trails past Shoreline Park and down the Stevens Creek Bike Trail. Running along the edge of San Francisco Bay, these are outstanding areas for shorebirds, ducks, and geese, of course. Marshes along the bay and trails also provide sparrows, egrets and herons and, if you are lucky, rails. Shoreline Park is also one of the places that is trying to protect an ever-dwindling population of Burrowing Owls. Shoreline Lake is good for Common Goldeneye and other ducks. At this time of year, there should be good populations of Black-necked Stilt and American Avocet, and the areas should be full of birds as spring migration continues.
On the south edge of the bay is the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge.
Continuing up into the Santa Cruz Mountains is Stevens Creek County Park. The park has a reservoir full of water birds, and the hills are alive with woodland birds such as raptors, warblers, and other songbirds. Look for Nuttal's Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, and you should be able to track down Bewick's Wren.
Another fine place to hike and bird is Mt. Madonna County Park, which is in the Santa Cruz Mountains between Gilroy and Watsonville. The highlights of this park are some Pileated Woodpeckers that appear to nest in the park. Due to their size, Pileateds are often more easily heard than seen. Best location for them seems to be downhill past the ruins of the Henry Miller homestead, and then onto Lower Cutoff Trail.
Ogier Ponds are a bit south of San Jose in the Coyote Valley area. There are several large, old ponds here, often with Goldeneye, Ruddy Duck, Merganser, Bufflehead, and more. Another great thing about Ogier is that the Coyote Creek Bike Trail Trail runs adjacent on its 17-mile course from Hellyer County Park in San Jose to Anderson Reservoir County Park in Morgan Hill. I think this is the best biking/hiking trail in the area, not only because of its length, but because of the fine riparian habitat it passes through. You’ll get a variety of ducks in the creek, including Wood Ducks if you’re lucky, and the fields and woods are home to White-tailed Kite, American Kestrel, warblers and sparrows, Belted Kingfisher, and many more.
For more information on current hot birding locations, check out messages posted to the South Bay Birds mailing list. Also, a great local guidebook is Birding at the Bottom of the Bay, published by Santa Clara Valley Audubon.
We first went to most of these places with SCVAS, and still visit them with Audubon on occasion.
Santa Clara Valley Audubon has certainly given a lot to us, with friendship, new birds, and the enjoyment of simply being outdoors. Now, it’s time for us to give back. SCVAS needs your help; it needs your money.
Among other things, funds help with lectures, with the Wetlands Discovery Program that teaches young students the importance of wetlands, and with Wildlife Education Day.
SCVAS is leading conservation efforts in the South Bay to protect Burrowing Owls and Peregrine Falcons, and offers an extensive bird-box program to help populations of Western Bluebird, Chestnut-backed Chickadee and other cavity nesters.
That sounds like just the type of group you can, and should, support, doesn’t it? I’ll make it easy for you!
Use that pull-down to select Ms. Unoball. (Well, it doesn’t exactly say “Ms. Unoball,” but it does list her real name: Carolyn Straub.) After her name is selected, just click the “Donate Now” button.
You can make your donation either with a credit card or PayPal. Of course, all funds raised go directly to SCVAS, and all donations are tax-deductible. If you have any questions, please feel free to send me a Kos-mail message.
Surely, you’ve got $10. I’ll bet most of you reading this far have $25 or $50 you could donate. I’ll bet a few of you even have $100 or more!
Thank you all, very much, for any donations you can make.
C’mon, do it for me, do it for Audubon, do it for the birds!
So, Santa Clara Valley Audubon is my Audubon. Tell me about yours.