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...Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge (aka Don Edwards)?

I can't tell you how happy I am that Netroots Nation is coming to San Jose next year.  I'm hoping to put together a few outings for any of you who can make the trip - there's a lot of good stuff nearby.  For out-of-area folks, it should be possible to find you several lifers in the area, and there are lots of good, relatively easy day trips for those extending their visits by a day or two (Yosemite with its Great Grey Owls and Sooty Grouse, Big Sur and its condors, Pt Reyes and its everything).

Burrowing Owl at Don Edwards NWR, Alviso, about 20 minutes from the convention center.

The great news is that from the convention center, there are a number of really great birding sites within roughly a 20-minute drive - perfect for getting in a few hours first thing in the morning.  Palo Alto Baylands and Don Edwards NWR (tidal salt marshes in the bay), Rancho San Antonio, Alum Rock Park, Joseph Grant Park (wooded hills and canyons) and a variety of other habitats are all just a short drive away.  Even the immediate area around the convention center offers possibilities, along the Guadalupe River parkway.

[ I will fill these out with a bit more as the morning gets going - links take you to diaries about each location. Had a long day Saturday and didn't have enough time to finish it..... sorry. ]

I'd like to arrange one or more birding meetups during NN13 if there's interest.  It would be easy to do some early morning trips before sessions start - maybe an hour or two at some of the nearby spots.  If there's interest, we could try for a half-day or full day trip before or after the convention.  

One caveat about birding in the bay area is that mid-summer is, in many ways, the least great time of the year here.  Which is not to say it's crummy; just that there aren't the great numbers of wintering shorebirds and ducks that make some of these spots amazing at the right time of year.  But we still have 100+ species of breeding birds that are reasonably easy to see in the area.

One place I've written about a few times is Palo Alto Baylands.  It's great for shorebirds, and also a pretty reliable place to see California Clapper Rails year round.  It's a large tidal marsh and is part of a whole complex of wetlands ringing the south end of the bay.

Adjacent to Baylands is Shoreline Park, which includes a series of diked and culverted mudflats.  I think (?) some of this area used to be salt ponds, where they breeched the dikes to allow the tides to flow again, but left many of the dikes in places to serve as trails.  I included some info and pix about Shoreline in a diary about a day trip on the peninsula, ending at Baylands  One of the big draws at Shoreline is the small population of Black
Skimmers, who live there year round and breed.

Baylands and Shoreline are on the southwestern edge of the bay; Don Edwards is at the south end, and on the east side you'll find places like Coyote Hills and Hayward Regional Shoreline.  Hayward RS is at the eastern edge of the San Mateo Bridge, and they have a great set of trails along the water and a very nice visitor center.  

How about moving a bit further afield, and getting away from the edge of the bay?  As I said, mid-summer means fewer shorebirds and waterfowl, but we still have plenty of birds who spend the summer and breed here.  Just yesterday, I went down the San Mateo coast with a friend, birding Gazos Creek, Pescadero, and Stage Road (between Pescadero and La Honda).  Our plan had been to bird the parks along Skyline (the ridgeline between the bay and the Pacific) after driving there via the coast, but we saw so many nice birds that we never made it to Skyline.  Oops.  But proof that there are lots of birds here in summer, as long as you go to the right places.  I'll have a diary about yesterday's trip in the coming weeks, but here are a few photos from a previous trip to the area.

Pescadero (great tidepooling here and at adjacent Bean Hollow Beach)

Riparian area near LaHonda (similar to many throughout the range)

I have an update from Lynn, the woodpecker biologist, to share with you this week, and just got a nice one to include next week.
Sequoias and The Legend of Buck Sticky, the World’s Greatest Sapsucker.

    I’ve seen some pretty big trees during my life. Muir Woods’ redwoods were a quick seven-mile hike from where I lived as an intern for the Golden Gate Raptor Observatory. I took that hike nearly every weekend for the trees, the beaches, and the birds. I’ve hiked out to see the world’s largest Juniper in northern Utah, and I’ve become acquainted with the famous Jordan oak. I’ve also seen my share of towering ficus (ficuses? fici…?) on my travels through Latin America. This summer, however, I’m in the territory of the truly enormous: the Sequoias. By mass, they are the world’s largest trees.
    Sequoias fit into my season of fire very well, because they are another species whose existence depends on the flammability of California. They co-evolved with fire, and without it they have no hope of survival. Nearly every single sequoia I have seen bares the scars of fire. Many are burned in half and hollowed out by centuries or millennia of forest fires, but they continue living and growing.
    A young sequoia, however, is a vulnerable creature. They are relatively fragile, and they require a lot of light, water, nutrients, and luck before they have any hope of becoming large. They need not only the perfect habitat, but also the perfect conditions. Once they reach adulthood, however, a sequoia has very little to worry about for next millennia or so. Their bark is thick, spongy, and mildly toxic, making them fire-proof, insect proof, and fungus-proof, and their size gives them an obvious advantage over other nearby plants and trees. I have noticed that sequoia groves are unusually quiet places with a conspicuous lack of understory, so perhaps they have even more strategies to prevent competition than I know about. Where they are, they dominate their habitat.
    The species’ survival just comes down to matter of finding the right habitat and overcoming those early years as a tree. Fire is the sequoia’s solution to getting through the awkward seedling years.  Burns release nutrients, clear the ground, open up the canopy, and kills competitors so the babies can survive. Sequoias make seeds throughout their lives ready for the moment when conditions become favorably charred, but their seeds will usually not even be released from the cones until that fateful fire burns through.
    Be big and bide your time - it’s a brilliant strategy that completely falls apart in a world of clear-cuts and Smokey the Bear. Before we understood the ecology of these trees, there was some fear they would be lost, so I am thankful for the chance I have to see these grand trees. We have yet to run into any free-roaming giants along the backcountry trails we’ve been frequenting, but I have hiked through a few groves of mid-sized sequoias, and I have made the obligatory tourist visit to all the groves of named and domesticated trees.
    Along with seeing some badass trees, I also made one other interesting discovery in the groves that I’d like to mention. It was in the Grant Grove that I learned of Buck William Sticky, the world’s greatest Sapsucker. I can only infer the details of the tale from the wells I saw etched up and down the side of a single sequoia and the drums in the distance, but here is the story as best as I can read it.

    Buck Sticky grew up as all young woodpeckers do: in a hole, ceaselessly screaming for food. (This is, in fact, the best way to find nesting woodpeckers. Look for the very loud holes.)  Like any woodpecker, it only took him a few weeks to start peering out of his hollow-tree home and to start looking out into the world. What he saw around him were the biggest, toughest, and most un-peckable trees in the world. When he fledged, his parents started teaching him the important lessons of being a sapsucker. Beat your head against trees, make holes, drink sap, repeat. Keep your holes clean. Don’t get eaten by owls, and don’t bother with the sequoias.
    Buck Sticky was a tenacious woodpecker, however, and he dreamed of those great trees. He drank the sap of firs and ponderosas, but he longed for more. One day he finally couldn’t take it anymore. He few to the nearest sequoia and started to peck with all his might. The bark is thick, dense, and fibrous. He pecked for hours with no results. The other woodpeckers jeered, but he didn’t give up. He kept pecking until, finally, he did it. He tasted the sweetest thing a sapsucker can taste: the sap of the largest trees on the planet. He didn’t stop there, however. He kept pecking, and pecking, year after year. His sequoia now is covered top to bottom with wells. The wells of the greatest sapsucker in the world.

I took a photograph of this testament to a great woodpecker and a great tree. Look for it if you are ever in the Sequoia-King’s Canyon National Parks.

sticky tree

Addendum: I usually like to cite my facts when I pull them out. In the case of this piece, my facts have all been taken from hanging out with a group of park rangers the past several days and soaking up park informational materials. Still, most of the information can be found at the Forest Service’s Website at this page if you’d like to reference anything.

Originally posted to lineatus on Sun Jun 17, 2012 at 05:59 AM PDT.

Also republished by J Town and Birds and Birdwatching.

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