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Back to Point Reyes, the little slice of paradise to our north.  Two weekends in a row - very different trips, but the same overwhelming awesomeness of place.  Two weeks ago, I spent the weekend at the Marconi Conference Center in Marshall while hubby took part in a historic radio event; last week, I spent Saturday "Birding to a Fault" as part of the Point Reyes Birding Festival.

It's a great time of year to be in West Marin – even with our very dry winter, the hills are still green and the wildflower bloom was pretty good; the days were clear and sunny but not unspeakably hot.  Bliss, in other words.
The "I-swore-I-wrote-the-name-down-but-apparently-not Lily".  I see a lot of these.

Hubby has become very active with the Maritime Radio Historical Society, which has been restoring historic radio facilities at Point Reyes.  The operations were started by Gugliemo Marconi for ship-to-shore and internation radio traffic. Last year, we'd done a “Birds and Radio” day with a group of friends, touring the radio sites in Bolinas and Pt. Reyes, and birding spots in between.  We'd set a date for a reprise this year, and it turned out to be the weekend of  International Marconi Day, and there was an event at the Marconi Center.  Perfect timing.

If you want to be the center of attention, being a herpetologist is a pretty cool way to do it.

We'd met a Pt Reyes biologist a few months back who thought it sounded interesting, and we asked him to join us.  He was a great addition to the group, partly because he was just plain fun and interesting, and partly because he's a herpetologist, and showed us some really cool critters that we didn't know much about before this.

We started our day a little bit north of Bolinas at a spot that was both reptile-rich, and also often had sheets of plywood laying around from one of the other uses of the space.  Getting there early in the morning while it was still cool meant that we might be able to find some snakes and other critters under the boards before the sun heated them up for the day.

Three Racers - once they warmed up, they really justified the name

The first board he lifted had no one underneath, but the second board concealed three Racers and a baby Ring-necked Snake.  With the practiced hand of someone who's done this many times, he grabbed a handful of racers, while one of the others picked up the baby ring-necked.  He allowed us to handle a racer if we wanted (heck yeah!) and talked a bit about snake ID and habits.  We continued our walk and encountered more snakes, including California Garter snakes (beautiful but stinky), lizards and a salamander.

California Garter Snake

After hiking the site for a while, we moved north to a pond which is home to endangered Red-legged Frogs and lots of other critters.  We did see frogs, but they were sitting far enough out in the water that my only pictures is a craptacular hand-held binocular digiscope.  We were also introduced to a Rough-skinned Newt.  We learned about the toxic skin secretions produced by many amphibians, including some stories of temporary blindness in biologists who accidentally touched their eyes after handing certain salamanders.  Yikes.  I'll leave these guys where they sit.

Rough-skinned Newt (the name of Gingrich, the color of Boehner, and a lot nicer than either of them)

Our herp-friend had to leave us after lunch, but we continued birding for several hours, heading inland on Marshall-Petaluma road, and looking for newly arrived migrants, including several first-of-spring sightings.  We finished the day with dinner at a restaurant along Tomales Bay, where we could see enormous flocks of Brant among the lingering waterfowl.  

Your token non-human mammals for the week - Doe with two of the smallest fawns I've ever seen.

In contrast with first weekend's free-roaming trip, last weekend's "Birding to a Fault" event was very focused - spot 'em, count 'em, and move on.  Two teams of birders did a friendly competition, birding opposite sides of the San Andreas Fault.  The Continental Plate group, led by Keith Hansen, birded Stinson Beach and points east and south of there; the Pacific Plate group, led by Peter Pyle and Lynn (gah, forgot her last name!) birded Bolinas and points west and north.  Bolinas Lagoon was shared between the two teams.  (Some of the Kossacks met Keith when we visited his studio during our Point Reyes birding day with realalaskan back in March.)

Cackling Geese

We jumped right into it, starting with a pair of Cackling Geese who flew into a field across the street from our meeting place, an unexpected addition to our list.  From there we walked to Pine Gulch, just around the corner.  We stopped for at a promising bunch of bushes creekside and found this sparrow - sure the face is obscured, but you can see its white throat, and that gave us another species.
White-throated Sparrow

Pine Gulch (a stop on our March trip) is a spit of land that sticks out into Bolinas Lagoon, offering great views of the waterbirds and crazy numbers of little birds at certain times of year.  The large winter flocks of shorebirds and ducks were mostly gone, but there were a few stragglers of most species so our tally was pretty good.

"Skulling" a Swainson's Thrush to determine age ("skulling" is gently blowing feathers aside so the bander can see the degree of ossification on the skull)

As we stepped out of the trees and on to the open space at the edge of the lagoon, we encountered some PRBO banders, who were mistnetting within the woods.  Even though we were on a mission, it was too good an opportunity for a group of birders to pass up.  We got to see two birds up close, and got to see our trip leader's book in use the way it's meant to be.

Peter Pyle with a dogeared, well-used copy of ID Guide, Volume 1 - aka The Banders' Bible (the guy in back is holding a another copy, equally well-used).

From Pine Gulch, we headed in the direction of the PaloMarin Field Station, but stopped just short of there at a spot called Arroyo Honda.  A 45 minute walk there yielded a good number of woodland species and a flyover peregrine - we didn't get one on the lagoon, so that was a lucky addition.  We were now more than halfway through our five-hour trip and still had a bit of ground to cover, but the species count was pretty much on track.  A side trip to a small holding pond gave us an Eared Grebe (in full breeding plumage - a treat in our parts) and our only coots of the day.

Swainson's Thrush, about to go on its way.

From there, we went to a bluff overlooking Duxbury Reef, with hopes of getting some rocky shore birds, gulls, loons, and alcids. We stayed nearly an hour and picked up another dozen species, including Pigeon Guillemot and Common Murre, three loons, Oystercatchers and Black Turnstones and a handful of gulls.

The very high-tech banding lab at Pine Gulch

Back to the mouth of the lagoon in downtown Bolinas (Whimbrel!), a quick pass by Pine Gulch for a final look for shorebirds and waterfowl on the rising tide, and a stop by a tiny pond for a final species (Hutton's Vireo, I think?)  Off to Five Brooks to meet up with Keith's team.

American Goldfinch goes belly-up in a good way

We ended up with 113 species in five hours to their 97 species; most species were seen by both teams but they had 12 that we didn't get (including Rufous-crowned Sparrow and Black Rail!) so between the two teams there were 125 species seen in five hours.  A pretty good haul, a pretty great day.

Originally posted to lineatus on Sun May 05, 2013 at 06:00 AM PDT.

Also republished by Birds and Birdwatching.

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