By Dominik Mosur
Summertime can be slow for the city birder. Migration is largely over by the end of May and city parks and backyard green belts only harbor a few hardy local nesting species.
At this time of year, the Golden Gate National Recreation Area parcel at Lands End becomes especially relevant on early mornings when getting out of town isn’t possible.
Multiple access points lead to miles of trails weaving through wonderful land birding habitat in San Francisco. Willow thickets on steep slopes hold some of the last breeding territories of Orange-crowned Warblers in the county. Hutton’s Vireos, Swainson’s Thrushes, Purple Finches and Wilson’s Warblers summer here as well.
On days when prevailing onshore winds die back, the stands of trees along Lands End become vagrant traps where misdirected Eastern Kingbirds, Northern Parulas and Chestnut-sided Warblers show up like a midsummer Christmas gift to brighten a foggy morning. I’ve often thought of this place as the city’s version of Outer Point Reyes.
Turning one’s attention to the ocean, check out the observation deck above the Sutro Bath ruins. This point overlooking Seal Rocks is a great perch from which to study the activity on the water. Thousands of Common Murres can be present on productive days, joined by other local breeders: Brandt’s Cormorants, Pigeon Guillemots, Caspian Terns (which can be seen all day carrying food to their colonies inside the Bay) and post breeding visitors: Brown Pelicans, Heermann’s Gulls, and by early July, Elegant Terns. Some years, thousands of Sooty Shearwaters will be present offshore for days and an occasional Brown Booby has shown up to join the feeding frenzies as well.
Walking the Lands End trail, make sure to stop at the “Historical Shipwrecks” sign overlooking Hermit Rock and scan it along with the nearby waters for a returning Parakeet Auklet.
Since 2017, a single individual of this species which breeds in Alaska has returned each summer to this point on the San Francisco coastline. As of late May 2022 it was back for its 6th summer. Nesting on Hermit Rock are Pigeon Guillemots and a pair of Black Oystercatchers. By mid-July migrating Wandering Tattlers will start appearing on the rocks as well. All remain vigilant for Peregrine Falcons which rule the coast again with three pairs nesting within a few minutes of here.