At the start, it looked like a really quiet morning, with the two leaders and one regular so consistent and so well-informed that he amounts to a third leader standing around and looking at one another, some assorted gulls, a few molt-grounded Canada Geese, and the tiny Double-crested Cormorant colony till well after the 9:30 formal start. Eventually, though, additional birders joined us for yet another unofficial, unsponsored not-really-Golden-Gate-Audubon 4th-Wednesday trip. (I was hoping to call it the last unofficial trip, but while GGBA lifted most pandemic-era restrictions as of July 1, it still requires pre-registration to discover secret starting locations – and that doesn’t work for us after a decade and a half in more or less the same spot.)
To begin, several American White Pelicans cruised in, one landing about 10 feet offshore beside me while I was trying to get the scope focused on a pair at the far side of the lake. “Well, you can count that one!” Ruth (my co-leader) said, noting that the usual deal with white pelicans at the lake is that if there’s only one, you should assume it’s Hank-the-rescue-bird, who isn’t here voluntarily and thus isn’t countable by American Birding Association standards. But Hank can’t fly, so if a pelican glides down out of the sky, it’s clear to list.
Several Brown Pelicans showed up too, for the first time since last November (not with the white ones; they live too differently for that, but in the same area.) We had one adult and several youngsters with their chins just beginning to molt from mouse-brown to white, making them look a bit like they were wearing Canada Goose masks.
The air over the water and the grassy fields was full of swallows – not a surprise (June is a peak month for swallows) but still a treat. Besides the Northern Rough-wings that breed here and the Violet-greens we see most often, we had several swallow-tailed Barn Swallows swooping and diving and picking bugs out of the air with their tiny tweezer-like beaks. (Odd how everyone knows what “swallow-tailed” means, even though most of the swallows around here have straight or slightly notched tails rather than the eponymous deep forks.)
Probably the most endearing sight of the day was a Dark-eyed Junco perched on a bare branch, feathers puffed out so far it was the size and shape of a softball – needing only a bit of snow on the bark to look like a holiday illustration. Second place went to the Bewick’s Wrens in the garden, bouncing and squeaking through the oaks with kids chasing their parents and fluttering their wings in FEED ME mode every time they came in for a landing. Meanwhile, several families of Western Bluebirds were foraging together amiably on the lawns. For some reason, young bluebirds seem content to hang out near their parents while finding food for themselves instead of trying to browbeat their elders into providing it.
Right at the corner of Perkins and Bellevue, an adult Cooper’s Hawk perched against the sky in a skein of bare branches, almost straight overhead, seeming to glow from within. Dunno if it was an unusually pale bird or if the angle of the light on the breast leached out the pink, but it took a while to find enough field marks to be sure of what we were seeing.
Last month’s I-want-to-see-a- game got a quick reprise as we were walking back up the lake toward the crossing to Lakeside Park. Someone called for a Great Blue Heron and someone else for a Red-tailed Hawk (two of the most likely of the not-yet-seen birds) and I racked my brain for another really good prospect. “I want a Great Egret,” I said firmly, studying the island. “Like that one?” Ruth laughed, pointing up to where an egret cruised overhead, looking as always like a galleon under sail. None of the other requests were granted, but the game isn’t magic – it just feels like it when you win.
It looked like we were going to have another cootless month, but very late in the morning, one American Coot swam out from behind an island. “Oh, good – you can report that!” someone said. “Nah,” sez I, “No-coots is news. I’ll have to say I was expecting not to see one, which is just weird….”
Including the coot (and not including the beautiful new domestic ducklings, one black and the other silver gray), we counted 38 species in and near the lake – the most for the month since 2018. The weather was a delight, especially considering the dreadful heat looming over much of the West, and all told we spent another very good day at Lake Merritt, where every day is well worth spending….