Friday, November 30, 2007

The Birds of Lloyd Lake

Winter in the Bay Area is a great time for bird-watching. There are many birds that winter here from more northern regions, and others that just plain stay here all the time, like this Great Blue Heron. I took this photo of a heron fishing in Lloyd Lake in Golden Gate Park a few weeks ago. He was so engrossed in his task, and used to people, that he ignored me.

Today I took an early morning bike ride and passed Lloyd Lake again (unfortunately no camera this time). There were California gulls, mallards, a pair of Muscovy ducks, a pair of Hooded Mergansers, and what might have been about ten Red Phalaropes. Or they might have been Bonaparte's gulls, a small, elegant seagull with a thinnish beak. Red Phalaropes are a bird that normally lives in the Arctic but migrates south along the west and east coasts and winters at sea in the Southern Hemisphere (says my bird book). They rarely come ashore except after a storm, to rest. The confusing thing about them is that they're not red, at least at the time of year when there's the slightest chance that they would be dropping by to our area. They're only red when they are breeding, up on the arctic tundra. When they're migrating they are greyish white, with similar markings as a gull, but with a thinner bill and what my bird book calls "a phalarope mark," a dark patch from eye to ear. I don't remember if these had the eyepatch or not.

Once when I was walking at Lake Merced I saw a birder with a scope. I asked him what he was looking at, and he said excitedly, "There's a Red Phalarope out there. Want to take a look?" I peered through the scope and saw a bunch of grayish birds floating around.
"Which one's the Red Phalarope?" I asked.
He launched into a detailed description that did not include the word red. I had to ask, "It's not red?
He laughed and told me that was just its name.
I have always looked for Red Phalaropes but never seen them. Like today at Lloyd Lake--I wanted to believe I had stumbled upon a flock, but Lloyd Lake is barely more than a pond, and it hasn't stormed for weeks. It's more likely that they were Bonaparte's gulls. Then again, they might have been Red Phalaropes. Without my bird book along, or a camera, then identifying them becomes an exercise in remembering--or forgetting, as today.

The bird I saw at Lloyd Lake today that made me laugh was a Great Egret in a tree. It was a very large egret and a small, willow-like tree. The branch it was on was so low, I could have touched it. The egret looked like it was going to topple out of the tree at any moment.


Megan & Ben said...

We have a Blue Heron that visits us at our pond in Liberty, but he's a very shy guy. If he sees even a movement out of the corner of his eye he takes off (which is quite a sight). We were hoping he'd come around more often and thin out our extensive bullfrog tadpole population. I love those long feathers at his neck. How cool to see one right there, paying no mind to you!

Daphne said...

It's funny how familiarity breeds contempt. I don't get excited about seeing a great blue heron (a stunning bird) and yet I'm peering all over for those darned phalaropes (which really are not much to look at). I love the heron's neck feathers, too.