Sunday, December 23, 2007

Birdwatching at Bolinas Lagoon

This weekend we were up at Stinson Beach with family, and I stole away quite a few times to peer at birds on Bolinas Lagoon with my binoculars. In the winter, Bolinas Lagoon is a major winter stopping place for hundreds of shorebirds and ducks, and it hosts lots of other bird species year-round. Over the many years that we've been staying at Stinson Beach during Christmas--I believe it's at least thirty years, although I'm not sure we know the exact year we starting coming--I've gradually become more and more interested in the birds we see. When I was a child, I remember the adults discussing dowitchers and avocets but I was too busy playing on the beach to take a look at them. If I remember any birds from that time, it is the sanderlings--the little plump gray ones that run away from the waves, then turn around and follow them as the waves retreat, back and forth all day until a dog or a person startles them and they rise up all at once in a silvery flock that turns white when they bank and then gray again when swerve the other way.
Suddenly the birds became more interesting to me when my own kids got interested in birds. Their fourth-grade teacher, Mr. Rich, taught them about birds and took them birdwatching. When they began pointing out birds all around us, I began reading bird books so could keep up. Now they're no longer so captivated by birds--although they can effortlessly identify more birds than I could at their age--but I'm hooked.
In the back of our bird book--"Birds of Northern California" by David Fix and Andy Bezener, the one Mr. Rich told us to buy--there's a list of species with little boxes by each one so you can check off the ones you've seen. Avid birders keep a life list of all the bird species they've seen, and are thrilled when they can add one to the list. I'm not so much of a birding fanatic to keep a life list, although I know which ones in the bird book I've never seen. Or, I should say never identified, because there are many common birds that I've never recognized or noticed, but I'm pretty sure they have crossed my vision before.

Ducks are a good example. In the course of my life I've seen many ponds and lakes and estuaries filled with ducks, but it was only a few years ago that I really began to identify them, beyond the Mallard. One winter I saw the American Widgeon on Bolinas Lagoon. Now I see it at Stow Lake in Golden Gate Park, and dozens of them--and a few Eurasian Widgeons, too--every year at Bolinas Lagoon. This weekend I saw the Northern Pintail Duck, another duck I had probably seen before, but this weekend, I really saw it. It swam into my binoculars, looking as if it had been painted, with a chocolate head and a white line edged with black starting on the back of the head and curving around to merge with its long white neck. I also saw Scaups (whether they were Greater or Lesser I have no idea), swimming with their heads underwater along the edge of the muddy shore of the estuary. Two more species to add to my...
Okay, I don't have a life list. But I did make a Winter Solstice Weekend at Stinson Beach and Bolinas Lagoon Bird List of all the species I saw. Here it is:
American Avocet
Canada Goose
American Widgeon
Eurasian Widgeon
Northern Pintail
Common Goldeneye
Great Eagret
Great Blue Heron
Western Grebe
Marbled Godwit
Long-Billed Curlew
Surf Scoter
Belted Kingfisher
Plover--maybe Black-Bellied?

Do I look like one of those Audubon birdwatching geeks?

1 comment:

Caroline said...

I've gotten much more interested in seabirds since moving to California and marrying into a family that spends time in Stinson, too; now our boys play the same game that their dad and uncle used to as children: guessing how many kingfishers they'll see perched on the telephone wires strung along the road between Stinson and Bolinas. We almost always see 2 or 3, sometimes 6 or 7.
Happy Christmas!