Brant. Photo credit: Don Becker, USGS EROS/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
The big event today out at Heron's Head Park (a small-scale wetlands restoration in the Bayview district of San Francisco) was the sighting of some Brants--not this exact one, but three that looked just like it--on some rocks. The Brants were not even on our checklist of the 100 common birds of Heron's Head Park, and it was my mom who identified them!
We were out on a birding tour with some other birdwatchers and interns from Lowell High School trained by S.F. Nature Education, and when we saw the birds, we all thought they were Canada Geese at first. Then we noticed those rings around their necks, and the fact that they were smaller than Canada Geese. They had their backs to us, so we couldn't see their heads too well, but we could see thin brown stripes on their bellies, the white puffy undertail coverts and black wings. We started tossing out some other ideas. It was Mom, flipping through her bird book, who said thoughtfully, "You know, I think they might be Brants." We gazed through our binoculars, thrilled. Yes! They must be Brants. We continued on our walk, passing on the tip about the Brants to another intern, and saw a lot of other birds: Greater Yellowlegs, Buffleheads, American Wigeons, Avocets, Greater Scaups, Western Grebes, Willets, Marbled Godwits, and more. By the time we got back to the Brants, the naturalist (Alan Hopkins) had set up his scope and was excitedly waving others over to peer at them. "Good work!" he told us happily. I felt proud to be a member of the Brant-identifying party.
My mom also identified a Say's Phoebe that was darting down from a fence cable into the grass to catch insects. She is quite the expert these days.
S.F. Nature Education is holding two more tour days this winter: February 6 and March 6. Tours leave at 10am, 10:30am, 11am and 11:30am. Maybe you'll see something even more rare and wonderful.