- February 6 – 11, 2013
- Price $1375 from San Francisco.
- Comfortable accommodation, nice food.
- Led by local Alvaro Jaramillo a winter trip to his backyard.
- Great birding, masses of shorebirds, waterfowls and an incredible diversity of gulls.
- Informational, each day is a mini lesson ranging from identification to ecology of the local birds.
- You will leave a better birder!
- Lots of superb birding, but also chance for some great rarities – Tufted Duck, Eurasian Wigeon, “Common” Teal, Slaty-backed Gull, Mountain Plover. There is also always some surprise wintering in the area.
California in winter you ask? Sure, it is one of the most exciting and bird-billed periods of time to be lugging binoculars in the state. California is a major wintering area for many birds, but primarily three groups stand out, shorebirds, gulls and waterfowl. The San Francisco Bay Area is right in the middle of this avian bonanza. Also this is California, so there are lots of other birds to look at as well from sparrows, warblers, Wrentit to Nuttall’s Woodpecker, and lots of others. The Yellow-billed Magpie is on this itinerary. The focus on the above mentioned three groups is not only because they are abundant in the Bay Area in winter, but because they can take a bit of work to figure out – specially the gulls. Apart from plain old good birding, this trip is structured to be informational and educational. Not only will be chat about bird identification, but also ecology and behavior of the birds we are seeing. If you want to become a better birder as you are out there enjoying some lifers, this is a trip for you! Also, Alvaro has a lucky streak with the gulls and if there is a Slaty-backed Gull out there or the Asian “Vega” Gull (likely to be given species status in the near future) – well…we will have a great chance of finding them.
Alvaro lives in Half Moon Bay and this area has become famous in the last few years as a reliable spot to see rare gulls. In particular the Asian Slaty-backed Gull has shown up here more often than any other site in the lower 48. We certainly have a good shot at finding one somewhere, but classic western species such as Mew, Glaucous-winged, Western, California and Thayer’s are common. The great thing is that you won’t have to strain your eyes going back and forth between the field guide and the gulls, you will be there with someone who can lead you through how to tell them apart and help you simplify the identification. By the end of a few days together birding the area, you too will feel like a gull expert. Many people who do not like gulls have said that Alvaro has a knack for even making these birds interesting! We will strive to have fun, not torture people with obscure subtleties. So do not be afraid that we will spend a bit of time with the local gulls. You never know, you might actually end up liking them a tad, if you don’t already.
Waterfowl abound in the Bay Area, and this includes the dabblers as well as the ocean going ducks. There can be thousands of scaup, Surf Scoter, Northern Shoveler, American Wigeon, Northern Pintail and many other widespread ducks. Cinnamon Teal are here, as are some rarer species. The Bay Area tends to have one or more findable Tufted Duck, as well as various Eurasian Wigeon as well as the “Common” Teal which is often separated from the Green-winged Teal. The diversity is quite bewildering and fun to see. One day we shall visit the interior, the Central Valley, where we hope to see thousands of Snow, Ross’s and Greater White-fronted Geese. We may find Cackling Geese as well as the rare blue form of the Ross’s Goose and perhaps groups of wintering White-faced Ibis, Sandhill Cranes and Tricolored Blackbirds as well. The numbers of birds in the Central Valley can be staggering!!
Finally, the winter is a great time for raptors in the area. Some years when small rodents called voles are common the White-tailed Kites can be found in great concentrations, 20 – 100 can be seen in one spot! There are lots and lots of various morphs of the Red-tailed Hawk, gorgeous views of California Red-shouldered Hawks and great chance to see Prairie Falcon, Ferruginous, Rough-legged or even wintering Swainson’s hawks. On our way back to the Bay Area we shall visit one of the regular wintering areas of the rare and threatened Mountain Plover.
You will be amazed at the abundance and diversity you can see in California in winter. Remember that many of the coastal Christmas Bird Counts here are among the most species rich in the continent. Also you are in the Bay Area so there is always good food, great scenery, and who knows we may even go and see the Golden Gate Bridge on our way out of town! San Francisco is often voted the best city to vacation in. Well, we are going to prove that this is also the case for the birder. The San Francisco Bay Area is astoundingly good birding. Also remember that Alvaro is a local and knows the out of the way spots, the places that are off the radar screen, and lots and lots of experience birding the area. This will be a heck of an enjoyable short winter getaway!