BIRD WATCH: Taking the BART to a birder’s paradise

SAN FRANCISCO IS a big, busy and noisy city.

Golden Gate Park plays a large role in keeping the citizens sane. It’s my favorite place to spend time when visiting the “City by the Bay.”

However, on my latest trip, I discovered a new escape.

Anyone who lives and works in the city is familiar with BART – Bay Area Rapid Transit. Up until now, I had no desire to ride what I thought was just another subway.

I’ve been missing out. It’s a great way to begin a day of birding because it whisks you away to the countryside in a very short time.

Our destination was the foothills of Mount Diablo, near Walnut Creek. The reason we knew about this beautiful area was because of a local resident who grew up a short distance from where I live.

He got started birding in a grade school class taught by a teacher friend of ours. He’s a dedicated, experienced birder and we benefited from his expertise.

A trail winds through Diablo’s foothills and it was evident it is popular with local birders. We ran into two organized groups plus numerous individuals looking for spring birds.

A pair of Lawrence’s goldfinches had been seen that week. I was hoping to get a life bird, but it wasn’t to be.

That’s just the way birding is. You get used to saying, “next time.” Seeing so many birds that I haven’t seen in a long time more than made up for missing a life bird.

It was a beautiful, warm, sunny day and the rolling hills were bright spring green.

Derek informed us these would turn brown once summer settled in. A mental note to visit the region in April and May was made.

The trail we were on followed a good-sized stream that wound through woodlands and thickets. In the near distance the hills were mostly bare of trees. Turkey vultures were always over the scene.

Red-tailed hawks hunted the same habitat and a red-shouldered hawk was also seen. Cooper’s hawks did their hunting in the trees and brush near the stream. California quail called from off in the distance but also from nearby fence posts.

Birds we don’t see in this part of the Northwest made this hike a treasure hunt.

Life birds may have eluded me but both my sister and my son had plenty of excitement seeing birds new for them. Derek made notes on those birds that went on his “first for the year” list.

He was spotting them and hearing them and we had to work to keep up with what was being called out. Acorn woodpecker, Western kingbird, ash-throated flycatcher, oak titmouse, wrentits and house wrens were all listed.

Nuttall’s woodpecker, Bullock’s oriole and lark sparrows ramped up the excitement and several pairs of Western bluebirds added more color to our hike.

Sunburns threatened but the birding was good. House wrens, white-breasted nuthatches, California scrub-jays, black phoebes and Northern mockingbirds may be seen in parts of the Northwest but they are common in this part of California.

Lawrence’s goldfinches were missing but several pairs of lesser goldfinches were great additions to the trip list. So were California towhees and some spring “firsts” of our own. The warblers were headed north.

We heard Wilson’s warbler and orange-crowned as well as both the Hutton’s warbling vireos. We saw more than 40 species that day and I learned that San Francisco’s BART is more than just another subway.

Note: A recent note from a reader contained a plea to warn homeowners about the dangers the sticky strips for insects present to birds. Finding a chickadee trapped on one of the strips was a sad experience. These strips are often hung beneath house’s eaves, an area frequented by birds and bees.

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Joan Carson’s column appears every Sunday. Contact her at P.O. Box 532, Poulsbo, WA 98370, with a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a reply. Email: joanpcarson @comcast.net.

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