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Sunday, January 10, 2016

Northern California: Five Saprrows, a Bushtit and a Wren

[Bay Area, CA. Dec 2015]

Compared to the open, lush-green lands found in the Eastern US, the desolate brown landscape of Silicon Valley in California, with its water-deficient ecology, over development and high population density, seems wholly unsuited to harbor any birdlife other than Rock Doves, Starlings, Grackles and House Sparrows. Indeed, Save The Bay, lists several factoids with regard to the ongoing environmental degradation of San Francisco Bay:
  • Streams draining into the Bay have, on average, 3 pieces of trash per foot
  • Astonishingly, people dump 3 million gallons of oil annually into the Bay
  • While 1 in 4 Americans are infected with parasites from cat feces (generally without health complications), the same parasite can be lethal to Sea Otters [the 150 million dogs and cats in the US annually generate a tsunami of excrement that eventually finds is way into the sea resulting in unhealthy beaches frothing with E. Coli as well as parasite-rich waters that infect native wildlife]  
Yet, somewhat miraculously, a precious few oases of semi-wilderness can still be found in the Bay Area and a recent visit to this mecca of technology innovation afforded some time to explore hotspots such as Byxbee Park, Lucy Evans Baylands (both in Palo Alto) and WPCP (Water Pollution Control Plant in Sunnyvale) where the following species were observed:
  • Fox Sparrow
  • White-crowned Sparrow
  • Golden-crowned Sparrow
  • Song Sparrow
  • California Towhee
  • Bushtit
  • Bewick's Wren
We start with Fox Sparrow:

There are 4 species of Fox in the US. The red of the streaking on this somewhat large sparrow resembles the color of one of the four Fox species -- the Red Fox -- and, hence the name for this charismatic sparrow. 

However, note that the resemblance to the Red Fox is "most true" for the Red race of the Fox Sparrow. The race shown here is the Slate-colored Fox Sparrow and an even darker variant, the Sooty Fox Sparrow, is found in the coastal Northwest. This outstanding individual was seen at Byxbee Park.

White-crowned Sparrow is a common songbird in this area and practically every birding venue has them in relative abundance:

In addition to White-crowned Sparrow, a few Golden-crowned Sparrows were seen at Lucy Evans Baylands in Palo Alto:

Over at WPCP, this blogger was surprised to hear Song Sparrows singing -- in December!

Our final sparrow is the near-endemic California Towhee (found outside the US only in Mexico):

California Towhee seen at Byxbee Park

Unlike the robust Towhee, the Bushtit is a hyperactive, tiny bird that blends in with the shrubs:

In the vicinity of where the Bushtit were sighted (Charleston Slough), a Bewick's Wren also made a brief appearance:

This western wren looks like a House Wren with a long tail and is now exceedingly uncommon in the East where it is being displaced by the House Wren.

Arnold Schwarzenegger is not only known for his muscle-bound roles in movies, but also as the Governor of California who signed into law, legislation that made it mandatory for kitty litter brands to carry a warning not to dump kitty feces into toilets or storm drains. This was necessitated by the unprecedented deaths of Sea Otters on California coasts and is a grim reminder of the ripple effects of how non-native animals in urban settings can still have devastating consequences on wildlife hundreds of miles away.

1 comment:

Bob Pelkey said...

An informative report, Hemant. Nice finds amid the urban jungle. The link to save San Fransisco Bay was interesting as well.