Sequoia Audubon Society
                              San Mateo County, California

Field Trip Report

Wavecrest Raptors & Short-Eared Owls
January 17, 2009

Gary Deghi

Twenty individuals participated in the annual SAS field trip to Wavecrest on this warm, clear afternoon in Half Moon Bay.  A Wavecrest trip is scheduled for January each year with the intent on seeing wintering raptors known to occur in this area, and with the hope of seeing Short-eared Owl at dusk.  The number of raptors in this area varies each year depending on the population of voles, which serves as a major source of prey for the foraging raptors.  Since last year was an extraordinary year with reports in September of 100 White-tailed Kites and 15 Barn Owls at one time, the resulting low population of voles this year is yielding unusually low numbers of raptors, with only one report of a Short-eared Owl this winter (it was even missed on the Crystal Springs CBC for the first time in years).  Nevertheless, attendance was good for this walk, and hopes were high for a great nature experience.  No one was disappointed.

Red-tailed Hawk
Photo courtesy Bob Cossins

In approximately 2 ½ hours the group walked south from the ballfields past the arroyo, then along the north side of the arroyo to the ocean bluff, and from there to the area of the old model airplane field to search for owls at dusk.  The raptor species observed included a half dozen each of White-tailed Kite, Red-shouldered Hawk and Northern Harrier, two American Kestrels and one Red-tailed Hawk.  The area around the ballfields harbored common species such as Mourning Dove, Common Raven, Northern Flicker, European Starling, Brewer’s Blackbird and House Finch.  Other birds noted in the grasslands included Say’s Phoebe, Savannah Sparrow and Western Meadowlark.  Birds noted in and around the arroyo included Anna’s Hummingbird, Black Phoebe, Bushtit, Bewick’s Wren, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Song Sparrow and Purple Finch.  Overlooking the ocean, we identified Western and Glaucous-winged Gulls and Double-crested Cormorant.  At the model airplane field, we did not see Short-eared Owls, but there were Killdeer calling as they came screaming through the area at dusk.

The most thrilling sightings on this trip were not avian.  While walking along the arroyo, the entire group enjoyed great looks at a bobcat moving along the top of the south bank of the arroyo.  This bobcat represented a “life mammal” for many in the group.  Sunset on the ocean bluff was beautiful on this clear evening, and we enjoyed the incredible experience of seeing the Green Flash as the sun disappeared over the horizon.  One of the participants advised that views of the Green Flash can be aided by using binoculars (but only during the last bit of sunlight!), and this tip was most helpful.  Many (in fact most) in the group had never seen the Green Flash and some had never heard of it, but all were convinced after this experience.  With good attendance, friendly people, birds, a bobcat and the Green Flash, this was a most extraordinary outing!!

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