Field Trip: Davis Wetlands

Date: Saturday February 13, 2010

Time: 9:00 AM

Trip report added 2/15/2010 (NSAS Event)


Leader: John Sterling

Trip Report: by David Takeuchi

Due to the poor visibility caused by the fog at the Vic Fazio Wetlands in Davis, our leader took us inland, first to Zamora. John Sterling is a superb ornithologist and as we watched birds, he gave us tips you do not find in field guides. We were watching a flock of Mountain Bluebirds that were hovering. They can do this because their wings are pointed. Laurie asked John about the flock of birds flying in the distance and he said they were Starlings. How did he know this? Why weren’t they Red-winged Blackbirds? Look at an individual bird’s flight pattern. A Starling flies in a straight line, and a Red-winged Blackbird flies in an undulating flight. These birds were flying in a straight line. There was a discussion about the increase in the number of Common Ravens and California Gull and the impact they are having on chick of Snowy Plovers and Least Terns.

We were observing soaring Red-tailed Hawks. John pointed out that juveniles have shorter flight feathers which make the wings look narrower, and longer tails. Adults have broader wings, and shorter tails. This silhouette will tell you if you are looking at an adult or a juvenile.

We were looking at a immature Golden Eagle, no bigger than a gnat with the naked eye. It was flying with dihedral wings, typical for a Turkey Vulture. At this distance, with binoculars you could see the white at the base of the tail and the white under wing windows. However, if you could not see these definitive ID marking, you might mistake it for a T.V. John pointed out that the eagle has a very evident large head, unlike the T.V, and even it is flying with dihedral wings, you can tell the difference.

Did you know Lewis’s Woodpeckers fly like crows?

We lunched a Lake Solano Regional Park, and then headed to the Davis Sewer Ponds for a lesson in Thayer Gull I.D. We also visited Woodland farmland to observe more raptors and enjoyed the view of a soaring Prairie Falcon as it came overhead. The next time you see a falcon, in addition to the dark arm pits, see if it has rounded wing-tips which is indicative of a Prairie Falcon, as opposed to a Peregrine Falcon. John pointed this out to us.

Birdlist: Pied-billed Grebe. American White Pelican, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Turkey Vulture, Canada Goose, Mallard, Northern Shoveler, Gadwall, American Wigeon, Redhead, Common Goldeneye, Bufflehead, Common Merganser, Northern Harrier, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Red-shouldered Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Rough-legged Hawk, Golden Eagle, American Kestrel, Merlin, Prairie Falcon, Ring-necked Pheasant, Common Moorhen, American Coot, Killdeer, Ring-billed Gull, California Gull, Thayer’s Gull, Western Gull, Glaucous-winged Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, White-throated Swift, Belted Kingfisher, Lewis’s Woodpecker, Acorn Woodpecker, Red-breasted Sapsucker, Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Black Phoebe, Say’s Phoebe, Loggerhead Shrike, California Scrub Jay, Yellow-billed Magpie, American Crow, Common Raven, Horned Lark, Tree Swallow, Oak Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Western Bluebird, Mountain Bluebird, Hermit Thrush, American Robin, Northern Mockingbird, American Pipit, Phainopepla, European Starling, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Lark sparrow, Savannah sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow, Red-winged blackbird, western Meadowlark, Brewer’s Blackbird.

If you did not go on this field trip, you missed a great birding educational opportunity. Robin remarked that there is no one greater than John in Yolo County. John would call out a speck of a raptor in the distance, and when it came closer for us to ID, that is exactly what John had called out.

John will be teaching beginning and intermediate birding classes for the Yolo Basin Foundation starting in mid-February. The six week classes will be in the evenings at the Explorit Science Center in Davis. Another round of classes will start in mid-April. For information see

If you want to sign up, let John know via email [sterling AT wavecable DOT com] so that he can plan.

Check out his bird photos at

Pre-trip Description: With guest leader John Sterling we will visit wetlands in the region, including the Davis Wetlands, where several rare gull species were found in Feb. 2008. Bring a lunch. John Sterling, a professional ornithologist and president of the Central Valley Bird Club who has been birding in California since 1971, is writing a book on the status and distribution of the birds of California. He manages a California County Birding Page, and is founder of Sterling Wildlife Biology.

Directions: Meet at the Vic Fazio Wildlife Area Headquarters building (not the wildlife area) on County Road 32B. From the bay area take I-80 toward Sacramento. Turn left at off-ramp light onto Chiles Road. Go straight through the next light at the Mace Boulevard and Chiles Road intersection. Continue east on Chiles Road. Once on Chiles Road east of the Mace intersection, travel approximately 1.5 miles east to the Yolo Basin Foundation and Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area Headquarters office at 45211 County Road 32B (Chiles Road).

submitted on December 18, 2009, at 08:35 PM PST

Dialing in © 2009 Frank Toller Lunch break on Friday Bird Walk © 2010 Dave McMullen NSAS Viewing Station at SF Bay Flyway Festival © 2008 Dave McMullen Murray Berner © 2009 Frank Toller

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