Date: March 6th, 2020 – https://ebird.org/checklist/S64180429. https://ebird.org/checklist/S64182157. https://ebird.org/checklist/S64183565.
Location: Mount Tamalpais – 37.921, -122.591 – Elevation: 784m/2,572ft, Muir Beach Lookout – 37.862, -122.581 – Elevation: 144m/472ft
Site Description: The class began at a trail adjacent to Mount Tamalpais State Park in Mill Valley, CA. Mount Tam is the highest peak in the Marin Hills.¹ The trail was off of Franklin Road and was dry and surrounded by lots of shrubbery and low grasses, but not highly wooded like the State Park itself. Near the beginning of the trail we were able to see large conifer trees to our right, which contained many American Robins. These robins flew over the trail from tree to shrubbery throughout our time there. A common sighting on many of the medium sized bushes and shorter trees were hummingbirds. In the dry bushes, we could hear and identify bushtits though they were difficult to see. Next, we drove west to a lower elevation where we found a highly wooded trail along a small river. This environment was much more green and the trail was very shaded, a stark contrast to the arid and open trail near Mount Tamalpais. On this trail, we were surrounded by tall trees, though some of them lacked leaves and the trail wasn’t entirely shaded. Here, we were able to find more American Robins and see several Turkey vultures and Red-tailed Hawks fly above us. We even saw a Hairy Woodpecker in one of the fallen trees! From there, we drove further toward the water and ended at Muir Beach Lookout. As we started down the path to the left of the lookout, we walked into a highly wooded area where we saw some California Scrub-Jays, Common Ravens, and more Turkey Vultures. When we reached one of the main lookouts, we saw a whale along the coast. After walking to the right of the parking lot, we saw many more hummingbirds, some Ruby-crowned Kinglets, and some Pygmy Nuthatches. Overall, Some common bird species in Marin that we did identify include: Song Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow, Spotted Towhee, California Scrub-Jay, Turkey Vulture, and the Red-Tailed Hawk. Some bird species we have not yet seen, but I hope we are able to find in the future include: American Goldfinch, Black Phoebe, California Quail, and Northern Flicker.²
Species Account: California Scrub-Jay – Aphelocoma californica (Species name), Passeriformes (Order) > Corvidae (Family). The California Scrub-Jay is found mainly in woodlands and scrublands and is easily identified by its royal blue back and head, some grey-brown on the back, and grey underbelly. The bill has a slight hook at the tip, though it is subtle and sometimes difficult to see. It is a medium sized-bird, between the size of a robin and a crow. Its flight style is characterized by a few quick wingbeats and a stiff glide while their call is known to be scratchy and nasal. 3 The range of the California Scrub-Jay is comprised of the West Coast, with most of the sightings in California but many in coastal regions of Oregon, Washington, and Baja California (see image below)4. We spotted one at the Muir Beach Lookout in the highly wooded area near the cliffs. The California Scrub-Jay breeds in isolated pairs (not flocks like some other Scrub-Jays) and has an omnivorous diet consisting mainly of acorns, nuts, berries, and insects. These animals forage on the ground and in trees, singly or in a family unit during breeding season.5
Narrative: We departed from school at 8:15am and arrived to our first site, the trail near Mount Tamalpais, at 8:53am. There, we saw 13 bird taxa over a span of an hour and 2 minutes across a distance of 1.4 miles. We then walked along the wooded trail for a distance of only 0.13 miles and spotted 9 taxa over 37 minutes beginning at 10:03am. Finally, we spent 53 minutes at the Muir Beach Lookout beginning at 10:47am, where we saw 12 taxa and walked just over 2.1 miles. In Marin County, the weather was sunny with a high of 63° and a low of 39°.6 We returned to campus just after 12:20pm.
Additional Photos & Media: Below is an additional image of our group on the trail near Mount Tamalpais and two landscape photos of the Muir Beach Lookout.
¹ “Mount Tamalpais.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 16 Jan. 2020, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mount_Tamalpais.
² “Muir Beach Check List.” INaturalist, www.inaturalist.org/check_lists/653454-Muir-Beach-Check-List.
3 “California Scrub-Jay.” eBird, The Cornell Lab, https://ebird.org/species/cowscj1.
4 “California Scrub-Jay.” Audubon, 16 Oct. 2019, www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/california-scrub-jay.
5 “California Scrub-Jay Identification, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology.”, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/California_Scrub-Jay/id.
6 “Past Weather in San Rafael, California, USA – Yesterday and Last 2 Weeks.” Timeanddate.com, www.timeanddate.com/weather/usa/san-rafael/historic.