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Stow Lake with Winter Birds

November 30, 2010

Having Golden Gate Park so close to home is a gift.

It was a beautiful afternoon, and we headed for Stow Lake. So did a number of  winter birds, the ones that spend their summers in the Arctic and their winters in San Francisco.

I hadn’t brought my bird-book, and couldn’t ID them, being more of a wannabe birder than an expert; but they graciously posed for photos. After that, it was on to my Lone Pine Field Guide of the Birds of Northern California, and a little help from Google.

There were gulls.  Most people consider gulls a  white or brown-streaked aquatic version of crows and ravens. So I was surprised to discover several different species of gull at Stow Lake, besides the ubiquitous Western Gull.

Mew Gull

 

The first one I saw was a little self-conscious Mew Gull. These gulls visit San Francisco in winter, hanging out in Alaska and Canada during the summer.

Not a Thayer's Gull, but not yet identified

The Thayer’s gull, which resembled the snow owl from the Harry Potter books,  was so pretty I took a bunch of photographs. It looked like it was covered in lace. It also spends summers in the Canadian arctic. This is probably a young gull in its first year. As it grows older, it’ll look quite different — more like the Western Gull. [Edited to Add: This gull apparently is not a Thayer’s. It may be a cross between two other species of gulls. I didn’t actually know there were such things as gull hybrids, which complicates an already tough-for-amateurs identification problem. Thanks to expert birders in the SF Birds Yahoo Group, where the discussion continues.]

Herring Gull

This herring gull really did look like it was posing on that rock, standing sentinel. It’s another winter visitor, just like the Mew and the Thayer’s.

Feeding Frenzy

Someone brought Cheerios for the birds. Gulls have no table manners. Lots of violence and swearing. Luckily the kid couldn’t understand gull-speak.

Mine!

White-fronted Geese

Usually the geese out at Stow Lake are the big Canada geese everyone knows. But today, there were three White-Fronted Geese cropping at the grass on the roadside, and ignoring people passing within a few feet of them. Don’t know why they’re called white-fronted — they look very brown to me. (The black bird in the picture above is an American Coot.)

And finally, there was this odd duck with a brown head and white throat. I don’t know if it’s a species I couldn’t ID, or if it’s just a variant of the Mallards we see everywhere.

An unexpected bonanza for what was planned as a lovely afternoon walk .

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