What better way to end the year than a walk round Stow Lake in Golden Gate Park? It remains one of my favorite places in San Francisco – user-friendly for people and waterbirds alike.
So I went down there on December 31st in the late afternoon with someone who wanted to try out a new Olympus camera. I carried my trusty Nikon Coolpix. (It’s a little less trusty now for having a strange gray line appear whenever I use the zoom; I’m going to have to fix or replace it).
Unfortunately, Strawberry Hill – the hill in the center of the lake, accessed by a bridge on either side – is a lot more bare than it used to be. They’ve been cutting down trees and removing vegetation. Before, you couldn’t even see the summit from the outside, and it always seemed green and lush.
We strolled around the lake, enjoying the amazing birdlife and the clear evening light. On this trip, we saw not just the usual mallards and gulls, but a wealth of American coots…
This shot reminded me of a hen overseeing a flock of chicks. “Are you our mother?”
This gull allowed a close-up. I tried to figure out its species from my bird books, but couldn’t really narrow it down. Maybe a Thayer’s or a Glaucus-winged?
Or a young Western gull? [Edited to add: A friendly bird expert thought it was probably a glaucus-winged, but just possibly could be a Thayer’s.] Gulls are confusing, the more so because some of them hybridize quite happily.
There were some Northern Shovellers amid the mallards, and I got a picture of this couple.
Perched on a rock, and preening continuously, we saw this duck – I think it’s a female ruddy duck.
And there was this smart black and white bufflehead. [Edited to add: The picture shows the green/ purple iridescence, but that wasn’t clearly visible from shore without binoculars – which I forgot to carry with me.] We first saw it near the boat-house, but then it reappeared on the side near the waterfall. I couldn’t tell if it was the same individual or not, it was diving and moving quickly. There were at least two; I have another photo of them which is too blurry to publish.
A Double-crested cormorant swam around, low in the water. We saw a couple of others fly off.
They always remind me of a nonsense verse I read as a kid: ” The common cormorant or shag/ Lays eggs inside a paper bag/ The reason you will see no doubt/ It is to keep the lightning out/ But what these unobservant birds/ Have never noticed is that herds/ Of wandering bears may come with buns/ And steal the bags to hold the crumbs.” (It’s by Christopher Isherwood and of course it isn’t true – but as a child I had a strong mental image of the birds creeping into brown-paper bags to nest…)
The usual Muscovy ducks (which don’t actually come from Moscow) foraged around the edges of the lake.
There were a few of the Canada geese (formerly from Canada, but they live here now and particularly love the new Botanical Garden, which is goose heaven).
Instead of a partridge in a pear tree, I offer you a wild goose in a pine tree.
It’s a couple of days late – but wishing everyone who reads this a wonderful year in 2015!