On Sunday, April 8, five of us assembled at Coyote Valley Open Space Preserve in South Santa Clara County for a Big Sit in support of the Santa Clara Valley Audubon Birdathon event, which raises funds every year for the chapter activities.

This preserve is fairly new and there have been indications it would be a good birding site but we don’t have a lot of data on it yet, so we weren’t sure what we’d end up with. What we do know is that this is usually a good area for the Yellow-Billed Magpie and for Raptors, and I hoped they’d cooperate.

They cooperated with enthusiasm, with Magpies wandering the area through the entire sit and repeatedly coming close to allow for good looks and photography. The raptors put on a show, and we ended up with eight species, including multiple Golden Eagles, a full adult Bald Eagle, White-Tailed kites, Northern Harrier, Red-Tailed Hawk, American Kestrel and a Merlin.

Total species count for the 4 hour sit was 36, plus we had some swallows we couldn’t definitively ID but we believe included Tree and Violet-Green in the mix on top of the Northern Rough-winged and Barn swallows we did ID.

Highlight Birds

Where to start? Early one we found a Loggerhead Shrike, and it appeared for us three or four times, always on the same pole.

It’s spring, and that means the Western Kingbirds have arrived, and we had a number of them wandering around and bugging. A nice plus was multiple Bullock’s Orioles (probably four) that wandered in and out of the area a couple of times.

Two of the golden eagles were seen soaring together repeatedly, one had a very faint tail band indicating it wasn’t quite adult, and we think they might be siblings that can hang out together as they mature. A likely third eagle came through late in the day, escorted along by the blackbirds that nest in the fields around the preserve.

There have been reports of Rock Wren on the hillside above the parking lot, and based on our observations, there are at least two up there, and likely at least one family. We had long and close looks of the Wrens, and in the late afternoon one got curious and flew over to join the party, at one point literally wandering underneath my snack cart to explore where we were sitting.

We had a good number of Western bluebirds of both sexes, Western Meadlowlarks sang to us throughout the day, the Blackbirds chased multiple birds away from the nests including that eagle, a White-Tailed kite (twice) and a Common Raven.

A really nice find was a Purple finch in among the house finches. In reality, I think we found at least two and perhaps four, and it seems like they’re nesting in this area and this might be a good place to chase that species.

It was a fairly quiet day for woodpeckers; we had a northern flicker fly through twice and give us good lucks, but otherwise it was quiet, until shortly before we were going to break up, when a woodpecker flew into one of the nearby oaks, and we realized it was a Lewis’s Woodpecker. That got our attention, and we got decent looks at it for a bit and then it flew into another tree giving us obstructed looks for a while. This species has been reported here intermittently but I hadn’t seen reports of it for a couple of weeks, so I was wishing for it but not hopeful, but it came through late in the day.

Here is my best photo of the Lewis’s Woodpecker. Not exactly my best photo work ever, but this is a species I’ve been chasing on and off for a few years and was planning a trip out to make another attempt in a couple of weeks, so having it show up was more than enough to make the day a success.

Lewis's Woodpecker

Finally, the big surprise of the day was a White-Throated sparrow that popped up near one of the Rock Wrens for an extended sit with good views, finally giving us great looks at its face for a definitive ID. What makes finding this bird even stranger is that it was the only sparrow we saw the entire day. Not even a Song Sparrow to be found, but we ran into one of the rarer sparrows in the county. Go figure.

Notable misses

Going into the sit, I had four species I wanted to try to get onto the attendees lists: an Eagle (bald or golden: we got both); White-Tailed kite (which are common around here and nest in the area), Rock Wren (which had been reported) and Tri-Colored Blackbird. The only miss was the blackbird, which is seen in small numbers among the blackbird flocks here but hadn’t been recently sighted.

Other notable misses: no Black Phoebe. Zero sparrows other than the single White-Throated. We had a single, gorgeous male American Goldfinch but no other goldfinches. I was surprised not to see at least one Nuttall’s woodpecker, and this should be an area with Acorn Woodpeckers, but no luck today.

Also: no egrets or herons and no gulls, not even flying in the distance.

But a good time was had by all.

Thoughts on Coyote Valley OSP

This being a newer area for birders, I wasn’t sure what to expect and I would have been happy with 25 species. 36+ species was a really good result and getting both eagle species and the strong raptor presence made this a fun day.

We did this big sit as an afternoon sit, 2-6PM. Typically birding outings tend to get set up for mornings, but I was curious how this would go in the afternoon. I think the late time is better for raptors because it’s given time for the thermals they soar in to build. Since the hills are to the West of the parking lot I was somewhat worried about late afternoon light but in practice it was fine and we had no visibility problems.

I think this is a surprisingly good birding spot with some nice diversity, and some surprising species (like Purple Finch) that makes it a potential birding hotspot. I think it’s best birded in the afternoon, and I want to go back for a late afternoon visit and into dusk to watch for Short Eared Owl in the area.

It is clearly the easiest stop to find Yellow-Billed Magpie in in the county, so it’s on my short list of stops if someone from out of town comes in looking for county specialties. Since it seems some of the other harder to find specialties like Purple finch and Lewis’s Woodpecker are findable there, not to mention the Rock Wrens, it seems like this ought to be one of the key stops for birders visiting from out of town. It way exceeded my expectations, and I’m looking forward to studying it more and across the seasons.

Species seen

American Crow Corvus brachyrhynchos
American Goldfinch Spinus tristis
American Kestrel Falco sparverius
Anna’s Hummingbird Calypte anna
Bald Eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus
Band-tailed Pigeon Patagioenas fasciata
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica
Brewer’s Blackbird Euphagus cyanocephalus
Brown-headed Cowbird Molothrus ater
Bullock’s Oriole Icterus bullockii
Bushtit Psaltriparus minimus
Common Raven Corvus corax
Eurasian Collared-Dove Streptopelia decaocto
European Starling Sturnus vulgaris
Golden Eagle Aquila chrysaetos
House Finch Haemorhous mexicanus
Lewis’s Woodpecker Melanerpes lewis
Loggerhead Shrike Lanius ludovicianus
Mallard Anas platyrhynchos
Merlin Falco columbarius
Mourning Dove Zenaida macroura
Northern Flicker Colaptes auratus
Northern Harrier Circus hudsonius
Northern Rough-winged Swallow Stelgidopteryx serripennis
Purple Finch Haemorhous purpureus
Red-tailed Hawk Buteo jamaicensis
Red-winged Blackbird Agelaius phoeniceus
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon) Columba livia (Feral Pigeon)
Rock Wren Salpinctes obsoletus
swallow sp. Hirundinidae sp.
Turkey Vulture Cathartes aura
Western Bluebird Sialia mexicana
Western Kingbird Tyrannus verticalis
Western Meadowlark Sturnella neglecta
White-tailed Kite Elanus leucurus
White-throated Sparrow Zonotrichia albicollis
Yellow-billed Magpie Pica nuttalli