Golden Gate Park (9/28/2022)

Today I had to go with an impromptu Plan B. Now, I’ve been seeing some intriguing sightings via the SFBirds list about some unusual birds being spotted at Middle Lake. That’s right. MIDDLE LAKE. Where there is no lake. And, where things are typically quiet. And since I hadn’t been in FOREVER, I thought, WHAT THE HECK.

Now, I don’t often go looking for some unusual bird that waymoreexpert birders have found. It’s rare I see the dang thing. And, I don’t have the patience or interest in waiting long enough for it to maybe pop out.

Ok, I might try such a thing for a Black-and-white Warbler someday. I’d really like to see one of those. But, generally, it’s not successful. And, I have a hard time justifying spending so much time in the hopes of seeing one thing. If it’s that difficult, I’m not that interested.

But, I went. Mostly to visit Middle Lake. I started out at the South end, which is so not my normal. I immediately saw two different kinds of fungi growing on this massive euc at the edge of the parking lot. The first were Bracket-looking fungi. And the second were so up high in the nook? Crook? Whatever you call the part of the tree that has a little platform from where the branches start out from. Some Laetiporus fungi was up there!

I didn’t get far when I heard someone from the entrance say, “You looking for a bird?” or something to that effect. Two birders were apparently on their way to find the reported Painted Bunting that I’d read about.

It had been spotted near the long lawn space South of Middle Lake. This is a spot I pretty much never visit. There’s mostly just Tea Trees there. Blackberry bushes. Grass. Dogs being walked. Meh. I figured I’d end there to take a quick look for the famous Painted Bunting.

But, the vocal birder made me change my plan and tag along. This birder had seen it yesterday. He was with someone in tow, that perhaps was not a super expert? We got a little ways in, and the vocal birder quickly brought his binocs up to his eyes then said, “Damn Juncos.”

Now, this is not cool with me. I adore Dark-eyed Juncos. They are actually precious to me. Ever since I had a close encounter with one that I walked under while it was sleeping on a tiny branch just above my head. It was a special moment I’ll never forget. And they are not shy. They don’t flee when I come close. I LOVE THEM.

AND, it made me feel like I was with people who were only interested in the spectacle bird. There were Juncos of varying colorings there, which I found interesting. But, no. These birders were there for the prize.

The bird they were after didn’t come out soon, so I wandered along the blackberries and tea trees and stopped to admire the just-cracked fruit of a Kangaroo Apple tree, a floofy California Towhee perched up high, and maybe a newtome Crane Fly? Marsh Crane Fly, perhaps?

Then the vocal birder said to me, “It won’t come out if you get too close.” I wasn’t too close, in my opinion. I wasn’t even on the same side of the lawn they were looking at. And, I’ve had dang close encounters with birds and other wildlife by walking slowly and quietly, vs. talking in normal volumes with others while looking for wildlife. So. UM.

I turned around to see them, and the vocal birder said, “It’s an exercise in patience.” And that was my cue to leave them. Not MY CUP OF TEA, THANK YOU.

After enjoying the antics of some Steller’s Jays, I quietly left and resumed my route. Alone. And MUCH happier for it.

I stopped to admire some of the remaining Cultivated Tobacco flowers and caught sight of a perfectly camouflaged Anna’s Hummingbird (I think). It was so small or was just in a super crouched position that it looked twice as small as a normal Anna’s. I am so often amazed that I can keep myself from attempting to catch them to take them home with me. I love them so.

I think I even briefly saw a Hermit Thrush somewhere in those tall stems! Oh, and a beautiful spiderweb among the blackberry bushes there, too. And, the bright red Sage was looking quite divine right there.

I decided I should keep my usual clockwise route of Middle Lake, so I continued on into the shady part of the trail. Once in that lovely darkness, I saw more Cultivated Tobacco flowers. But these were a particularly lovely darker shade than the ones out in the open!

Further in, at the clearing, I spotted some Dog Vomit Slime Mold, folks! I can’t say how exciting it is that these molds are out with such frequency right now. After snapping some photos of it, a medium-sized moth fluttered into my view. Brown-lined Looper? Pale-lined Angle?

I stopped to appreciate what I think was a Common Hawthorn tree, which had delicious green and red colors all over. And then I headed out to the grass, where I found some mushrooms! Meadow Mushrooms, perhaps? I absolutely failed at plucking one up for photos. I wasn’t able to grab the base out. I flippin’ broke the stem instead. What will Alan on iNat think of me??

As I was feeling pretty bad about that, I caught sight of a Townsend’s Warbler moving quickly in an almost empty tree. Took some time to get some decent photos, but I got some! Always a triumph when trying to photograph warblers, hooboy.

I got to the spot just before the dirt trail along the North side begins, and I saw a number of birds flying in and out among the blackberry bushes lining the lake bed. Fox Sparrow! Haven’t seen one of them in a while! AND, two Orange-crowned Warblers. I thought they were Warbling Vireos at first. I am constantly reminded how junior a birder I am.

It was pretty quiet on the North side and East side of Middle Lake, as is common. HOWEVER. Twice I heard what I thought was a Ruby-crowned Kinglet. Now, I tend to forget what birds sound like if I haven’t heard them in a while. It takes me a minute. But, it came to me. And, I’m quite positive that’s what I heard! I even caught sight of a bird that made that sound a bit later. And, while I got no good look at it AT ALL, its movement behind tree branches and leaves reminded me of it. My frequent Fall/Winter companion is back!

Further on the East side of the trail was some bizarro looking Laetiporus fungi on a euc stump where I’ve never seen fungi growing before! So, yeah. That was awesome. Can’t believe how often I’m seeing that lately in GGPark.

Another Townsend’s Warbler was in a cluster of trees that had no leaves (and might be dead?). It was in one that appeared covered in lichen, and in my photo of it, it looks like snow. The Townsend’s Warbler looked like it might be eating bugs from the lichen maybe?

Got to the spot where I started at and noticed bees flying in and out of a hole high up in a tree where a branch had been cut. Neato.

I decided to visit the lawn spot on my way out, and no birds were out. Even though the clouds had dissipated slightly. I walked along the edge where the Painted Bunting had been seen. And, I saw and heard nothing. I got to a point where I decided I’d not look for it any further. And I thought how the one cool thing I had seen from that spot before was a Cooper’s Hawk perched high above. I looked up and didn’t see it. But! In the next tree over was a Red-shouldered Hawk! It was so poofed up it looked like a big chicken.

It soon flew off closer to Middle Lake. And I took that as a sign I was done. No special bird seen. Just a handful of birds that are special to me because I had seen them.

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