Natural History of the Bird Communities at Lobos Dunes

by Josiah Clark (Click here for more information about Lobos Creek)

Lobos Creek has an excellent variety of upland habitats for birdwatching. The dunes themselves provide wintering habitat for several species which can be otherwise scarce in San Francisco. Western Meadowlarks, Say's Phoebes and the occasional Savannah Sparrow at the enhanced dunes are quintessential open country birds and represent what the songbird composition would have been like, while many of the raptor species which can be seen from Lobos Valley would have hunted the area eons ago. Long since departed are species obligated to the vast dune scrub systems, like Burrowing Owls, Horned Larks, and American Pipits to name a few.

The strengths of the Lobos Valley as a birding site are in its multiple vegetation types, compositions and structure. Oak, Conifer and Riparian (willow) woodlands surround an area of dunes, scrub and annual grasses. Many bird species can be seen at the forest edge or feeding in the open. Respect for the habitat is necessary when investigating some of the forest areas.

During morning activity in the valley, an experienced birder can see or hear over 20 species in a matter of minutes, and up to 30 species in the course of a morning. Perhaps the most exciting times to bird for the experienced birder are during spring and fall migration. In the spring charasmatic and colorful birds like Lazuli Bunting, Black-headed Grosbeak and Western Tanger on their way north make ephemeral visits to places as far away as Alaska, and as near as neighboring counties. The intact habitats of the Lobos Valley would historically have been breeding grounds for many of today's migrant species and their songs sometime suggest they find it reminiscent as well.

Some potential migrants include: Common Snipe, Rufous Hummingbird, Acorn Woodpecker, Ash-throated Flycatcher, Western Kingbird, Blue Gray Gnatcatcher, Cassin's Vireo, MacGillvray's Warbler, Black-throated Gray Warbler, Chipping Sparrow, Lark Sparrow and Bullock's Oriole.

Rarer than migrants are what birders refer to as "vagrants" or anomalous species. Vagrants can come from as far away as Asia or Latin America, although most of the ones seen are from the eastern part of this continent. If there is such a thing as "extreme birding", it would have to include the search for rarities. Vagrants can occur at any time of year, however they are most common in fall.

Some vagrant species which have been sighted in the Lobos Valley include: Broad-winged Hawk, Tropical Kingbird, Black and White Warbler, Prothonatary Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler, American Redstart and Swamp Sparrow.                                                 

                                                                              -----Josiah Clark, March 2000

** The taxonomic order in this list is a rough and abbreviated one. It probably will not exactly match the order in your field guide. Definitions:
Under "Seasons", you can find how likely you are to see a particular bird in the area.
Irruptive = common some years, absent in others
U    = uncommon
FC  = fairly common
C    = common

Bird List Index
Wetland Waders Hummingbirds Small Songbirds Sparrows
Ducks Woodpeckers Thrushes Blackbirds
Hawks & Falcons Flycatchers Vireos Finches, Old World 
Sparrows & Weavers
Doves Swallows Starlings
Owls Jays & Crows Warblers
     

Nests nearby?

Seasons

Habitat

(Top)
Wetland Waders
Wintr
Spr
Summer
Fall
 
Great Egret
(Ardea alba)

No

U

U

U

U

Creek

Great Blue Heron
(Ardea herodias)

No

U

U

U

U

Creek

(Top)
Ducks

Nests nearby?

Wintr
Spr
Summer
Fall

Mallard
(Anas platyrhynchos)

No

FC

FC

FC

FC

Creek

(Top)
Hawks & Falcons

Nests nearby?

Wintr
Spr
Summer
Fall

Turkey Vulture
(Cathartes aura)

No

rare

U

U

U

Sky

Sharp-shinned Hawk
(Accipiter striatus)

No

U

U

-

FC

Sky, Forest

Cooper's hawk
(Accipiter cooperii)

No

U

U

-

FC

Sky, Forest

Red-shouldered Hawk
(Buteo lineatus)

Yes

FC

FC

FC

FC

Sky, Forest

Red-tailed Hawk
(Buteo jamaicensis)

Yes

FC

FC

FC

FC

Sky, Forest

American Kestrel
(Falco sparverius)

No

U

rare

rare

U

Sky, Forest

Merlin
(Falco columbarius)

No

rare

-

-

rare

Sky

Peregrine Falcon
(Falco peregrinus)

No

rare

rare

rare

rare

Sky

(Top)
Doves

 Nests nearby?

Wintr
Spr
Summer
Fall
Band-tailed Pigeon
(Columba fasciata)

(Irruptive)
?

U

U

-

U

Sky, Forest

Mourning Dove
(Zenaida macroura)

Yes

C

C

C

C

Sky, Forest, Dunes

(Top)
Owls

Nests nearby?

Wintr
Spr
Summer
Fall
Great Horned Owl
(Bubo virginianus)

Yes

U

U

U

U

Forest

Barn Owl
(Tyto alba)

No

rare

rare

rare

U

Sky, Oaks

(Top)
Hummingbirds

Nests nearby?

Wintr
Spr
Summer
Fall
Anna's Hummingbirds
(Calypte anna)

Yes

C

C

FC

C

Forest, Dunes

Allen's Hummingbirds
(Selasphorus sasin)

Yes

C

C

FC

C

Willows, Oaks, Dunes

(Top)
Woodpeckers

Nests nearby?

Wintr
Spr
Summer
Fall
Downy Woodpecker
(Picoides pubescens)

Yes

FC

FC

FC

FC

Forest

Hairy Woodpecker
(Picoides villosus)

?

rare

rare

rare

rare

Oaks, Conifers

Northern Flicker
(Colaptes auratus)

No

FC

FC

-

FC

Forest, Dunes

(Top)
Flycatchers

Nests nearby?

Wintr
Spr
Summer
Fall
Black Phoebe
(Sayornis nigricans)

Yes

C

C

C

C

Willows, Dunes

Say's Phoebe
(Sayornis saya)

No

U

rare

-

rare

Dunes

Olive-sided Flycatcher
(Contopus borealis)

Yes

-

U

U

rare

Conifers

(Top)
Swallows

Nests nearby?

Wintr
Spr
Summer
Fall
Barn Swallow
(Hirundo rustica)

No

-

C

C

FC

Sky, Dunes

Cliff Swallow
(Hirundo pyrrhonota)

No

-

FC

FC

U

Sky, Dunes

N. Rough-winged Swallow
(Stelgidopteryx serripennis)

No

-

U

U

rare

Sky, Dunes

Tree Swallow
(Tachycineta bicolor)

No

 
rare

U

U

U

Sky, Dunes

Violet-green Swallow
(Tachycineta thalassina)

Yes

-

C

C

FC

Sky, Dunes

(Top)
Jays & Crows

Nests nearby?

Wintr

Spr

Summer

Fall

Western Scrub Jay
(Aphelocoma californica)

Yes

C

C

C

C

Oaks, Willows

American Crow
(Corvus brachyrhynchos)

No

U

U

U

U

Sky, Dunes

Common Raven
(Corvus corax)

?

C

C

C

C

Sky, Conifer, Dunes

(Top)
Small Songbirds

Nests nearby?

Wintr

Spr

Summer
Fall
Bushtit
(Psaltriparus minimus)

Yes

FC

FC

FC

FC

Willows, Oaks

Brown Creeper
(Certhia americana)

Yes

FC

FC

FC

FC

Conifers, Oaks

Chestnut-backed Chickadee
(Parus rufescens)

Yes

FC

FC

FC

FC

Forest

Pygmy Nuthatch
(Sitta pygmaea)

Yes

C

C

C

C

Conifers

Red-breasted Nuthatch
(Sitta canadensis)

(Irruptive)
No

U

rare

-

U

Conifers

Bewick's Wren
(Thryomanes bewickii)

No

rare

rare

rare

rare

Willows

Winter Wren
(Troglodytes aedon)

?

FC

U

rare

U

Forest

(Top)
Thrushes

Nests nearby?

Wintr

Spr

Summer
Fall
American Robin
(Turdus migratorius)

Yes

C

C

C

C

Forest

Hermit Thrush
(Catharus guttatus)

No

FC

FC

FC

FC

Willows, Oaks

Swainson's Thrush
(Catharus ustulatus)

Yes, but rarely

-

rare

rare

U

Willows

Golden-crowned Kinglet
(Regulus satrapa)

?

FC

U

-

U

Conifers

Ruby-crowned Kinglet
(Regulus calendula)

No

C

C

-

C

Forest

Northern Mockingbird
(Mimus polyglottos)

Yes

FC

FC

FC

FC

Oaks, Willows, Dunes

(Top)
Starlings

Nests nearby?

Wintr

Spr

Summer
Fall
European Starling
(Sturnus vulgaris)

Yes

C

C

C

C

Forest, Dunes

(Top)
Vireos

Nests nearby?

Wintr

Spr

Summer
Fall
Hutton's Vireo
(Vireo huttoni)

Yes

FC

FC

FC

FC

Oaks

Warbling Vireo
(Vireo gilvus)

(Migrant)
?

-

U

-

U

Oaks, Willows, Pines

(Top)
Warblers

Nests nearby?

Wintr
Spr
Summer
Fall
Common Yellowthroat
(Geothlypis trichas)

No

-

rare

-

rare

Willows, Creek

Orange-crowned Warbler
(Vermivora celata)

?

U

FC

FC

FC

Willows, Oaks

Townsend's Warbler
(Dendroica townsendi)

No

FC

FC

-

FC

Forest

Hermit Warbler
(Dendroica occidentalis)

No

rare

rare

-

rare

Conifer, Oaks

Yellow Warbler
(Dendroica petechia)

(Migrant)
No

-

FC

-

FC

Forest

Yellow-rumped Warbler
(Dendroica coronata)

No

C

FC

-

FC

Forest, Dunes

Wilson's Warbler
(Wilsonia pusilla)

Yes

-

FC

FC

FC

Willows, Oak

(Top)
Sparrows

Nests nearby?

Wintr

Spr

Summer
Fall
Fox Sparrow
(Passerella iliaca)

No

FC

FC

-

FC

Oaks, Willows

White-crowned Sparrow
(Zonotrichia leucophrys)

Yes

C

C

U

FC

Dunes, Willows, Oaks

Golden-crowned Sparrow
(Zonotrichia atricapilla)

No

C

C

-

C

Dunes, Willows, Oaks

Lincoln's Sparrow
(Melospiza lincolnii)

No

rare

U

-

U

Dunes, Willows

Song Sparrow
(Melospiza melodia)

Yes

C

C

C

C

Willows, Creek

White-throated Sparrow
(Zonotrichia albicollis) 

No

rare

-

-

rare

Willows, Oaks

Dark-eyed Junco
(Junco hyemalis)

(Irruptive)
Yes

C

C

FC

FC

Dunes, Forest

California Towhee
(Pipilo crissalis)

Yes

C

C

C

C

Dunes, Oaks

Spotted Towhee
(Pipilo maculatus)

No

rare

rare

-

rare

Willows, Oaks

(Top)
Blackbirds

Nests nearby?

Wintr
Spr
Summer
Fall
Western Meadowlark
(Sturnella neglecta)

(Irruptive)
No

FC

FC

-

FC

Dunes

Brewer's Blackbird
(Euphagus cyanocephalus)

Yes

C

C

C

C

Dunes, Conifers

Brown-headed Cowbird
(Molothrus ater)

Yes

U

C

C

U

Dunes, Forest

Hooded Oriole
(Icterus cucullatus)

No

-

U

U

rare

Willows

(Top)
Finches , Old World Sparrows & Weavers

Nests nearby?

Wintr
Spr
Summer
Fall
American Goldfinch
(Carduelis tristis)

(Irruptive)
?

rare

U

-

rare

Willows, Oaks,  Dunes

House Finch
(Carpodacus mexicanus)

Yes

C

C

C

C

Forest, Dunes

Purple Finch
(Carpodacus purpureus)

Yes

U

FC

FC

FC

Willows, Conifers

Red-Crossbill
(Loxia curvirostra)

(Irruptive)
?

rare

rare

rare

rare

Conifers

Lesser Goldfinch
(Carduelis psaltria)

No

rare

U

U

rare

Willows, Oaks, Dunes

House Sparrow
(Passer domesticus)

Yes

FC

FC

C

C

Dunes