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So, you're coming to Netroots Nation 13 in San Jose this June!

You've got your convention reservation. You've got your hotel room. You've even rented a car so you can get around for a few days.

But, like convention-goers everywhere, you have one vital question: Where's the chicks?

Let's look below the orange nest and see if we can track some down!

San Jose City Hall Falcon
Peregrine Falcon fledge atop San Jose City Hall (photo courtesy of City of San Jose)


Unfortunately, you may not see a peregrine family raise their young in a nest box atop City Hall, as any chicks they have this spring will have fledged by the time NN13 comes around. However, falcons may still be flying around the city, so keep your eyes up and maybe you'll be lucky!

(Note that in the following section I've uploaded images of maps, but I have also supplied links to the maps so that you can click on them and enlarge the maps to get details.)

A fine area to bird in downtown San Jose will be along the Guadalupe Creek. There is a section of creek a block or so from the convention center; however you need to be aware of a homeless population living along the creek.

For better downtown birding, walk toward the HP Pavilion.
Guadalupe River Trail

It's a short walk up Almaden Boulevard to Santa Clara Street and then left toward HP Pavilion where there is a very nice riverside park and trail. This trail should be good for typical riparian birds -- warblers, Black Phoebe, sparrows, and possible Red-shouldered Hawk and Cooper's Hawk. You should also be able to see egrets and herons along the banks. Take the normal precautions you would take in any city, but you'll be OK, especially if you're birding with others.

The Guadalupe Creek flows from the hills outside of the city into the southern end of San Francisco Bay.

And that is where some of the best birding locally is found. The southwestern part of the bay comprises Shoreline and Baylands, with Alviso located at the southernmost tip. While you were able to walk from the convention site to Guadalupe Creek, you will need a car to get to Shoreline.

Shoreline

To get to these areas, drive north from downtown on Highway 87 and then north on Highway 101 for about 10 miles. To get to Shoreline, get off the highway at Shoreline Boulevard in Mountain View. To get to Baylands, continue a few more miles north and exit 101 at San Antonio Road. Turn right and drive all the way to the parking lot at Terminal Boulevard.

What you'll find in these areas are extensive marshland and salt ponds, but not a lot of open shores so don't expect coastal habitat. Still, these areas provide wonderful birding for various water birds, including Cinnamon Teal, Ruddy Duck, Northern Pintail, and various gulls; Savannah and Song Sparrow; and, if you're lucky, you'll see (or hear) Sora or Common Gallinule. The best chances for these skittish and hidden birds will be in the reeds to the left of Shoreline Lake, as viewed on the map. If you park on Terminal Boulevard and walk right, toward the lake, look in these marshes for these birds. American Coot and swallows will be everywhere!

Look in the mudflats for American Avocet, Black-necked Stilt, and Killdeer. At the end of June, sandpipers are also starting to return to the area, so watch the edges of the mudflats for peeps small and large.

A bit to the south of Shoreline, off of Highway 237, is the small community of Alviso, home of Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

Great Egret near Alviso Slough
Great Egret Near Alviso Slough

In addition to the shorebirds and marsh birds, including Marsh Wren, seen at Don Edwards, this area has a small population of Burrowing Owl.
Burrowing Owls
(Courtesy of Bob Power, Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society)

The next prime area for birding locally involves going to hillsides and oak woodlands to get the birds living in those habitats. As with birding at Baylands, however, you will need a car to get to these sites.

One of the best parks of this nature is Stevens Creek County Park, to the southwest of the downtown area. You'll get there by taking I-280 north from downtown, and exiting at Foothill. Drive south on Foothill and it turns into Stevens Canyon Road:

Stevens Creek County Park

Stevens Creek County Park is great birding because of the variety of habitat. There is a reservoir in which you can find ducks and geese, as well as shorebirds on the banks. In the woods you can find Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Oak Titmouse, Bewick's Wren, various warblers, Nuttall's Woodpecker, Acorn Woodpecker, Red-shouldered Hawk, and much more. Look above for Red-tailed Hawk and Turkey Vulture.

The grassy hills are prime habitat for Western Meadowlark, Western Bluebird, Violet-green Swallow and sparrows. On trails, look for Dark-eyed Junco guiding your walk and listen for the distinctive "chi-ca-go" call of California Quail.

Watch for movement in shrubs and you might see Spotted Towhee and the very common California Towhee.

Now, open the map of Stevens Creek County Park. If you look at the bottom of the map, you'll see Stevens Canyon Road going along the creek to the left. If you are up for a birding adventure, drive slowly up that road, which is very narrow and winding, and look for safe places to park near the first and second bridges over the creek. (It'll be obvious when you do it.) Rocks at these locations are where American Dipper are found in most summers. Can't guarantee you'll see 'em, of course. This is a dark and shady location, and dippers are very well camouflaged making them hard to find. But, if they are here this summer, this is the place to find them.

Note that Stevens Creek County Park is surrounded by three Open Space Preserves which also offer excellent birding. As a bonus, Picchetti Ranch/Monte Bello Open Space Preserve is adjacent to Picchetti Winery!

Another great hillside location is Ed Levin County Park, a short drive north of San Jose on I-680 to Milpitas.

Ed Levin

Ed Levin will be the best place locally to see Golden Eagle, as they are fairly common soaring above the ridgetops of these hills. Another possibility at Ed Levin is Yellow-billed Magpie, which is only found in California. In Ed Levin, first stop at Sandy Wool Lake to see what's there. Then, drive around near the dog-park and take the trail up the hillside for excellent birding.

Now, given that you'll be coming to San Jose for NN13 and will be busy with that, you'll have to pick and choose carefully how to devote your time between birding and convention sessions. But I hope this gives you some idea of your options.

Naturally, we hope that these birds will be here when you are here. Of course, there's never a guarantee with a bird, right? I suggest bookmarking the following website, The Birding Lists Digest for the south San Francisco Bay area. With daily updates, this site will offer the latest information regarding which birds are being seen when NN13 begins.

Another great resource is the book Birding at the Bottom of the Bay, published by SCVAS:

Discover the best publicly accessible birding sites in Santa Clara County and the southern San Francisco Bay Area. This is the essential guide for birders of all levels, from beginner to advanced, and especially for those new to the Bay Area.

Includes five areas and 54 sites -- from San Francisco Bay frontage lands, to the east and west foothills, the valley floor, and south and east as far as Mount Madonna County Park and Henry W. Coe State Park.

So, what birds would you skip a convention session to go see? Tell us in the comments.

Originally posted to Senor Unoball on Sun Feb 24, 2013 at 06:00 AM PST.

Also republished by Birds and Birdwatching.

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