I moved back to Oakland, near Lake Merritt, in February, and walking around the lake a couple times a week, I was struck by the paucity of bird species compared to when I visited Lake Merritt as a kid. For most of this year, we have had Canada geese, Herring gulls and pigeons hanging around, species that gladly live off of whatever humans throw out. In the water, there are coots, drab gray water birds with white beaks, and the occasional mated pair of mallards.
All I had to do was wait. Now in late November, Lake Merritt is teaming with bird species. There are many species of ducks, including several exotic looking critters I didn't remember from my youthful days as a bird watcher. The ducks I could definitely identify were canvasbacks and ruddy ducks. There might have been a few teals as well. The only species I remember from my childhood that I didn't see yesterday were wood ducks, which is a shame because they are one of the prettiest duck species of all.
Besides ducks, there were also swans and geese, and not just the omnipresent Canadas. There was a big light brown goose that I looked up on the interwebs, and as far as I can tell it is called a buff goose. I couldn't find a picture that did it justice because it is HUGE. It towers over the Canada geese like the Canada geese tower over the ducks. The buff is supposed to be a farm goose and extinct in the wild. You come to Oakland and tell him he's extinct yourself, buddy, because frankly, he frightens me.
There are also other waterfowl that are kinda sorta like ducks, but without the duck bills. I'm sure I spotted both grebes and mergansers, as well as some obvious and better known critters like pelicans and cormorants. Since I have been in the area nearly a year, my guess is the surprise visitors are on their migration route. They aren't planning on staying long, but Lake Merritt is a nice stopover where there is stuff to eat and people don't hide in bushes with shotguns. Or if they do, they aren't hunting ducks.
A couple other sightings of note were the American bittern and the night heron. The bittern has a distinctive cry "allukidsgetoffmylawn! allukidsgetoffmylawn!", which is why they call it a bittern, I suppose. And in Oakland, the night heron completely psychs people by showing up in the day time. Kind of like with Canada geese, humans call these critters whatever we want to, but they live their own lives, thank you very much.
It's really nice to see all these guys back in the neighborhood.