Bird Photo Big Day Fall Challenge!

On Saturday (Oct 1) Katherine and I participated in San Francisco Bay Bird Observatory’s “Bird Photo Big Day Fall Challenge.” It was so much fun.

We got to do what we like to do best…go out and look for birds!

The goal of the challenge is for bird lovers from ten bay area counties to go out and take pictures of as many different species as possible. The picture can be taken with any camera. The only requirement for a photo is that the bird must be identifiable.

However, that being said, some awesome and stunning shots were submitted over the course of the 24-hour event!

Katherine and I started at Natural Bridges. We walked in near Antonelli Pond and meandered toward the beach. We made several IDs before we crossed the street to Antonelli Pond. Katherine had to leave for work so I walked up to UCSC Coastal Campus to look for more birds. Later in the day, we took the dogs to Bonny Doon Ecological Reserve to see what we’d see. Expecting sun, we were disappointed to find a thick fog covering the Reserve making it hard to get identifiable shots of birds unless they were pretty close. However, we had a beautiful walk with the dogs and did get some shots. We also turned in counts to eBird. (Still trying to win a pair of binoculars! 🤣)

Together, Katherine and I identified fifty species. I submitted 37 pictures to the Facebook page of the event.

Photographers are asked to identify their birds, but the volunteers will correct them if necessary…which was the case with my erstwhile “Double-crested Cormorants.” The count volunteers had to correct my ID: Brandt’s Cormorants.

Brandt’s Cormorants!

Some species may have already been submitted when you upload a photo but I was the first with a photo of the notoriously shy Wrentit!


You can frequently hear Wrentits…they have a distinctive ping-pong bouncing song, but they are hard to see, hiding in dense brush. This particular specimen started off peeking out of a bush, but as I stood there, it emerged and posed for several minutes.

I took a couple of pretty good shots of Anna’s Hummingbirds. I submitted the first one for the count of Anna’s and the second as an entry for “Best Bird in Flight,” one of the five photo contests.

Anna’s Hummingbird
Anna’s Hummingbird

I was pretty pleased with both of them until some of the other Anna’s Hummingbird photos started getting uploaded. 🤣

Below are galleries of some of my photos from the three locations:

Natural Bridges

Antonelli Pond

UCSC Coastal Campus

Some birders took photos from their own backyards. Below is a photo I shot of a Yellow Warbler who has been seen in our yard the last couple of weeks.

Yellow Warbler

Katherine and I had a lot of fun participating in this event. I am already looking forward to the spring challenge.

Oh, and this event handily beat the spring count of 171. Two hundred and four bird species were photographed on Saturday!


Following is a list of birds Katherine and I identified Saturday (species with * had photos submitted for the count; species with ** were birds I didn’t I couldn’t get a photo of )

*Acorn Woodpecker: We saw about fifteen. By December, there will be a couple hundred at Bonny Doon Ecological Reserve

American Coot

*American Crow

*Anna’s Hummingbird

**Band-tailed Pigeon (they were flying by too fast and it was too foggy at Bonny Doon)

Bewick’s Wren

Black Phoebe

*Black-crowned Night Heron

*Brandt’s Cormorant (misidentified by me as Double-crested Cormorants 😳)

**Brown Pelican (a large flock flew by UCSC Coastal Campus…I was an amateur counter: “One, two, three, four…” my count getting faster and faster as they flew by)


*California Quail

*California Scrub Jay (I wished they’d stop coming by our yard. They eat the persimmons!)

*California Thrasher

*California Towhee

*Chestnut-backed Chickadee

Common Raven (this was another photo in the fog so it’s more of a dramatic silhouette a la Edgar Allen Poe)

*Dark-eyed Junco

**Double-crested Cormorant (didn’t bother to get a picture because I thought I already had one! Wrong!)

*Eurasian Starling (very backlight but Lightroom Classic is your friend)

*Golden-crowned Sparrow (Migratory bird who has returned and now seen everywhere)

**Great Egret (flew overhead while I watched rather than took a photo…not sure what I was thinking…probably that I’d see another, which is often the case, but not when you’re trying to “count” species)

**Green Heron (Katherine spotted this as she was leaving Antonelli, She texted me but I never saw it. Very disappointed. Love those birds.)

*Hairy Woodpecker (the first Hairy of the day for the event)

*Heermann’s Gull (Katherine pointed these out, “Those look different…”)

*Hermit Thrush (not as shy as a Wrentit, but close)

*House Finch (very common but took a photo thinking people may not go for the more common birds)

*Lesser Goldinch (in the fog; ID’d by the volunteers who were keeping track of the count and the IDs)

*Mallard (see House Finch, above)

*Mourning Dove (see Mallard, above 😛)

*Northern Mockingbird (always in the yard but when a photo really counts, they are hiding in the bottlebrush!)

Oak Titmouse (ID’d by call and by backlit silhouette; poor picture; wouldn’t sit still for the camera!)

*Pacific-slope Flycatcher (Fairly easy to ID by its call but its very similar to other small, olive-colored birds. Seen at Antonelli — where I got a identifiable photo, and at Bonny Doon where the bird is obscured by a twig and less identifiable)

*Pied-billed Grebe

* Red-breasted Sapsucker (First ID’d this bird behind the neighborhood bike shop where it was poking many lines of holes in a Pepper Tree earlier this year. Thought it was my best spot on Saturday, but turns out at least four other people saw one also)

*Red-shouldered Hawk (two were hunting at UCSC Coastal Campus. I spent a lot of time with one that was perched reasonably close, hoping to catch him taking off. He apparently had more time than I did. I think he was still perched in the sam spot when I left the Campus)

Snowy Egret (spotted by Katherine in the distance. Hoped in vain to see another closer.)

*Song Sparrow (saw several. One was banded! I rarely notice until reviewing the photos later)

*Spotted Towhee (such a pretty bird)

Steller’s Jay (not usually seen at Antonelli, but…there you have it. Poor photos: backlit and obscured by twigs and leaves)

*Townsend’s Warbler (fun ID at Natural Bridges. High point until I saw the Red-breasted Sapsucker shortly thereafter)

*Western Bluebird (seen at Antonelli — on fence of Homeless Garden Project — and at UCSC Coastal Campus)

Western Gull (Gull ID is hard! 1st winter color, 2nd winter color…some even have 3rd winter color…too much!😩)

*Whimbrel (spotted by Katherine at Natural Bridges)

*White-crowned Sparrow (Seen in the backyard…I guess I could have just stayed home and seen who would show up 😛)

*White-tailed Kite (seen at UCSC Coastal Campus. Haven’t seen them there lately; was happy to see it. They are always cool to see as they hover in the air)

*Wild Turkey (at Natural Bridges. I looked around for more since they usually are not found solo — in my experience — but only saw a couple of preening deer. Were those his flock?)

*Wrentit (unusually cooperative. Heard at least one other place but seen at UCSC Coastal Campus)

*Yellow-rumped Warbler (My guess on the ID was confirmed by the volunteers)

*Yellow Warbler (Not just the rump! Seen in the backyard on occasion the last couple of weeks. Very cool. Makes me wonder how many have visited in the past before Katherine and I started looking at birds.)

The ten counties included in this event are: Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Solano, and Sonoma.

This challenge started in the spring of 2020 as a fundraising event the San Francisco Bay Bird Observatory.

Photo Contest Categories

Best Day in the Life of a Bird

Best Bird in Flight

Most Extraordinary Photo of an Ordinary Bird

Birds of a Feather Flock together

Funniest Photo

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