Silicon Valley Birding: Rancho San Antonio Park


“I’m sad,” I said to Steve.

“Why?” he asked.

“Because I lived here and never knew to look for birds.”

This was Day 2 of our trip to the Bay Area, where I dragged Steve around to show him my old stomping grounds. Today we were at Rancho San Antonio in the Los Altos foothills, right near Cupertino where I spent two of the nine years I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area when I was in my twenties.

Rancho San Antonio is a 165-acre County Park with over 20 miles of trails for both hikers and mountain bikers. Sunday morning walks on the trails was a ritual I had—meeting up with one friend or another, crossing though meadows and under tunnels of overhanging Western Ceder, Western Hemlock, Eucalyptus and Cottonwood trees as we’d share our troubles about work, bad dates and challenging roommates.

And just like I was with Shoreline Park, I had missed the birds when I lived here. I think in my twenties I was like most young adults who had just finished college and embarked on adulthood: Everything was about me.

Nothing, it seems, was about what was around me, like this Chestnut-backed Chickadee.

Chestnut-backed Chickadee

Chestnut-backed Chickadee

Steve and I took our time as we watched this chickadee dismantle a spider and I marked it down as a “lifer,” but it probably wasn’t. I’m sure it flew around me numerous times as I had walked the trails back in the early 1990s, ignoring it’s simple “chick-a-dee” call that is less flowery than the “chicka-dee-dee-dee” call of the Mountain Chickadee I would later become accustomed to in my back yard in Utah.

Back in my twenties I was also certainly oblivious to the California Towhee. I probably just thought it was a drab, brown bird and I missed seeing it scavenging seeds and insects on the ground, like this one we found that was completely unconcerned with Steve and me standing nearby.

California Towhee

California Towhee

There were also the House Finches that I never noticed flitting in and out of the Live Oaks like the ones that seemed to be trying to catch our attention on this morning, adding to my melancholy of missed opportunities.  And a Western Scrub Jay flew in to proudly displayed a seed he found. How many times had I missed that? I thought.

Western Scrub Jay

Western Scrub Jay

And this juvenile White-Crowned Sparrow perched proudly for us, as if pointing out, Look at me. You missed me before, but here I am.

Immature white crowned sparrow

Immature white crowned sparrow


Mule Deer and fawn

The mule deer and her fawn watched us carefully as Steve and I searched for birds.

My sadness began to dissipate as I realized that now I was in a completely different place in life. Though my twenties were certainly all about me, it was because I was not at all confident about where I was in life. I was dirt poor and I was constantly struggling to make sure I had enough money to pay rent, make my car payment, pay for insurance–all those adult things were often overwhelming. I wasn’t really going anywhere with my career and I saw many of my friends advancing fast while I was not brave enough to lean in to opportunities. My years in California, while fun, were not great for my career or my bank account.

It wasn’t until I left this area I loved, and moved out of state, that I finally got my feet firmly planted on the ground. I bought my first home two years after I moved out of California. I started traveling, went to graduate school and ten years later I met my husband.

This time as I walked these dusty trails I was doing it with my husband. And rather than talking about what I didn’t have we were talking about what we could find together.

It was nearing noon and the sun was getting too warm for any more birds to come out so we headed back to the parking lot and I was happier than I was when we arrived.

I could now see things I couldn’t see before.