Sunday, July 15, 2018

Birding the Bluff Trail

Bluff Trail Montaña de Oro - Coon Creek Cove - This is the farthest one can walk south on the Bluff Trail.  At this point the trail gently curves north/east, about .70 of a mile to the Coon Creek Trail Head and parking area.
I heard the Pigeon Guillemot’s high, piercing whistle before I saw them.  They are frequently seen conversing with each other.  It appears they have much to say.
 These hardy, compact sea birds arrive at MdO in mid-March to nest in the holes and niches found in the rocky cliffs of the Bluff Trail. 
Sharp claws on their webbed very red feet help them to climb the rugged vertical shale formations.  I was wondering if the Guillemot on the left was not fully mature, as its feet were not the bright red of an adult.  In mid-August they will return to the open sea.  Fortunately there are always a few that hang around for awhile.

The Bluff Trail birds were very cooperative.  Noticed a pair of, difficult to see, Wrentit chasing each other through the brush, Spotted Towhee seemed to be everywhere, California Thrasher, and Bewick's Wren were singing.  The highlight of the morning was a precious California Quail family with 11 tiny chicks, mom leading the way, dad taking up the rear.  I never cease to be amazed that these itty bitty creatures are independent foragers at birth.  I wish them all a long and fruitful life.


Monday, July 2, 2018

The Cormorant Saga - Episode 3

Point Lobos State Reserve - Hundreds of newly arrived Brown Pelican find respite on Gibson Beach.  On this third and final adventure to observe the nesting Brant's Cormorants, I am joined by my friend Cathy from Palm Springs.  It has been 50 days since my first observation.  I do believe the action will be intense, and on the other hand I could be mistaken.
Both parents are active participants in feeding and protecting the young.  The small area around their nest is sacrosanct, anyone getting into their space is firmly scolded, if not responding, pecked.  Nest tidying, unwanted items such as scraps of food, odd twigs, bits of eggshells, and dead hatchlings are tossed out.  Edible items such as food scraps and dead hatchlings may be eaten.   Included in nest tidying is adding fresh material.
From what I observed the average number of chicks per nest was about 2 - 3.  At 3 weeks of age the chicks are too large to shelter.  The adult stands at the edge of the nest, ready at a moments notice to protect the chicks.   At 6 - 7 weeks adults may leave the nest unguarded but return to feed and roost.  The photo shows chicks of all sizes.  The chicks will fledge (fly) at about day 50.  Adults will continue feeding for a couple of weeks after the chicks fledge.  (click on photos to see details)

Below photo - Parents perched on edge of nest.  I find the demeanor of the upper left parent serene.
Quite a few late comers have arrived since my June 13th. visit.  They seem to have had no trouble finding nesting sites.  
We discovered several Pelagic Cormorant nests in Brandt's territory.  Notice the large hole in the center of the rock formation, inside was a nesting Pelagic pair.  Difficult to see even with binoculars.
At Sea Lion Point, a mile north of Bird Island, we checked on the progress of the Pelagic Cormorants.  The three nests all had chicks.  The one on the left had small chicks that the parent was sheltering.  While looking at the far left nest, Cathy noticed a Pigeon Guillemot fly out from the left.  We concluded that a Guillemot and a Pelagic can nest in close proximity without a problem.  A portion of the Guillemot's head, bill and white wing patch can be seen.
More than likely this is the last of the Cormorant Saga, but I can't make any promises.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Birding Guano Covered Rocks - Episode 2

Point Lobos - Wednesday Morning 10:30 - after 154 miles, mostly on Highway 101, I found myself looking at probably a couple thousand nesting Brandt's Cormorant.  Thirty-four days had passed since my last visit to the rocky outcrops that are seen from the Bird Island Trail; the number of nesting Brandt's Cormorant had greatly increased.

 There was much activity in the colony, little chicks, and juveniles of various sizes.  Some of the juveniles appeared as large, if not larger than their parents, and like typical teenagers they were constantly begging for food.  Upon first sight, all I saw was a mass of black.  Through binoculars, I began to see the nestlings.  At birth they are without feathers and sightless.  Within a week they are covered with down. Feeding is accomplished by the parent regurgitating into the nestling's throat.  I only saw the feeding process once and it looked like the parent put it's entire bill down the very thin throat of their offspring. 

I saw more juveniles than little ones because the little ones were tucked away under their parents.  Sometimes I could see a tiny head peeking out.  Tending to the young is shared by both parents.  What was helpful with locating the young was their fluffy dull black color, and the grayish/white down on the head and wings of the juveniles.  
In the center of the above photo are three juveniles.  Can you locate more?

Can you find the tiny chick?  The well developed nests are glued together with excrement.  Many of the nests appear to be very solid.
          More nestlings, mostly in the center.
On a rock face below the hustle and bustle of the colony was a Black-crowned Night Heron and a Brant's Cormorant who, more than likely, desired a modicum of privacy.
      Pelagic Cormorant Territory - Located one mile north at Sea Lion Cove
White excrement marks the nest sites; ten were occupied.  No little ones.  The scene was serene.

On June 27 will be taking another jaunt to Point Lobos.  Hopefully, ten days from now there will be Pelagic hatchlings.


Saturday, June 2, 2018

Birding Cottontail Creek Road

 When we first arrived at Cottontail Creek Road we turned East.  A short distance along the road the Creek flows under a small bridge.  From the extremely dense vegetation came a variety of bird songs.  It was rather overwhelming.  Singing was a chorus of Warbling Vireo, Pacific-slope Flycatcher, Song Sparrow, and Wilson's Warbler.  Chasing after insects at the creek's edge were two Black Phoebe.  In a nearby field were American Robin and Western Bluebird.  Perched on barbed wire fencing was a Cassin's Kingbird.
 Above the creek was a huge oak were Nuttall's and Acorn Woodpecker and an Oak Titmouse family were active.

The West side of Cottontail Creek Road gently meanders along Whale Rock Reservoir and rolling ranch land dotted with grazing Black Angus Cattle. 
We (friend Mike and I) never saw another car nor another person - the only sounds, the birds and the breeze - a birding paradise.  After turning off Old Creek Road the car rumbled over a cattle grate.  In less than a 1/4 mile the reservoir appeared; we pulled over where we could see the gnarly oak trees.  A few years ago I had seen two Bald Eagles perched on the tree; unfortunately no Eagles were visible.
 In the reservoir we saw Coots, and Double-creasted Cormorant.  Overhead dashed Cliff and Tree Swallow.  Mike spotted the Bald Eagle.  Our national bird was soaring above us.  For several minutes we watched it soar.  Oh my gosh, what a treat.  It gained altitude as it soared, eventually disappearing over the hills.  Due to our lofty position above the lake, the only birds we could identify on the reservoir were Western and Pied-billed Grebe and juvenile Double-creasted Cormorant.  We had a marvelous sighting at the old cattle corral of a Red-tailed Hawk coming up from the ground with a snake clutched in its beak.

The most exciting part of the morning was yet to come.   After a couple hours of birding we were ready for a coffee break.  Not wanting to miss anything, we were moving at a snail's pace.  To our left were the hills dotted with rocky outcrops, when what to my eyes should appear but our Bald Eagle perched on an outcrop.  I pulled over, got out of the car.  Walking very slowly managed to get a photo.  Far from perfect, but it is my very first Bald Eagle photo.
I knew as soon as it sensed my presence it would fly off and it did.  Fortunately the Eagle flew down to the water, circled around a few times, dove down to the water, came up empty handed, and once again flew out of sight.  A fitting end to a perfect morning of birding the central coast.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Bird Island - The Cormorant Sage - Episode 1

Bird Island - May 10, 2018 - Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, Monterey County California
The fully accessible trail to Bird Island is a .8 mile round trip.  The views are spectacular - Monterey Pine, an amazing variety of delicate spring wildflowers, white sand coves (above photo), harbor seal moms and pups, and Bird Island, famous for its breeding colony of Brandt’s Cormorant. 
 Brandt’s Cormorant not only nest together, they roost together, and feed together.  In the above photo they are clustered together in an oval depression.  When expanding the photo you can see quite a few well established nests.  Far left is a Brandt's carrying construction material.  In my opinion the occupied depression is the prime real estate on Bird Island.
The male chooses the nest site.  In high hopes of attracting a mate, he advertises himself with various displays, emphasizing his vivid blue gular pouch (above).  He begins to build his nest gathering seaweed, eelgrass, alga and nearby vegetation.  Unfortunately, while he is off gathering, a rival male may steal some of his nesting material. 

Females move among the advertising males with thin, up-stretched necks.  As a female approaches a group of males (center), there is a sudden increase in displays.

After they pair up the male gathers nesting material while the female builds the nest.  Their guano glues it together.  Both the male and female defend their nest site from interlopers.  When a nest exchange is made the eggs are turned by the new sitter.  Incubation (28-31 days) is carried out by both parents.  Care is taken during a nest exchange because Western Gulls are waiting for their chance to snatch an egg or a nestling.  Rarely are eggs left unattended. 
 The Brandt's smaller, slimmer relative, the Pelagic Cormorant, nests near Bird Island on the sheer sides of steep cliffs; they are not as social nor gregarious as the Brant's. (above photo by Mike Baird)  
Their mating displays are similar to their larger cousin, although they flap their wings more to show off their white flanks. 
Once they find a nest site they tend to be faithful to it for the rest of their lives.  Nests become large due to reuse.  They lay 3 - 5 eggs - would love to get a photo of Pelagic Cormorant nestlings crowded into their precariously positioned nest.  Hmm, maybe a return trip is in order for late June.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Peregrine Falcons at Montaña de Oro Update

Peregrine Falcon juvenile (2008 photo by Mike Baird) fledged on Morro Rock in Morro Bay Calif.  Morro Rock is approximately 10 miles north of Montaña de Oro (MdO).  The Morro Rock Peregrine could be related to one of our MdO Peregrines.
Now it is 26 days after the Peregrine Falcon posting of April 2nd - The question whether the Peregrines will nest in the Smuggler's Cove cliff site at MdO remains unanswered.  This morning at 10:21 there were no Peregrines in sight.  At 10:42 the pair arrived. The lonely male (below) went into the possible nesting site; after a few minutes he perched in the opening. 
The female, who appeared to be preening, was located (below) in the mating, feeding area (see post of April 2)
Peregrine Falcons generally reach breeding maturity at two years of age.  Since the MdO female is a sub-adult and not fully mature, her chances of producing fertile eggs and nesting are slim.  But I continue to have hope that our pair of Peregrines will raise a family.
The Peregrine pair on the north side of Morro Rock began incubation on March 12th.  And the Peregrine pair on the south side of the Morro Rock had yet to nest as of the 12th.  Perhaps delayed nesting is not that unusual and eventually the MdO pair will nest in the not too distant future.
             Stay tuned for the next episode.

For info on the Peregrines of Morro Rock go to

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Central Coast Splendors - Birds and Flowers

The goal of the morning was to look for spring wildflowers on the Junge Ranch Trail - located about 1/4 mile north of San Simeon Creek.  The scenic one mile trail hugs the coast.   In 2004 the Junge Ranch property was added to the Hearst San Simeon State Park. 

San Simeon State Park -  From the Washburn parking/picnic area -  A few steps to the boardwalk, turn toward the sea and you have arrived at the San Simeon Beach Lagoon.  Overhead sped hundreds of Swallows feeding on insects and gathering droplets of mud.

The swallows were building mud nests that were tucked under the bridge where the deck meets the the huge bridge supports.  Now for the sometimes hard part of birding, identification - an easy task if Swallows were ground feeders.  Finally, after much pondering, I concluded they were Cliff Swallow and Northern Rough-winged Swallow. (I do enjoy the pondering)
 What took me by complete surprise was the size of the lagoon.  Winter/Spring storms had opened the lagoon to the sea.  Gone was the natural gravel berm that kept the ocean at bay.  The Lagoon was now considerably larger. 

On the far side of the lagoon, standing in shallow water, were five Caspian Tern, possibly taking a break on their flight north to East Sand Island in Oregon’s Columbia River Estuary where a huge breeding colony of Caspian Tern is located. 
 While observing the Terns four Bufflehead, 3/M, 1/F splashed down. I was rather surprised when they landed directly in front of me.  (above photo male Bufflehead) Only observed one precious Snowy Plover. 
 Next stop, the Junge Ranch Trail to look for wildflowers

     Chocolate Lily - Fritillaria biflora (2-3 in.)
Some of the flowers are tiny and barely noticeable.  I used binoculars to locate the  inch Chocolate Lily patch. 

 California Native wildflowers are bountiful on the Junge Ranch Trail. 
Some of the Wildflowers were: Blue-eyed Grass, Sun Cups, Thrift, tiny Redmaids, Butttercup, Fiddleneck, California Poppy, and one very special flower. 
 The special flower was alone in it's universe, one small lavender flower, a flower I had never seen before.  It was a Monterey Mariposa Lily (Calochortas uniflorus), considered a rare plant due to its limited distribution.  Coincidentally I'll be visiting Point Lobos in Monterey in a few weeks and guess what I will be looking for, yes, a Monterey Mariposa Lily.  (and birds of course)
           Seaside Daisy - Erigeron glaucus