Wednesday, November 7, 2018

An Apology

I had a great deal of difficulty with the Google Program.  The font kept changing.  Hopefully my next blog will look normal.  Thank you for viewing my blog.    Joyce

Tuesday/Wednesday Birding: Looking for Winter Birds

Late October, early November is often the time of year when we have summer weather.  Monday morning felt like summer, a slight breeze, deep Blue sky, and a beautiful tranquil bay.
Sea Pines nine hole golf course has two easily viewable ponds, that is if you do not mind looking through chain link fencing. 

I was Birding with Mike.  Our first sighting was a “commotion” of Coots near the first pond (above).  Over a few greens Mike spotted a “plump” (12) of Greater white-fronted Geese.  A “dabble” of Mallards and a few Coots occupied the second pond (below). 

Sweet Springs - A high tide was just beginning to go out.  From the overlook our best sightings were an “incontinence” (8) of Greater Yellowleg, a “paddling” (22) of Blue-winged Teal, and a “season” (6) of beautiful Killdeer.  Two Black-bellied Plover, clad in their rather dull winter plumage, were having a bit of a tiff.  I think it was an adult and a juvenile.   
Near the Second Street Pier -  A Greater Yellowleg was hanging out with two Coots, out from the pier a Common Loon, in winter plumage, was diving for food.  They can travel underwater quite far as they chase down prey. 

Morro Bay Marina - We had not walked far when we saw the adorable Spotted Sandpiper teetering along the edge of the water.  This little darling is very reliable as she is always feeding along the edge of the marina.

From the boardwalk we could see in the distance large flocks of shorebirds, numerous Great-Blue Heron, Great and Snowy Egret, and Harbor Seals hauled out on the pickleweed. 

A high 6 foot tide took me back to Sweet Springs this morning. (photo taken at 9am) Dabbling in the pickleweed were newly arrived winter ducks, Mallard, American Widgeon, Blue-winged and Green-winged Teal, and what I thought was a Male Northern Pintail,  but was unsure, as I could not get a good enough look.

Local birder/photographer Gary O’Neill, was at the overlook.  We immediately got into a discussion on the birds he had photographed.  Fortunately he had taken a photo of the Pintail, or what we thought was a Pintail, but did not have the long pointed tail.  This evening I compared his photo with photos on the internet and came to the conclusion that it was probably a Mallard/Northern Pintail Hybrid.  In the photo the possibly Mallard/Pintail Hybrid is in the foreground.  Beside him is a male Mallard.  Maybe the Mallard is his dad.  Ah, another bird mystery to resolve.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Birding Big Morongo Canyon Preserve

 The Morongo Canyon Preserve is located directly off of the Twentynine Palms Highway (Hwy 62) in the high desert town of Morongo Valley, California.  The Preserve is a 31,000 acre native plant and wildlife habitat, situated in the transition zone between the high Mojave Desert and the lower Colorado Desert section of the Sonoran Desert.  In other words, it is in the semi-high desert .

Natural Springs, when not suffering from drought, feed a desert oasis of native California Palm, Cottonwood, Willow, Mesquite, extensive patches of Alkali Goldenbush, (below) and a riparian habitat that create a cool and moist environment for birds, wildlife, and birders.  The Preserve is well known among the bird watching world; over 247 different species have been observed at Big Morongo.
 The weather was perfect for birding, a slightly warm morning accompanied by a cooling breeze.  Anticipating the temperature to be hot, Cathy, my Palm Springs friend, and I were delighted at the coolness.  Is Cathy looking at a bird?  No!  It's was a tiny bright green grasshopper.  In some areas birds were a bit sparse.
Unfortunately, drought and fire had taken a toll on the vegetation, but the hardy plants, especially the Mesquite and the California Palm, were coming back to life.
Best birds on our walk were Black-and-White Warbler and a male and female Phainopepla, the male was in flight, the female perched on a twig.  We were alerted to their presence by a one syllable call, similar to a whistle.  A primary source of food for the Phainopepla are mistletoe berries.  Both the Cottonwood and Mesquite trees are hosts to the parasitic mistletoe.

The Black-and-White Warbler was active in a blooming patch of Alkali Goldenbush that was humming with insects.
 Two feeding stations in the Preserve gave birders a chance to sit comfortably while practicing the art of birding.   Feeders held seeds, peanuts and suet; Hummingbirds had their choice of several feeders, and for birds with a sweet tooth, such as Woodpeckers, Orioles, and Tanagers, a hanging basket with a bowl of grape jell; water stations used by both birds and wildlife were numerous.  In the above photo, the black object keeps the squirrels out of the feeders. 

It was tremendous fun birding the feeders.  A few of the birds we saw were Black-chinned Hummingbird, Mountain Chickadee (uncommon), White-breasted Nuthatch, Fox Sparrow, Lincoln’s Sparrow, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, and one very special bird.
We were sitting, chatting with other birders (above photo), enjoying the little brown, grey, and black and white birds when suddenly there appeared at the grape jelly feeder, a brilliantly red, Summer Tanager (photo below)  Well, that made our day - a first sighting for both of us. (the man in the center is using a monocular.)
Birding the Big Morongo Preserve was a rewarding experience that I hope to repeat next spring when Vermilion Flycatchers arrive to nest in the Cottonwoods.

The Big Morongo Preserve is included in the 154,000 acre Sand to Snow National Monument.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

An Extremely Rare Shorebird

On Tuesday a rare migrant was observed at the Alva Paul Creek Lagoon on Morro Strand State Beach.  By 9:00 Wednesday morning I was slogging down the sand trail to the beach and the lagoon.  Due to high tides the sand on the beach was firm and easy to walk on.  In the distance I could see the lagoon and two people whom I assumed were birders because they had a scope and binoculars and were focused on the lagoon.  I was nearly positive they were looking at the, newly arrived Buff-breasted Sandpiper.  It's usual migratory route is from it's Arctic breeding grounds, through the middle of the continent, to Southern South America.  To say the least, an amazing journey for a five ounce bird.
The day was damp and overcast, not a hint of sun.  The beach was active with Long-billed Curlew (above), Willet, Marbled Godwit, and thousands of Elegant Terns; mixed into the mass were Royal Terns; overhead flew two Caspian Terns.  I find the constant, rather boisterou chatter of Terns most amusing.  The chattering Terns along the lagoon in the video is a small example of the number of Terns that were on the beach.
          Elegant Tern are enthusiastic bathers.

Upon reaching the lagoon the pair of local birders pointed out the juvenile Buff-breasted Sandpiper.  The precious little traveler was easy to see and did not seem bothered by our presence.  It had a speedy walk, different than our basic Sandpipers, the Western and Least Sandpiper.  Photo by Tom Edell, birder extraordinaire.

There are several high tides this week that will expand the size of the Alva Paul Creek Lagoon.  Will this rare sandpiper continue to grace us with her presence?  I'll find out on Sunday when I return to the beach and the bounty of migratory birds on the beach. 

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Memorable Sightings

 Turri Road Ponds at the junction of So. Bay Blvd and Turri Road.
 Memorable sighting No. 3 -  I was anticipating seeing Greater and Lesser Yellowleg, but upon arrival what we did see was a delightful surprise - six Red-necked Phalarope plus a Logger-headed Shrike that sped by at eye level.
Phalarope are fun to watch as they are active feeders, spinning in circles as they feed on tiny insects.  Below is a photo I somehow managed to get, when for a brief moment, a Phalarope stopped spinning.
    Memorable sighting No. 4 -  Third Street Coastal Access 
A mixed flock of rather adorable, Semipalmated Plover, Marbled Godwit and Willet were feeding along the edge of the water - a very peaceful scene.  I mentioned to Mike that we should see a Black-bellied Plover, as one or two are often found in a mixed flock of shorebirds.  We found one by itself on a little sandbar.  It's beautiful black and white breeding plumage had already transitioned to quiet winter colors.  Photo of Black-bellied Plover in Winter Plumage.
    Memorable Sighting No. 2 -  Morro Bay State Park Marina
I was confident we would find a Spotted Sandpiper.  We were barely a few feet along the path when the tiny sandpiper appeared bopping along the edge of the water.  Translation of "bopping along" - Spotted Sandpiper teeter as they walk.  Chicks teeter as soon as they hatch.  The function of the teetering motion is yet to be determined.  Soon we discovered there were two Spotted Sandpipers, an adult and a juvenile.  The adult still had a few spot on its belly.  A great treat seeing these two little beauties.  If you squint, the belly spots can be seen.
    Memorable Sighting No. 1 -  Morro Bay Marina Boardwalk
The primary reason for going to the marina was to see, at the least, one of the four or five Reddish Egrets that had been seen in the area of Morro Bay for about a week or so.  The Reddish Egret is one of the rarest egrets in North America.  It's easily distinguished from other Egrets and Herons by its shaggy appearance, reddish head and neck during breeding season, very active feeding behavior, and pink-and-black bill.  It is a resident breeder in Central America, the Bahamas, the Caribbean, the Gulf Coast of the U.S, and Mexico, and has slowly been making its way up our coast.

We were standing on the boardwalk with binoculars focused across the vast pickleweed to the edge of the receding tide.  A scope would have been helpful.  While looking for the Egrets three women, one with binoculars and a humongous camera, sat down on a nearby bench.  The woman with the camera asked if we had seen the Reddish Egret. "No," we answered.  She points into the hazy west. "They're out there, four of them."  By expanding the photo (click or touch) you can see two of the four Egrets, far left and right center.

 At this time of year they are without their roguish reddish head and neck.  What distinguished them to us was their athletic feeding behavior.  We observed them dash about, zig-zag, and leap with wings flapping, but they did have their quiet moments, strolling along the edge of the water with the shorebirds.  Certainly would be delightful to have the Reddish Egret as a regular winter visitor.  For your viewing please have included a 1.14 minute YouTube video on the feeding strategy of the Reddish Egret.

On July 17 at San Simeon creek mouth local photographer Roger Zachary captured this excellent image of a Reddish Egret.

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.