Friday, January 3, 2020

Highlights of The Black Bloy Competition

January 3, 2020 - Montaña de Oro - The day was beautiful, sun warming, sea and sky a quiet azure.  Parking was not a problem as many of the Bloy (acronym for Black Oystercatcher) fans had either hiked, biked, or kayaked into the park.  For those of who were unable to attend the events, a podcast will be available online.***

      Highlights of the Competition

Race to Hazard Reef - A paired race - From Islay Point (above photo) to Hazard Reef.  Each Bloy had to collect a food morsel, hold it securely in its bill and and fly back to the starting point.  Food morsels could not be eaten until after the morsels were weighed by the judges.  (many of the athletes could not resist eating their morsels)  The pair with the shortest flight time and the heaviest morsels won the event.  Briana and Bruce Bloy from Rug Rock were the proud winners.  As you can see in the photos they have a close relationship.

Pebble Toss - A precision sport - A pebble is tossed into a slight depression similar to the size of a Bloy nest.  The toss is judged on distance and how close the pebble comes to the center of the depression.  Too strong a toss could cause the pebble to bounce out.  Brandy Bloy from Point Buchon had been practicing her toss all year.  Brandy has a loyal following, as she is an environmental activist on climate change.  If it wasn't for the waves pounding against the rocks, you could have heard a pin drop when she executed her winning, no bounce toss of 12.38 feet.  Although shy, she posed for photographers.

Feeding Pose - Considered a difficult event - Participants had to hold a pose for a considerable period of time.  Since none of the entrants lasted more than three minutes, not much was expected of the last performer.  Brayden (below) the teenage son of Briana and Bruce Bloy astounded the crowd with a time of 9.35 minutes.  Brayden said he owed his success to his parents love and support.

Mussel Relay Race - A timed event - 5 teams of 5 were up for the challenge.  Team members were stationed about every half mile between Islay Point and Coon Creek.  The team member at Islay point began the race by collecting a mussel and flying it to team mate #2.  When the mussel finally reached team mate #6 at Coon Creek the mussel had to be relayed back to #1 at Islay Point.  If the mussel was dropped, the team member had to find a replacement.  The event was chaotic as all 5 teams were racing at the same time.
Team captain Bridget and her mates (below photo) won first place as they were the only team to complete the race with their original bivalve and all their original team mates.  Each Member of the winning team received a portion of the mussel's tasty adductor muscle.  In the above photo Bridget is demonstrating her winning grip.
Moments before the start of the next to the last event, a Marathon Flyathon between point Buchon and Morro Rock, there was an announcement - The competitors would be taking a four hour break to feast on a smorgasbord of delights that had been exposed by a minus tide.

As a consequence of the announcement, the "Black Bloy Competition" was officially placed on hiatus.

Photos by - Gary O'Neill, Mike Baird, J.A. Cory

***This is a work of fiction.  Any resemblance to actual events is entirely coincidental.  

Friday, December 27, 2019

Breaking Bird News

***The 2020 Morro Bay Winter Bird Olympics has been cancelled.  Unusually stormy weather along the Pacific Flyway caused many of the migrating athletes to abort their flights.  At the point of desperation, seeking food and rest, a rag tag flock finally found respite at the Stone Lakes National Wildlife Refuge in the Sacramento Delta.  A smaller flock from Alberta Canada came down at Mono Lake on the eastern side of the Sierra.  They immediately chowed down on the abundant supply of brine flies.
Unfortunately, Alexy Kuznetsov (center of photo), the captain of the Siberian Scaup Synchronized Diving Team, was struck by lightening while crossing the Bering Strait.   RIP Alexy
The news is not all bad.  Local Black Oystercatchers (Bloys) will be presenting, for the first time, "The Black Bloy Competition."  Montaña de Oro State Park (MdO) will host the competition along its rocky coastline.  The date is January 3, 2020 - from dawn to dusk Bloys from MdO and Point Buchon will demonstrate their extraordinary athletic abilities. (below photo by Gary O'Neill)
From left to right Briana, Brayden, and Bruce Bloy.  Admission is free - Parking limited.  Refreshments and Bloy memorabilia available at the Ranch House and Quarry Cove.

***This is a work of fiction.  Any resemblance to actual events is entirely coincidental.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Return of the Winter Birds

Morro Bay - Sweet Spring East Overlook - The tide was slowly ebbing, perfect conditions for viewing the new arrivals.  There were shorebirds, wading birds, and water birds.  Wow!  Where to look first - A flock of 100 plus Least Sandpiper were busy probing the wet sand for tasty morsels.  Sprinkled among them were Sanderlings (below) easy to identity as they are larger and appear quite white in contrast to their smaller cousins.
On the periphery of the flock were two Semipalmated Plover - "semipalmated" refers to the bird's "half-webbed toes" which enable them to walk on mud without sinking.  Nearby were Great and Snowy Egret, two Killdeer, two Black-bellied Plover, two Greater Yellowleg, and a Partridge in a pear tree.
Such a beautiful day.  A small flock of Ruddy Duck floated peacefully; Bufflehead were doing what they do best - diving.  Overhead looking for an unsuspecting fish were two Caspian and five Forester's Tern.  Several Blue-winged Teal splashed down. (Sweet Springs Blue-winged Teal by Gary O'Neall)
Out on the bay, but close enough for a good look, were about 150 Black Brant Geese, accompanied by a few darker juveniles.  My first sighting this season of our iconic goose, and my first sighting ever of juvenile Brant.  (Brant by Mike Baird)
Brant used to number in the thousands.  Now, we are fortunate to have a couple hundred.  Notice that the center Brant in the above photo is eating Eelgrass which is their primary food source.  Today 90% of the Eelgrass has vanished.  Eelgrass is critical to the health of the estuary. (Brant in flight by Gary O'Neill)
Sweet Springs West Overlook - Feeding along the edge of the Bay were Willet, Godwit, and a Long-billed Curlew.  The female Curlew is larger and has a longer bill than the male.  For years I was befuddled over Curlew bills.  Some were really long and others seemed short.  For awhile I thought the short-billed Curlew were Whimbrels.  To confuse the situation, juvenile Curlew have shorter bills.  Birding does have its challenges.
West of the overlook in front of a rickety pier were more Brant.  (pier is on the far left of the photo)  Brant are long lived and mate for life.  When migrating non-stop from Alaska to Morro Bay they are beside each other; juveniles accompany their migrating parents.  Seeing the Brant and hearing their gentle chatter made my day. 
     For details on the collapse of Eelgrass in Morro Bay click on the following link.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Birding Around the Bay and Beyond

Morro Creek - Cannot think of a better way to celebrate the first Monday in October than to go birding.  The weather was warmish and crystal clear.  In other words a perfect beach day.  Due to human and dog activity birds were scarce in Morro creek.

Up Morro Creek a tad, were six Red-necked Phalarope (below), a lone female Northern Shoveler, and a "daggle" of Mallards.  On occasion a male Mallard will mate with Shovelers, Teal, Wigeon and Gadwal, but not all at once.  Seeing a Mallard hybrid can be mighty confusing.  When a male Mallard is in the mood for mating, keep your distance.
Morro Bay Marina - The marina was peaceful.  The only migratory water birds were five Pied-billed Grebe.
I was hoping to get a view of one of the two visiting Yellow-crowned Night Heron that have been seen recently perched on the back of boats, but they were a no show.
Fortune shined when a Caspian Tern, looking for a fish, flew into the marina.  It hovered a couple of times but never dove.  Due to its bulky size, its very red bill, and its impressive wing span, 50-55 inches, the Caspian is often easy to identify.  It also flies higher than Elegant, Royal and Forster's Tern.
Montaña de Oro Bluff Trail -  I was south of Quarry Cove, about midway along the trail, looking for Black Oystercatchers (Bloys), when I spotted seven of them perched on a shale formation that jutted into the sea.  As the weather flows from summer into fall/winter, the Mdo Oystercatchers often hang out together.  I see these gatherings as a means for the young adults to find a mate.  And more than likely they also talk about the two legged monsters that invade their territory when they are nesting and trying to raise their young.  Photo of four of the seven taken by Gary O'Neil.
Afterthought - Last week stopped by Laguna Lake.  The blue green algae looked about the same.  Across the lake were 30 or more White Pelican and a very large flock of Canada Goose.  Before I got out of the car I saw a tiny bird in a willow tree.  I had not seen a scaly-breasted munia, commonly known as Nutmeg Mannikin for at least 20 years.  They are native to tropical Asia and were popular with the pet trade.  I would classify them as cute.
Keep your binoculars handy because one of those little seed eaters, that we frequently take for granted, may be a Nutmeg Mannikin. 

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Birding Laguna Lake Park

Laguna Lake was full to the brim.  Unfortunately, the lake was experiencing a Blue Green Algae bloom.  Around the lake were caution signs, notifying people to avoid contact with the water.  If Blue Green Algae is ingested, it can cause unpleasant to serious health problems.  I was glad there were no birds on the lake.
Depending on conditions the bloom can last weeks or months.  I hope it is short lived and does not become seriously toxic.  I finally wrestled my thoughts away from the green water and returned to birding.  In a cozy picnic area Western Bluebirds were active.
A small flock of Bluebirds, including two juveniles were dashing about, feeding on tiny insects.  The adult Bluebirds, along with a Black Phoebe were using the border around the picnic area as a perch.

The juveniles (below) were perched on a scraggly Cypress.  I assumed they were waiting to be fed.  I was rather surprised when one of them sallied forth to snatch an insect midair.  Juveniles often appear larger than adults due to down feathers that are shed as they mature.
Other birds - Bewick's Wren, Calif towhee, Song Sparrow, Anna's Hummingbird, Nuttall's Woodpecker, Scrub Jay, Juvenile Red-tailed Hawk, and a flock of Lark Sparrow feeding in the grass along busy Madonna Road.  They were finding much to eat in the freshly mowed grass.
My usual sighting of Lark Sparrow happens when I am driving on a rural road and the little darling is perched on barbed wire, and there is nowhere to park; and if I did park the bird would fly off.  The Lark Sparrow photo was taken when I was walking on an unused rural road.  I only had about a second before it flew off.
In regards to the Algae Bloom, I called San Luis Obispo Parks and Recreation.  They are regularly checking on the toxicity level of the lake.  Cyanobacteria is not present.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Birding the Bluff Trail

               Buckwheat - Eriogonum parvifolium
Montaña de Oro St. Pk. -  As I walked down the Badger Trail to the Bluff Trail, Spotted Towhee were singing (below).  In the distance a California Thrasher sang.  I have to admit I have a preference for birds that perch on top of a tall bush and announce their presence by singing.
Overhead two juvenile Red-tailed Hawks soared.  In the dense brush Bewick’s Wren sang.  Feeding along the edge of the trail was a family of five California Quail, two adults and three youngsters.
A few days ago I saw a pair of Quail with nine chicks about the size of walnuts.  California Quail lay 12 - 16 eggs.  The nest is a shallow scrape on the ground beneath a shrub.  It is amazing considering all the predators in the park, such as snake, raccoon, weasel, bobcat, and coyote that any Quail chick survives.
On the rocks South of Quarry Cove, Black Turnstone and Surf Bird (above).  A rather large appearing male American Kestrel was perched atop Grotto Rock.  They mostly eat insects and grasshoppers, but will eat small mammals and birds.  Unfortunately, within the sight line of the Kestrel was a pair of Oystercatcher with their two small chicks.
Sara, Gary, and I have been following the progress of the two hatchlings.  When the chicks are small one parent is always close.  The other parent is either nearby resting or off foraging.  On Monday the 12th, there were three black dots on the shale, a parent with the two chicks.  (center of foggy photo - click to enlarge image)
Tiny chicks are vulnerable to predators.  They can easily be snatched by Gulls or Raptors, of which there are many flying over the bluffs.  The chicks, especially when they are located close to a splash zone, can be swept away by a rogue wave.
On the 15th the chicks were missing.  In the last few days neither chicks nor parents have been seen.  So far this year at Montaña de Oro only one nestling has lived long enough to fledge.  I certainly hope that next year the Montaña de Oro Oystercatchers have better luck. 
     One of the parents.

Gary O'neill Photos - Quail, Surfbird, Black Oystercatcher with chicks, parent Oystercatcher

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Bird Island - Brandt’s Cormorant - Part 4

     View From Bird Island Trail

Point Lobos State Preserve - June 27 -  Bird Island - A beautiful half mile trail leads to excellent views of the off shore rocks and the Cormorants.  Coincidentally, it was exactly one year since my last visit.  When I arrived at Bird Island the Cormorants were nesting and feeding their young; compared to last year there was a significant difference in population size.  The photo shows the difference between last year and this year.  Enlarging the image is helpful in seeing details.
                  Top photo 2018 - Lower 2019
The oval depression (below) is the prime real estate on the island and gets filled up quickly with the early nesters.  Many will return to the same nest they occupied the year before.
 Last year the oval area was packed; Brandt’s were everywhere.  This year the prime real estate had ample room to spare (below photo).  Perhaps they nested early, and the birds that I observed are the late comers, or could it be there are just fewer nesting Brandt’s, or last year's rainy season caused a change in their breeding cycle and they nested early.
 All by herself - Hopefully her mate is nearby, otherwise survival of her two nestlings is nil.  Nearby, predatory gulls and raptors were waiting for a chance to snatch an egg or a nestling.
I have to admit my recent Bird Island observations have left me in a curfluffled state of mind.  To satisfy my curiosity, I’m thinking that next year, on June 27 I will return to Point Lobos and its intriguing Bird Island.