Monday, May 14, 2018

Bird Island

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

Thursday, April 5, 2018

The Seventeenth Day Of Spring 2018

 Turri Road - San Luis Obispo County - (photo taken through Windshield)

By the 17th day of Spring the majority of the Central Coast water fowl and shorebirds have taken off for their breeding grounds, but there are always a few that would rather stay on the Central Coast year round, and can't blame them.  Eventually though, they too will fly off, leaving Morro Bay with a feeling of emptiness. 
 Turri Road - Today, in the ponds that fill from high tide and seasonal rain were six Cinnamon Teal, three Green-winged Teal and a Greater Yellowlegs. 

About two miles up the road, an unexpected treat; along the bank of the roadside cattle pond, two Canada Goose accompanied by a Greater White-fronted Goose, two Mallards, and three Cinnamon Teal; dabbling in the pond, 10 cinnamon Teal with three Mallards.  Due to fencing and vegetation, photography is limited at the pond.  Can you find the third Cinnamon Teal?  
Singing in the willows across from the pond were spring migrants, Pacific Flycatcher and Wilson’s Warbler.

Turri Road gracefully meanders to a slight summit, then plummets into the agricultural area of Los Osos Valley.  Fence and field birds - hundreds of Brewer’s Blackbird, Say’s and Black Phoebe, Western Bluebird, and adding music to the bucolic scene an entertaining Meadow Lark.

Monday, April 2, 2018

The Peregrine Falcons Have Arrived

 Montaña de Oro State Park Ca - Smuggler's Cove

The Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus) is the fastest member of the animal kingdom.

Two weeks ago at Smuggler's Cove overlook, rover friend Sara with her husband Gary, observed two Peregrine Falcons.  An adult Peregrine had just brought food to a younger Peregrine that appeared to be a juvenile.   (* Note -  To be technically correct only the female is called a Falcon.  The male Peregrine is called a tiercel, which means "one-third" because the male is 1/3 smaller than the female.)
 Photo of the Peregrines taken by Gary O’Neill.  Since the top Falcon had adult plumage and the lower, typical juvenile plumage, I took it upon myself to assume the lower bird, that was being fed by an adult, was an older juvenile, particularly due to its size and flying ability.  I was quite certain the two Peregrines were a female adult and a juvenile, with gender to be determined.  (Birding hint - Never Assume)

After observing the Peregrines several times, I was in a total kerfuffle as to gender, so I dashed off an email, with photos, to a friend whom I recently learned had published a book on “The Peregrine Falcons of Morro Rock.”  From his reply I learned that the dark bird was an adult male, not a female, and the lighter colored bird with the horizontal stripes was not a juvenile, it was a sub-adult female, not fully molted to adult plumage. 
Viewing larger images of the photos is suggested.  Above annotated photo, viewed from left to right - nest, perch,  eating and mating area.  Below photo by Gary - sub-adult female in perch hole.
Today, 9:00 am. the fog had lifted, the morning was beautiful.  As I approached the overlook the male was flying in with food for the female who was vocalizing as he approached.  After handing off the food, he perched nearby.  Birds are the Peregrine's primary source of food.

Eventually she flew up to the aerie (nest), and he flew to the eating area to have a brief snack. (next two photos by Gary) When he left, she returned.  They mated three times in an hour.  Handing off food vocalizing, and frequent mating are part of the courtship ritual - mating is for life.
Eventually the Peregrine pair flew to the nest site.  In the photo below the female is inside, the male is facing her.  They are vocalizing and bowing to each other which is part of the courtship ritual.  The female, 1/3 larger than the male, is the dominant member of the relationship. 
 A few moments later she left the nest site for a perch on the buff.  (below photo) The next moment they were in flight, headed north - joining them was another Peregrine Falcon.  The male has no tolerance for interlopers in the vicinity of his nest.
Male at nest empty nest site (below photo by Gary).  Perhaps, the next time I visit Smuggler's Cove, the nest will be occupied with a brooding female.  I can hardly wait for the next episode - - - - To be continued. . . .

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

A Raptor Kind of Day

The morning was beautiful!  I was driving slowly up Turri Road looking for Raptors and what ever else I could find.  First sighting was a Red-shouldered Hawk perched in a willow close to the road.  The ephemeral cattle pond (photo) that appears after a rain, held three Cinnamon Teal, and a Greater Yellowleg.  The hills were just beginning to green out.
Perched in a willow thicket across from the pond was a Cooper’s Hawk. (above)  In the vicinity of the windmill watched a Sharp-shinned Hawk fly in and out of twiggy willows.  Twice lately I have seen a Sharp-shinned chase birds into a large bushy tree near my bird feeder.  The Sharp-shinned has amazing maneuverability. 
In the fields and perched on barbed wire fencing were Meadowlark (many singing), Western Bluebird, Say's Phoebe, Song Sparrow, and numerous Lark Sparrow (below), a favorite of mine.  
High above, soaring with Turkey Vultures, a Red-tailed Hawk.  It always pays to look closely at soaring Turkey Vultures, as there could be among them a visiting Black Vulture that can be identified by its dark brown head and white wingtips.  An American Kestrel was the  final raptor of the morning.  It was perched on a fence post eating something small and furry.  The American Kestrel is the smallest, most colorful falcon in North America. 
After Turri Road I checked out a portion of the Bob Jones Trail which begins in Avila Beach.  Besides walkers and bikers, the bridge (photo) is used by golf carts, as the golf course is on both sides of the creek.  From the bridge saw several Common Goldeneye, numerous Pied-billed Grebe, Coots, and three Canada Goose.  About a half mile up the creek had a marvelous sighting of a Green Heron.  It was in the shadows, perched on a little branch that extended over the water.  Its greenish, rufous coloration blended in perfectly with the creek side environment.  The Green Heron photo was taken from a small bridge that crosses over San Simeon Creek in San Simeon State Park.  When looking for Green Heron, persist.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

The Morro Bay Winter Bird Olympics

The 2018 Morro Bay Winter Bird Olympics occurs annually with little fanfare.  The participants train rigorously in hopes of qualifying for their favored event.  All events are family oriented and free to the public.

    *  Highlights of Events  *

High Dive - Carl Cormorant, from Monterey California, is drying his wings after a successful dive earning him first place in the High Dive competition.  His spectacular dive was from a height of 67.8 feet. 

The Golf Course Waddle - From flag to pond - Coot participants were arranged into teams of 60.  Winning requires each team member to circle the flag once, then head directly to the pond.  The Coots, having difficulty understanding the instructions, got off to a slow start.
Female Wet Sand Probing - Team members have a total of 30 seconds to display a sand crab clutched snugly in their bill.  Much to their surprise and delight Glenda and Gladys Godwit were awarded third place with a time of 28.21 seconds.  Since the female Godwit has a longer bill than the male (who would have figured), there were two probing events.
Three Tern judges had to disqualify the Nevada male Godwit Probing Team, as they were found to be using a forbidden chemical on their bill-tips to increase sensitivity.  After the decision the judges were heard to say, "The Winter Bird Olympics does have its twists and terns."
Synchronized Diving - Open to all diving ducks - Last year the mostly female Scaup team, from the West Coast of Siberia, came in third with a 5.3 out of 6 score.  Alexy Kuznetsov, the team captain, and the only male on the team, was confident they would receive a high score, and indeed they did - “7.0” - the highest score ever recorded at the Winter Bird Olympics.  The crowd went wild with joy.  The seven member team will take ample time resting and enjoying the fine cuisine in Morro Bay before they fly back to Siberia.
 Small Duck Dive and Eat - Open to all small diving ducks - The small duck is given 60 seconds to locate and consume an Aquatic insect.  With little effort Babs Bufflehead from the Muriel Lake region of Vancouver Island won the event with an unbelievable time of 38.8 seconds.  Babs said she owed her success to the undying support of her friends and family.
Snowy Plover Rock Hopping - Rock hopping has become the most popular event of the Winter Bird Olympics.  A successful hop is accomplished when both feet land on the rock.  If a foot touches the sand the team member has to start over.  The team with the most successful hops in 90 seconds is the winner.  Peter and Prudence Plover from San Simeon were dazed and speechless when they heard over the loud speaker they had won the event.   

Well, I think you have an idea of what to expect at the next Morro Bay Winter Bird Olympics.  It is a unique experience and something you will talk about for years.  If you are coming from out of town make your motel reservations early.  Bring warm clothing, food and drink, sun screen, and binoculars. A flashlight is essential, as many of the birds do their best performance at night or in the wee hours of the morning.