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.






















Saturday, February 3, 2018

Where are the Dabbling Ducks?

Thursday morning at 10:00 the tide was very high (6.5).  At the Sweet Springs Preserve the extreme tide covered nearly all the pickleweed, filled in the channels and the ponds, with the exception of the tiny wetland where the springs bubbles forth. 
Usually coming into Sweet Spring on the incoming tide, dabbling ducks such as Northern Pintail, Northern Shoveler, American Wigeon, Green and Blue-winged Teal (above) and Cinnamon Teal adapt their dabbling to finding tasty morsels in the flooded pickleweed.
For comparison, the above photo shows the flooded pickleweed at an average tide.” 

As I entered the preserve two female deer were feeding in the new grass growing along the edge of the boardwalk.  Both of the deer alerted to my presence.  In a few moments they disappeared into the brush. 
Coots were feeding in the grass.  I guess they wanted a change from the Sea Pines Golf Course where they usually hang out.  What I did not see were dabbling ducks.
Searching the pond I noticed a mixed flock of about 20 Teal, sound asleep on the edges of the wetland.  Perhaps they were exhausted from their flight to Morro Bay.  Usually ducks notice a close human presence.  These little darling did not even blink.

Scanning the far side of the flooded pickleweed I spotted a few more Teal,  but where was the bounty of dabblers I had been expecting?  For several years I've noticed that fewer water fowl are wintering in Morro Bay.

From the photo, taken at Sweet Springs in January 2007, there is no doubt in my mind that fewer ducks are wintering in Morro Bay.     Can you find the Eurasian Wigeon?
  I am hoping that the missing dabblers are busy feeding in another area of the bay.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Birding Bob Jone Trail and Beyond


 Sunday - Avila Beach, Ca. - Bob Jones Trail - Mike Baird and I were standing on the foot, bike and golf cart bridge that crosses San Luis Creek hoping to see the Common Goldeneye, a sea-duck, native to the lakes and rivers of Canada, the northern U.S., Scandinavia, and Russia. (female on left)  About three minutes after we arrived on the bridge the fog lifted.  The Goldeneye were close and we got great views.  They are a large duck and very beautiful.  The male's eye is a bright orange; the female's eye is a soft golden color.
 On either side of the bridge is the Avila Beach Golf Course where hundreds of Canada Goose, one Cackling Goose and multitudes of Coots were feeding on the grass.  As we progressed up the trail, actually it is a road/trail for about a mile, we came upon an unusual sighting.  A family of Western Bluebird were taking turns drinking from little pools of water that had accumulated on the yellow seats of a maintenance vehicle.  (trail is above the maintenance yard)  Two other birds of note, an Acorn Woodpecker perched atop a tall Red Cypress and a Great Blue Heron looking for edibles on a dry hillside.   

Miscellaneous Sightings in the Great Beyond of Morro Bay 
 In a Eucalyptus tree a Turkey Vulture was doing her pre-flight warming exercise.  At night the body temperature decreases.  To fly they have to increase the body temperature.  By spreading their wings, they increase the area the sun will be warming.  The spread wing stance is called the "Horaltic Pose."  Not only does the Pose dry the wings and warm the body, it also bakes off bacteria that forms on the legs from feeding inside a carcass.
Lately I have been fascinated by the movement of Ruddy Ducks.  A couple thousand spend the winter on Morro Bay.  They are always accompanied by a scattering of Greater Scaup.  They are usually in a large spread out flock, appearing to be resting, but in motion.  By expanding the photo you will notice the perky tail of the Ruddy and the bright white cheek of the male; upper left is a Bufflehead; the Scaup is the darker duck with the larger head. 

Below is a Google Map that shows the location of the Avila bird sightings, from left to right -  1) X is where the Goose were located.  2) bridge over creek, Goldeneye, 3) Bluebirds, Woodpecker, 4) Great Blue Heron.    









Monday, January 1, 2018

Audubon Overlook


Audubon Overlook.  The day was tranquil - no one in sight; the melodious chatter of several hundred Black Brant Goose welcomed me.  The tide was at a perfect level for viewing shorebirds, wading birds, and a variety of water fowl.
To the right was a flock of about 40 Long-billed Dowitcher, I think.  When their bill is deep into the mud, up to and passed their nostrils sometimes, and they are at a distance, it is rather difficult to tell the difference between a Long-billed Dowitcher and a Short-billed Dowitcher; especially when the male Long-billed Dowitcher’s bill is the same length as the Short-billed Dowitcher’s bill.  (photo taken near the Baywood Pier)
 Taking advantage of whatever foods were abundant, four Green-winged Teal and a pair of Cinnamon Teal were feeding in shallow water along the shoreline. (male below)
 Along the edge of the bay Willet, Godwit and one Black-bellied Plover; as the tide receded American Avocet and Northern Pintail appeared.  In Morro Bay Pintail often feed by dabbling.  They will also feed in fields eating rice, wheat, corn, and barley.  Bottoms up!
Across the bay many Snowy and Great Egret accompanied by a few Great Blue Heron.  Overhead low flying Forster’s Tern looked for small fish.  They hover for a few moments before plunging into the water.

All of a sudden I noticed that the water was gone and so had the birds.   As I experienced the magic of nature, I was unaware that time had passed.  






Monday, December 25, 2017

An Unusual Sighting At Montaña de Oro




Sara and I, volunteers at Montaña de Oro State Park, were on the Bluff Trail headed toward Spooner's Cove Overlook.  The day before, Sara with her photographer husband Gary, experienced an unusual bird sighting. 

When Sara and I reached the overlook we could see a wake (group of Vultures) about 17, peacefully perched at the end of the bluff.  Fortunately the area was cordoned off with single wire fencing which kept visitors on the trail and away from the Vultures.
On the jagged rocks below perched 8 more Vultures.  Lower down the rocks a lone Vulture was pecking on a deer carcass.  The carcass was in the shadows and nearly impossible to see from the top of the bluff.  Fortunately, the day before Gary had taken a photo.  Notice the beautiful deep brown feathers.  Vultures have a keen sense of sight and smell.
What we wondered was why only a single feeder, and what had caused the deer to fall off the cliff? Our best guess - the deer was chased by Coyotes or a Mountain Lion.  What ever the cause of the deer's demise, the Turkey Vultures, natures recyclers, had a fine feast.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Sweet Springs Expands It’s Horizons



Yesterday was the Grand Opening for the "Accessible Trail and Viewing Platform" at the new Sweet Springs East.  The trail and boardwalk is about 2/3 of a mile round trip.  The boardwalk ends at the beautifully constructed viewing platform.
The viewing platform gives visual access to a section of the bay where migratory ducks and shore birds hang out, an area that has hitherto been out of sight.  (I can hardly wait to return for some serious birding.)

Earlier in the day, I birdied the usual Sweet Springs (above).   In the thickets of brush, digging thru leaf litter, were Junco, Song Sparrow, and White and Golden-crowned Sparrow.  The Golden-crowned Sparrow is a rather feisty feeder.  If another Golden-crowned gets too close, the interloper gets a quick peck on the butt.  
 
In the Eucalyptus trees, vivid black and yellow Townsend’s Warbler, Northern Flicker, pert Ruby-crowned Kinglet, and a sweet little Downey Woodpecker.  Belted Kingfisher was perched on a branch overlooking the pond.
 On my way to the overlook I heard a sound that was music to my ears, Brant Goose (about 100); the first of the season.  Along the edge of the bay, Blue-winged Teal Black-bellied Plover, Killdeer, Greater Yellowleg, and a beautiful Great Blue Heron.  Seeing the Brant and hearing their magical sound made my day.
 


Saturday, October 28, 2017

Estero Bluffs State Park - Villa Creek Beach

                 
Estero Bluffs State Park begins directly after the community of Cayucos.   The park follows along Highway 1 for about 5 miles until the road takes a slight curve inland. 
Between the highway and the Pacific Ocean is a vast grassland dotted with a few greenish serpentine rock clusters and the occasional clump of brush. 

Destination of this morning’s birding adventure, Villa Creek Beach, located at the northern end of the park.  Several days ago migrant Mountain Plover had been sighted.   I had high hopes that at least one of the three that had been seen by local birders would appear in my binoculars.  
 As I was following the trail to the beach, I asked a gentleman birder if he had seen the Plover.   He said he had and that it was easy to see. 
                             Mountain Plover
After walking a few yards along the beach, I spotted the Mountain Plover, (first time sighting) chasing flies with her cousins the Snowy Plover.  I was delighted to get a photo of the Mountain Plover, as it was constantly on the move chasing kelp flies.  While watching the Plovers two of the Snowy got into a rough and tumble disagreement, feathers were actually flying.  (Photo - Snowy Plover often rests in small depressions.) 
Other birds on the beach: American Pipit, Black-bellied Plover, Killdeer, Godwit (below photo), Whimbrel, and of course, my faithful friend, Black Phoebe. 
After the beach I walked through a few acres of the Grasslands:  Red-tailed Hawk, Loggerhead Shrike, a very cheeky House Wren, Western Meadowlark, American Pipit, numerous White-crowned Sparrow, excellent sightings of Savanna Sparrow, and Black Phoebe.  Birding Villa Creek Beach and the grasslands was absolutely "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious."