Sunday, August 31, 2014

Sweet Springs Nature Preserve

Los Osos - 9:00 am.  Birds going about their daily business - on a twig extending out from the leaning eucalyptus, in the upper center of the photo, a Belted Kingfisher perched.  Busy in the vegetation around the pond, Song Sparrow and Ms and Mr. Common Yellowthroat; in the trees Chestnut-backed Chickadee frolicked.  The call of a Nuttall's Woodpecker came from afar.  Dabbling in the pond was the white domestic duck who thinks it is a Mallard.

Onward to the overlook.  To reach the overlook one needs to cross the bridge, continue on the path to the boardwalk, turn right and in a few moments the overlook appears; there is seating and a railing for resting binoculars.  (nothing worse than tired binoculars)

Feeding along the edge of the bay were Semipalmated Plover (could not see their toes), 2 Black-bellied Plover,  handful of Least Sandpiper, 2 Greater Yellowlegs, Long-billed Curlew, Willet, and Marbled Godwit.  In the distance a cluster of White Pelican.

I was hoping to find a Northern Waterthrush, an infrequent visitor to our area, but the little tail bobber (I added "bobber" to my computer dictionary which now makes it a real word) was a no show - matters not as I was delighted with the birds and the beauty observed. 

Friday, August 22, 2014

The Semipalmated Plover

 Cayucos Beach at Old Creek - Birding with Cathy from Palm Springs on a beautiful beach day.  Recent high tides had created a shallow lagoon, a habitat returning shore birds could not resist.  Among the Willet, Godwit and Long-billed Curlew was a small flock of Semipalmated Plover.  They are a bit plump, brown overall.  A small black-tipped orange bill and orangish legs distinguishes this sweet little Plover from other small shorebirds.  They do look similar to their relative, the Killdeer.
What fascinates me about this little Plover that nests in Alaska and Northern Canada, and sometimes travels as far south as Tierra del Fuego, are its tiny toes.  After more years of birding than I wish to share, I did not know the definition of "semipalmated."  So what did I do, I Googled it. - "Semipalmated -  having the toes joined part way down with a web"

 The Semipalmated Plover has partial webbing between all of its toes, all six of them.  (Toe image borrowed from the internet.)
 Webbed toes are uncommon among shorebirds, so why does this little Plover have webbing?  It swims.  Adults and chicks swim short distances in shallow water.  Is this the reason the Semipalmated Plover has webbing between its toes?  No one knows for certain, but it makes sense to me.

Next time I am on the beach I am sure I will spend much time looking at Semipalmated Plover toes.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Heermann's Gull - Juveniles Missing

A recent posting to a birding group reported that no juvenile Heermann's Gull (Larus heermanni) were being seen on the Calif. West Coast.  (photo, adult Heermann's Gull in winter plumage)  Heermann's breed in the early spring in large colonies on islands off the West Coast of Mexico.  After the breeding season they move north along the pacific coast to Southern British Columbia.  Beginning in mid-summer large flocks of the Heermann's can be found on the Morro Strand State Beach.

Yesterday I decided to check out the Heermann's flocks to see if I could find a juvenile or the next stages of development, a 1st winter or a 1st summer.  I do enjoy a challenge. 
At first I had a problem with the flocks having to relocate due to the number of people on the beach and children who enjoy chasing birds.  Finally the flocks settled down and I was able to have a prolonged look.  Normally, younger Heermann's are scattered throughout the flock  (below photo of a 1st winter or 1st summer).  I could find only six 1st winter/1st summer and no juveniles.  The above photo represents about 1/10 of one flock. 
My observations prompted the thought, "Why a lack of youngsters?"  Perhaps environmental conditions, such as warmer water temps, algal blooms, and acidification are having an adverse effect on the ocean food chain.  What ever the reason, there were fewer young Heermann's Gull than in prior years.
On to the other birds.  To my delight, there was a variety of shore birds, Semipalmated Plover (a favorite), Long-billed Curlew, Whimbrel, Caspian and Elegant Tern, and Ring-billed Gull.  Off shore were several Eared Grebe and Surf Scoter.  Most enjoyable was watching several Marbled Godwit feeding on tiny flies on the sand that had been churned up by horse hoofs. (above photo)   

If you look at the larger image of the Godwit, you will see a distant relative of the jellyfish, Velella velella, the little bluish, transparent things in the background.   They are free-floating hydrozoans that live on the surface of the open ocean.  At certain times of year the wind propels them to shore.  At the present time there are millions of Velella velella on central coast beaches.  Happy birding!