Thursday, October 23, 2014

Morro Bay Marina Boardwalk - High Tide Birding

Morro Bay Calif - High tide is an excellent time to go birding from the Morro Bay Marina Boardwalk.  An incoming tide causes the shorebirds to feed in the pickleweed; the higher the tide, the closer the birds are to the boardwalk. 
Today observed huge flocks of Godwit, Willet; a few Long-billed Curlew (top photo); and one Whimbrel.  Here and there, Black-bellied Plover and Dowitcher.   In wetter areas several Killdeer and a solitary Spotted Sandpiper (above photo).  Farther out in the estuary were Great Blue Heron, and Great and Snowy Egret; even farther out, a flock of Avocet.

All the shorebirds birds were busy feeding until a Turkey Vulture (below photo) made a low pass, causing panic and chaos, thousands of birds took flight; the sound of the wings was music to my ears. In a few minutes the shorebirds were back feeding, their worries over for the moment.  Do believe Turkey Vultures enjoy teasing shorebirds.
On the inland side of the boardwalk, in the extremely dry vegetation, birds were sparse - White-crowned Sparrow, Song Sparrow,  Bewick's Wren, a glance at a Palm Warbler, and to my delight, a Fox Sparrow - my second sighting of the year; the first was sighted on Alcatraz Island (the previous blog post). 

Before the boardwalk, there was a path along the edge of the estuary.  At high tides the path filled with water and for days afterward was totally unusable.   Now, one can leave their hip boots home and bird the estuary with ease.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Birding Alcatraz

                          Alcatraz Island 1895
First, a little history - Alcatraz is a world famous island that receives 5,000 visitors every day.  In 1775 Spanish explorer Juan Manuel de Ayala named the island "La Isla Los Alcatraces" or Island of the Pelican," due to its large population of sea birds.  Seventy-five years later President Millard Fillmore reserved the island for the military; a fort was needed to protect the valuable port of San Francisco.  By the late 1850s the U. S. Army turned the fort into prison for military prisoners, citizens accused of treason, and rebellious American Indians.
                (For a larger image, click on the photo)

More changes were in store for the 22 acre island.  In 1933 the Justice Department wanted a federal prison that would house dangerous criminals, including prisoners that had escaped from other prisons.  Alcatraz the prison opened on July 1, 1934; but due to the cost of maintaining a prison on an island, Alcatraz was shut down in 1963.  Nine years later the island became part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

Now, lets skip ahead to 9:15 am, Oct 1, 2014, a momentous occasion - the mile and a half ferry ride to Alcatraz, also known as "The  Rock."  The weather was perfect, blue sky, no wind and warm.  The lines for the ferry were well organized.  As we waited friend Phoebe and I enjoyed watching the people.
As we disembarked onto the island an interpretive guide was offering a tour.  Noticing his binoculars I knew in a flash he was a birder.  The tour took about 45 minutes.  Our knowledgeable and friendly guide, Michael, spoke on the history, the gardens, architecture, and the birds, frequently pointing out Anna's Hummingbird which were prevalent due to numerous flowering plants, lovingly tended by volunteers.
When the tour concluded he asked for questions.  I waited till the very last to pose my question. "Where are the best places to find birds?"  He offered to show us where to find the birds of Alcatraz.  To our delight he took us down the "Puppy Stairs," which gave us a peek at the historic garden.  The story goes, the short little steps were built by a commander to accommodate the short legs of his Corgie.  (the stairs were not open to the public)
After rounding a corner we arrived at the parade ground (photo) located below California's first Lighthouse.  In this area hundreds of Western Gull nest.   Along the outer edge piles of debris and shrubbery provide safe haven for White-crowned Sparrow, Golden-crowned Sparrow and Song Sparrow.  Large clumps of ornamental shrubs provide nesting for Snowy Egret and Black-crowned Night Heron.  (the structure to the right of the lighthouse was the warden's house)
In a nearby stand of cypress we found an unexpected treat, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Townsend Warbler and a singing Fox Sparrow.  Before our guide departed he told us to check out the seldom open Agave Trail that meanders a short distance along the edge of the island (photo taken from the Agave Trail).  Our luck continued, foraging on the rocks were a pair of Black Turnstone, Surfbird, and a Black Oystercatcher.

It seems unlikely that  birds have actually benefited from man's occupation of Alcatraz Island.  When the military arrived they reshaped the island with dynamite; tons of sandstone rubble was deposited into the bay.  Over time life grew on the rocks providing habitat for numerous species.
 Soil was brought in for gardens; trees and shrubs took hold providing more habitat - a Raven nests in one of the tall Cypress.  Piles of broken masonry became nesting sites for Brant Cormorant and Pigeon Guillemot.  Man has made a tremendous impact on this little island, but serendipity has been part of the process, and through fortunate happenstance Alcatraz has once again become a haven for birds.