Monday, August 24, 2015

Morro Bay - Return of the Sandpipers

  August 24 - Baywood - South Morro Bay - Western and Least Sandpipers (aka peeps) are returning by the thousands from their breeding grounds, Western Alaska for the Western Sandpiper and for the Least Sandpiper, the tundra and boreal forests of the Arctic.

The most notable difference between the two species is leg color - Western, black; Least, yellow green.  But if they are feeding in muck or standing in water nearly up to their knees, which are hidden in their feathers, luck is needed for identifying them.  (photo - Least Sandpiper)

As the migratory season progresses, a flock of sandpipers may include Semipalmated Plover, small flocks of Dunlin and Long-billed Curlew, and one of their best friends, my very favorite - the Black-bellied Plover.  For the keen of sight, a Baird's Sandpiper might be spotted.  Fortunately, the Baird's is one inch larger and a tad plumper than the Western and the Least.

The Western Sandpiper is the most abundant shorebird species in North America, whereas the Least Sandpiper, the smallest shorebird in the world, is numerous but is often found in much smaller flocks.

P. S.   Binoculars are a must when looking at peeps.  Now for some fun!

 How many Dunlin do you see in the photo?  Are the smaller birds Western or Least Sandpiper?  The answer will be in the next posting.  Happy Birding!

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Return of The Terns

Elegant and Royal Terns have returned to Morro Strand Beach.  Huge flocks have been observed.  On Sunday the weather was lovely and the beach was filled with beach goers who often, unaware of bird etiquette, walk directly through a resting flock, disbursing them out to sea.  As a result of the busy beach, Terns were not abundant, but fortune did shine. 

North of the beach goers, was a long lagoon formed by recent, very high tides.  Three Terns were standing in shallow water, two were bathing. The smaller Elegant Tern was flanked by two larger Royals.  In the photo you will notice the smaller Elegant (right) has a slightly drooping, slimmer bill while the bill of the larger Royal is more robust in size and color.  Trying to identify the two species in a large flock may require patience.

 Arriving at the same time as the Terns are the Heermann’s Gulls.  Terns dive for fish, Heermann's Gulls do not, instead they steal fish from the Terns.  Technically speaking, Heermann’s Gulls are kleptoparasites, they feed by taking prey from another animal.  Heermann’s Gull is often found in close proximity to a flock of Terns.
Continuing north, stopped at Cayucos and Toro Creeks.  I would rate Cayucos Creek (above) as very sad and scummy, but did observe a flock of 7 beautiful Killdeer, one Canada Goose, and a bobbing Spotted Sandpiper in fading breeding plumage.  (The Cayucos pier is in the process of reconstruction.)

Nearly forgot to mention that on the Torro Creek beach, also know as Dog Beach, there was a mixed flock of Long-billed Curlew and Whimbrel. Since the dogs were playing down by the water, I was able to spend time looking at the flock, in particular two smaller resting birds.  Could they be juvenile Long-billed Curlew? I had never seen one. They stood up. Yes!  They were juvenile Long-billed Curlew.  That first time sighting definitely made my day.