Thursday, September 24, 2015

Birding San Simeon Lagoon

Met up with Harry and Norma Catchpole at Shamel Park in Cambria. The first bird of the day was a Spotted Sandpiper.  It's cute little rump bobbed up and down as it walked along the edge of the narrow Santa Rosa Creek Lagoon.  Four Great Egrets were roosting in the willows that lined the creek.  Over the sea, Brown Pelican flew.  No doubt about it, we were going to have a great day of birding. (above photo - San Simeon State Beach) (below photo - Harry & Norma at Santa Rosa Creek)

Our goal of the morning was to bird the San Simeon Creek Lagoon.  We were hoping to see the White-faced Ibis that I had seen in the lagoon two days ago. A boardwalk leads over a wetland to the beach.  We had only walked a few feet when we spotted four female deer walking along the edge of the wetland. We looked at them; they looked at us, and with cautious optimism they meandered on their way.
The lagoon was shallow; along the edges lay a thick layer of algae.  Immediately, sharp eyed Harry spotted a Black-necked Stilt with a broken leg.  The Stilt was able to fly and appeared to have no difficulty feeding.  While looking for the Ibis we watched, a sub-adult or first year Peregrine Falcon Bathing; now that was a treat.  As we continued watching,  three Turkey Vultures landed close to the Falcon.  We were quite sure we heard the Peregrine say, “too close for comfort,” as she flew north.

As we walked along the edge of the lagoon looking for the Ibis or anything with wings, we were amazed by a Great Blue Heron who was not in the least bit bothered by our presence.
Besides Mallards and Coots, the only birds we noticed were Killdeer, a Spotted Sandpiper and a Great and Snowy Egret.  Giving up on the Ibis search we headed over the beach to the water's edge.  Not wanting to waste a birding moment, we looked for Snowy Plover as we trudged through the gravely sand. Yeah, we spotted two of the little darlings.  When not moving the Snowy Plover tends to be invisible. (below photo - Snowy Plover)
 Along the edge of the water, a mixed flock of Whimbrel, Willet, Godwit, Long-billed Curlew, and one lonely Black-bellied Plover.  Missing from the beach were Gulls and Terns.

Located at the south end of the boardwalk is a small bridge over San Simeon Creek.  Willow branches dip into the still water - a perfect habitat for Green Heron.  It took us awhile to locate the Green Heron, as it was in the shade and bent over the water. While we watched it snag a fish with its stiletto like bill, a King Fisher was dashing back and forth across the peaceful creek.
Before lunch, which is always an important part of the day, we wanted to check out the bird activity from San Simeon Pier.  At a distance we saw a small collection of Common Murre,  and fortunately, one Murre very close to the pier, which allowed us an intimate view of the little darling.  Out to sea were thousands of Shearwater, flying by in a stream were Brown Pelican.

Resting on the shore was a small flock of Elegant Tern.  While we were looking at them, a Peregrine Falcon swooped down, causing them to take flight.  The powerful Peregrine took after one of the Terns.  Repeatedly, the Peregrine dove on the Tern, talons ready to grab on to its victim.  Feathers flew, and by some miracle the Peregrine accepted defeat and flew off.

Thought for the day - One Good Tern Deserves Another

On the 8/24 blog,    The question - "How many Dunlin do you see in the photo?  Are the smaller birds Western or Least Sandpiper" The answer - 9 Dunlin and Western Sandpiper.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Feeding Frenzy and Bait Balls

Seawater temperatures have reached record levels this year.  For many years the average sea temperature on the Central Coast has been in the mid 50s.  Today the water temperature ranges somewhere between 62° - 65°.  The warmer water attracts small bait fish such as anchovies, sardines, and smelt.  When the fish are threatened they form into a tightly packed spherical formation, the bait ball. 

For the last few weeks, feeding frenzies have become a frequent occurrence on the Central Coast.  Elegant and Royal Tern, Cormorant, Brown Pelican, Shearwaters by the thousands, Gulls, and the 40 - 50 ft. Humpback Whale are the feeders in the frenzy. 
Pelicans and terns dive from above.  The Pelicans scoop up a mouthful; Terns take only one fish.  Cormorant's and Shearwater's dive for fish. Humpback's with their huge mouths open lunge through the bait ball to the surface, gathering thousands of fish and sometimes a careless pelican into their giant maw.  Meanwhile, Gulls are after the leftovers and what ever they can steal out of the mouths of Pelicans.     (Photos by Mike Baird)
 A word of caution - Getting too close may be hazardous to your health.   Humpbacks weigh about 70,000 lbs.