Saturday, November 7, 2015

Birding Morro Bay Marina and Sweet Springs

On the Central Coast, the fall/winter season is fantastic.  Migrating birds arrive daily - some species plentiful and other species diminished due to climate change.  Every bird that does arrive, whether a tiny Sandpiper, a Ruddy Duck or a Brant Goose, is a joy to behold. 
Morro Bay Marina - The tide was on the ebb (above).  Feeding in the soft, damp sand were Long-billed Curlew, Willet, Whimbrel, 12 tiny least Sandpiper, and my favorite winter migrant, a Spotted Sandpiper - a very dependable bird.  Every winter season, it is exactly where I expect it to be - feeding in the wet sand on the south side of the Marina.  Three Pied-Billed Grebe were constantly diving while a female Kingfisher dashed noisily back and forth.  In a tree at the east end of the Marina perched a Red-tailed Hawk.  

The high tide had inundated the pickleweed (below photo) leaving many little pools and rivulets of water.  Four Cinnamon Teal, one male, three females were feeding as they walked through the pickleweed; last year Cinnamon Teal were sparse.  Perhaps we will get more Cinnamon Teal this year. 
The scrub brush was quiet, California Quail (photo) White-crowned Sparrow, Bewick's Wren, Savannah Sparrow, and a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher that was near enough to touch.  A great photo op. and my camera was in the car.
At Sweet Springs, earlier in the morning, a Warbler feeding frenzy was in progress.  As I entered the preserve a young woman had stopped to watch the frenzy.  She sat down by the trail and watched Yellow-rumped and Townsend Warbler dashing back and forth in pursuit of teensy flying insects that had just hatched. The Warblers landed many times in a small bush that was right beside her.  She was truly enjoying the happening.

In the pond, hanging out with the Mallards, were two pair of Green-winged Teal, the smallest North American duck.

From the overlook, a huge flock of ducks, Green and Blue-winged Teal, Ruddy Duck, Bufflehead, Wigeon, Northern Pintail (below), Northern Shoveler, and a rare bird to Morro Bay, a duck that breeds in prairie potholes,  the Canvasback - my first view of a Canvasback on Morro Bay (yeah!).

While concentrating on the ducks, I heard a familiar sound, Brant Goose (below), not the thousands that used to winter in Morro Bay, but a flock of eight. Their primary food, eelgrass has declined 97% in the last eight years.  The Morro Bay National Estuary Assoc. has an excellent article on the decline of Eelgrass in Morro Bay.

It is painful to think of the Brant, as hunting season begins - Monday, November 9, and continues for 37 days.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Birding the Mojave Desert

Last weekend was a birding weekend away from the Central Coast, but not away from the migratory birds that spend the winter on the Central Coast.  I and five friends drove about six hours to Zzyzx and the Desert Studies Center where we would experience "The Birds of the Mojave Desert." (photo - Zzyzx pond, also known as Lake Tuendae) For more information on Zzyzx and the Desert Studies Center, Wikipedia is an excellent resource.

The Desert Studies Center is located 8 miles southwest of the small town of Baker and four miles in from Hwy 15.  As you can see in the above photo, there is a beautiful pond, lined with date bearing palms, many of them Washingtonia filifera, California's only native Palm tree.  The water and the fruit bearing palms are a great attraction to many species of birds.  Late Saturday afternoon we watched a migratory Red-naped Sapsucker feeding on small, yet sweet dates of a native palm. (photo by Judy West)
As we walked from the "Center" to nearby Soda Dry Lake (below photo), we observed Black Phoebe,  Phainopepla, Loggerhead Shrike, Raven, Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, Cedar Waxwing.  Leading into a spring hidden in a thicket of Tamarix was a trail of Bighorn Sheep scat.
Saturday was a full day of experiencing "Birds of the Mojave Desert."
Baker town park:  Feeding in the freshly mowed grass was a mixed flock of Pine Siskin, White-crowned Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow,  Lesser Goldfinch, Cow Birds.  Ravens were abundant. 

Shoshone: A beautiful little historic town, with ample spring water. The owner of most of the local property is revitalizing the town with a focus on ecotourism.  Protecting wetlands and riparian restoration is paramount.  On the edge of a new crystal clear town pond we saw a migratory Wilson's Snipe, and Pied-billed Grebe.  In a nearby palm observed a Red-breasted Nuthatch.   Robins were busy on the school Lawn.   For more information on Shoshone and the desert wetlands -

Salt Creek: An important riparian and wetland area; a short walk took us to the wetland where we saw Ruby-crowned Kinglet, and heard Common Yellowthroat, and Marsh Wren. (photo - getting ready to head out on the trail)
China Ranch: A date farm, deep in a canyon near the southern end of Death Valley; we downed delicious date shakes and birdied among the date palms (cloth sleeves protect the ripening fruit from birds).
Desert oases offer migratory birds a place to rest, refuel and ready themselves for the next leg of their journey.   Great sightings of Gambel's Quail. (female Gambel's Quail by Judy West)
The weekend of intense bird studies was fun and informative, and I will have lasting memories of the beautiful and remote oases that give food and shelter to migratory birds, and perhaps to birds that are headed to the Central Coast.