Friday, August 25, 2017

Terns by the Thousands

"One good Tern deserves another."  And another, and another.  The plan for the morning birding was to look for shore birds that had been observed in the vicinity of the lagoon that spreads on to the beach at the south end of Morro Strand campground.  Our view as we (Mike Baird and I) neared the beach was of thousands of extremely vocal Elegant Terns.  We were in total amazement, momentarily forgetting about shore birds.   
 The sound of a giant flock of Elegant Tern chattering is a "wonder" of the birding world.

On this overcast August morning the beach was quiet.  To the north and to the south flocks of Elegant Terns.   Moments after we arrived we saw a Caspian Tern.  Following the Caspian was a fussing adolescent.  I clearly heard it say, "Feed me, Feed me."
On the fringe of the Elegant Tern flock was a smaller flock of Heermann's Gull; along the outer edge of the Gull flock were two Royal Terns (above), an adult and an adolescent begging for food.

I watched an adult Elegant Tern with a small silvery fish gripped in her bill circle over the flock, calling and calling.  She circled many times.  Finally her youngster rose into the air and followed her away from the flock. They landed and the youngster took the fish.

Eventually, we birded the lagoon. Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Wilson's and Red-necked Phalarope, Semi-palmated Plover, Western Sandpiper, Killdeer, Long-billed Curlew, and here and there Ring-billed Gull (below).
 We met up with Meg, who monitors nesting Snowy Plover.  She said a Black Skimmer had been seen on the edge of a flock of gulls. As we stood talking, suddenly she pointed up.  A Black Skimmer was flying over us.  They are a seldom seen bird on the central coast.  Before landing it swooped over the lagoon to skim the surface for edibles.  Skimmers feed by flying low with bill open, dipping the lower mandible into the water.  Super treat seeing the Skimmer.  First time sighting for Meg and Mike.
The Black Skimmer is in the center of the photo, to the left is a Willet.  On the Morro Strand State Beach, the nesting Snowy Plover is protected and watched over by State Park monitors.  Dogs are not allowed, and the dunes are cordoned off.  Temporary wire cages protect the Plover nests from predators.  In the background of the photo is a nesting cage.  The Snowy Plover (below) can go in and out at will, but predators cannot. 
The highlight of the morning -- being surrounded by thousands of swirling, swooping clouds of excited Terns and Gulls -- one moment they were resting and preening on the beach, the next moment they were in flight.  After a few minutes they landed and they were back to resting, preening which they do with gusto, and feeding their offspring.   Click on the link to see the swirling mass of Terns.
    https://youtu.be/qpw9CSTvS0A




Monday, August 14, 2017

Birding Santa Rosa Creek and More

I'll begin with, "More."  I have never seen a Greater Roadrunner * in my local area.  This morning about 11:00, I was leaving Montaña de Oro when a Roadrunner sped across the road.  A few moments later another one.  Fortunately I was going slowly or I could have hit the second one.  It is a rare treat to see one Greater Roadrunner, but two?  Be still my heart.
 Now, on to the usual, but not usual birding  -  Yesterday, Santa Rosa Creek Lagoon, Cambria Ca.  Santa Rosa Creek flows from the hills, through Cambria, eventually forming a charming lagoon on the north side of Shamel Park (above).  The lagoon and the ocean are separated by a berm of fine gravel that has accumulated over time.  As one walks along the lagoon, the ocean is not in view.
 Our first sighting was of a Green Heron. (above)**  The Heron was in plain sight which enabled us to watch it feed and move in and out of the vegetation.  Killdeer were foraging along the edge of the lagoon and a classic Great Blue Heron was perched on a log. 
As we progressed along the gravely beach, a solitary Tern came into view.   Now comes the discussion, is it an Elegant, a Royal, or a Caspian.  Our first thought was, it was a Royal.  We needed to get a closer view to confirm our suspicions. 

When it comes to Bird ID, more input is not only fun but helpful. We got into a lively discussion with a charming woman who had been photographing birds with a 400mm lens.  In my estimation, the humongous lens, meant she was a serious photographer and probably an expert in bird ID.   Eventually we concluded that the Tern (below) was probably, possibly, or may be a Royal.  
In the same area as the Tern were two Spotted Sandpiper and a beautiful and distinctive Bonaparte's Gull in breeding plumage; Bonaparte's Gull (below) is much smaller than a Western Gull.
The special treat of the morning was a fantastic view of five Baird's Sandpiper feeding with gusto along the edge of the lagoon.  They were taking a brief fuel stop on their migratory flight from Alaska to South America.  Although the morning was overcast, fortune shined.  We watched the precious little Baird's Sandpiper*** at our leisure. 
 Sometimes while birding, serendipity happens.  Yesterday morning I was birding with a friend named Mike Baird.

Photos - *    Greater Roadrunner Estrella Park, Phoenix AZ.
             **   Green Heron Tres Rios Wetlands, Phoenix AZ.
            ***  Baird's Sandpiper by Kaaren Perry

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The Pigeon Guillemot - Montaña de Oro State Park

The Pigeon Guillemot - Cepphus columba - arrives on the Central Coast in mid-April and departs for the open sea in mid-August.  At Montaña de Oro (MdO) the numerous holes in the cliffs provide nesting sites for the arriving Pigeon Guillemot.
Eggs (1-2) usually hatch in about a month.  After 35-45 days the chicks fledge, flying out to sea.  They will no longer be dependent upon their parent's care.
The Guillemot on the far right is holding a small fish in its beak (click on photo for larger image).  The little fish is more than likely food for its nestling.
This year's Guillemot population at MdO appears robust.  Last Sunday the sea was calm with a low tide exposing the rocks (top photo).  I counted 40 plus Guillemot bobbing in the sea and 20 more perched on the rocks, and that was just in the area of Spooner's Cove (top photo).  It was a phenomenal day for observing the Guillemot.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Late Spring Islay Creek Birding

 In every direction is a wild and beautiful landscape. This morning the hill were aglow with blooming Sticky Monkey Flower and GoldenYarrow (below). 
The morning sun was warm, the breeze a caress.  Islay Creek was alive with song - all the usual birds plus Swainson's Thrush, Purple Finch, and Cliff Swallow.  I was birding without binoculars.  There are several bird APPS that can be helpful with identification.  I use IBird Plus which does not require an internet connection; there are songs and call for each bird that one can listen to.  

This morning I recorded one minute of bird sounds.  How many can you identify? 
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T4pD9Og2jXs 
 
Names of birds are noted in the morning's bird list by an asterisk. 


Bird List - *Northern Flicker, *Spotted Towhee, *Wilson's Warbler, *Wrentit, *Purple Finch, Calif. Thrasher, Calif. Towhee, Bushtit, Calif. Quail, Scrub Jay, Bewick's Wren,  Pacific Flycatcher, Song Sparrow, Cliff Swallow, Red-tailed Hawk, Turkey Vulture

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Sweet Sweet Springs



The welcoming committee this beautiful morning was a California Quail family, mom, dad and four tiny fledglings resembling walnuts with itty bitty legs.  Bird song filled the air.  I had Sweet Springs to myself.

Nuttall's Woodpecker, singing it's flight song, dashed between the trees.  Two Tree Swallow sped overhead in their relentless pursuit of insects.  House Sparrow brightened the semi-sunny morning with it’s cheerful chatter.
High in the canopy, Black-headed Grosbeak sang its little heart out; on the far side of the preserve an answering song could be heard.  (Unfortunately, too breezy to record the song.)
Dark-eyed Junco scratched in the leaf litter.  Four Mallards fed in a channel; I doubt they noticed the melodious song of the Black-headed Grosbeak.  Faithful Black Phoebe was flycatching from her usual perch on a fallen eucalyptus tree. (the channels empty when tides are low)
I experienced birding nirvana for about a half hour in Sweet Springs this morning.  Before I departed for home, I gently educated a pair of gentleman from Mohave who were convinced the Mallards were Northern Shovelers.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Birding Dairy Creek



                   Dairy Creek Trail
 San Luis Obispo County, El Chorro Regional Park - A storm was brewing - cumulus clouds gathering, winds increasing in strength - A perfect morning on the Central Coast, and a perfect day to bird Dairy Creek.  The vegetation along the trickling creek (below) was thick with Oak, Willow, and California Bay -  dried young bay leaves can be used as flavoring (use sparingly).
       
 My first sighting was of six Canada Goose flying in the direction of Morro Bay.  A few moments later heard gobbling from a male Turkey, always a day brightener. 

Dense Stands of Coast Live Oak (Quercus agrifolia) cover the low hills (top photo).  Birds heard in the oaks and creek bed - Pacific-slope Flycatcher (heard frequently but never seen),  Wilson's Warbler (migrant), Bewick's Wren, Junco, Nuttall's Woodpecker, and a migrant Ash-throated Flycatcher (below).
 The Ash-throated Flycatcher is about the size of a robin (9-16).  Even at a distance it's bushy crest and pale grey (looks white at a distance) underparts, and smallish bill are recognizable.  In flight it's deep cinnamon tail and pale belly are very noticeable.  I believe the Ash-throated Flycatcher is well established along Dairy Creek.
About a mile up the creek, after crossing over a quaint, yet sturdy collapsed wooden bridge, the landscape opens into grasslands (above).  Waves of wind were rolling through the grass.   Ahead of me perched on a barbed wire fence were a pair of Western Bluebird and a Lark Sparrow.  The Lark Sparrow and the female Bluebird flew off and an Ash-throated Flycatcher landed on the wire.  When the flycatcher departed the scene, a perky looking California Towhee arrived.  In spite of the wind, I managed a fuzzy photo.  The male Bluebird is perched on the post, on the wire is the Towhee.  Notice the blackening sky, upper right.  
Time to begin the trek back.  I checked the wind velocity, gusts at 25mph, yikes!  Birding Dairy Creek on a windy day proved delightful.  Perhaps if I walk up the Creek about every two weeks I may get a sighting of fledglings perched on this popular barbed wire fence.  Now that would be a thrill!

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Wrentit - Extended Trill


        Hazard Canyon Wrentit Habitat
The male Wrentit song consists of a few sharp whistled "pit" notes with a descending 3-4 second trill at the end.  It is considered the classic sound of the Coastal Sage Scrub community. This week I hiked up Hazard canyon.  Wrentits were active and singing.  One Wrentit was defending his territory of blooming Hemlock from a persistent Anna's Hummingbird.  Every time the hummer hovered over a blossom, the Wrentit chased her off.  
 Wrentits are faithful to their territory, remaining in the same area for up to 12 years; they defend and define their territory by singing.  About a mile up the canyon I heard a Wrentit song with an extended trill.  Fortunately, he repeated it several times.  I felt his breathlessness, if that was possible.  His song was saying, in no uncertain terms, "This is my territory and you do not belong."  It is more than likely that his life mate was sitting on their nest.

The video consists of three segments. The photo of the Wren separates the segments. For comparison, the first and last segment are the usual song with a 2.83 sec. trill.  The middle segment has the extended 9.13 sec. trill.  When you are watching the video keep in mind that, as he trills, his tail is vigorously vibrating.     https://youtu.be/-pBjwCYZUwM

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Birding Montaña de Oro - Sunday/Wednesday

Birding Montaña de Oro - Sunday/Wednesday

Islay Creek riparian habitat - Right, Islay Creek Road
left 2 mile loop Reservoir Flats Trail

Sunday - Islay Creek is located about 30-40 feet below a rough, unpaved road that follows the creek east for about 3 miles.  Due to the intense growth of Willows, Oak, Sycamore and native shrubbery, there are few places along the road where one is able to glimpse the water, much less see a tiny bird.

Since it was unlikely that I would see a bird in the creek, I identified the majority of them by sound - Birds heard but not seen were: Pacific Flycatcher, Golden-crowned Warbler, Wilson's Warbler (below), and Northern Flicker. Wilson's Warbler were numerous.  I was fortunate to see Mr. Wilson's as he flitted through a cluster of roadside Willow. 
  Wilson's Warbler - 3-5 inches, .30 ounces, is considered by Audubon, "Climate Threatened."

In the brush along the road were California Quail, Bewick's Wren, California Thrasher, Spotted Towhee, Wrentit, a very perky Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, and a flock of Bushtit (below).
One of the perks of birding is the other animals one might see.  An Alligator Lizard was in the middle of the road.  It is much longer and thicker than the local lizards, about 15 inches.  The lizard was in no hurry to move.  With my walking stick I encouraged it to move into the brush, as I did not want it to be run over by a bicycle.
Sticky Phacelia blooming on the north side of Islay Creek Road

Wednesday - Hazard Canyon, a 1.5 mile road/trail that intersects Manzanita and East Boundry Trails.  The canyon is narrow and has a small seasonal creek.  The birds were the same as the Islay Creek birds with a few exceptions: Swainson's Thrush, a pair of Nuttall's Woodpecker checking out a hole in a Willow tree, and two active Scrub Jay (below).   
One of the marvelous aspects of Montaña de Oro State Park is the vast majority of it is inaccessible to humans.  Poison oak, stinging nettle, and densely vegetated creeks and hills keep people on the trails, which allows birds and the park's wild animals to thrive. 

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Birding Southwestern Arizona



Saguaro Cactus - White Tank Mountain Park, Arizona

My trip to Arizona was for a visit with family and a little birding.
                   View from Goat Camp Trail
White Tank Mountain Regional Park - The largest park in Maricopa County covers 29, 572 acres over 45 miles.  The range rises sharply from its base of 1400 feet to its highest peak (Barry Goldwater Peak) at 4,083 feet.  Climbing Barry Goldwater Peak was a bit beyond my capabilities.  I took the leisurely Goat Camp Trail with high hopes of seeing a few desert birds.  
Before I stepped on to the trail, I heard a Cactus Wren.  It took several minutes to locate the little darling, as there were many cacti.  Success at last.  A Cactus Wren was singing from a rather hefty Saguaro.  Although the Saguaro has a prickly nature, it plays host to a variety of animals. The Gila Woodpecker excavates nest cavities.  When the Woodpecker abandons the nest, an Elf Owl, Screech Owl, Purple Martin, Finch, or Sparrow may take up residence.  White-winged Dove, occasional visitor to the Central Coast, feast on the Saguaro fruits; Lesser Long-nosed Bat feeds on the nectar and pollen.  The Saguaro is a valuable asset to desert creatures.
               
The temperature was warm, 92° - 95° (33 C - 35C).  Fortunately, the birds cooperated - Curved-billed Thrasher, Costa's Hummingbird, Canyon Towhee, Gila Woodpecker (heard, not seen).  Upon leaving the park a Roadrunner sped across the road.
 Avondale Arizona - The tiny, 2oz Verdin is prolific.  Nearly every Palo Verde tree has a Verdin nest (photo taken in my brother's front yard).  It's light and cheerful song can be heard from dawn to dusk. 
While cruising through the agriculture areas of Avondale I was amazed to see an Osprey (common on Moro Bay) perched on a utility pole.   Although the Osprey possesses specialized characteristics that assist it in catching fish, they will also, on occasion, prey on small critters such as rodents and birds.  While looking at the Osprey a flock of Yellow-headed Blackbirds took flight from one of the fields.
Great-tailed Grackle (above) were abundant in the agriculture areas, especially where there were farms and dairies.  On the trip to Arizona I stopped in Blythe Calif., near the Arizona border.  Great-tailed Grackle had set up residence in palms trees that lined the parking area between two fast food establishments.  I have to admit I did leave them a few crumbs.  On the Central Coast Great-tailed Grackle can be found in the Costco parking lot near the food court.              
 
Estrella Mountain Regional Park - 19, 840 acres.  My brother and I walked up the Gila trail.  We saw or heard Cactus Wren, Say's Phoebe, Costa's Hummingbird, Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, Gambel's Quail, Red-tailed Hawk, and a male and female Phainopepla (below).
                        Male Phainopepla
The final Arizona bird on my journey was Arizona's state bird, a Cactus Wren.  He was boldly singing from atop a Palo Verde tree at an active Arizona rest stop on Interstate Highway 10; the fact that cars and trucks where coming and going nearby, did not faze the little singer one iota.

Back home - Today, in a Food 4 Less parking lot I saw a flock of Cedar Waxwing.  When you are out and about keep in mind, that birds can often be found in parking lots, highway Rest Areas, and around fast food restaurants.   Happy Spring Birding!


                                        

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Pre-Spring Observations

Montaña de Oro State Park - Oystercatcher's can often be seen on the rugged shale formations that reach out into the sea (above photo).   A few days ago observed three Oystercatcher's participating in what could be described as a mating ritual.  A pair possibly males, while cheeping loudly, were in unison, prancing and bobbing their heads while another Oystercatcher (below photo), possibly a female and slightly larger than the two prancers, sedately observed the action.  
Obviously she was not impressed with their performance, as she flew off.  The two males wasted not a moment, cheeping loudly, they dashed after her.  To my disappointment they flew out of sight.
Continuing with Montaña de Oro Observations - About two weeks ago California Thrasher, known as an exuberant songster, began his spring song fest.  Thrasher vocalizations mark territory, demonstrate motivation, and if luck prevails, attract females.  Like their cousin, the Northern Mockingbird, they are mimics.  The more varied their repertoire, the greater their attraction to females.

One of the delightful aspects of Thrashers is when they sing, they are perched atop a large bush and easy to observe.  The California Thrasher in the photo is perched on a Dune Lupine Bush.
Another songster that has begun his pre-spring vocalization at Montaña de Oro is the perky Wrentit.  Although the male sings all year, as spring approaches his song is more frequent.  Unfortunately, unlike the Thrasher, Wrentits are difficult to observe, as they spend most of their time well hidden in the brush, which this year is dense due to abundant rain.  When birding the coastal areas of California and you hear a song ending in a descending ping pong ball trill, you know that somewhere in the brush is a Wrentit. 


Sunday, January 8, 2017

Birding Before the Big Storm




Morro Bay Estuary - A  stormy, windy morning  - wind gusting at 16-27 mph. - a major rain storm was due.   I had walked to the Audubon Overlook.   Song Sparrow welcomed me with a cheerful greeting.  Kingfisher, making its usual rat-a-tat sound, landed on one of the pier pilings.  

The tide was on the way out.  In front of me, a large flock of Ruddy Duck floated peacefully.  Pintail, Northern Shoveler, Scaup, Green-winged Teal and one Cinnamon Teal, were feeding in the shallow water.  Along the edge of the receding tide, Long-billed Dowitcher and Willet probed the sand.  A vocal flock of Brant Goose, feeding across the bay, suddenly took flight when a high flying Osprey appeared. 
 The unofficial bird of the morning was the male Northern Shoveler.  A few minutes of sunlight highlighted the Shoveler's colors and in particular its white breast and deep cinnamon side.  (photo by Dick Daniels)
As the tide receded Willet, Long-billed Dowitcher (above), and Avocet arrived to feed in along the edge of the water.  On a nearby fence perched Say's and Black Phoebe.  Hidden in the brush a Spotted Towhee called.  I could have stayed at this peaceful overlook for hours, but the winds was picking up and it was time to head home.    

The Morro Bay Winter Bird Festival is next weekend.   http://morrobaybirdfestival.org/http:

I can guarantee there will be ample fascinating birds for the viewing pleasure of the participants.