Monday, December 25, 2017

An Unusual Sighting At Montaña de Oro

Sara and I, volunteers at Montaña de Oro State Park, were on the Bluff Trail headed toward Spooner's Cove Overlook.  The day before, Sara with her photographer husband Gary, experienced an unusual bird sighting. 

When Sara and I reached the overlook we could see a wake (group of Vultures) about 17, peacefully perched at the end of the bluff.  Fortunately the area was cordoned off with single wire fencing which kept visitors on the trail and away from the Vultures.
On the jagged rocks below perched 8 more Vultures.  Lower down the rocks a lone Vulture was pecking on a deer carcass.  The carcass was in the shadows and nearly impossible to see from the top of the bluff.  Fortunately, the day before Gary had taken a photo.  Notice the beautiful deep brown feathers.  Vultures have a keen sense of sight and smell.
What we wondered was why only a single feeder, and what had caused the deer to fall off the cliff? Our best guess - the deer was chased by Coyotes or a Mountain Lion.  What ever the cause of the deer's demise, the Turkey Vultures, natures recyclers, had a fine feast.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Sweet Springs Expands It’s Horizons

Yesterday was the Grand Opening for the "Accessible Trail and Viewing Platform" at the new Sweet Springs East.  The trail and boardwalk is about 2/3 of a mile round trip.  The boardwalk ends at the beautifully constructed viewing platform.
The viewing platform gives visual access to a section of the bay where migratory ducks and shore birds hang out, an area that has hitherto been out of sight.  (I can hardly wait to return for some serious birding.)

Earlier in the day, I birdied the usual Sweet Springs (above).   In the thickets of brush, digging thru leaf litter, were Junco, Song Sparrow, and White and Golden-crowned Sparrow.  The Golden-crowned Sparrow is a rather feisty feeder.  If another Golden-crowned gets too close, the interloper gets a quick peck on the butt.  
In the Eucalyptus trees, vivid black and yellow Townsend’s Warbler, Northern Flicker, pert Ruby-crowned Kinglet, and a sweet little Downey Woodpecker.  Belted Kingfisher was perched on a branch overlooking the pond.
 On my way to the overlook I heard a sound that was music to my ears, Brant Goose (about 100); the first of the season.  Along the edge of the bay, Blue-winged Teal Black-bellied Plover, Killdeer, Greater Yellowleg, and a beautiful Great Blue Heron.  Seeing the Brant and hearing their magical sound made my day.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Estero Bluffs State Park - Villa Creek Beach

Estero Bluffs State Park begins directly after the community of Cayucos.   The park follows along Highway 1 for about 5 miles until the road takes a slight curve inland. 
Between the highway and the Pacific Ocean is a vast grassland dotted with a few greenish serpentine rock clusters and the occasional clump of brush. 

Destination of this morning’s birding adventure, Villa Creek Beach, located at the northern end of the park.  Several days ago migrant Mountain Plover had been sighted.   I had high hopes that at least one of the three that had been seen by local birders would appear in my binoculars.  
 As I was following the trail to the beach, I asked a gentleman birder if he had seen the Plover.   He said he had and that it was easy to see. 
                             Mountain Plover
After walking a few yards along the beach, I spotted the Mountain Plover, (first time sighting) chasing flies with her cousins the Snowy Plover.  I was delighted to get a photo of the Mountain Plover, as it was constantly on the move chasing kelp flies.  While watching the Plovers two of the Snowy got into a rough and tumble disagreement, feathers were actually flying.  (Photo - Snowy Plover often rests in small depressions.) 
Other birds on the beach: American Pipit, Black-bellied Plover, Killdeer, Godwit (below photo), Whimbrel, and of course, my faithful friend, Black Phoebe. 
After the beach I walked through a few acres of the Grasslands:  Red-tailed Hawk, Loggerhead Shrike, a very cheeky House Wren, Western Meadowlark, American Pipit, numerous White-crowned Sparrow, excellent sightings of Savanna Sparrow, and Black Phoebe.  Birding Villa Creek Beach and the grasslands was absolutely "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious."

Monday, October 2, 2017

Morro Bay Estuary - Return of the Winter Birds

  The photo shows the estuary as the tide is ebbing.  The marina is center left in front of the trees.

Thousands of birds winter on the Central Coast.  Primarily, the first of the winter arrivals are the shore birds.  Then come the Terns, gulls, Geese, White Pelican, water fowl, and much to the delight of the birding community, the occasional rare or seldom seen bird.  Oops, must not forget the songbirds, such as Warblers, and my favorites, the White-crowned and Golden-crowned Sparrow, and Ruby-crowned Kinglet.  By the first of October large numbers of shore birds can be seen feeding in the Pickleweed and along the edges of the bay.  
 A few days ago Mike Baird and I went to the Morro Bay Marina (above photo) to check out the birds.  The Marina is located across from the entrance to the M. B. State Park Campground. The loop boardwalk/Trail is at the east end of the parking area. The weather was delightful.  We were hoping to see a true rarity to the Central Coast, actually a first time visitor to our county, a juvenile Yellow-crowned Night Heron (Nyctanassa violacea).  It is thought that this Night Heron may have come up from Santa Barbara.
Last week I had seen the Yellow-crowned Night Heron perched on the stern railing (above) of one of the marina sailboats.  Mike and I checked out the boats and the Eucalyptus trees that line the parking area.  Unfortunately success alluded us in locating the Night Heron.  

From the boardwalk we observed numerous, Willet, Godwit, Long-billed Curlew, and two Greater Yellowleg feeding in the pickleweed.  Mike spotted a small flock of White Pelican.  (photo by Mike Baird)
 They appear completely white except in flight when one can see their 9 ft black and white wings - a most impressive sight. 
The Spotted Sandpiper that returns to the marina in late summer was exactly where I expected it to be.  She bobs her little behind as she walks, and there she was bobbing along the sandy edge of the marina.  I love that bird!

As we came off the trail and headed to the car 🚗 we noticed a women looking through her camera into the trees.  Her face was hidden by her hat and her camera.  We were nearing the car when she called out, “Joyce, is that the Yellow-crowned Night Heron?”  As soon as she spoke I knew who she was.  I looked into the area she was focused on and sure enough there was the Yellow-crowned Night Heron, perched nearby was a Black-crowned Night Heron.  “Yes,” I said.
 A difficult shot for my little camera.  But there he/she is, napping in a Eucalyptus tree.  Night Herons often hunt at night and sleep during the day.

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.

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? 
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!