Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Birding Laguna Lake Park

Laguna Lake - The weather was perfect, warming sun with a slight breeze.  The hill, center left, is Bishop Peak.  The hill to the right is Cerro San Luis aka Madonna Mountain.

With boisterous enthusiasm a Great-tailed Grackle welcomed me to the park.
I had noticed, from a distance, a few water fowl; could not determine species, so found an area closer to the water.
A perky Marsh Wren was dashing through the reeds, loudly calling.  Perhaps my presence had disturbed him.  
The male Marsh Wren is quite vocal when it comes to protecting his territory.  He may build numerous nests in hopes of attracting a mate.  The more nests he builds, the more chances he has of success.
Singing from a Willow thicket were Song Sparrow, House Finch, and a handsome Pacific Flycatcher. (photo). The wind was picking up.  Tiny waves were lapping at the shore line.  Since most of our winter guests have returned to their breeding areas, birds on the lake were scarce - two Pied-billed Grebe, two female Northern Shoveler, one Canada Goose, and a lonely male Ruddy Duck. 
Across the lake a Sora was calling (photo taken at Cloisters Pond).  Like all rails, the Sora has big feet, making it easier to walk on floating reeds.  The Sora, when it emerges from the reeds, does not appear to mind huge two legged creatures staring at them. 
The treat for the morning was seeing a Lark Sparrow.  As I neared the barbed wire fence that separates the park from the open space, I could see a Lark Sparrow perched on the old fence, her tiny feet carefully placed between the forever sharp barbs.  I kept my distance - watched her find a morning morsel, and then fly off with a tiny insect securely held in her beak -  perhaps to her nestlings that were eagerly waiting her return. 




Friday, May 20, 2022

Central Coast Ibis - Here Today Gone Tomorrow

Turri Road - Los Osos Ca - Seeking a White-faced Ibis and a Solitary Sandpiper.  I was headed east on Turri Road, a scenic rural route between South Bay Blvd and Los Osos Valley Road.  From South Bay Blvd I traveled about a mile and a half to a dilapidated cattle pen, nearly adjacent to an ephemeral pond/wetland, often used by cattle and migratory birds.

Fortune shined this cloudy morning.  The White-faced Ibis were peacefully feeding in the wetland, their glossy maroon and metallic green feathers appearing to shimmer in the morning light.  
White-faced Ibis, with their long decurved bill, eat a variety of organisms such as insects, frogs, snails, small fish, spiders, and earthworms. 
The Solitary Sandpiper was difficult to locate as it was feeding in tall grass.  Now and then I caught a glimpse.  Finally it came out of the grass and I was able to identify the little darling.  What proved to be helpful was its tendency to bob.  Every time her tail went up, it exposed her startlingly white "derriere." Her movement was similar to the Spotted Sandpiper's tail bobbing, but slower.
The Solitary Sandpiper is smaller than a Lesser Yellowleg and larger than a Western Sandpiper; it has distinctive white eye rings, and greenish/yellow legs.  It prefers to forage in small stagnant pools, just like the one off Turri Road. 

Adding to the marvelous morning was a "wake" of  Turkey Vultures feeding on a small raccoon carcass.  Several were in the air, circling, while others perched on the nearby fence.  I am charmed by their gentleness and patience.
Up the hillside from the pond/wetland is an isolated section of fence.  When I arrived four turkey Vultures were perched on the fence.  Joining the Vultures was a Western Bluebird and a Cassin's Kingbird.  Both eat insects.  From the fence they would fly up, hovering for several moments, checking the air and grassland for prey.  
Cassin's caught its prey in mid-air while the Western Bluebird found its prey on the ground.  With goals achieved, they returned to their original perch. 
 Other Birds of the morning - Across the road in a Willow/Sycamore/Oak thicket were Wilson's Warbler, Yellow Warbler, Song Sparrow, Oak Titmouse, Northern Flicker, and a Downey Woodpecker continually drumming.

The Ibis are gone now, but there is a good chance they will return next season, that is IF we get rain.


Thursday, March 31, 2022

Birding the Swine Ponds

Cal Poly - Sunday Morning before a greatly anticipated rain storm - Thanks to a friend who had given me a detailed map, I finally found the swine ponds.  Coots were feeding in the thick slim that had coagulated around the edge of the pond.  There was an odor, but it was not bad.  A lone male Mallard was perched at the end of a pipe that drains fluids from the pens.  For several weeks a Common Gallinule aka Common Moorhen had been seen at this location.  I figured I had a 50/50 chance of seeing it, and the chances were iffy, as Moorhens have a tendency to be secretive.  I would either see it or I would not see it.

Moorhens have a rather vivid red head shield and a pointy bill tip that reminds me of candy corn.  I walked along the edge of the berm, eventually finding a good view of the reeds. A few drops had begun to fall when the infrequent visitor emerged from the reeds giving me a brief but splendid view.  Yeah!  The Common Moorhen is a member of the rail family.  It is found in aquatic environment's, often nesting in reeds.  The female lays from 2-12 eggs; both parents incubate the eggs.  A group of Moorhens is known as a, "plump."
The other pond was low on water.  There were a few Coots and Mallards and a pair of Killdeer.  Red-winged Blackbirds cheerfully sang from a nearby willow.  Overhead Turkey Vulture soared.  
Last sighting for the day was a motionless Cal Poly bovine.  There are two types of cows,*  "Zebu," humped cows from Eastern Asia and cows without humps, from Western Eurasia.  Perhaps the bovine of the day was related to the Zebu as it had a fatty hump and a "dewlap," the flesh that hangs below the neck.
In the same paddock another Zebu like bovine.  I am becoming quite fond of cows.

* Definition of "Cow." - a domestic bovine animal regardless of sex or age


Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Birding Cal Poly

Stenner Creek Road passes through the Cal Poly University outback- First sighting, Bishop Peak.  Elevation 1546 feet; it is the highest in a chain of volcanic remnants known as the "Nine Sisters.

Next sighting, a Black Angus bull - a double take kind of experience, as I had never seen an Angus Bull close enough to touch.  It was enormous!  Cal Poly is known for its extensive beef cattle program. 

Back to birding - A few yards from the cattle pens was a pond with four Northern Shoveler; three male and one female actively feeding. 

 Across the road White-crowned Sparrow, Western Bluebird; Cassin's Kingbird sallied out from it's perch to take insects in midair (photo by Mike Baird).  Brewer's Blackbirds in the thousands around the cattle pens.  Overhead a Red-tailed Hawk soared with Turkey Vultures.  It had been awhile since I had been out and about - every sighting was a joy to behold. 

After passing through an extensive grove of mature avocado trees I came to Stenner Creek.  Sycamore, Arroyo Willow, and Live Oak were the primary trees along and in the creek.  The scrub brush was dry and dense. 
80 feet overhead was an impressive, heavily rusted 129 year old train trestle with a span of 950 feet.  Freight and passenger trains cross this elderly trestle on a daily basis.  
For additional details on Stenner Creek Trestle

Dominating the birding scene was a pair of vocal Red-shouldered Hawk actively nest building in a tall Sycamore.  Only one Hawk was doing the work, going back and forth.  The mate was perched on a nearby post supervising.  I believe they were refurbishing a prior year's nest. (photo by Mike Baird)
Birds around the creek - Nuttall's Woodpecker, Lesser Goldfinch, Spotted Towhee, Calif. Towhee, Bewick's Wren, Oak Titmouse, Calif Scrub Jay, Black Phoebe.  Birds heard but not seen - Calif Quail, Northern Flicker.

I had been hoping to have an unusual sighting, but so far just the usuals.  I pushed on, past the peaceful bulls, into the maze of the Cal Poly campus on an attempt to locate the "swine pond" where a Common Moorhen had been seen.  A Moorhen is a member of the Rail family and resembles a Coot.  Lacking success at locating the swine pond, I decided to look more thoroughly at a pond I had just passed.  The pond was sorry looking, lacking vegetation, not even a weed.  Although the pond was not a pleasant sight, I had an unexpected, delightful sighting.  At the edge of the water, standing among a pile of cow pies was a seldom seen, Wilson's Snipe.  Yeah!  A great way to end the day.  Wilson's Snipe is not the usual shorebird.   Check out Cornell Lab's Overview.   Wilson's Snipe Overview, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology



Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Easy Birding The Central Coast

Cathy from Palm Springs was visiting.  We were heading north to have a day of Easy Birding on the Central Coast.  Cathy was hoping for the coolness of fog while I was hoping for a warming sun.  What Mother Nature bestowed upon us was an ideal medium, sun, and wisps of fog with a gentle breeze. What more could one ask for?  Well, maybe a few birds.
First Stop - Estero Bluffs - Blooming female Coyote Brush lined the slightly damp trail.  After a few minutes of walking the brush opened giving us a grand view of Estero Bay.
Our first sighting was a female Northern Harrier silently flying, more like gliding, over the brush.  She had a wide search pattern but eventually flew out of sight. Northern Harriers can be fairly easy to identify.  The female is larger than the male.  She is a darkish brown, while he is grey with black wingtips. They both have an obvious white rump.        

On the rocky shoreline was about 30 Sanderlings.  They follow the ebb and flow of the waves, probing the wet sand as they race back and forth.  
Sanderlings breed in High Arctic tundra and fly down to the Central Coast for the winter.  A group of Sanderlings are known as a "grain."  Other birds were Black Turnstones, Black Phoebe, and two Yellow-rumped Warbler.    Next stop Cambria.
Santa Rosa Creek Lagoon - Cambria - We were in birding paradise.  Pied-billed Grebe, Eared Grebe aka, Fluffy Butt, Ruddy Duck, Bufflehead, Mallard, Black Turnstone, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Great Egret, a flock of Ring-billed Gull, and a ""whirligig" of Red-necked Phalarope.   What a treat!  photo by Mike Baird
It is impossible for me to bird the rocky coast without noticing the rocks.  The impressive Cambria Slab Greywacke Sandstone is prevalent from Cambria to San Simeon.  The Tafoni, the holes, in the sandstone are from physical and chemical weathering.  

Perched on the ancient sandstone - Double-crested Cormorant, Pelagic Cormorant, Brandt's Cormorant, plus juvenile Brandt's and juvenile Double-crested.  (below photo)  I am quite certain the Cormorants are not into geology and had no idea the rocks they were perched on are well over 100 million years old. 

On the light colored rock, were four Black Oystercatcher and one juvenile (below photo).  It was a thrill to see the juvenile, as the Black Oystercatcher's reproductive rate along the Central Coast was tragically poor this year. 
Our last stop was the Sea Pines Golf Course located near Shark Inlet (yes there are sharks in Morro Bay).  If you are not a golfer, the only view of the pond is through wire fencing. 
Feeding on the grass was a gaggle of Canada Goose and a small gaggle of Greater White-fronted Goose.  (The photo was taken through the wire fence.)   The White-fronted Goose has one of the largest ranges of any species of goose in the world.  Now, in comparison, the Canada Goose just travels from golf course to golf course. 
Our last bird of the day was a doozy.  Cathy had just gotten her binoculars focused through the wire fence when she spotted this adorable female Hooded Merganser.  I've heard that many ducks are envious of the female Hooded's stylish hairdo.  There are three species of Merganser in North America.  Hooded is the smallest, about the size of a coot.  Seeing this little beauty was a gift, as only a few winter on the Central Coast.  Needless to say Cathy and I had a fabulous day of birding.

Saturday, October 2, 2021

Fall Birding - A Little Here and a Little There

Sweet Sweet Springs - The tide was high and the fog was meditating on its power to grant the people of peaceful Baywood the unique privilege of experiencing the sun's warmth.  

Nuttall's Woodpecker was active in a tall Cypress; Chickadees, Oak Titmouse were flitting through a stand of low growing oak.  In the pond numerous Mallards slept, preened and chatted about their recent travels; Song Sparrow darted through pond-side vegetation, and a great and Snowy Egret, perched high in a tall Eucalyptus, watched the action.
A noisy Belted Kingfisher (photo by Gary O'Neill) searched for lunch.
In a Channel, carved by time and tides, 26 Blue-winged Teal fed.  I consider them the "Early Birds," as every year they are the first small migratory duck to arrive in Sweet Springs.
Estero Bluffs State Park - Vila Creek - Blooming along the path to the beach and pond was Tar Weed and Mock Heather.  My friend Phoebe and I were hoping to see a migrant species that is seen only occasionally on the Central Coast, a Black-necked Stilt.  It would be a first sighting for Phoebe.

A few migratory shorebirds, Western Sandpiper, Godwit, Whimbrel and a few Long-billed Curlew were feeding along the edge of the beach.  Higher up the beach, Killdeer, a pair of Pectoral Sandpiper and four Turkey Vultures.  Numerous Snowy Plover were busy chasing kelp flies.  In the background of the top image in the collage, symbolic fencing can be seen.  The fencing, along with signage, encourages people to respect the Snowy Plover nesting grounds.   https://www.mbnep.org/2016/03/04/symbolic-fencing-helps-morro-bays-snowy-plovers/ 
We finally reached the pond where there had been several recent sightings of a juvenile Black-necked Stilt.  At the bend in the creek perched a Great Egret; a few feet out from the Egret was a pair of Mallards.  A few feet from the Mallards strode a black and white, pink legged Black-necked Stilt.  They can swim and dive but prefer to wade in shallow water.
The photo was taken by local birder/photographer Maggie Smith about two hours before we arrived at Villa Creek pond.  

Friday, May 21, 2021

Point Lobos Nesting Cormorants - May 2021

 Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, Carmel Ca. - May 12, 2021 - Three years had passed since my last visit to the reserve.  I was on my first away from home outing in over a year; though in my reality, only two years had passed, as 2020 was a non-year.  - My goals for this quietly overcast morning were to enjoy the reserve's spring wildflowers and observe the nesting extravaganza of Brandt's Cormorant.

Point Lobos is a very popular tourist destination with limited parking.  By arriving early was able find parking at the Bird Island Trail Head.  Wildflowers lined both sides of the shaded trail - Sticky Monkey, Blue Dicks, Hedge Nettle, Seaside Daisy, Paintbrush, Calif. Poppy, precious Dudleya fairinosa, and the most gorgeous Lupine I had ever seen.  This Lupine was absolutely amazing!
I was in no hurry as the Cormorant's were not going anywhere for about three months.  The Gooseberry plant caught my eye.  I am familiar with a flowering Fuchsia Flowering Gooseberry, but had never seen the flower turning into a berry.  Had to be very careful while taking closeup photos due to the abundance of poison oak.  Poison Oak has a personality of its own and its goal is to catch you unaware.
Ceanothus, also known as California Lilac, was in full bloom in the more open, sunny areas of the trail.
Finally, I came to my first view of Bird Rock.  Wow!  Word had obviously gotten out that Bird Rock was the place to nest - certainly looked like a much larger colony than in 2018.   I find their choice of nest location interesting, as they range from protected depression to open windy ridge.  If you were looking for the ideal nest site to brood, feed, and care for two or three offspring, what would be your choice, and why?
The collage compares the Brands's Cormorant population of May 2018, top image, to May 2021.
Bird Rock is a magnificent example of granodiorite, an igneous rock that is similar to granite.  Historically a young rock, only 80 million years old, give or take a few million.  All the rocks in this area are composed of granodiorite.
The scene before me was idyllic - thousands of birds peacefully nesting.  Incubation takes about 30 days.  Nestlings will fledge approximately 50 days after hatching.  They do not go far after fledging,  as parents will continue feeding them for a couple more weeks.  
The wind was getting stronger and I was ready for a warming cup of coffee - a spacious Starbucks is only a mile from the reserve.  As I heading back down the trail, I noticed the Cormorants had company, two Peregrine Falcon perched in a nearby tree.