Sunday, March 21, 2021

Cinnamon Teal - Spatula cyanoptera


Turri Road - I was immersed in the sights and sounds of Spring.  On this glorious morning, there were five pair of Cinnamon Teal feeding in the ephemeral cattle pond on Turri Road.  A week ago a friend of mine told me she had seen a group of red ducks in the pond as she passed by on her bicycle.  I really doubted that they would still be in the pond, but thought it worth a try.  And there they were a dabbling.


The males were aglow in their breeding finery. *

The small pond and its nearness to the road allowed for excellent views of the dabblers.  Without binoculars they would have been difficult to see.  I always keep an emergency pair in my car.  Through the twiggy trees, I had the pleasure of observing their courtship display of pre-nuptial head bobbing - not just a pair, all ten of them bobbing at the same time.  It was a real birding moment.

All the black specks in the distance are Black Angus Cattle. 

Other sighting - A few yards up from the pond a pair of Western Bluebird (Sialia mexicana) sallied forth, in pursuit of insects, from their perch on an old barbed wire fence.  The male's cobalt-blue coloring was stunning.  

Heard but not seen birds - Northern Flicker, House Finch, Song Sparrow, and the memorable, flute like, song of a Western Meadowlark.  Check out the link to hear its beautiful song.  

*Cinnamon Teal by Mike Baird


Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Birding Sweet Springs and . . .

Sweet Springs yesterday morning - Weather warm, no wind, and absolutely beautiful.  Silently floating on the peaceful bay were large flocks of Scaup, Bufflehead, and Ruddy Duck.  Below is a female Ruddy Duck.  
 I find it amazing that the adorable little Ruddy Duck nests in nest holes excavated by Northern Flickers. 

In the distance could be heard the cheerful chatter of Brant Goose.  
Perched along the edge of the channels was a pair of Northern Pintail, one lonely Cinnamon Teal, two American Widgeon, Blue-winged Teal, and the smallest of the dabbling ducks, Green-winged Teal. 
Mallards rested along the banks of the pond.  
It was a good day for seeing Passerines (perching birds).  I think the Quail may have been warming up for spring, as there was persistent calling.  Due to the abundance of native shrubs, Quail are numerous and if not seen can always be heard.  Feeding on the ground were White-crowned and Golden-crowned Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Oregon Junco, and House Finch.  In the shrubbery were several Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Spotted Towhee, and a Blue-grey Gnatcatcher.  In the trees, Chestnut-backed Chickadee and the most precious bird of all, Bushtits.  Common Yellow-throat (below) was flitting along the edge of the pond.  
Now for Estero Bluffs - Lately I have been going at least once a week to the Bluffs.  Although I am focused on the rocks, there are always birds to be seen.
About half way up this multi million year old formation, Black Turnstone have found a safe haven.  The lower section of the rock is Greenstone, on the top weathered Sandstone, and possibly a little Shale on the lower right.  

Brown Pelican, Brandt and Pelagic Cormorant are packed like sardines on a huge rock formation located about 100 yards off-shore.  The composition of the rock is more than likely, Pillow Basalt (hardened lava  formed in the deep sea).  Stay tuned for more geology and birding.  And if humanly possible keep a positive attitude.


Monday, December 21, 2020

Birding On The Ninth Day Of Christmas

On the Ninth day of Christmas Mother Nature gave to all. . . 9 Brant a Chattering

8  Willet Flying

7  Teal a Paddling . . .

6  Tern a Standing . . . 

5  Ruddy Duck a Gliding . . .
4  Goslings a Gandering . . .
3  Vultures Feasting . . .
2  Godwit Probing . .  .

And a Bald Eagle in an Old Tree.

           Wishing you Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah

Monday, November 9, 2020

Birding Morro Bay Marina and Estero Bluffs

Moro Bay Marina - The tide was high - The morning beautiful.  A Clark's Grebe, was feeding at the flooded edge of the marina - a most unusual sight as Grebes are diving birds.  She was keenly focused on the vegetation and paid no attention to my presence.  

There were three Grebes.  I believe in the below photo, the top image is of a Clark's and the lower image  a Western.   Figuring out who's who can be tricky, as they are almost identical.  Western's eye is in the black and Clark's eye is in the white; Clark's bill is more yellow than Western.  At the least I figured out they were Grebes.  Water birds were few, a small flotilla of Coots, four adorable Pied-billled Grebe, a Common Loon, and a magnificent Osprey perched on a distant mast.  

Estero Bluffs State Park - This dense cluster of Eucalyptus is a bird magnet.
Although the Eucalyptus tree is non-native and often thought of as an invasive species; on Estero Bluffs it is the only place where an assortment of roosting birds can roost.  The Eucalyptus is located above San Geronimo Creek and due to dense vegetation is, fortunately, isolated from the public.
In the month of October I have been to Estero Bluffs five times.  There are three primary reasons for the multiple visits, very few people, great birding, and fascinating rocks.  On a recent visit there was an Osprey, five Double-crested Cormorant, Brewer's Blackbird, and a Great Egret roosting in the Eucalyptus at the same time.  On another visit, Mike and I were below the tree at the mouth of San Geronimo Creek watching Coots harassing four Canada Goose when suddenly a dozen plus Black-crowned Night Heron sped out of the Eucalyptus to disappear up the creek.  A few minutes later there was another exodus of Herons.  To say the least it was a rather unique sighting. 

Estero Bluffs - Saturday morning birded Villa Creek beach with Mike and Jerry.  The sea was rugged, tide coming in and the birds cooperative.  The Honeycomb Sandstone is one of my current favorite rocks.  The holes are the result of the interaction of physical and chemical weathering over a loooong period of time.  Watching the feeding shore birds was a delight.
 Godwits were organized and very busy - They only had a few seconds to feed before the next wave.  It never ceases to amaze me how fast their delicate legs can move.  Nearby was a Black-bellied Plover and a couple of Killdeer.  Higher up the beach, where kelp is located, were quadrillions of kelp flies that Western Sandpiper and the adorable Snowy Plover (below) were feeding upon.  The little Plovers were nearly close enough to touch.
Little did we know a surprise awaited us in the rocks.
Four Pacific Golden-Plover - A most unusual sighting.  I was only able to photograph one as I was distracted by the incoming tide and the kelp flies around my face.  The Plovers breed from northern 
Siberia to the coast of Alaska.  They winter from southern Asia to the Pacific Islands and occasionally the Central Coast.  Birding was cut short by fierce wind and blowing sand, but I can guarantee I will be returning to the Estero Bluffs.   

Friday, October 2, 2020

Birding Estero Bluffs Pocket Beach

Estero Bluffs State Park Ca. stretches north four miles from Cayucos to villa Creek.  I was meeting Mike at the Villa Creek parking area.  The morning's goal, a small pocket beach, a tad south of the creek.
As we progressed through the park numerous delightful trails led to views of Estero Bluffs' dramatic, rocky coastline.
The pocket beach was full of surprises.  We had a marvelous view of the beach and the birds from our perch on the bluff.  The darker birds in the damp sand are adult and juvenile Heermann's Gull; the grey and white birds, Western and Ringed-billed Gull; the white birds, Elegant and Caspian Tern, and more than likely there were one or two Royal Tern.  Two of the Caspian Tern can be seen in the below photo.  Look for a very red bill.
Here and there, particularly on and around the kelp, were Black Turnstone (below).  They become nearly invisible when feeding on kelp.  
Black Turnstone was not the only one with a taste for kelp flies and their larva.  Joining in on the feast were Willet, Whimbrel, Godwit, Long-billed Curlew, Killdeer, Black and Say's Phoebe, and an American Pipit.

Kelp flies breed on decaying kelp.  A female lays five clutches of 80 eggs each, a total of 400 eggs; the larva feeds on bacteria coming from the decaying kelp.  The warmer the weather, the faster the kelp decays, the quicker the eggs hatch.  Their life cycle is about 30 days.
A tad south of the pocket beach, a Black Oystercatcher was feeding as a wave broke over her.  She flew out of the surf and onto a higher rock.  Although a rare happening, Black Oystercatchers are capable of swimming.
The rocks the Oystercatcher was feeding on have eroded out of the Franciscan Complex which dates back about 140 million years to the late Jurassic Period.  It was rather mind boggling when I realized the Oystercatcher was feeding on a rock that was created during the late Jurassic, and that under my feet were 140 million years of geologic history. 

Like all the state parks on the Central Coast, Estero Bluffs is free and well worth a visit.

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Birding on a Smoky Morning

Morro Creek, Morro Bay Ca. - To say the least, smoke was prevalent, birds were few.  I was wearing a mask and was determined to make the most of my time on the beach.
Morro Creek travels from the foothills to the Pacific Ocean.  Before it reaches the sea, the creek sometimes forms a lagoon.  Beach lagoons come and go depending on the time of year, the fresh water, high tides, and surf conditions. 

Greater Yellow-leg, Willet, and Snowy Egret were feeding in shallow water.  Nearby, a Semi-palmated Plover, two Killdeer, and my special friend, Black Phoebe.

Most amusing was watching the Snowy Egret foraging.  It swiftly darted back and forth, then 
suddenly stopped to jiggle one of its bright yellow feet under the water.
Would this creative behavior stir up an edible critter?  Yes!  What ever it was went down the Snowy's throat faster than I could blink.

A footbridge crosses the creek.  I had parked on the south side of the creek, as I crossed over the bridge, I saw only a few Mallards.  On the way back checked the creek again, noticed three Red-necked Phalarope in non-breeding plumage. (below)
On the edge of the wet sand a small flock of Least Sandpiper, another handsome Killdeer, and a mystery bird.  I do love a mystery.  I was on the bridge looking down.  It was plump with white stripes on its head and back.  Its head was immersed in the water up to its tiny eye.  
Hoping to identify the bird, I took numerous photos.  Arriving home I searched through my "National Geographic Guide to Birds of No. America" and found Wilson's Snipe - described by the Guide as "stocky; with very long bill; boldly striped head, barred Flanks."  Ah, another mystery solved.
In the above photo, top image is the Snipe followed by two Phalarope.  The large image of Wilson's Snipe was borrowed from Wikipedia to get a good look at its long bill.  The tip of the Snipe's bill remains closed while it consumes invertebrates.  This useful feature allows the Snipe to consume food without lifting its head from the water.  

View of Morro Creek Lagoon from Google Earth.  Ephemeral beach lagoons are important habitats for migrating birds, particularly important now because so much habitat has been lost to fire.

Friday, August 14, 2020

Sweet Springs Easy Birding plus Oystercatcher Monitoring Update

Sweet Springs Preserve - 9:00 to 10:00 - Heavy moist overcast.  Some people might consider a grey morning rather unpleasant and dull.  For me it was an ideal morning to bird Sweet Springs.  The bay was serene in its stillness.
Shorebirds were racing back and forth across the narrow strip of muddy sand.  Semipalmated Plover were numerous.  These tiny migrant Plovers may have just arrived from their breeding grounds in Alaska.

There were a few Least Sandpiper.  They really are tiny.  Two Greater Yellowleg were focused on probing the sand, while two handsome Black-bellied Plover, in fading breeding plumage, were strolling sedately along the edge of the bay.  I must not forget the Willet, the Marbled Godwit, and dear, faithful Black Phoebe.  A Green Heron flying into the pond area was the highlight of the morning.

      Oystercatcher Monitoring Update
July 29, 2020 - Last photo of the family.  Chicks were nearly a month old.
The last few days of monitoring - July 3 -Parents on duty, one chick visible.  I briefly saw the entire chick moments before taking the photo.
July 7 - Parents on duty, chicks absent.  They could not fly and they could not have wandered far as their rock formation was separate from the other formations.  July 10 - Parents on duty, chicks absent.  One parent flew off, returning with a food morsel clutched in her bill.  She walked down the rock face disappearing into the cracks, sadly emerging with the morsel still clutched in her bill.  I knew in my heart she was searching for her chicks.
What had taken the Oystercatcher chicks?  Was it a raptor?  Was it the sea?  In my estimation, the unforgiving sea had taken the chicks.  Between July 1 and July 6, extremely high tides, combined with a powerful storm surge, had swept them off the rocks.

I have not given up hope.  During the winter months Oystercatchers are often seen feeding along the edge of the surf in Corallina Cove, and I will be there looking for a juvenile with its two-toned bill.