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.

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Birding Villa Creek

The morning was grey, sea calm.  Villa Creek is located at the northern terminus of Estero Bluffs State Park.  Although easily accessible, it has yet to be discovered, with the exception of course, of the occasional birder.
At either end of the cove rugged promontories calm the incoming sea.
I was fascinated by the floral patterns the ebbing tide had etched in the sand.
Upon entering the beach my first sighting was of Snowy Plovers.  It is rather mind boggling how fast their tiny legs move when they are feeding on teensy, weensy black sand flies.
Not wanting to be left out, a Semipalmated Plover joined the fly feeding frenzy.
Villa Creek and its lagoon are out of sight from the beach, as the beach is lower than the lagoon.  I was birding with Mike.  He spotted an Osprey who was not the least concerned as to our presence on the beach. (Due to the zoom effect, the distant background appears closer.)
Heading toward the lagoon we saw Whimbrel and Long-billed Curlew.  I admit there have been many times when I have pondered the question, "Is it a Curlew or a Whimbrel?"  Can you tell which is which?

At the narrow end of the lagoon we saw Black Phoebe, Killdeer, Great Egret, Great Blue Heron, Western Sandpiper, and no ducks.  Overhead flew a pair of Black Oystercatcher, Red-tailed Hawk, and Turkey Vultures.  Accessing the further reaches of the lagoon meant tromping through a tangle of vegetation that included dry grass, a favored habitat for ticks.  I decided not to walk through the grass.  Mike, on the other hand ventured forth.  No ducks, but he did confirm my tick theory when he found he had six unwanted guests.  
The finale of birding Villa Creek and its environs was watching a Surf Scoter feeding in the surf.  The collage compares an Adult Scoter with the one I observed.  It was either a juvenile or an adult in molting (eclipse) plumage.  More than likely it was a juvenile.  I do intend on returning to Villa Creek, but will wait for a sunny day.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Montaña de Oro - Black Oystercatcher Monitoring Update

Montaña de Oro State Park - Danger Sign Site - Update on Black Oystercatcher (Bloy) monitoring.  Thirty-one days have passed since I began monitoring the Bloy pair at Danger Sign.  The shale formation they are inhabiting is close to the bluff but not connected.  Most of the time, with the exception of very low tides, it is surrounded by water.  Numerous formations that jut into the sea protect the pair's rocky home from the pounding surf.
Beginning May 21, I have monitored the site eight times.  On June 10th, as I neared the site, I could hear alarm calls.  More than likely the pair were chasing off Oystercatcher intruders.  Within a couple of minutes the pair returned.  Neither of them settling onto the nest.  Perhaps there had been a successful hatching.  One of the pair flew off, soon to return with a white morsel clutched in its bright red bill.  A chick appeared for a few moments.  At the same time I thought I might have seen a smidgen of a second chick.  Yeah!!
Two days later I was back.  There were two chicks.  The parents were occupied in full-time provisioning. One was usually standing guard while their mate was off gathering food. 

My last visit was on Friday the 19th. - Two chicks - Parents bringing in the food.  One chick was visible, the other one mostly hidden.  When both parents are foraging both chicks remain out of sight.
In the above photo, this adventuresome little chick is about nine days old.  My next monitoring date is Tuesday the 23rd.  Can hardly wait.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Black Oystercatcher Monitoring

The Black Oystercatcher is considered an indicator species for intertidal health.  They live, feed and breed on rocky, intertidal shorelines that are vulnerable to rising sea levels, human interference, and predators.  Last year, at Montaña de Oro State Park Ca (MdO), only one of nine recorded nesting attempts produced a nestling that grew to maturity.
The Juvenile that grew to maturity is on the left, to the right, the proud parents of Site 7.  Note the two tone bill of the juvenile. (above photo by Gary O'Neill.)

Conservation efforts for Oystercatchers was limited by lack of baseline information.  A study was needed.  MdO nest monitoring began in 2007.  I am familiar with the MdO Oystercatcher population, having learned details on nesting habits from Sara Kelly, an experienced Oystercatcher (bloy) monitor.  I volunteered to be a nest monitor at Site 7. 
During nesting season Bloys are highly territorial, often nesting in the same location as the year before.  The nest may be in a slight depression or in a space between shale layers.  They share all nesting duties including chasing off interlopers.
9:08 am, Thursday May 21 -  My first monitoring experience began at site 7 aka "Danger Sign," on the north side of Quarry Cove.  The sign has been there as long as I have been volunteering at MdO, and that is over two decades.  I greatly doubt anyone has ever heeded the warning.
Monitoring should be done far enough away from the nest site so as not to cause the Bloy to alert.  They may abandon the nest.  Last year symbolic fencing was installed to keep people from disturbing the Bloys.  Do people climb over it?  YES!!
As soon as I arrived I took out my binocs and began monitoring.  I knew the approximate nest location (center of red circle), but only saw slabs of uplifted shale.  I assumed that hidden from view was a Bloy incubating two to three eggs.  While watching what I thought was the nest site, I took quick looks around for the mate.  About 10 minutes into monitoring a Bloy flew to a nearby
rock and began preening.

Since male and female Bloys look alike, I have named them Babbs and Bob.  Babbs was on a rock preening, Bob was hopefully on the nest.  After a few more minutes Bob rose up from a crack to the right of where I had been focused.  Babbs move in and settled down.  Through a crack in the shale I could see a tiny sliver of a bright red bill.  Now I knew where to look.!!  I had just experienced my first nest exchange. ( At the end of the blog is a youtube video of the exchange.)

The morning was beautiful, sunny, no wind.  Now, Bob was preening and Babbs was sitting on the nest.  All of a sudden chaos reigned.  Three raucous Bloy were flying over the next site.  Bob joined them and a moment later Babbs deserted the nest and flew off with the group.  I was in shock.  No one was sitting on the nest.  I felt helpless.  Fortunately, five minutes later Babbs returned to the nest.  Bob was across the cove feeding.  Later I learned this type of behavior is not unusual. 

My first monitoring experience was very interesting.  I do hope that this pair is successful.  At the present time it is the only nesting pair at MdO.
You may have to watch the video more than once, but you can see Babbs settle into the nest site.  From now on I will bring a real camera.