Saturday, September 23, 2017

Snowy Plovers at the mouth of Tijuana River

From the end of Seacoast Drive in Imperial Beach it is a mile south on the beach to the Tijuana River mouth. See site guide here. That's where the rare and endangered Snowy Plovers are found, year-round.

Here are some photos from July and August 2017:

Snowy Plover
Snowy Plovers spend much time just resting and hiding on the dry upper beach.
Snowy Plover
Often you don't notice a Snowy Plover until it runs from you.
Snowy Plover
A Snowy Plover blends into the sand by resting in a footprint or tire track.
Snowy Plover
A tiny little ball of fluff.
Snowy Plover
Snowy Plovers lay their eggs and raise their young on empty sandy beaches.
Human beach recreation and nesting Snowy Plovers don't mix well.
Snowy Plover
Snowy Plovers are the color of dry sand and blend in well on the upper beach.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Skimming along with a Black Skimmer

Black Skimmers are odd birds, as I've noted before, here.

I hadn't had opportunity, though, to photograph them in their eponymous behavior, that is, actually skimming!

But a few weeks ago I found a single Black Skimmer skimmering around in the mouth of the Tijuana River!

To feed, skimmers fly low to the water with wings raised mostly above the horizontal in deep, slow, mechanical wing beats. The head is held down, with the bill knifing through shallow water. When a fish is caught, the head snaps up and the fish swallowed.

Black Skimmer
Black Skimmer, Tijuana River mouth, Imperial Beach, California. July 16, 2017. Greg Gillson.
Black Skimmer
Black Skimmer
Even when not skimming the water the head is held below the body in flight.
Black Skimmer
Black Skimmer

Saturday, August 26, 2017

eBird Tracks: What is it? What can it be?

eBird has added a new feature to their eBird mobile app. At this time it is only in Android, but they are working on an iOS version. I am really excited about the potential for this feature, called Tracks.

What is it?
eBird Tracks is a feature of the mobile app that creates a map with a track of your birding movements for each traveling checklist you make.


Screenshot: eBird Tracks of a recent birding hike I took on the Weir Trail at Palomar Mountain State Park.
What are the benefits now?
As stated, it came first on Android devices. So right now Tracks is only available on that platform. And right now the map track is only visible on the phone that created the checklist when you review that checklist. Not too exciting. The only benefit you get now is seeing on a map where you birded and having a very accurate measurement of how far your traveled.

What are the future uses for eBird Tracks?
This is really exciting for me to think about. Those tracks that only I can see now on my phone? They are captured in eBird and will be available for others in the future. Have you ever looked at the map for a rare sighting and found the Hotspot was a large area and you didn't know where in it the bird was? Well, with Tracks you'll at least have a map with the birding track on it. So you will know where to begin and what route to take.

When you visit the Hotspots section of eBird, you should be able to view the routes of recent birders to that location. This will give you a good idea of the route other birders regularly take, and maybe help you discover a new trail.

I also think that the eBird team should consider adding a feature to tag a specific bird's location. This function was available in the predecessor, BirdLog, and I've missed it for tagging exact locations in the comments section for certain birds.

The official announcement of eBird Tracks is here.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Transcript: Why birds? John Muir Laws

I found this little video on the Audubon California YouTube channel. It is so great I decided to transcribe it here.

It is just the last minute and a half of a talk by Jack Laws at Richardson Bay Audubon Center & Sanctuary in September 12, 2012.

You can watch the original here.

Transcript:

“The last thought is 'Why birds?'

"I am continuously amazed and awed by birds. If you are interested in observing animals and you want to look at mammals, they all hide from you. So what do the biologists do—the naturalists leading the field trips? They're like, “Oh my gosh, there's some scat!” Right? And they get all excited about looking at animal scat because the mammals are all hiding. Nobody looks at bird scat—because the bird is actually out there in front of you doing their bird thing!

"People say, 'I can't draw that because they fly away.' Yes, that's the point. Because they can fly away, they can hang around, right? It's because they can fly that makes them such great subjects. They can take off any time they want. And they kind of go like, 'You going to catch me? I don't think so, you land-locked primate!' So they will be out there in front of you courting and feeding and preening and cleaning themselves and doing all these sorts of things.

"You want to see mammals? You can go to the zoo. You can look at a nature special. You can look at scat on the ground. But it's nothing compared to the opportunities to see the real wildness that birds give us every day.”

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Channel changes at the San Luis Rey River mouth

The above normal rains we had this winter and spring, after 5+ years of drought, brought a lot of water down the San Luis Rey River in northern San Diego County. I visited once in March and found the river bed full with water rushing into the sea. The former lush beds of cattails and great birding habitat were strewn northward on the beach for a half mile or more.

I visited recently, and the area has not recovered. I have not observed the wash-out of this lagoon before. Perhaps someone who has been around longer will remember how long it takes to recover. At this point it is my guess that winter storms and tides will again pile up beach sand and block the river mouth from reaching the ocean directly and the lagoon will reform. It may then be a couple of years before it reaches a state where it was these past few years. Or, perhaps it happens faster.

At any rate, silt and sand has replaced mud and cattails. Sand smothers the former food-rich river bottom. I do not believe birding will be good this winter for ducks. I don't think it will be good for migrant shorebirds and rails in spring or nesting Black-necked Stilts, Common Gallinules, and Least Bitterns next summer. I could be wrong. I hope I'm wrong. We'll have to keep checking back.

This location was my first birding site guide in San Diego County.

San Luis Rey River mouth
Fresh silt and sand temporarily replaced a healthy lagoon. July 28, 2017.
San Luis Rey River mouth
The San Luis Rey River is now flowing directly into the ocean. July 28, 2017.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Recent Birding in Puerto Peñasco, Mexico

An unexpected extra (paid!) day off from work in July allowed Marlene and me to visit my sister and family in Puerto Peñasco (also known as "Rocky Point," even though the direct translation is "Rocky Port"). This resort town on the Sea of Cortez is about 6 hours away (330-360 miles) from my home in northern San Diego County. Plus, there can be another hour line for crossing the border back into the US. [And I still think that my map navigation program incorrectly computes travel time in Mexico based on speed limits of 90 miles per hour rather than 90 kilometers per hour. So it always takes a lot longer to get places in Mexico than the navigation programs says.]

Known as "Arizona's beach," this seaside community is only 60 miles from Lukeville, Arizona, and a 3-1/2 hours' drive from Phoenix or Tucson. There's really no specific birding parks or trails here, unfortunately, surrounded for miles by sandy cholla desert. The best birding is on the private golf courses and some of the shallow bays, such as Cholla Bay. [This is also known as Choya Bay--I am so confused about the use of Spanish here. I think both are pronounced the same, with the first the predominant cactus of the area and the second means "head," or maybe "point"? So maybe it's a play on words, or maybe confusion that stuck? Or maybe both words refer to the cactus?]

My nephew, Manny, an event photographer, took me out one day to photograph birds at the Laguna del Mar Golf Course. It's a private golf course but Manny knew the right words to say to get in to walk the main road. He comes here regularly to kayak. It was his first time photographing birds. He enjoyed it, I think, but he wasn't converted. Here are my photos from that morning.

American Oystercatcher
American Oystercatcher. Puerto Peñasco, Mexico. July 3, 2017. Greg Gillson.
American Oystercatcher
It's been several years since I last saw an American Oystercatcher.
American Oystercatcher
Black-crowned Night-Heron
Black-crowned Night-Heron
Osprey
Don't tell this Osprey that hunting is not allowed!
Snowy Egret
Snowy Egret
Snowy Egrets were nesting in a tree along the road allowing some great flight shots as they slowed to land.
Northern Mockingbird
Northern Mockingbird
Northern Mockingbird
Magnificent Frigatebird
Male Magnificent Frigatebird
Magnificent Frigatebird
Juvenile Magnificent Frigatebird.
Magnificent Frigatebird
Really ratty plumage. At least it has 7 new outer primaries so it can fly!
Magnificent Frigatebird
About 15 frigatebirds were hunting over the golf course ponds. And here I was looking out to sea for them!
Great-tailed Grackle
Great-tailed Grackle
Cactus Wren
Cactus Wren in the tree above me.
Black-necked Stilt
Black-necked Stilts
Coyote
Coyote is not likely to get a bird. Better go back to hunting lizards!
Black-necked Stilt
Black-necked Stilt

Later in the afternoon Marlene and I joined Bob and Karen on the private beach at Las Conchas. While we enjoyed the company of two other couples that showed up, Marlene first had to go swimming in the warm waters.

I'm not much for swimming as I was when I was younger (before eyeglasses). But large birds were flying right along the shoreline for decent photos.

Las Conchas Beach
A relaxing afternoon at Las Conchas Beach.
Heermann's Gull
Heermann's Gull
Royal Tern
Royal Tern
Osprey
Osprey
Brown Booby
Brown Booby
Marlene enjoying a boogie board
Brown Booby
Female Brown Booby
Caspian Tern
Caspian Tern
Brown Pelican
Brown Pelican. Who's photobombing whom?
Osprey
Osprey fishing
Yellow-footed Gull
Yellow-footed Gull
Long-billed Curlew
Long-billed Curlew
Brown Booby
Immature Brown Booby


nature journal
A page from my nature journal.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Willets and Godwits on the beach

Recently, Marlene and I went for a walk on the beach at Imperial Beach. This was the north side of the Tijuana River mouth, within 2 miles of the border with Mexico.

A flock of Willets was feeding in the surf, joined by a few Marbled Godwits. They approached closely and I was able to get some good photos.

Willet
Willets on the beach.
Included were a couple juvenile birds. Western Willets nest in the Great Basin and northern Great Plains and many winter in California. So they don't migrate as far as many other shorebirds and are found nearly year-round on California beaches.

And, while juveniles of other species of Arctic-nesting shorebirds often don't arrive in southern latitudes until September or October, freshly-hatched juvenile Willets show up in southern California by late July.

juvenile Willet
Juvenile Willet. Imperial Beach, California. July 16, 2017. Greg Gillson.
Willet
Adult Willet.
juvenile Willet
Juvenile Willet.
Willet
Willet

Also on the beach were a few Marbled Godwits. These godwits also breed in the interior of the continent in the northern Great Plains, which are called the Prairies in Canada.

As with the Willets, late northward migrating birds may be found in California to early June, and the first returning nesting birds may show up by the first of July. And there are always some non-breeding birds on California's beaches in summer that failed to migrate for whatever reason.

Marbled Godwit
Marbled Godwit
Marbled Godwit. Imperial Beach, California. July 16, 2017. Greg Gillson.