Friday, November 3, 2017

Baird's Sandpiper at Imperial Beach

Baird's Sandpiper drawing by Greg Gillson.
Scratching an itch. Graphite drawing by Greg Gillson.
On August 27th I was able to locate a previously discovered Baird's Sandpiper on the beach at Imperial Beach, California. It was readily approachable or, rather, it fearlessly approached near me as I sat motionless and as it foraged among the beach-cast kelp on the upper beach. I was able to obtain many photos at close range.

Baird's Sandpiper drawing by Greg Gillson.
Stepping into a depression. Graphite drawing by Greg Gillson.
One thing many birders noted about this bird was how unusually wide the body of this bird sometimes appeared. The breast feathers flared out widely covering the lower part of the folded wings. I have noted ducks give a very wide-bodied appearance like this, but never other birds. It's something I'll have to pay more attention to. If you think I surely must have misdrawn the proportions, please look at the reference photo below.

Baird's Sandpiper. Stepping into a depression.

I was especially pleased to photograph and draw interesting postures that aren't depicted in bird books that usually show the rather uninteresting "field guide" pose.

Baird's Sandpiper. Field Guide pose.
"Field Guide" pose.
The identification of Baird's Sandpiper is rather subtle. At first glance it seems to match the field marks of the smaller North American "peep"--Western, Semipalmated, and Least Sandpipers. The bill is about the same length as the head as the Semipalmated and Least Sandpipers. The legs are black as the Western and Semipalmated Sandpipers.  Baird's Sandpipers are a bit larger than the other three, however, if they are seen together.

Baird's Sandpiper. Scratching.

One noteworthy identification mark is that the wing tips extend quite far past the end of the tail. This gives a very long attenuated look to the rear of the body. In general, birds that migrate long distances have long wings; birds that don't migrate have short wings.
Baird's Sandpiper colored pencil painting by Greg Gillson.
Looking behind. Colored pencil by Greg Gillson.
In the fall of the year, juveniles, such as the one depicted, have rows of white tipped back and scapular feathers. These create a "scaly" appearance to the upper parts. Adults are not nearly as bold.

Baird's Sandpiper. Over the shoulder.

Baird's Sandpiper breed at the northern edge of land in the Arctic, from northeastern Siberia, Alaska, Canada, to northwestern Greenland. When they migrate south they may be found on ocean beaches. But it is not unusual to encounter them on mountain glaciers. In winter they can be found in the Andes of South America in Ecuador and Chile, but also in lower areas in Bolivia, Argentina, Costa Rica, Panama, and Venezuela. Spring migration is through Central American and Mexico and north generally east of the Rocky Mountains in North America. They are a bit more widespread in fall migration, reaching all the way to the Pacific Coast in low numbers, as this bird.

Baird's Sandpiper. Portrait.
Portrait: Baird's Sandpiper.

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