Friday, July 30, 2010

The Shorebirds Are Back!

The shorebirds are back in full force as their southward "fall" migration is going "great guns". I saw my first adult migrating shorebird (only oystercatchers, Snowy Plover, Killdeer, and maybe Spotted Sandpipers nest near the coast here) on July 4 when some Western Sandpipers stopped at San Simeon Creek Mouth (see the above photo of a defensive postured adult Western from there on 7/18). (Some years the southbound shorebirds arrive as early as the last week in June!) Adult Leasts and other adult shorebirds arrived within days of the first Westerns. (see the photo of an adult Whimbrel and the very rare Double-decker Dowitcher below, taken at Old Creek Mouth on 7/11.) The juveniles start to arrive later, with my first sightings being juvenile Willet and Whimbrel on July 18.

The "fall" shorebird season (which extends into October) started off with a bang. I found an adult Stilt Sandpiper (the bird in the back, behind the adult G. Yellowlegs in the photo above) at Turri Road Ponds (tidal ponds near the edge of Morro Bay estuary) which was only the fourth record for the county. While looking for the Stilt, Bill Bouton and Maggie Smith found an adult Red-necked Stint in a nearby part of the bay on 7/10 - a very rare vagrant for all of California, from Asia/Alaska! When I got the call for the stint, I was sitting on my living room couch, eating chocolate and watching the re-broadcast of the day's Tour de France Stage (I was thinking it would be interesting if each cyclist had to find a set number of bird species before finishing each day's stage. I could hear the announcer Phil Liggett saying, "Alberto Contador may be a great hill climber and time trialist, but he really needs to work on his recognition of bird song if he expects to win the Tour.") I ran to change my clothes, pack the bike and tear on over to the edge of the bay about 3 miles pedal away. As I got there, people were walking slowly away from the location where the bird had been (not a good sign) and shrugging their shoulders. Apparently, a vulture had flushed the bird which disappeared over the bay to the west, just 5 minutes prior! (Expletives deleted!)

Local birder, Kaaren Perry found an adult Pectoral Sandpiper on 7/20 at the same location as the Stilt Sandpiper, called me, and waited for me. This bird was nice enough to be there after another hurried cycle from my house; I only had to go up and look through Kaaren's scope at this bird! I had seen an adult Pectoral in this county once before. (I took the photo to the left of the Pec. from far away and blew it up many times bigger.) Summer early evening high tides were really good for shorebirds at this location and the adjacent part of the bay.

Semipalmated Sandpipers are an unusual shorebird species in California - we see maybe one or two most each year in this county. This shorebird migration produced many around the state, but I was still excited to find one at Oso Flaco Creek Mouth on 7/24. I called other birders about this juvenile (photo left) and learned that while I had one, there were two at San Simeon! (At least I didn't have to cycle over 60 miles to the north to see them for my BIGBY!) There were 15 species of shorebirds at the creek mouth including 2 Wilson's Phalaropes, Snowy Plovers, an out-of-place looking Black Turnstone, and many Semipalmated Plovers. I also saw several Least Terns (yes, I know its not a shorebird) at Oso Flaco Lake, but had problems photographing them in flight as they were too quick. (See my not so sharp photo below)

On 7/25, I again cycled out to the Turri Road Ponds and found a sharp looking juvenile Lesser Yellowlegs, joined by a couple of adult Greater Yellowlegs for comparison and a female Wilson's Phalarope. Also on 7/25, Tom Edell had a Wandering Tattler at Estero Bluffs beach, but I did not have time to cycle there. This was a species that I had missed a number of times already for the year. So, when Kaaren called me at work on 7/26 to tell me that she had two tattlers there, I planned to ride my bike there after work (work certainly gets in the way of birding and other fun). By the time I got home and ready for my ride, however, I only had 2 1/2 hours of daylight left to cycle the 16 miles to the bluffs, park my bike, transfer valuables to my pack, change my shoes and shirt, hike out to the beach, find the bird, and then ride home. With a headwind in parts, it took me a good hour to get to the trailhead for the bluffs trail. Rather than take the time to change and lock my bike, I took my bike out to the beach. (Bikes are prohibited from this trail, but no one else was on the trail and I saw no harm in pedalling out as long as I stayed on the trail.) This gave me the extra time I needed to find a tattler (see the photo below of a tattler that was hiding on the back of a boulder.) It took me 25 minutes to find this bird, so I had to jam back to the highway and then cycle home. I didn't stop on the 16 mile pedal home and barely made it home before dark. I got a new BIGBY species and a good workout.

On 7/31 I headed up the coast to stop at several shorebird spots between Los Osos (where I live) and Villa Creek Mouth (18 miles to the north). My third stop was at Old Creek Mouth, where I ran into Aidan Briggs. He was on all fours in the sand and mud, sneaking up to some peeps for a good picture. I saw that one was a juvenile Semiplamated Sandpiper, the fourth in the county in the last week! I waited and when he was done I looked more carefully at the Semi.(below). He said he would call me if he saw the Red Phalarope he had found down the beach a couple of days earlier. I pedalled north and realized after about four miles that he had left me a message, which indicated that he had re-found the phalarope. I turned around and rushed back to see and photo the bird (below), BIGBY # 285 for 2010. It was tame and I got close photos. I later continued up to Villa Creek where I had another adult Pectoral Sandpiper that would not let me get close enough for a photo. I also hiked Estero Bluffs trail and found a couple of Wandering Tattlers and Spotted Sandpipers that were spotted (usually when I see them they are plain). I had a total of 19 species of shorebirds for the day, but missed Sanderling which would have been number 20.

I have posted a photo to the right of a partially breeding plumage Sandering taken at Villa Creek Mouth on 7/11 because it is in a plumage that could cause an overeager birder to identify it as a Red-necked Stint, or some other rarity, when it is actually a very common local species.


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