Friday, August 27, 2010

"It's Where?!"

On August 21, I had sufficiently recovered from my Hawaiian vacation so I decided to work my way up Highway One along the coast to Arroyo Laguna on my bike: checking sandy shorebird spots along the way. I had to start early to beat the summer hoards of tourists and locals with their unleashed canines, all of which scare the shorebirds off the accessible beaches. After quick stops at the nearby ponds at Turri Road, and the mouth of Torro Creek, I stopped at the mouth of Old Creek which disappeared into the sand on the beach at the south end of semi-touristy Cayucos. I had been hoping for Baird's Sandpiper, a usually fairly common migrant in the latter half of August and September. The mouth had shrunk to a pitiful pond with a few peeps and several curlews and Whimbrels. Joining them was the usual loud and obnoxious Killdeer - the one that always seems to take pleasure in flushing rare birds at the drop of a hat (or the raise of binoculars or camera).

Despite the Killdeer's best efforts at getting all the birds agitated upon my arrival, I still found 2 Semipalmated Sandpipers, with Semipalmated Plovers (pictured) and Western and Least Sandpipers. Most years I would be excited by this species, but this season I had already seen several and I still needed Baird's Sandpiper for my BIGBY list. I photographed the Semis and made sure they weren't some rare stint before heading north. I made a couple of quick stops along the way, to look for Ruddy Turnstones - my year's nemesis bird, the one I was convinced everyone was lying about since I had missed reported Ruddies at least 8 times since January 1st. At the first spot - an overlook of the sandy beach just north of the Cayucos pier I counted over 40 Black Turnstones picking through beached kelp. And then the unexpected occurred - I actually found an adult Ruddy Turnstone, just before a person, and its dog owner, flushed it. A new BIGBY species and one I had almost given up on!

I didn't want to stop anymore on the way to San Simeon Beach because in my mind I could see the tourists with their rock-throwing kids scurrying along the edge of the lagoon at San Simeon - scaring every winged creature to oblivion. I rushed up there and locked my bike under the highway bridge and its now mostly empty (I would not have parked my bike there otherwise) Cliff Swallow nests (photo) and got to the lagoon where the tourists were already in force (photo).

I found a few common peeps and my first-of-the-season Northern Pintail (photo). I also saw Snowy Plovers, hiding in footprints in the sand, in a spot they hoped would be less traveled by the weekend warriors. Just as I was leaving the lagoon to eat lunch at the park's parking lot picnic tables, I received a call from fellow Los Osos birder, Mike Stiles, that a nice adult male Chestnut-sided Warbler was in Los Osos at the end of the block where I lived - 31 miles from where I was!

Since warblers migrate at night, and the spot where it was found often holds birds till there is a clear night and they continue their migration, I felt hopeful that the bird would stay and I could re find it. Mike noted that it was even calling, which should make it easy to re find. I stopped at the mouth of Santa Rosa Creek on the way back, to go through the large flocks of gulls and a few shorebirds. I put my Tevas on, to walk the creek to check for migrant land birds. I found nothing unusual and so I headed south only stopping for a couple of cookies at the Cayucos gas station/deli/bakery (not the overpriced yuppie cookie store less than a block to the north).

When I got back to my neighborhood, I went straight to the willows at the end of my street and parked my bike just as I ran into a couple of local birders also looking for the Chestnut-sided. The bird was not calling or otherwise being cooperative so after almost an hour of looking I went home to eat a 3 PM lunch. I walked back to the willows at the end of my street at about 5:30 and finally found the still silent and solitary bird. I snapped a couple of terrible photos including the one here which, if you look closely, shows the chestnut side (really!).