California- Half Moon Bay

Ahh, California. Home to sunshine, fog, the Golden-gate Bridge, and life-birds I can’t see anywhere else. I’ve wanted to try an out-of-state pelagic for a while, and when I heard Debi Shearwater (of Shearwater Journeys) was retiring at the end of this year, I had to sign up.

A destination-pelagic adds another element of risk, but I hoped I could push through the anxiety to see some birds. We landed early in San Francisco and wasted no time before going to Golden Gate Park. Part nature park and amusement-botanical garden-ice-cream-conservatory-museum, it’s crowded but the birds don’t seem to mind. Here I found a female Nuttall’s Woodpecker, my first lifer of the trip.

San Francisco parks are ruled by Pygmy Nuthatches, Red-shouldered Hawks, and Black Phoebes. It was nice to see these guys in their natural habitat.

I fought a mean water sprinkler for a potential lifer Allen’s Hummingbird, but they’re not a slam dunk I.D. since the habitat and timing overlaps with look-alike Rufous Hummingbirds. I got lucky with a tail shot, the best way to separate the two, but the hummingbird I saw has the diagnostic “notched” R2 feather diagnostic of Rufous (vs the narrow “lanceolate” shape of Allen’s). No lifer hummingbird this time.

We stayed in Pacifica since it was about equal distance from Half Moon Bay (pelagic #1) and Sausalito (pelagic #2). It also had a nice beach where we witnessed Heermann’s Gulls in their natural habitat.

After checking in to the Airbnb I went to bed early because I had to board a boat early the next morning.

Debi introduced herself, told us what to expect and we set off to sea shortly after.

I was nervous but the ocean and I kept our calm all day. It was a little too calm. The lack of wind made it foggier limiting viewing distance and many birds like Tufted Puffins just sat on the water.

Occasionally sea life just popped out of the water.

I was okay with that. Do you know who was not sitting on the water? Ashy Storm-Petrels! Foggy little life birds.

This was one of my main targets of the trip.

Ashy-fog Petrel

California seas did not disappoint.

The fog cleared up for a couple of jaeger fly-bys, we saw both Long-tailed and Pomarine Jaeger Parasitic Jaeger.

Black-footed Albatross sat nicely for us on the water.

Hello, friend

As did Red-necked Phalaropes, Sooty Shearwaters, Pink-footed Shearwaters, and Sabin’s Gulls.

Adult and juvenile

I got distant but diagnostic looks at Arctic Terns, my other lifer of the trip.

We saw Humpback Whales, Fur Seals, a Blue Shark, and occasionally a pod of Pacific White-sided Dolphins and Northern Right Whale Dolphins joined us at the bow of the boat.

I made it back to shore with two new birds, a whole lot of sea life, and no puking! And I was lucky enough to get to do it all over again the next day.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Shorebirds!

That is genuine enthusiasm. Not excited? Here’s an adorable Semipalmated Plover to ease some of the discomfort.

Fall migration is happening and I am facing it head on. Because I went to Smith and Bybee Lakes and totally failed at identifying birds. I forgot how hard it is.

There’s hundreds of shorebirds there, and I had trouble identifying one of them. So I do that thing that I do when I can’t figure something out on my own. I seek out help. That same week I logged on to Portland Audubon’s classes, and to my luck I saw “Learn to Identify Fall Shorebirds” with John Rakestraw. And it wasn’t full.

John is the same instructor who teaches the Gull ID class and Warblers and Flycatchers, as well as many others. He even wrote a book, Birding Oregon. I was in good hands.

In the classroom we learned of the 20 or so shorebirds that visit the Oregon coast and Willamette Valley. We looked at large slides of birds and called out the field marks. It’s all about the field marks; the shape of the bird, size of the head vs. the bill, the color of the legs, and the bird’s behavior. It’s knowing what to look at for each bird. This is the key.

Long-billed Dowitchers prefer freshwater ponds, whereas Short-billed Dowitchers like tidal marshes and estuaries, so location and habitat can also provide clues. It’s all part of a puzzle and that’s what makes it fun.

Our field trip fun started one foggy morning at Seaside looking at birds on the rocks.

Or really birds that look like rocks. We found a pile of Black Turnstones. We hoped to pick out a Ruddy Turnstone, but none showed up this time. We dipped out on shorebirds at a couple more spots until we lucked out on some birds that look like mud.

That’s two Western Sandpipers on the left and one Semipalmated Plover on the right. Westerns have black legs and long droopy bills. Semi Plovers have one breast band.

We also saw Caspian Terns soaring above the water, and I didn’t notice until looking at photos later, this one has a yellow leg band.

We made it to Fort Stevens State Park but there was still low shorebird activity.

Until we looked in the distance.

We walked farther down the beach to get a closer look.

But trucks are allowed to drive on the shore here and they’d scattered the flock.

Eventually we got looks at more Western Sandpipers, and even had a Semipalmated Sandpiper in the mix for comparison.

All Westerns – long, droopy bill, black legs.

Western Sandpiper (L), Semipalmated Sandpiper (R)

Westerns and Semipalmated look almost identical except Semipalmated Sandpipers have a short blunt bill. It was tough to get good looks before the flocks moved along. Shorebirds not cooperating? Let’s look at gulls!

California Gull – dark eye, red and black in the bill, yellow-greenish legs

And some of my favorite gulls were visiting, Heermann’s Gulls. Two E’s two N’s, orange bills, unmistakable.

John admitted shorebird numbers seemed unusually low. We missed out on Sanderlings, Black-bellied Plovers, and a few others. We checked back at Seaside, but found nothing new. Except jousting crabs.

The one above lived to tell the tale but I can’t say the same for this one.

We made another stop at Seafarer’s Park near the Hammond’s Marina where we found a Common Murre swimming out of place this far up the river.

The best action of the day came next.

Apparently Heermann’s Gulls are pirates! They wait for a Brown Pelican to dive, before pouncing and trying to pry the meal out of the pelican’s gullet.

Neat stuff. I felt bad for the pelican, but they’re not exactly known as saints either.

The shorebirds were so few at the coast we made an extra stop at Fernhill Wetlands on the way back. But the day was hot and the heat waves made it difficult to see the birds in the distance. I’ll spare you the blurry photos of the Spotted Sandpiper, Long-billed Dowitcher, and Least Sandpipers. Here’s a pair of Greater Yellowlegs instead.

That bill looks like it’s twice the length of the head and those are some nice yellow legs. Bird identified. It might seem obvious, but if there’s one take-home message of the day it’s that there are limitations. Sometimes the birds are too far, or they move too quickly; distance, weather, terrain, trucks, there’s so many obstacles, but it’s important to focus on what can be seen and not get discouraged.

And when that doesn’t work, stay at home and make flash cards!

Nothing to it.

Moving along, we got good looks of a juvenile Cooper’s Hawk.

And a Green Heron oddly perched out in the open.

Not enough shorebirds in my shorebirds post? How about brown ducks instead.

Just kidding. I’ll save the Cinnamon Teal for later and keep my eyes peeled for more peeps to identify in the mean time.

Learning new things every day.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Crescent City. Redwoods. Birthday Birds Part I

The redwood forests are my favorite. There’s nothing like giant, 2000 yr old trees to make a person feel small and young. An appropriate destination to celebrate another revolution around the sun, see some birds, and hug some trees. I drove down to Crescent City, California, to first visit Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park.

Redwoods

Boy Scout Tree Trail

Redwoods

Magic fairly land

Skyscrapers

The original skyscrapers

Boy Scout Tree, maple leaf for scale

Boy Scout Tree, maple leaf for scale

The park is gorgeous, surreal, and amazing. And quiet this day for birds aside from the occasional squawking Common Raven or twittering Pacific Wren.

I didn't step on this Rough-skinned Newt

I did not step on this Rough-skinned Newt.

 

From the forest to the sea. The next day, I checked out Crescent City’s coastline. The quiet seaside town has a few good birding spots. I had the best luck at the Crescent City Harbor.

Crescent City Harbor

Marbled Godwit! What a stunner.

Marbled Godwit

Marbled Godwit

Marbled Godwit

It would be fun to check out Godwit Days in Arcata next year.

Less stunning perhaps, but still cool, (especially in flight), were the Black Turnstones.

Black Turnstone

I also found Black-bellied Plovers (with deceptive “not black belllies,” their non-breeding plumage).

Black-bellied Plover

Black-bellied Plover

I spotted a Sanderling in the mix of Black-bellied Plovers.

Sanderling

Too cute.

Sanderling

There were way more Sanderlings on the beach moments before something spooked them.

Sanderlings, plovers, gulls

Not guilty.

Sanderlings, plovers

Certainly elegant were the Elegant Terns.

Elegant Tern

I find the shape of their curves pleasant and I think they pull off the spikey feathered head look pretty well.

Elegant Tern

Elegant Tern

I did my best identifying the gulls.

I watched Brown Pelicans bathe in the bay.

Brown Pelican

While Black Oystercatchers scouted the shore.

Black Oystercatcher

Black Oystercatcher

A variety of birds were visible in the distance from the dock at Lighthouse and Anchor Way:

Red-throated Loon

Red-throated Loons

Horned Grebe

Horned Grebe

Pelagic Cormorant

Pelagic Cormorant

Double-crested Cormorant, Heermann's Gulls

Double-crested Cormorant, Heermann’s Gulls

Harbor cats.

Harbor Cats

Harbor cats

And Harbor Seals with faces I’m programmed to love.

Harbor Seals

Harbor Seals

It was pretty thrilling to explore a new place surrounded by so many new-to-me birds. I think I need more of that in my life.

Sunset at Castle Rock

Next day, back to the forest!

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey