Friday, February 28, 2014

Birding the Coast...For Real!?

When I went on a trip to Six Flags at my church years ago in 2003, we stopped at Seal Beach California for 30 minutes.  While my youth group went swimming, I went birding.  I identified a few birds that day along that coast, but since then, I haven't been to the coast.  I've been dying to, and I finally got the chance today.  Dominic and I woke up early and headed out to the San Diego coast from various points, and the day was hopefully to be be filled with some amazing birding.  But there was a slight problem....high winds and heavy rain.  Due to this crisis, our pelagic boating trip was cancelled.  We don't get to bird San Diego often, so we made the best out of the day, and birded like hardcore champions!  This was on February 28th, 2014.

We stayed at a place off of Mission Bay the first night of our birding trip, and we started off our second day by driving to the many locations and views of the ocean that may be observed from Ocean Beach Park and Sunset Cliffs Boulevard.  The high winds and heavy rains made the weather horrible from the start, but it didn't even come close to stopping us from seeing our wanted birds!  I loved the Pacific Ocean all over again when I finally saw it after years of horrible absence.

The birds didn't seem to mind the winds, especially the Brown Pelicans!  Perhaps this made feeding conditions even easier for them...

The San Diego Coast immediately gave me the change to see my favorite gull up close and in high numbers.  Ironically, this gull isn't a new lifer for me, as I did bag one in Tucson for my lifer as a vagrant.  But here, they are everywhere and viewable in different plumages.  This is a Heerman's Gull, my favorite of the gulls, and this is an adult Heerman's Gull in breeding plumage.

Young Heerman's Gulls look very different from adults.  Here are a few of the young guns!

The shores were teeming with birds, including these two shorebirds, the Sanderling and Willet.  Both were running up and down up the beach as the tide came rolling in.



The entire San Diego area is filled with gulls.  The most common is the Western Gull, who are everywhere.  I did find Arizona's 3rd ever record of this species, but here in Cali, they are probably considered to be one of the most abundant birds.  And they are pretty cool!

As the wind and rain conditions continued, Dominic and I still tried our best.  We weren't seeing any pelagic birds such as shearwaters or jaegers or rocky shorebirds like we were hoping for, but the time was still great.  

As we drove down Sunset Cliffs Road, luck hit us on a big ol' rock sticking out of the ocean.

As you can see, there are many cormorants and another Western Gull on this rock.  There are actually three species of cormorant on this rock, which are the Double-crested, Brandt's, and Pelagic Cormorants.  The latter two are my lifebirds, and it was an amazing sight to see!  The solo cormorant perched below the others is a Pelagic Cormorant, and it gave us great views of itself.  For me, the lifer views were great.

Pelagic Cormorant

Brandt's Cormorant

Dominic and I then got word of a Black Oystercatcher being found at the Cabrilla National Monument near San Diego.  The rain dyed down and the sun actually came up during our search, which came up empty.  There were still other cool birds around, and this California Towhee was one of them.

As we were oystercatcher-ing, we got whimbreled on instead.  This Whimbrel was a decent consolation for an oystercatching strikeout.  

Brown Pelicans always look great in midst of the tide.

For some of the time when we were at the Cabrillo National Monument, the rain actually died down and we had clear skies.  The ocean with sunny clear skies is very beautiful!

Following a couple of reports from the San Diego Listserv, Dominic and I went in search for and pursuit of the rocky shorebirds that prefer the rocky areas and jettys along the coast.  The Black Oystercatcher that we missed was one of our targets.  A birder reported exact locations for these specific birds on the forum, and we went after as many of them as we could.  All of these birds were to be life birds for me....if we could find them.  Two of these finds were in the amazing area of La Jolla.  I loved the La Jolla area, it had many great birds and many previous incredible finds in it's birding history.  After the oystercatcher miss, we headed to one of the points were the guy had seen several Black Turnstones in La Jolla.  I've seen Ruddy Turnstone on one occasion, and the Black Turnstone is new.  After scanning for awhile at the given address, I spied a Black Turnstone along the shore!  And it wasn't easy, the shore was mossy and it seemed to like to go up and down in and between the mossy rocks.

Before I spied the Black Turnstone

After I spied the Black Turnstone

After seeing the Turnstone and after getting soaked by another heavy downpour of rain, we then went a short distance north to La Jolla Point and the Children's Pool in La Jolla.  It was here at Children's Pool that another life bird was found that would be new for me....the awesome Wandering Tattler.  These birds breed in tundra areas in the northern reaches of our continent, and then they winter along rocky shores of the coast.  It has always been a bird I have wanted to see, and Dominic and I were able to get on three of them at the Children's Pool.  They were good but not excellent views with the camera, but we did have killer scope views of the Wandering Tattlers.

Wandering Tattler

There was also a Surfbird group that was reported, but we couldn't exactly find out where they were.  Getting two new lifebirds that were the rocky shorebirds of the coast was awesome, the Wandering Tattler and Black Turnstone!  The Children's Pool area was pretty cool, and it's Harbor Seals attract many visitors, especially little kids.  What little kid wouldn't want to see this?

We then decided to spend the rest of our night along La Jolla, which was mainly from La Jolla Point and La Jolla Cove.  Birds were everywhere, and this area is a common place for local and visiting birders to watch for sea birds.  Dominic and I didn't spy any pelagic birds, but we did have several cool highlights.  One of them was a male Brandt's Cormorant in spectacular display!

Besides the flashy male, the rocks lining La Jolla Cove is an excellent place to observe large numbers of Brandt's Cormorants up close.

We then spied my 5th lifer of the day from La Jolla Point, this Royal Tern!  It was a very Royal lifer.  I don't have a lot of experience with terns and have seen many distant terns today prior to our evening watch at La Jolla that were probably Royal Terns, but this was the official confirmation.  What a cool bird!

The sunset at La Jolla Point to close out the night was something very beautiful!  I was wishing I was holding that special girl's hand while I was staring at the sunset.

This Western Gull (the guy in the back), certainly got his wish!

1 comment:

  1. Fantastic Tommy!
    Heermann's Gulls really are the best looking Gull, and you cleaned house with those Cormorants too.
    Looking forward to your next installments, and hoping the weather clears up for you.

    The whole central AZ area was dumped on this weekend so there was little birding to be done.