Sunday, October 16, 2011

San Diego Shorebirds

Maria and I had a very nice weekend in San Diego to cap off my Fall Break. We explored the Gaslamp District, had a long walk (and then a taxi ride) to Seaworld, and enjoyed the beaches of Coronado Island (where we had the most expensive and delicious margaritas ever).
There was not much time for birding in between, although we did check out the famous Balboa Park that hosted hummingbirds, Black Phoebes, Warblers, and a pair of Cooper's Hawks.
The trip was not a birding trip, but by virtue of it being a new environment, I still got to add several new species to my list just from our romantic sunset on the beach.
The first new bird was none other than the Eared Grebe, which is the most common Grebe in the world despite its rather humble (non-breeding) appearance. We saw three during our two-day stay, and they were always far away, but recognizable nonetheless. Because the black cap extends down through eye level, it is determinably an Eared Grebe and not a Horned Grebe.
Balboa Park is a massive public park north of downtown San Diego. It has lots of gardens and jogging paths as well as some impressive old-growth trees. The park actually contains several different museums, a Botanical Garden, and the famous San Diego zoo--none of which  we had time to check out--so we did see a few birds as we explored.

This aspirant Anna's Hummingbird vivaciously sought his brunch while some prowling Cooper's Hawks  looked on from above.

After the park we had a lovely time exploring Coronado Island, where I believe we witnessed 6 different beach-weddings and watched pelicans diving after their dinner as the sun went down.
This was the first I'd seen of the common and recognizable Heermann's Gulls, who felt comfortable bickering and scrapping with the larger California Gulls that constantly patrolled the beach.

The seagulls seemed to have camps arbitrarily established along the coast, and they would peregrinate between them by flying very low and fast across the beach.
I chased a lone Willet along the surf as well, and while I could never get on the right side of him, I saw enough of his grey body, white eye-ring, and chalky blue legs to identify the species.

Although his non-breeding plumage is a bit dull, when he spread his wings there was a more impressive display of symmetric black and white.

Another first for my List were the Black Turnstones that abounded among the low-tide rocks. They were rugged and determined little shorebirds with unmistakable behavior and plumage. Although I did not find a Ruddy Turnstone, I was very glad to see this quintessential Pacific coast forager. With their compact frames and quick movements, they made for a very opposite but equally effective juxtaposition with the lanky Willet.

Elegant Terns are also a pretty good bird, good and plenty.

The sun was starting to sink pretty quickly as the turnstones hurried about their business (which was mostly turning kelp). While I tried in vain to capture the pelicans diving into the golden water, Maria pointed out some California Gulls caught up in an entertaining dinner dance.
In order to break open the stranded clams, the Gulls would have to take them 20 or 30 feet into the air and drop them repeatedly. I was surprised to see this actually work on the clam shells, but it did expose the Gull's dinner to other sea mooches nearby, so it would have to commit to a frantic dive after its deliberately dropped quarry, and have to replicate the process several times.

It was a beautiful day of relaxing and burgers and ice cream and margaritas (not all at the same time). The sun left a golden glow as its final parting gift (along with some mild sun-burn) and the pelicans saw it off, using every last minute of light to their advantage.