Monday, November 12, 2007

A Walk at Bolsa Chica Before the Winds

Willet--Catoptrophorus semipalmatus in the pickleweed. In the Fall, pickleweed turns red or pink on the tips.

I went for a walk with a friend on the day before the Santa Ana winds started in earnest. As you can see in the picture above, the tips of the pickleweed had turned red and pink--its fall colors. Check out this University of San Diego site Plants of Salt Marshes to see more pictures of pickleweed (check under the Chenopodiaceae - Goosefoot Family). Pickleweed is all over marshes, estuaries, and tidal wetlands. It can grow in salty environments by enclosing the salt in segments that eventually break off. It is a native plant. A Willet--Catoptrophorus semipalmatus is in the pickleweed above, and it was not the only one. There were lots. Willets are interesting birds. They look bland and gray, but when they fly, they have a striking black and white pattern on their wings. They have an interesting call that is very much part of the mood and atmosphere of the Bolsa Chica. This short video from the terrific site the Internet Bird Collection lets you hear the call and see a Willet in action.

A Willet--Catoptrophorus semipalmatus Foraging.

This Willet was over by the Bolsa Chica bridge off PCH. It was one of many foraging in the plants. Willets are often in that area to the left of the bridge as you walk across it. Sometimes Willets and other birds are huddled at the far end of the mudflats by the footbridge.

Eared Grebe--Podiceps nigricollis--one of several very active fishers there that day.

Eared Grebes dive under the water, but not usually very deep, so you can see them beneath the surface. My friend Ron and I saw an Eared Grebe chase a fish through the water in a chase that was fast-paced and dramatic. We could see the silvery smelt streaking through the water with the grebe following every twist and turn. The smelt actually jumped out of the water at one point to escape, but it was not to be. The little grebe had the smelt for breakfast. My friend, being a fisherman identified the fish. Being a birder, I identified the bird.

American White Pelicans--fresh water birds--on the strands of land off the observations point.

American White Pelicans feed in fresh water, and I guess part of Bolsa Chica has enough fresh water for them. They feed by swimming on the surface of the water--often in a synchronized group--and dunking their heads down in the water to get the fish. Very different from the Brown Pelicans who dives into the water after the fish. A few Brown Pelicans were also here that day splashing into the water in the distance. See the All About Bird page on American White Pelicans. The American White Pelican breeds inland and winters along the Southern California Coast.

Marbled Godwit feeding in the shallows.

I often see Marbled Godwits here near the bridge. I think they are pretty birds. Their black-tipped pink bill and pretty brown patterns are always a welcome site when I walk on the beach or in the marsh. Their call is another one of those sounds that give feeling and ambiance to Bolsa Chica and other wetlands. Like the American White Pelican, they breed elsewhere and winter in Southern California. They breed in grasslands which are fast disappearing and that is of concern as far as their future. Read Cornell's All About Birds article on the Marbled Godwit for more details. Read the Audubon Society's watchlist article on the Marbled Godwit's status in North America. Check out the Nature Conservancy which actually buys up natural areas and makes sure they are preserved.

Great Egret hunting.

Great Egrets are so graceful. They are usually slow moving but fast to strike. They are easily differentiated from the Snowy Egret by their much larger size (15" longer in length and 10" longer in wing span), and their orange bill. The Snowy has a long, slender black bill. Snowies are also faster moving, hunting by dashing around and moving their feet. The Great Egret sometimes moves around a little, but nothing like the Snowy. Mostly the Great Egret waits and strikes. Its manner makes me think of a snake. They can be found in estuaries, marshes, lakes, and most places with fish. This one above was moving with deliberate slowness, watching and waiting for its moment.

Killdeer--Charadrius vociferus scampering around the shore.

The Killdeer--Charadrius vociferus above was one of several scampering along the shore here. There were 4-5 Killdeer--Charadrius vociferus. Killdeer--Charadrius vociferus are fast-moving little plovers. They scurry around searching for food. Very high energy level. Check out my Bird Profile on Killdeer.

Peregrine Falcon kicking back.

This Peregrine Falcon was evidentally not hungry, and birds did not feel threatened by its obvious presence. Lots of Mourning Doves came and sat in the branches near the falcon. He barely looked at them. It was great for us to see him there.

Male Ruddy Duck in Winter Plumage.

On the way back, we walked on the path closer to the street. It is weedy, dusty, dirty, and the asphalt that covers part of it is broken, but it does give on a closer view of some of the ducks floating away from the main path. This one above is a male Ruddy Duck. You can tell by the white cheek and dark cap--even though it is not holding its tail at the usual 45 degree angle.

We walked in a circle. We took about 2 hours, but we stopped a lot to look at the birds. Walking beyond the bridge at Bolsa Chica is a really great birding experience. It doesn't end at the footbridge.


Amigos de Bolsa Chica

Especially see their Birds and Science Page for information about wetlands and about the different seasons in the marsh.

Bolsa Chica Conservancy

Especially check out their Birder's Guide which is in four parts--links on the side. The key is a pop up.

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