Saturday, January 31, 2015

Birding at Bolsa Chica

A photographer friend Ray has always gone to the Bolsa Chica Wetlands for years and gotten some wonderful bird shots from there. It's a little more than an hour north of San Diego, just north of Huntington Beach.  I mentioned to Eve that it might be a fun place to go birding and we both agreed we should just go up there and check it out for ourselves.

Setting the alarm at 5:00am was just for backup, I was already up and eager to get ready to go on a birding day trip. Lunch packed and camera with new battery, I was out by the curb ready to hop into Eve's car as she pulled up the street. The drive was quick and we arrived at the south parking lot by the foot bridge. The first bird subject was a male Surf Scoter, a life bird for me!
Surf Scoter, Melanitta perspicillata, measures 20 inches long with a wingspan of 30 inches.They are diving ducks that feed on crustaceans and mollusks. Only the male has the multi-colored bill and are all black except for the white on the forehead and large white patch on the nape. 
This male Surf Scoter is in full breeding plumage. Hunters call them "Skunk-head coots". These diving ducks migrate in the winter to both coasts, the Atlantic and the Pacific coasts, but are sometimes found in western Europe and even in the British Isles.

Here is a shot of a female Surf Scoter. They are dark brown to brown with little pale color patches on their cheeks. They breed in Canada and Alaska in lakes and slow-moving rivers where females will build the nest which may be quite a distance away from the water, usually well-hidden in tall grass or under low bushes. Females guard the chicks but the nestlings are able to feed themselves soon after birth. The ducklings feed mostly on freshwater invertebrates.  An interesting note from the Audubon web site is that it isn't known when the young first take flight. This species may be one of the least studied of the northern waterfowl.
 A male Bufflehead swims nearby. Their diving habits are very similar to the Scoters.
It was great to see the Terns hunting.
A male Lesser Scaup shows off with a wing flap. 
There were over half a dozen Red-breasted Mergansers hunting in the shallows of the lagoons. They appear to be as fast underwater as they are when in flight. The Red-breasted Mergansers are the fastest horizontal flying birds in the world reaching 70 mph according to "Birds and Bloom" magazine, September 2014 issue.
A beautiful sight... an American White Pelican comes in for a landing right in front of us! 
American White Pelican, Pelecanus eryhrorhynchos measures 62 inches long with a wingspan of 108 inches! These are huge birds. Lots of Ruddy Ducks are resting nearby but the huge pelican has a nice open area for his landing. 

A pair of Ruddy Ducks makes for a cute background as the White Pelican comes in closer.
A wonderful treat for us to be able to see this angle of the landing. It's like watching a slow motion movie. 
Watching a huge bird like this land is much like watching a huge airplane land. 

It is breathtaking to see. He is so majestic and so graceful for his size. He skids across the surface slowly sinking down to his chest. 

Beautifully "slow mo" as he folds his massive wings towards his side. 
This appears to be a female Lesser Scaup just surfacing after a dive but unfazed by the landing of the Pelican. 
There are more American White Pelicans flying in to join the first one. What a spectacular sight to see. Eve and I were stunned and almost overwhelmed trying to observe all the bird activity happening around us. We were both pleasantly surprised at how many water fowls were here at Bolsa Chica Nature Reserve. We now understood why Ray makes the long drive up from San Diego county so often. What a great birding adventure it has turned out to be for us!
A great display of the four pelicans approaching the water... all in slightly different stages and wing positions as they land.

Now it's time to forage for food. 

One decides to move over to another area. Notice that this one has a band on its right leg. 

This photo shows the beautiful black and white markings of their massive wings. The schoolkids nearby were hooting and making those sounds we all make when we see exciting fireworks but they were all for these wonderful huge birds! I too caught myself joining in... saying woooow!

Now two more are in the air... what a gorgeous sight! The first one in this photo has a long piece of seaweed wrapped around its neck.

A male Lesser Scaup. They measure 16.5 inches long with a wingspan of 25 inches. 
Eve and I kept seeing this bird at a far distance thinking it might be a Little Blue Heron... all of a sudden it flies in and what a surprise, it is not a Little Blue Heron but I believe this is a Reddish Egret. Another life bird for me!

He appears to be in full breeding plumage. Reddish Egret, Egretta rufescens measures 30 inches long with a wingspan of 46 inches.

When he shakes out the feathers, you can really see the long breeding plumage of this bird. I was unsure of this bird's ID but when a Docent walked by with a group of schoolchildren, I heard him tell the school kids that this was indeed a Reddish Egret.

In the 1800s they were almost hunted to the point of extinction for their plumage. They are classified as "threatened" in Texas. 
A Brown Pelican flies by.
As we walked around on the trails, I noticed a Red-breasted Merganser busy hunting right in front of where I was standing. This photo shows its hunting technique. 

Its head is still underwater but you can see that he is always observing what may be above him. 

He surfaces for an instant before another dive. 

Just under the surface... pushing water but not breaking the surface yet. 

These Mergansers are one of my favorite subjects to shoot. They are so active and appear to be quite tolerant of me with my camera. 

He dives again and this time you can see his whole body as he swims underwater. 
 He surfaces.

One last shot of this beautiful bird. A good close look at the bill. Notice the saw like edge on the bill. Sometimes these ducks are called "sawbills". They have sharp serrations on the outer edge of their bill for catching and holding on to small fish.

The Reddish Egret comes flying back... even closer this time as I am delighted to get a chance for more photos. 

A very active bird. They appear to be in constant motion. 

Stops long enough for a few nice poses. 

One last shot as he heads east... What a fun day of birding this has been for us. It's time for Eve and me to head home too.
Have a super weekend everyone!