Friday, August 28, 2015

Cormorant's Catch of the Day

Another beautiful day in paradise. It's extra hot and the beaches are already packed. The tide was going out and the shoreline was quickly starting to get exposed making it inviting for the shorebirds to come and see if they can grab some tasty treats. When the tide goes down at the San Elijo Lagoon, the shoreline becomes a busy hunting place for shorebirds feeding on the exposed mudflats or diving birds taking advantage of shallow waters to use their perfected hunting tactics to scare up some tasty meals. One Osprey appeared to only to get a good morning dip instead of a meal. 

As I walk past the visitor center, I notice an Osprey circling and it is getting ready to dive. Oh my, I'm going to miss the one shot I have been waiting to catch... the Osprey's moment of entrance into the water!
 I can see the Osprey hover and go into a dive. 
From where I was standing the point of impact will be blocked by the railing of the viewing deck. All I can do now is make a run for the observation deck and hope to capture the moment when the Osprey comes to the surface, maybe he will have a fish.
By the time I reach the deck to view the Osprey's impact zone, all there is to be observed is the splash.

The Osprey is underwater quite a while, maybe he caught something but couldn't hang on to it. He comes up empty taloned. But it must feel refreshing on a hot summer morning. 
As the tide keeps going out, the water recedes more leaving the main part of the tide channel mostly exposed and the water only a few feet deep. At this stage of low tide the activity in and around the water sometimes becomes intense with birds taking advantage of the shallows to grab some nice fish passing through the tide channel. A Double-crested Cormorant has arrived in the exact spot that the Osprey had been diving for his meal just a short while ago. He spots something and appears to chase it running on water.
Hunting by sight...
Going for the chase.
Snorkeling. Probably scaring the fish out of hiding.
The chase is on and quite a commotion is going on underwater. The Cormorant has not surfaced yet!

He finally comes up and he has himself a nice big breakfast: California Halibut, Paralichthys californicus

The fish is fighting and the Cormorant uses his beak like combination vice and claw hammer. He pierces the fish in its vitals.
Keeps biting in the area of the gills and head. 

Now positions the fish for swallowing.

We get a good look at the beautiful young halibut that he has captured. 
Ripping through his gills with the sharp point of his beak.
Chomping and gripping with his vice-like beak he takes the fight out of the prey fish. 
Now for the swallow. 

Neck stretched to use the gravity to his advantage as the fish slowly goes down the Cormorant's throat. 

The Cormorant gulps and forces the fish into his mouth. 

Getting the wide part of the fish to pass his mouth opening is the most difficult part but once he can close his mouth over it, he can use all the neck muscles to keep pushing the fish towards his crop.
And we can see the fish passing his mouth opening down to his crop. 

The Cormorant is really working his neck muscles and compressing the fish to move it further towards his stomach. 

Oh... this must be very uncomfortable!

Yup, I would say this is really really uncomfortable! LOL... he looks more like a cobra snake that just swallowed a pig. 

The Cormorant keeps working his neck muscles to move the fish down to his digesting area. 
He struggles a bit more, twisting and turning his body. 
He rests for a few moments maybe getting some liquid down his throat to push his prey further down. Soon he swims away following the tide channel north to a quiet place probably to digest this nice size meal he just devoured. 
During all the activity of the Cormorant this little Black-necked Stilt flies in to investigate the mudflats. 

He pokes around a few minutes but seems anxious about being in such an exposed area all by himself. Stretches and appears to want to fly. 

I get a nice pose and we get to see that the black feathering on his back has a beautiful iridescence . 
I can't help but smile when I see a Black-necked Stilt fly.  They always look like they have on a lacy petticoat. It's been another wonderful day of birding at the San Elijo Lagoon. Time for me to head for home. 

Have a wonderful weekend everyone!

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Summertime and the Livin' is Easy/ Fish are Jumpin' and the Cattail is High

The tide was going to be low around 11:00am today so there was no hurry to get to the San Elijo Lagoon to check for bird subjects until late morning. The trails were empty except for a few joggers. Another hot summer day and the temperature was starting to climb as I approached the first lookout by the nature center.

A Willet landed on the shore in front of the lookout deck and found a nice snack. Crabs are an easy meal for them. Willet, Tringa semipalmata measures 15 inches long with a wingspan of 26 inches. 

Willets are found throughout the year at our beautiful San Elijo Lagoon. "Livin' is Easy" here for the Willet.
The crab slips out of his grip.

The crab tries to defend but it's much too small to intimidate the Willet.
Happy with a nice small snack, the Willet gets ready to take flight. 

Decides to go across the tide channel and we get to get a good look at the striking black and white wing pattern of this otherwise very dull gray bird. 

Yes, and the "fish are jumpin'"

We have lots and lots of Mullets that jump out of the water and they delight the young visitors to our lagoon. It's always a fun challenge for the local photographers when birding subjects are scarce to see if we can get a few shots of the jumping fish. 
Here's the splash when the fish lands on the surface of the water on his side making as big a splash as possible. It may be like a contest among the mullets to see who can make the biggest splash. 

"And the cotton (cattail) is high"... The last of the cattail blooms can be seen near the visitor center. The reeds are stretched to the max... soon all the reeds will turn brown signaling the end of summer and the start of fall. 
Lots of Clapper Rails to be seen at our lagoon. This one is flying across from the west side of the tide channel to the east side bank. LOL... It's like that old question... "why did the chicken cross the lagoon?
They always seem to have their legs dangling... a very awkward looking flyer.

The landing is not very graceful and many times they already are on the run as they land. 
A Short-billed Dowitcher flies by. Love the beautiful feather pattern of their tail and underarm.
 Still sporting his breeding plumage.
I heard these before I saw them. Two Belted Kingfishers fly by on a chase. 

It appears that our resident female is the one that is escorting the other female intruder out of her territory. 
Lots of chatter between them. 
The maneuvers are quick and very acrobatic. 
Getting two Kingfishers in one frame was a treat. 
One appears to be retreating. 

Soon the female does a victory lap chirping all the way. 

A couple of Semipalmated Plovers land looking for lunch. They are the most numerous of the small plovers. 
A raptor flies into the lagoon by the Rios pole trail and flushes a flock of Black-bellied Plovers. Even from this distance, you can tell the identity of these shorebirds by the black patch on their underarm area. Some still have the black on the bellies from their breeding plumage. 
Three beautiful Marbled Godwits land in front.
A local photographer Al and I are delighted to spot these beauties. Both our cameras are going as fast as possible as they posed for us by the water's edge.

As we were waiting for a flight shot, another photographer walks by and asks about the subjects.  Our attention is diverted just long enough for us to miss the flight shot but I manage to get the landing. LOL... as one veteran photographer Chris Mayne always says, "never take your eyes off the ball".  I should have known better.

Soon the Marbled Godwits are joined by a Willet and a Whimbrel making for a nice composition scene. 

Curious to see what is so good about this this mud mound, a California Clapper Rail comes to the party. 

But the Clapper Rail is a very nervous sort of bird and quickly scoots past upsetting several of the relaxing shorebirds. 

A typical shot of the awkward looking flight of a Clapper Rail ready to land in the water. 
Noticing that there has been an Osprey eating on a nearby telephone pole at the back west entrance, I decided to get a few shots. It's a juvenile with a half-eaten fish. She shakes out as I approach.

She's trying to stay alert to my approach but her full tummy and the hot summer day are just too much and she starts to nod off. 
She's hearing something behind her but just can't keep her peepers open. 
It is interesting that her eyelids are white and it's the lower one that comes up for the eyes to close.
She starts to relax and her head comes down. It's good to see this youngster with a large full crop.  I chuckle to myself as I watch this wonderful raptor sleep and whisper the words from a famous lullaby song "Summertime"...  "Oh, your daddy's rich and your mamma's good-lookin'. So hush little baby, don't you cry."
She is out in dreamland again.  Or maybe it's a "food coma" since she is almost done eating her large mullet.
The young Osprey alerts and appears awake just long enough to look around to see there is no approaching danger. 

But she just can't keep her lower lid from coming up. What a beautiful youngster. I hope she is around for a while with us. It's been another fun day at the San Elijo Lagoon but it's time for me to head for home.

Have a fun filled week everyone and stay cool!