Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Thankful for Our Beautiful Lagoon

The days have been crisp and clear and the bird subjects have been plentiful with exciting actions around the beautiful tide channels of our lagoon at low tide. Here are a few shots from "the day of the grebes" when I spotted three different kind of grebes hunting in the same fish rich area of our San Elijo Lagoon. I also drove over to Santa Carina, the Solana Beach side of the lagoon for a look at a few raptors.

Approaching the first lookout deck by the visitor center of the San Elijo Nature Reserve, I spot a California Clapper Rail now renamed as the Ridgway Rail walking along the shoreline. I alert a visiting photographer from Indiana that one of our endangered birds is out in the open if he cared to take a few shots. He was delighted to spot one of these elusive birds and got many great shots to take home. 
This is his trademark walk. They stretch their necks out and hike their legs high always ready to run. They are one of the fastest running birds I have seen at the lagoon appearing to be able to run much quicker than fly. 

Checking for predators he feels safe enough to swim across the tide channel. 

As one California Clapper Rail / Ridgway Rail leaves the shoreline, another one swims towards us. 

What a treat to see two Clapper Rails so close for viewing in one day. 

I am on the bridge located midway on the main trail that follows the tide channel, looking down at the beautiful little Rail. 

He climbs to the top of the bank next to the bridge and poses for a few minutes. 

A close-up of the famous endangered rail. 

He wanders off and my attention now turns to the tide channel. 

I see turbulence and find a grebe hunting down a fish. Can you see the fish in front of his beak? What a treat, it is almost impossible to see a grebe hunting unless they are directly below the bridge and the tide has to be low enough and the water clear enough with the sunlight just right to be able to see what is going on under water. 

The fish makes a run for his life but the lightning speed of the hunting grebe is no match. 
The Grebe appears to have the fish by the tail, slowing it down. You can also see tiny little fish jumping out of the way. 

Extra effort and push forward and the grebe has his prey!

Close-up of the grab.

As the grebe surfaces with his prey I realize that I have been watching an Eared Grebe hunting. What a beautiful sight to see. 

Now the Grebe needs to swallow it as fast as possible or he may get it stolen. 

Trying to position the fish so the head goes down first. 
Working to the middle of the fish. 
The fish is in a good position for the swallow. 
OOOps, something has spooked the Eared Grebe and he exits the fish rich area with his prey still not consumed.

Here is the reason for the Eared Grebe's quick exit, a Western Grebe wants to hunt this part of the shoreline that appears to be teaming with schools of nice sized fish. The Western Grebe has just surfaced and is in the process of swallowing a nice size fish. 

With amazing speed, this Western Grebe has got himself another fish. You can see why he chased the Eared Grebe out of the way. This spot is loaded with fish!

It is really rare to see one fighting with his prey above water, usually they swallow their prey underwater and we hardly ever get to see a fish being consumed above water. Also these grebes are known to hunt at night. 

He has quite a lively fish and it takes a few moments to subdue his prey. 

The fish calms down and the grebe is getting ready to swallow it head first. 
A few more chomps at the gills and the fish appears to be more manageable. 

Well, lol... I spoke too soon, it still has a little fight left but the Grebe soon manages to position the fish perfectly for swallowing. 
Down the hatch.

All the activity of the Grebes brings this Snowy Egret to the area. You can see the fish panicking and breaking the surface of the water as he lands. 

This Western Grebe has himself another fish. Slightly smaller than the last he manages to swallow this one quickly. 

The area was so full of fish, the Pied-billed Grebe sneaks into the fishing area on the far side of the tide channel. He instantly gets a fish. A quick swallow and he is back under water hunting for more. 

There are so many fish being chased by the three grebes that the Snowy Egret can't decide which grebe he wants to follow to catch the scattering fish from the hunting grebes. 

There is excitement in the air and the Snowy is eager to catch his share of the abundant schools of fish. 

 The Western Grebe surfaces and gives a nice pose. 

The red eyes are striking when he faces the sunlight. 

He appears full and starts to swim up the channel probably to find a nice hiding place to take a nap and digest his successful catch. 

The Pied-billed Grebe appears to still be hungry and has got himself another fish. This one is going to be a little harder to swallow. 

LOL... My goodness, this reminds me that tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day and a lot of us will be stuffing ourselves! I decided that it was such a beautiful day that I would like to go and check out the east side of the lagoon at Santa Carina Trails on the Solana Beach side of our Nature Reserve.
Arriving at the trail-head, I immediately spot a raptor that I have not seen in a while... it is a Merlin Falcon!   Falco columbarius measures 10 inches long with a wingspan of 24 inches. They are a small but compact and powerful falcon. 

He soon flies off and returns with a dragonfly snack. 

A young Red-tailed Hawk flies near the Merlin and gives him a once-over but does not challenge him, instead, he leisurely soars east.
Walking towards the lookout area about a 1/4 mile from the trail-head, I spot the pair of White-tailed Kites sitting on their favorite snag. They are back to our lagoon for the breeding season. I will keep checking to see where they make their nest this year.

As I scan the lagoon, a White-faced Ibis flies in. I'm hoping one of these days I will be able to get a close-up of this exotic looking bird. 

A beautiful male American Kestrel hunts near the trail.

American Kestrel measures only 9 inches long with a wingspan of 22 inches. They are our smallest falcon.

Even though they are small, they will hunt birds almost as big as themselves. They are also fearless, chasing other hawks away from their nest area. 
It didn't take long for me to spot one of my favorite raptors of our lagoon, the female Northern Harrier was on the hunt. 

Northern Harrier, Circus cyaneus measures 18 inches long with a wingspan of 43 inches. 

Their flight style is described as "buoyant". It is a pleasure to see the effortless way they glide and pop on the surface of the reeds over our lagoon.
A look at the white band at the base of the tail that makes these hawks easy to identify.

The face is much like a owl with a disc-like marking used for extra sensory hearing. A specialized way of hunting by these beautiful marsh hawks. 
One last look and it's time for me to head for home. A fantastic walk with fabulous subjects to shoot. I am so very thankful for the chance to be able to photograph them at our beautiful lagoon.
Have a wonderful Thanksgiving Holiday everyone! A photo showing the Turkey cupcake made by my friend Betty and her granddaughter to celebrate our wonderful Holiday. There is much that I am thankful for but the most important are the wonderful friends and family. I also want to take this time to thank all of you for visiting my blog.