Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Controlled Chaos at Oceanside Harbor

This was the week that Eve and I planned a day trip to Mt. Laguna but the weather has been too hot and miserable as one of my friends in Escondido reported. We decided that the cool breeze of Oceanside Harbor would be much more inviting.


Eve decided to drive because we had to check out the free parking area where you had to enter a narrow low tunnel that went under the railroad tracks. You have to check for height clearance of your vehicle and my van may have been too tall. The weather was beautiful and we hurried towards the bridge that spanned over the San Luis Rey River mouth. What a fantastic sight as we approached the river mouth, you could see the area teaming with birds! Here is a shot taken by Eve from the bridge with her phone that shows the San Luis Rey River mouth at Oceanside Harbor. 

My first subject was an adult Heermann's Gull, Larus heermanni measures 19 inches with a wingspan of 51 inches. They are known for stealing food from other seabirds. 

On the middle sandbar, we saw lots of Elegant Terns resting, squabbling or preening. There was always one or two that would be taking off or landing. 

A whole flock of Heermann's Gulls landed in the shallow lagoon. They are easy to identify if they are adult breeding by the white head and the red bill. Identifying the rest of the gulls in the area was more challenging.

A Black-necked Stilt patrols the nesting area, the stilt pair has several youngsters around and were fearless at letting other birds know not to approach their youngsters. Black-necked Stilt, Himantopus mexicanus measures 14 inches with a wingspan of 29 inches.
The female Black-necked Stilt flies over and threatens this young gull. I believe this gull is a 1st summer Western Gull. 

A beautiful Caspian Tern flies by. Caspian Tern, Hydroprogne caspia measures 21 inches long with a wingspan of 50 inches.

Terns are also hard to ID but the largest of the terns, the Caspian, stands out when compared with other terns. They have a dark red bill with dusky tip. 
Oncoming leading edge look at our beautiful Caspian Tern. 
A Brown Pelican lands nearby and all of a sudden all of the terns are up in the air. They circle and land quickly.
With all the birds in the air the Black-necked Stilts are on extra patrol duty. This photo is of the male. The males have all black neck, back and wingtops. The females' back and shoulders appear brownish when compared with her mate.
An adult Great Blue Heron lands near where the baby stilt is foraging at the west end of the lagoon. Warning calls from the stilts are heard. Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias measures 54 inches long with a wingspan of 72 inches! 
Eve alerts me to a Black Skimmer that flies in from the west. What a fantastic treat to see this bird! Black Skimmer, Rynchops niger  measures 18 inches long with a wingspan of 44 inches. He flies low and lands in the area where all the terns are resting. Soon his bill
is tucked behind his back and he appears to be taking a nap. 
Walking over to the east side of the bridge, I spot this sub-adult Great Blue Heron. His markings appear to be of a 1st year juvenile.
The juvenile Great Blue Heron was very interested in the little ducklings that swam by but the mother duck herded her chicks to swim on as she kept an eye on the GBH.
Now, the adult Great Blue Heron on the west end of the lagoon is being challenged by the pair of Black-necked Stilts. The heron flares his crown and warns the stilts to stay away.

The Black-necked Stilt swoops the heron, Heron responds with a flared crown and neck feathers. A beautiful sight to see. 
The stilt is coming too close for his liking, the heron's wings slam the air to warn them off.
 A very intimidating stance by the Great Blue Heron. 
I have never seen the crown on the heron raised like this in such a beautiful intimidating display. 
The Stilts buzz and fly by... but stay out of the Great Blue's strike zone. 
The Great Blue puts on a nice display of wing flaps and jumps to make sure the stilts get the message... do not mess with the Great Blue. 
LOL... this is quite a stance, he is covering all angles of attack. 
He hops beautifully further west showing off his massive wings. I love to shoot these magnificent stately birds. They are so impressive in movement and have such unpredictability about them. 
A beautiful use of his wings to set up for a strike in the water. 
The stilts have moved on to pick on a juvenile Western Gull once again. Here a female Black-neck Stilt is in hot pursuit of the gull. 
The Black-necked Stilt is joined by an American Avocet in the chase of the juvenile Gull. 
Like a "tag team", the Avocet flies off and the Black-necked Stilt keeps up the pursuit. 
Several young Snowy Egrets fly in to the area but appear wary of the stilts too. There is a breeding pair of stilts defending the east side of the bridge and they have two very young nestlings that appear to have hatched recently and they are very protective.
Found one of the stilt babies foraging in the shallows. 
The Snowy Egret had plenty to be cautious about where he landed, the Black-necked Stilt shoos him out of the area. 
The stilt believed that the Snowy did not comply with his warning soon enough and charges the egret. 
Another Snowy Egret lands and the pair of stilts are busy letting him know he is to move out of their area. 
This snowy wants to discuss the matter ... he wants to stay and feed here.
Putting his wings out in a defensive pose, the egret makes a stand against the stilt. 
Impressive wing display by the egret! The stilt appears to have lost this battle...
But wait, here comes the male screaming his warning at the Snowy to leave his area, and now the egret complies. 

The male stilt escorts the egret out of the area. 

As to say "Keep moving", the stilts are chirping away with their warning calls until the egret flies out of their area. Team effort pays off. 
Back to the west side of the bridge to find a beautiful male Ruddy Duck swimming by with his bright blue bill and tail raised in a breeding display.
Part of his breeding display is to thump on his chest... As this photo shows his chest puffed up and then he thumps hard on his chest with his beak which releases bubbles caught in his feathers all around him. 
LOL... He is the bubble master. Trails of bubbles follow this beautiful male. Also, this is the first time I noticed that his crown raises like two short cat-like ears. What an unusual duck this ruddy is!

Hearing a soft barking noise, my attention is diverted from the Ruddy to something that I haven't seen in years, several young Pie-billed Grebes swimming out of the reeds. They have the unusual markings that I describe as "Indian war-paint" on their faces. 
Now the terns have gone to air again and I have no idea what set them off this time.
It's all part of the controlled chaos at the Oceanside Harbor.
Soon the terns land again and are squabbling, preening or just standing and resting but nothing is for long, they will all take off again soon. 
Back to the Ruddy Ducks, yes... there was a whole family that the proud Male was escorting around. 
And he does look proud doesn't he? What a great bird these Ruddy Ducks are, no wonder they have such a following in the birding world. 

Eve and I were a bit thirsty and food sounded great so it was time to go to one of the many seaside restaurants for lunch. Deciding which one you want to eat at is the difficult part of going to lunch. I suggest the one that gives you a nice view of the harbor. As we walked across the street to the harbor side from the birding bridge, we spot two juvenile herons on the boats. They are on the two boats, can you spot them?
I get a shot of one getting ready for flight. Look at those cute natal feathers on his head. They must have just fledged recently. It's been a fantastic day for birding and I will be returning here very soon. I'm eager to get more shots of the fabulous Black Skimmers but now it's time to head for home. 
Have a super week everyone!