Morro Bay Sand Spit

Kevin Zimmer

Yesterday (Wednesday, 9/23), I spent the better part of the day (0900h–1500h) hiking somewhere between 8-10 miles roundtrip along the ocean side of the sand spit at Morro Bay, from the trail head at Sand Spit Road (Montaña de Oro SP) all the way to the north end of the spit and back.

My efforts turned up nothing particularly unusual, but the shorebird show was spectacular!  Scattered Long-billed Curlews, Marbled Godwits, Whimbrels, Willets, Black-bellied Plovers and Sanderlings were feeding at the surf line for the length of the hike, the Sanderlings periodically in large groups.  But the numbers of shorebirds loafing or feeding in the wrack line well off the beach were truly impressive, and became more impressive the closer I got to the north end of the spit.  These included big concentrations of Western and Least sandpipers and Sanderlings, with small numbers of Dunlin and Ruddy and Black turnstones mixed in, as well as good numbers of Semipalmated and Snowy plovers.

In contrast to my hike of Sept 4 along the same route, I encountered many fewer gulls (Heermann’s, California & Western), and ZERO Elegant Terns (only a few Caspians this time).  My first Merlin(s) of the year sent the concentrations of shorebirds into frenzied flight on two occasions, the first around 1000h, and the second at around 1400h.  Once again, a pair of Ospreys patrolled the shoreline throughout the day, and I witnessed two successful plunges into the surf for large fish.

The most unusual thing that I saw (and photographed) is what appeared to be a melanistic Western Sandpiper — brown all over (a shade lighter than a juvenile Heermann’s Gull) – something I’ve never seen before, anywhere.  The bird did not appear to be stained or oiled — it appeared to be pigmentation to the feathers.

Here are the estimated numbers for the 14 species of shorebirds encountered (based upon unidirectional counts so as not double-count):

Black-bellied Plover  -  75
Snowy Plover  -  50-60 (One was color-banded on both legs:  I couldn’t determine the colors on the left leg, but the right leg had a red band over a light blue band.), including many juveniles.
Semipalmated Plover  -  140 (Including 58 that I counted in one sweep of the binoculars from a single spot.)
Killdeer  - 2
Ruddy Turnstone  -  5
Black Turnstone  -  2
Marbled Godwits  -  250
Long-billed Curlew  -  120
Whimbrel  -  15
Willet  -  50
Sanderling  -  1300
Least Sandpiper  -  650
Western Sandpiper  -  1800
Dunlin  -  15

Kevin Zimmer

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