At around 1130h this morning, I found and photographed a male Common Ringed Plover in alternate plumage on the ocean side of the Morro Bay Sand Spit near dune marker #6. I parked in the parking lot at the end of Sand Spit Road in Montaña de Oro SP, and took the trail that leads down to the beach. From there, I would estimate that it is about 4 mile hike (one-way) to where I saw the bird. It was loafing in the wrack line, well off the beach, loosely associated with 50+ Semipalmated Plovers and 20+ Snowy Plovers, and a bunch of Sanderlings and Least and Western sandpipers.
The key in looking for this bird is that it was the only ringed plover-type still in alternate plumage. None of the 150+ Semipalmated Plovers that I saw along the spit today or on 9/23 were in alternate plumage. So, this bird should grab your attention. Key marks to separate it from a like-plumaged Semipalmated Plover are as follows: 1) prominent, long white brow above the black mask; 2) longer bill, with more extensive orange at the base; 3) black of mask meets the bill at the gape or just below (in Semipalmated, the mask joins the bill above the gape line); 4) paler and grayer-brown coloration of the upper parts in Common Ringed (SP is darker and browner); and 5) really hard to see in the field, but it does show in some of my photos, is that Common Ringed lacks webbing between the toes, whereas SP has a little webbing at the base. The vocalizations are a good clue, but you need comparative experience.
I couldn't really examine my photos very well in the harsh, nearly mid-day light conditions, so I did not even attempt to call this in while I was out there. I was still watching it when all of the plovers and nearby Sanderlings burst into flight, as a response to a passing Merlin. Almost thought I heard one mellow CRPL-like call amongst the other calls when all of the birds flushed, but couldn't be sure. The birds flew hundreds of meters to the north along the sand spit, but I couldn't relocate THE bird, and I was still looking at a minimum 4-mile walk back to my car, so I gave up.
It was VERY WARM today, and is supposed to be that way again tomorrow, and the hike is a long one (with a steep uphill through loose sand at the end to get back to the parking lot), so take LOTS OF WATER.
I did photograph a Mountain Plover out on the spit today also, as well as what I assume is the same melanistic Western Sandpiper that I photographed on 9/23.
Finally, I did attempt to post this to the Group Me text message alert, when I first got home late this afternoon. Apparently, that message did not post, although I don’t understand why my queries to Jeff Miller went through, but the plover post didn’t. Jim Royer, perhaps you can sort this out?
Oh, and Bart Beckman: Sorry to have troubled you, but I was trying to get the rare bird info to post, and no way for me to find out if it was working without “chatting” with others. Seemed kind of important!