Piedras Blancas 2000 (week 1: March 12-18)


Greetings SLO birders. Nice to find a small & local place to post occasional
reports and weekly summaries from Point Piedras Blancas. The Southwest
Fisheries Science Center (NOAA/NMFS, La Jolla) has commenced its 7th season
(mine too) this week to monitor and evaluate gray whale calf production
through northbound Alaska-bound migration past this gorgeous wind swept piece
of California real estate at the Point Piedras Blancas Lighthouse near San
Simeon for the next 2-1/2 months or so.

Ancillary to that of course is the unavoidable coastal seabird migration
which at times can be quite spectacular. Usually fleeting, here one moment,
gone the next, the unexpected little gem is often the way of life around here
and reward for constant vigilance. Nothing is predictable and seldom does
anything linger long enough to be shared. So, I shall endeavor to at least
post weekly summary reports for the 'for what it's worth department' at this

Coastal Seabirds --
Coastal flights this week have been light as expected with nothing
particularly notable. Northbound Red-throated Loons have been gradually
increasing daily from just a sprinkle at the start to a few more than that
now. No Pacific or Common Loon movement of significance or at all have been
detected yet. Otherwise, the main players are occasional strings of Brant
(low hundreds) and Surf Scoters (a few hundred to 2000) per day.

There have been a few Black-legged Kittiwakes each day but so far nothing out
of the ordinary or of the unprecedented magnitudes reached last year when up
to 5000+ could be seen enmass congregated in numerous flocks nearshore and
offshore and along the longshore convergence line. However, as I recall,
last season sort of started out this way too. No 'way out there' from shore
albatross have been seen yet and only the occasional Black-vented and Sooty
Shearwater, Common Murre, and Rhinoceros Auklet pass by daily.

Other stuff --
Otherwise, a flock of up to 65 SNOW GEESE have been 'anchored' in the Hearst
pastures along rt.1 for at least the past two weeks. I counted only 19 out
there this morning (3/18) so I don't know whether some have left or they've
just temporarily split up. They are hard to miss and can easily be seen on
the east side of rt.1 about a half-mile north of the Piedras Blancas entrance
gate. At least two FERRUGINOUS HAWKS are being seen off and on in the Hearst
Pastures directly across from the PB gate this week but much more off than
on. There are still one or two Say's Phoebes around but I expect those as
well as the Ferruginous Hawks to be gone by the end of week 2. First arrival
dates at the lighthouse included Cliff Swallows on 3/14 and the first Barn
Swallows were seen today (3/18).

The Peregrine Falcons are setting up shop in the traditional notch nest site
on the SE face of the Outer Rock off the western tip of the Point. They have
been pairing up, courting, and at times rather noisy this week. Also,
alternately, both the male and female often sit up on the ledge to feed.

I guess the biggest surprise all this week has been the complete and absolute
lack of Rufous Hummingbirds. I have four feeders up and have yet to see a
single one! ZERO! Not even a fly-by. What's going on? Are they just late
or taking an other than extreme coastal path this Spring, or have they all
just done come and gone already? Some springs, especially through March into
early April, they can come through here by the hundreds.

I've located two hummer nests already. They are quite easy to find around
here. We have an Anna's sitting on two eggs on a ghastly exposed nest only 5
feet straight out the front picture window and only 4 feet off the ground.
It's not anchored to anything other than a bare branch of a wind knarled
Monterey Cypress. Thursday's 40 knot afternoon gales put the nest to test but
so far, all came out unscathed and intact. However, it was rather amusing if
not disconcerting at times when a strong gust literally blasted her up off
the nest and threw her around 180 degrees. Another nest was discovered early
in the week as well, no eggs, and I couldn't tell for sure if it was an old
nest or new, but this morning much to my delight, I found the first egg laid
in there and it turns out to be an Allen's.

Since the Point here is sort of isolated from the SLO County mainstream, not
to mention routinely frigidly wind blasted, birds common and routine
everywhere else in the county are always a treat out here. This week, a
female Spotted Towhee (only my second record here) has been skulking about
the back yard feeding station. Also, one or two House Wrens have been
singing up a storm. There are usually one or two here early in the Spring,
singing away and trying to attract a mate but I expect as history has shown,
they will eventually give up and move on.

Richard Rowlett (Pterodroma@aol.com)
NOAA/NMFS Gray Whale Survey
Piedras Blancas Lighthouse
San Simeon, California

"Discovery consists of seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what
nobody has thought" --Albert Szent-Gyorgi (1893-1986).