PB 2000 (week 12: May 29 - June 01) -- partial week and final
Piedras Blancas and north coast summary (week 12: May 29 - June 01)
This will be my last ancillary coastal bird report from Piedras Blancas for
the Year 2000 gray whale calf counting season. Each and every day of each
and every Spring here since 1994 never fails to dawn with me full of optimism
and anticipation. One never knows what the next second might bring and I
hate leaving the site even for a moment in mortal fear of breaking up the
continuity and missing something, even if it's just another good pulse of
loons, brant, or scoters. It's some sort of hopeless compulsive / addiction
disorder I suppose. Oh well, who cares. It's cheaper than alcohol, drugs,
and prostitutes :-))
This last 'short' week has been quite an interesting one even with the cold
northerly gales and yet still a number of startling and unexpected surprises.
Whoopee! It's those unexpected surprises that keep me going not to mention
having this wonderful opportunity of just being here for an extended period
and long enough to acquire some real intimacy with all the little nuances of
migration along the central California coast. Even the common and ordinary
birds to many of you but which are often rare or unusual here are a big deal
Will there be a PB Year 2001? Oh God... I fear it may be so. In fact, I
think we are looking at 3-5 more years!! This place has become my 'second
home'. I'll probably die here :-)) Can't complain though; the price for
living and housing on the finest piece of real estate on the California
coast, not to mention the *best* county in the state(!) is just right --
FREE, thank you very much; your tax dollars *are* hard at work -- really!
:-)). The only thing I can think of that needs fixing is the *light* on the
Over the past seven years, we're developing quite a good time series of data
with respect to gray whale calf production and migration through our spring
time monitoring. This season marks an all time record low count for calf
production. Only 96 (calculated best total estimate 280) counted during
visual sampling this season compared to just over 500 (best est. ~1300)
during our peak season in 1997. We think it's probably due to heavy ice
years (1998 and 1999) on the primary summer feeding grounds in the Bering and
Chuckchi (Alaska) resulting in a short feeding season, and there just simply
was no calf production rather than anything more sinister. If our theory is
correct, a short feeding season results in undernourished animals that may
have been unable to build up the necessary fat and weight reserves to support
such a long annual migration to the Baja lagoons and back *and* support a
calf, and so, they just either didn't breed, delayed implantation, or even
perhaps aborted. We should know better in another year or two as the ice
conditions are currently back to normal this year which holds promise of a
good summer feeding season. Cows produce calves every other year, so calf
production after this Alaska summer won't really become known until 2001 and
COASTAL SEABIRDS --
loons, brant, scoters....
Just when I think we're at the end of the loon parade, it just keeps going
and going and going although quite variable day by day and shutting down
totally by mid to late morning. Best day this week seems to be Th 6/01 --
June no less, and a rather significant late season calm morning flight in the
wake of the gale force NNW headwinds early in the week.
Mo 5/29 was a good day with ~700;
Tu 5/30, from 0545-1000hrs, exactly 71; (<100 for the day)
We 5/31, from 0545-0830hrs, exactly 43; (<100 for the day)
Th 6/01, from 0545-0845hrs with 756 clicker counted. Flight pretty much
died out completely by 0830hrs, so a fairly safe guess for the day was
There was only five Brant sightings this short week (2, 5, 1, 3, 1). Surf
Scoters have now dwindled to absolute stragglers totaling no more than about
60-75 total between Monday and Thursday morning. The Y2K season ends now
without a single Black Scoter sighting, the first time ever, and believe me,
I was looking. So, this negative note is perhaps of significance.
Black-footed Albatross --
Tu 5/30 -- two immature (early morning)
Th 6/01 -- one immature (early morning)
Sooty & Pink-footed Shearwaters -- Early morning flights are starting to pick
up again. The primary early morning corridor is as it has been for most of
the season, 0.5 to 1.0 nmi offshore with very few usually visible further out.
SHORT-TAILED SHEARWATER --
We 5/31 (0620hrs) -- a good satisfying sighting of one individual 0.5 nmi
out on the 'inside' edge of the northbound Sooty corridor. This is only the
2nd certain identification this Spring and there have probably been a few
others. Identification: slightly smaller than Sooty, more compact looking,
shorter neck, thicker, more rounded, hence smaller looking head, thinner and
seemingly shorter bill, pale area at base of bill and throat (Sooties usually
show a longer head / billed look which is typically darker looking in
contrast with the rest of the body). Also, wing linings were in this
individual solid uniform light brown. Caution: Suspected Short-tailed seen
*before* the sun crests the ridge are, at least from my on shore vantage
point, best left unidentified since the lack of direct sunlight combined with
any haze on the underwing often renders some Sooty Shearwaters as appearing
as if they have darker wing linings.
MANX SHEARWATER -- two sightings this week
We 5/31 (0617hrs) -- single bird and closest shearwater to shore this
morning, northbound at 14.0 reticules (~300 meters). 5th sighting this
Th 6/01 (0653hrs) -- single bird mixed in with a 'wad' of Sooties at 7.5
reticules (0.4 nmi). 6th sighting this season. [Identification for both:
same as previously described; see week 11 summary report]
jaegers, gulls, terns, phalaropes, alcids....
Parasitic Jaeger --
Tu 5/30 (0616hrs) -- two light morph adults flying north at 600 meters
Franklin's Gull -- No sightings this week
Sabine's Gull -- no sightings this week or all season! First season miss
ever, thus this negative report is of some significance. I think they just
passed further offshore as did Arctic Terns which they are sometimes seen
with in very low numbers.
ELEGANT TERN --
Th 6/01 -- single bird flying south, out ~0.4 nmi
BLACK SKIMMER --
Mo 5/29 (0835hrs) -- a pair of birds skirting the coast heading north.
Second record in my 7-yr tenure here and a sighting of these bizarre critters
and especially at this place always seems so out of place and most startling.
TUFTED PUFFIN --
Tu 5/30 (0601hrs) -- one alternate plumaged adult at 12.0 reticules (0.3
nmi) flying north leading the company of a Common Murre. All of my few
records of Tufted Puffin here since 1994 have all been northbound flybys and
all in the last week or two of May.
shorebirds and miscellaneous odd waterbirds....
No shorebirds of note.
WHITE PELICAN --
Mo 5/29 (1105hrs) -- single bird, appeared over the 'pond' (the area
between the 'point' and PB Rocks), and looked as though it might round the
'point' and continue north. Apparently considering facing the bleak
prospects of the gale force headwinds and Big Sur ahead, it wheeled around
once overhead, then headed back south, circled PB Rocks a couple of times as
if contemplating a landing, then continued on back south toward San Simeon /
Cambria. This was my first ever WHITE PELICAN sighting at Piedras Blancas
and quite the surprise! This was also a very odd looking bird -- something
like a cross between a Condor and a Pterodactyl -- just weird! The head was
very shaggy and seemed to be missing a lot of feathers as to be appear
partially naked while the bill had some strange and quite large vertical
horn-like projection (4-5") in the middle. Even with a long study in the
'big eyes', I never could figure out what that was; I thought at first maybe
a fish but I don't think so. Maybe a portion of the gular pouch had somehow
been knotted up and flipped up in some bizarre manner so as to appear like a
horn. It didn't flop around, just rigid. [post query / comment: Might this
horn-like projection be normal attribute in White Pelicans? I just saw a
photo of a similarly looking White Pelican while I was doing some pre-post
PB- travel / birding research at the Klamath NWR website]
CANADA GOOSE --
A seemingly confused flock of 11 'white-breasted' CANADA GEESE were seen for
13 minutes, Mo 5/29 (1713-1726hrs) during the afternoon gale. They came up
from the south along and hugging the coast, but upon reaching the 'point' and
faced with the prospect of continuing into the teeth of the gale, circled
around and settled on the water just out front of the study site. They
remained put there for about six minutes bouncing in the choppy sea, probably
discussing amongst themselves just what they hell they were doing out there
and what they should do next. Then up they went, circled around, then headed
back to the east over the elephant seal beach, over route one, and last I saw
of them, they were headed directly toward the Hearst Castle Visitor's Center.
Th 6/01 -- single immature / molting female (or male?) flying north at
~400m. Two other single birds seen much further out earlier this week may
have been Oldsquaws as well, but I couldn't figure out what they were at the
time, gave up, and just let them go as 'something interesting but unknown',
and then just forgot about them until this bird this morning.
the morning counts (none Sunday)....
Early morning full on 'big eye' counts (25X150 Fujinon mounted binoculars) --
Selected species (mostly migrants) of particular interest only.
Species marked with (*) were individually counted with hand clickers.
Species shown in brackets [ ] were additional notables seen at times when I
was off the 'big eyes' and on just normal gray whale watch mode (i.e sitting
in my director's chair, feet propped up on the table, listening to 'the
otter' - KOTR, and munching a PB&J, ...iow, just a typical day in the life).
And finally, since I won't be anywhere near these here parts come Sunday, I
polished off my Y2K Piedras Blancas tenure with one final 'loon song' 3-hr
full-on 25X watch on Th 6/01.
day Mo Tu We
date 5/29 5/30 5/31
start time 0545 0545 0545 0545
stop time 0700 0700 0700 0845
wind direction NNW NNW ESE var
wind speed 20 10 12-0 0-5
Beaufort sea state 4/5 3/5 2/3 0-2
visibility (nmi) 3 3 3
Red-throated Loon 6 7 4 6
Pacific Loon* 75 46 33 756
Common Loon 16 6 4 11
Brant 2 0 6
Surf Scoter 7 1 4
OLDSQUAW 0 0 0 0
Black-footed Albatross 0 2 0 1
Pink-footed Shearwater 5 11 4 16
Sooty Shearwater (N)* 95 610 885 3830
SHORT-TAILED SHEARWATER 0 0 1 0
MANX SHEARWATER 0 0 1 1
Brown Pelican* 0 85 60 266
[WHITE PELICAN] (1) - - -
Parasitic Jaeger 0 2 0
Bonaparte's Gull 3 0 0
Heermann's Gull* 5 13 13 77
[BLACK SKIMMER] (2) - - -
ELEGANT TERN 0 0 0 1
unid tern 2 0 0
phalaropes 0 0 0
Common Murre 10 37 17 19
Rhinoceros Auklet 11 10 0 3
TUFTED PUFFIN 0 1 0 0
Whimbrel 1 0 0
Long-billed Curlew 0 0 0 1
unid 'peep' 1 0 0
[CANADA GOOSE] (11) - - -
OTHER STUFF --
'Zip' all this 'short' week. No action, and one final 'farewell' sighting of
the male perched atop the lighthouse as I was on my way out for the last time
Nest #10 for the season, and Anna's #5 discovered We 5/31 on the tip of a
cypress branch behind Quarters 'C' with one egg. This is one I've suspected
and had walked right past it for the past several days when in fact it was
right there, right before my eyes all along. This is probably at the very
least, nest #3 for this bird in this particular cypress grove. #1 was found
nearby back in March and I long suspected that it had another one which I
never could find in between #1 and this most recent one. The timing would
certainly be about right. The nest contains only one egg and given it's
terribly exposed location and the wretched gales earlier in the week, there's
a good chance that the second egg may have blown out.
Otherwise, Anna's #4 is coming along fine and the female sure is giving the
little chicklet much attention and keeping it warm and protected from the
howling cold gales this week. She sits tight most of the day and only on
rare occasions do I seem to catch her even off the nest long enough to take a
Allen's #4 is likewise progressing well as is #5. Unlike the Anna's, the
female Allen's spend much less time in such intimate attendance to their
young although both are very nearby and I hear them 'scolding' when I'm ever
near the nests.
other yard birds....
The previously reported MAGNOLIA WARBLER was last seen on Su 5/28.
A few Lawrence's Goldfinches continue to hang around PB Point area, often in
the company of American Goldfinches with a pair (adult male & female) seen
flying around and over the study site briefly on Mo 5/29
San Simeon State Park -- No more visits or early morning walks this season.
However, one final last swing through the sewage ponds on my way to Cambria
recycling revealed a pair of BLUE-WINGED TEAL (adult male & female) on the
east pond at 1530hrs, We 5/31. These were the one and only Blue-winged Teal
seen at all around here this season.
And finally, one more story which I forgot to mention last week. After my
last Su 5/28 'big eye' session, and with the MAGNOLIA WARBLER still in the
bush here, I thought I should maybe explore the wooded San Simeon Point
(across from the old Sebastian Store) and the W. R. Hearst Beach Park
thinking that area might hold a few migrants or even a vagrant or two.
Totally blah. Nothing at all other than scads of House Finches everywhere
and all the other usual and expected residents. Not even a Wilson's Warbler
or any migrant species whatsoever.
However... (there's always got to be some however, huh).... After walking the
perimeter at San Simeon Point, I was bush whacking through the grass and
poison oak to intercept a little used cross trail. Once on that trail and
probably no more than 50 paces from intercepting the main trail on the south
side, a Bobcat just casually walked out in front of me, climbed up on a stump
fully in the open and looked me over at a distance of less than 30 feet.
What strange behavior I thought; I usually see Bobcats more as a blur dashing
across the road then parking themselves fully out in the open at high noon,
and started wondering if she might be ill or rabid or something. My
attention was also drawn to what sounded like a begging baby bird somewhere
nearby; up in the trees, on the ground, I couldn't tell for a while. Then, I
saw a rustle in the matted grass right alongside the trail at the base of a
tree 15 feet in front of me. Initially, I thought I'd interrupted a kill in
progress by the Bobcat.
Closer inspection revealed two tiny Bobcat kittens probably no more than
10-14 days old with eyes that looked like they had just opened. They
couldn't even walk, rather, just shuffled around in the grass and the source
of the baby bird like noises. I took a few steps closer and the female got
off the stump and came closer as well. We were down to 20 feet apart now.
Talk about a photo opportunity!! Full sunlight, fully in the open. Too
perfect!! But... no camera of course :-( We both just stood our ground for
a good 10 minutes. Since she seemed like she was at the least mildly
aggressive, growling and flashing her fangs, I decided that getting any
closer or even trying to pass by on the trail was too risky since I didn't
know what she might be capable of and an attack was the last thing I really
cared to deal with. So, while old San Simeon Point was a total bomb for
birds, that Bobcat encounter was by far the best consolation prize I could
have ever hoped for.
Foreign Travel --
All points north and bound for 'greener' pastures (literally);
I'm outta here gang.
'Pterodroma' has left the building, the county, and the state.
Richard Rowlett (Pterodroma@aol.com)
....on the road again,
via Klamath, Oregon: 'Yellow Rails' or bust, enroute to Seattle
"Discovery consists of seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what
nobody has thought" --Albert Szent-Gyorgi (1893-1986).