PB 2000 (week 4: April 3-9)


Piedras Blancas and north coast summary (week 4: April 3-9)

The season's first Gray Whale cow/calf pair showed up on Tu 4/04 thus
signaling the start of 'Phase 2' of the annual Alaska bound migration of this
coast hugging species and the primary reason I'm here in the first place. We
had a total of five by week's end plus at least one more on Su 4/09. Phase 1
involving adults and juveniles continues to wind down and on schedule. Other
cetacean species seen from shore this week included Minke Whale, Risso's,
Common, and Bottlenose Dolphins.

Last weeks string of magnificent calm days has been gradually breaking down
with the return of the marine layer (mornings) and increasing but tolerable
afternoon longshore northerlies. A telephone number you might find useful is
for current real time wind speeds at the lighthouse. Call 927-0386 anytime.
The little man we keep locked up in the lighthouse will eagerly take your
call 24 hours a day. Just the wind, nuthin' else cuz he doesn't know,
doesn't care :-))

coastal seabirds --

Strong flights of loons, brant, and surf scoters Mo 4/02. Tu was a virtual
zero; We & Th were only a little above that but steadily picking up midweek
through the end. The Mo 4/02 flight of Brant was the first significant
flight noted this Spring (~5,000). Good flights of both Pacific (several
thousands) and Common Loons (a few hundred) on Fr and Sa 4/07-08 kind of
petered out just in time for a rather disappointing Sunday 4/09 dedicated
'big eye' session (see below). Pacific Loons have taken over as the
predominate loon species now. Last week it was running about 3:1
Red-throated : Pacific; this week the trend reversed to about 4:1 Pacific :

Still almost a total bust around here for 'tubenose' seabirds. One or two
immature Black-footed Albatross were present briefly Th 4/06 midday. A few
Sooty Shearwaters started appearing from Th 4/06 onwards finally breaking a
two-week zero dry spell. The general absence of shearwaters so far this
Spring is unusual as they should be becoming fairly plentiful around here by
now, yet more often than not, their conspicuous absence all the way out to
the shelf break (3 nmi) and horizon (6 nmi) has been particularly noticeable.

There were only two Black-legged Kittiwakes this week, single adults on We
4/05 and Su 4/09. The season's first Forster's Terns observed migrating past
PB were a flock of 5 on Sa 4/09.

alcids -- Impressive northward flight of Rhinoceros Auklets observed Sa 4/08
with 415 counted between 0700 and 0720hrs (flocks up to 35), after which it
all but stopped. Pretty good flight early Su 4/09 too. This was the first
time this spring Rhinos have been seen in such impressive numbers. Two
Ancient Murrelets were seen on Th 4/06 and one on Sa 4/08. Not a single
Cassin's Auklet has been detected or even suspected so far this season. When
they are about, they often make for a favorite Peregrine meal.

A dedicated coastal seabird count conducted Sunday 4/09 (0700-0900hrs)
weather: clear, wind NNW 10-15kts, sea state B3/4, visibility clear light
haze to ward horizon. Nonstop effort on the 'big eyes' (Fujinon 25X150
binoculars) resulted in the following selected species counts:

Sooty Shearwater ~40
Short-tailed Shearwater 1 (400 meters)
Red-throated Loon 545
Pacific Loon 2080
Common Loon 76
Brant 26 (very low!)
Surf Scoter 110 (very low!)
White-winged Scoter 2
Red-breasted Merganser 5
Greater Scaup 3 (one male, two female)
Black-legged Kittiwake 1 (adult)
Forster's Tern 11
Common Murre 125
Rhinoceros Auklet 280
migrant shorebirds: Black-bellied Plover, Greater Yellowlegs, Whimbrel,
Marbled Godwit, Surfbird, Short-billed Dowitcher, and a few little 'peep'
like objects.

During the continuous 'big eye' scans, I spotted a tight little flock of 8
Surfbirds initially heading north out nearly a mile and just large shorebirds
sp.at that time. Sighting the 'Point' they turned to head toward shore. Bad
idea I immediately thought and kept my eye on them. About 30 seconds later
as they approached the beach, Mr. Peregrine bolted from it's top of the
lighthouse perch, blasting into the middle of the rocky shore bound
Surfbirds, deftly nabbing one from the group. The flock of 8 made an
immediate emergency departure as a flock of 7.

other stuff....

Ferruginous Hawk -- not seen all week. Fr 3/31 was the last day and I guess
the strong Santa Ana winds that day must have blown it out of here or
inspired it to leave for good. March 31st thus is the latest coastal Hearst
Pasture / Piedras Blancas departure date on record here since I've been
keeping track (1994).

Peregrines -- nothing terrific or dramatic observed other than the Surfbird
incident mentioned above. They've pretty much settled down now to the
occupation of incubation.

hummingbirds -- The Allen's hatched on Tu 4/04 and the before described
luxury nest now hosts two tiny chicks. Only a 15-day incubation period seems
really short. The two Anna's nest and chick occupants continue to do well
and are growing like mad. The chicks in the nest outside the front window
are bubbling over the top now as they pretty much fill up the nest which
appears to remain quite secure despite its exposed location. Since this one
is fully exposed and well below eye level, it's easy and fun to watch the
female making the regular and frequent feeding visits. Yet another nest, my
fourth this season already, was discovered Sa 4/08. Another Allen's, very
much under early construction but already containing two eggs. It always
fascinates me to watch the female constructing the nest whichstarts out as
just a flimsy platform around the already laid eggs. The first time I
discovered such back in 1994, I thought the egg which appeared was just an
infertile 'practice' egg. Imagine my astonishment when a second egg appeared
within 48 hours and the nest grew up around them. Rufous Hummingbirds remain
scarce to almost nonexistent.

other yard birds -- Nothing of note, no migrants and not a single warbler
yet. I've suspended the back yard ground feeding temporarily which means
losing the Spotted Towhee I think. A few House Sparrows settled in and I
don't want to encourage them to get in the habit of hanging around or worse,
nesting here. Once they've moved on, and they will, then we'll open up shop
again. The singing House Wrens have finally given up and moved on too as I

San Simeon State Park --

morning walk (Th 4/06, 0630-0930) -- What a difference an overcast morning
can make; the silence was deafening. The only thing really 'ripping'
(literally!) the silence apart were a couple very irate Great Blue Herons
disturbed from their roost (or nest) by the nearby roost of Turkey Vultures
as they began their day and commenced taking flight. Daylight Savings
doesn't help either this early in April when limited to a time constraints.
69 species, nothing new, no late departures, and missed several
characteristic and usually encountered species (Snowy Egret, Red-tailed Hawk,
Acorn Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Golden-crowned Sparrow). No Winter Wren
again. Hermit Thrush was the highlight in the wooded portion. An adult male
Peregrine was the only other notable, perched on the top of the large rock
just north of the mouth of San Simeon Creek. I thought this one might be the
Piedras male, but since I drove straight back to the lighthouse at 60mph from
there to find the adult male perched on a fence post in front of the house,
I'm guessing that the San Simeon Creek bird must be different ...unless it's
one hell of fast flyer! That rock is best viewed and scoped from the pullout
just south of the bridge (ocean side) and looking back north.

No foreign travel to Monterey Co. this week.

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).