Sunday, July 24, 2011

Watch It VII--Who Cares About Pigeons?

I won't attempt to conceal this sorry fact about myself: I discriminate against pigeons. When I'm feeling good towards them, I ignore them; at other times, I'll take a few steps out of my way to try to kick one off the pier. In fact, the only pigeons that I really care about are the ones that are black with white wing patches and red webbed feet. In other words, Pigeon Guillemots.

And these lusted-after Pigeon Guillemots were one primary motivations for rolling out of bed at four forty-five in the morning for these weekly seawatches. Note the past tense. I saw one on Friday. It only took twenty hours and two-thirds of the summer to glimpse its velvety black, obese body being carried southward on whirring wings. As the bird disappeared in the shame of defeat, I pledged that, despite this monumental victory, I will continue to seawatch for the rest of the summer.

Newport Pier, Orange, US-CA
Jul 22, 2011 5:45 AM - 7:55 AM
Protocol: Stationary
Comments: Weather: cloudy, light breeze (~6mph, WSW), cool (~65?F). An excellent morning of seawatching before work, and not just because I finally pegged Pigeon Guillemot. Many birds, few fish, and no especially bizarre people. The old dude with the cane I see every week finally gave me enough details about his mystery bird that I was able to identify it as a Caspian Tern. Today, he was picking up old fishing line left strewn around and throwing it away. Cool guy.
28 species (+1 other taxa)

Pacific Loon (Gavia pacifica) 2 I was very surprised to have two--and they were definitely different, because I saw them at the same time. First, I got on a loon coming north. It came by fairly close and I was able to ID it as a PALO. Just as it was crossing the end of the pier, I caught a glimpse of a bird on the water at the bottom of my field of view. Another PALO, quite close to the pier! Both were in basic-type plumage, and I could see that the sitting bird at least quite bleached and ragged.
Western Grebe (Aechmophorus occidentalis) 2
Clark's Grebe (Aechmophorus clarkii) 1 One (accompanied by one of the WEGR) swimming around the pier. The first I've observed here this summer.
Pink-footed Shearwater (Puffinus creatopus) 2
Sooty Shearwater (Puffinus griseus) 250
Black Storm-Petrel (Oceanodroma melania) 35
Brandt's Cormorant (Phalacrocorax penicillatus) 24 These definitely seem to be on the increase. Post-breeders coming from somewhere, I'd presume...
Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) 425 More than I'm used to, and most were fly-bys. There seemed to be at least one line flying low over the water at any given time, and there were a couple BIG flocks (80+) birds. Strangely, I saw very few birds feeding or anything. Correlation to the fishermen's lack of luck? Hmmmm.
Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) 1 A tame juvenile perched on the pier railing, looking for handouts. They learn quick.
Snowy Egret (Egretta thula) 1
Willet (Tringa semipalmata) 24 Shorebirds are picking up!
Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus) 2
peep sp. (Calidris sp.) 9 A small flock heading south...probably WESA.
Red-necked Phalarope (Phalaropus lobatus) 50 I was initially baffled when I kept seeing tiny birds waay out that looked sorta looked like whitish storm-petrels that kept landing on the water. Finally, it clicked--phalaropes! The first I've seen this summer at the pier.
Heermann's Gull (Larus heermanni) 200
Western Gull (Larus occidentalis) 500
California Gull (Larus californicus) 1 One very raggedy near-adult (3rd cycle?) on the beach south of the pier.
Least Tern (Sternula antillarum) 115 Very strange--all the other terns have been decreasing since I started coming, except LETE, which seems to grow every time I come. Or maybe I just didn't notice them when there were thousands of ELTE milling around drowning everything out...
Caspian Tern (Hydroprogne caspia) 8
Royal Tern (Thalasseus maximus) 1
Elegant Tern (Thalasseus elegans) 32 Very, very few.
Black Skimmer (Rynchops niger) 9
Pigeon Guillemot (Cepphus columba) 1 County bird! By far the most exciting thing I've had of all my summer seawatching, even though I've been expecting it sooner or later. I first got on while it around 0630, while it was well north of the pier, and my impression was of an all-dark, medium-sized alcid. I was getting my hopes up, but with the cloud cover and all anything could appear black. I couldn't see the white wing patches, though it was sorta coming in towards shore, so I couldn't really tell. I wasn't at the end of the pier because of all the fishermen, so I lost it when it went behind. I dashed up to the south side and immediately got on it going past the end of the pier, and all doubt was erased--perfect alternate-plumage PIGU, flying directly by at moderate distance. Gorgeous! It LANDED a short distance south of the pier--way too far for photos, etc., but still nice and close for scope views, and way closer than the usual SOSH/BLSP zone. After sitting for a minute, it dove twice (very abrupt jump with open wings--funky) and then took off again and continued south. Total observation time was maybe six or seven minutes. In flight, looks like a small, black murre--same "flying uphill" aspect, perhaps less pronounced, and the head looks really small and the body very fat. The white wing patches were less obvious than I had been expecting--they were easily missed when the bird wasn't roughly even with the pier. Dark underwings noted when the bird stood up to flap while on the water. Saaawweeeet!
Cassin's Auklet (Ptychoramphus aleuticus) 9
Rhinoceros Auklet (Cerorhinca monocerata) 1 One fly-by going "north," fairly distant. The first I've observed here this summer--finally!
Rock Pigeon (Columba livia) 60
American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos) 1
Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica) 10
House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) 6

1 comment:

RJ Baltierra said...

Do you use a scope to spot those pelagic birds? When is it the best time to seawatch? Are you able to spot shearwaters from shore without a scope? I have yet to get shearwaters on my bird list. Your answers would be appreciated.

~RJ Baltierra, fellow birder.