Black Oystercatcher Search; Yes, It’s a Bird!

It’s been more than a month since seeing a new bird for my life list. With my desire for cooler daytime air temperature, I headed to California’s San Diego area. Dreams of cool ocean breezes, riding my bicycle or walking the beaches to find a black oystercatcher were on my mind for this quick trip to the west coast.

Along the west coast are numerous beaches. Bird watchers reported seeing one or two black oystercatchers along the coast. The chances of me seeing the bird? Honestly slim when only one or two birds are seen!

Learn About the Bird …

Before the trip, I wanted to learn all I could about the bird. Where do they hang out? What do they eat? I sketched the bird so its body shape and colors were in my head. I cannot miss their long red bill and how they carry themself. Black oystercatchers eat mussels so I look for them too. These birds do not eat oysters, but in 1731 an English naturalist observed the bird eating oysters so named it so.

My sketch of a black oystercatcher

Where is the bird?

For a few days, I walked the beaches from north of Dana Point Harbor to La Jolla Cove area of San Diego. At some sites, I went a second time at a different time of day. Just by chance I was looking at a Google map where another person reported, via the eBird website, seeing 2 black oystercatchers a few days prior. It was a beach site, just a stone’s throw, south of my more southern area of observations. So I went there!

Everyone is at the beaches this summer. I’m the only one walking along with camera and binoculars so I am often asked questions: what am I photographing, what is that bird over there, what do I hope to see, and I hear their stories. One man and I were talking about the gulls acting like they own the beach. He told me of a young gull walking right into his hotel  room here by the beach. We laughed as he wished me luck finding a black oystercatcher.

The Search Continued for the black oystercatcher …

As I was heading back to my van, especially since a local person reminded me I can only park for 2 hours at the spot I was in, I thought it would be crazy for any bird except seagulls to be hanging around on a beach with all these people. So I walked even further from people when I noticed a body shape and color not like a gull. I thought I was dreaming, strongly hoping, wanting to envision the bird and in actuality it really did look like a black oystercatcher! 

Expecting most of my photos to be the beach, surfers and overall scenery, I did not have my longer telephoto lens on my camera. I walked slowly and with no flurry of activity as I took photos. Creeping ever so close to not disturb the bird, yet also making it possible for me to capture a photo worthy of some editing for a good final photo. I could not believe it, the bird looked one way and then another so I could take a few photos. When I looked down at my phone to drop a pin for location, the bird flew off. That was it! I had my observation, my photos and the bird was gone! Amazing luck!

Black oystercatcher!
Shellfish these birds eat

I saw the black oystercatcher at Cuvier Park, also called Coastal Boulevard Park, just south of the more popular La Jolla Cove in California where brown pelicans and seals are seen by thousands of visitors. No one else on this beach saw this black oystercatcher … I could not believe it … yet I saw it! My search is over. Someday I hope to see 2 black oystercatchers feeding on a mussel because I would like to see how they do it. Until then, I’m good!

Surfer was fun to watch
Black oystercatcher before flying off!

Great Blue Heron in Flight!

Quite unexpectedly I was in the right location … meaning light … to capture photographs of a great blue heron before it flew off, as it flew by and then landed.

Heron was hot and trying to cool own.

It was a very hot day and the bird was by a water’s edge and then flew! Quickly I snapped a series of photos as the great blue heron flew past me.

Wow, beautiful wings!
Bird takes off…
Bird passing me…
Where is the bird headed?
Heron lands in a nearby pond to cool off!

Spectacular to see the bird so close to me and with an opportunity to take many photos. It was a hot day so I know it enjoyed the water and I enjoyed watching the bird. Fun fact: Although the great blue heron stands 4 feet tall and is the largest North American heron species, it only weighs 5 to 6 pounds. Why? Just like most birds, they have light, hollow bones! Some days I wish I did too!

Common Gallinule … A “Common” Bird?

When you say that’s a common bird, I think common raven, common grackle, common loon, or common yellowthroat. Or simply a common bird in my neighborhood: Greater roadrunner, lesser goldfinch or house finch. So it is interesting to me when the name of a bird includes the word “common”. I am sure not to think of a common gallinule! 

In some areas the more common rail species is the American coot with its white frontal shield … they are common here. However, recently I could not miss seeing a Common gallinule with its bright red frontal shield. Look at this bird pictured in the photo below!

Common gallinule

A common gallinule loves the well-vegetated wetland, such as in our Sweetwater Wetland area in Tucson, Arizona. I love seeing this bird which is truly not common for me to see. I have to catch sight of this bird on land and look for its yellow legs! Some day … and in the meantime, I’ll enjoy what birds I do see! I hope you are outdoors, enjoying the air and water with birds too!

The food this bird loves from a wetland.

How Herons Cool Off, Really?!

Birds have no sweat glands, but need to regulate their body temperature like you and I on a hot day. The other day I saw a great blue heron in a wooded area by a pond’s edge, yet could not get a photo so I walked the trail and looped back 50 minutes later to see if the bird emerged. It did!

The great blue heron had its wings open to catch a breeze. I could understand the need to cool off in the almost 100 degree air temperature, but I actually had never seen a bird doing this behavior. The bird held his wings open for 8 minutes.

A cooling technique.

Then the heron closed its wings and opened its mouth as shown in this photo:

Heron trying to cool itself this way.

Birds open their wings to circulate air to their hot skin and lower body temperature. Passerines or perching birds will pant to lose heat through their respiratory system, but a great blue heron is not a passerine. It will lose heat through a rapid vibration of their upper throat and thin floor of their mouth. I was across the pond from the bird; however, I could see the bird’s throat vibrating. Eleven minutes later the bird had its wings and mouth open.

Bird really wants to cool down, wings and mouth open, throat vibrating.

This bird was working hard to cool off. It had been a half hour observing this bird, so this was the last photo I took … I needed to cool down my own body too. Fun fact I learned while researching birds cooling themselves: turkey vultures urinate on their legs to capitalize on evaporative cooling … what? really?, wow! Isn’t it fun to learn something new everyday?

Still cooling down… it’s been a hot day!

Birds at San Luis Obispo & Avila Beach, CA

I actually discovered a new bird at San Luis Obispo as we hiked near Laguna Lake in San Luis Obispo and another new bird while walking the Harford Pier in Avila Beach! So exciting to find new birds and to enjoy those I already can easily identify!

At San Luis Obispo’s Laguna Lake:

Grasshopper sparrow with a bit of yellow above eye … new bird for me!

At Avila Beach:

Pigeon Guillemot caught something after his very deep dive!
A new bird for me …pigeon guillemot and now I see it flying by!

Of course there were many other birds to observe, but I enjoyed time watching this downy woodpecker at Laguna Lake where we hiked a few miles of trails. I suspected this woodpecker to be young/juvenile as it was fascinated with a spider’s web as I watched too, but here it is just checking out the bark and where to peck in the bark.

Downy woodpecker

There is plenty to do in this area of California; hiking, bicycling, shopping, wine tasting and spending time at the beach. Once the fog rolls out there is often a windy, sunny day to enjoy!

Please, Give Me A Minute!

How am I to identify this bird if it does not stay at least a minute for me to get a good look at it? I am so impressed with fellow birders who look in the sky at a bird flying overhead, often simply seeing their silhouette, and can identify the bird. Truth be told, I cannot dismiss their identification because I have no idea what the bird is! No doubt, they are correct … and then onto the next bird …

A bird pops from behind a branch. This bird is new to me so I really want to photograph it … and I must do so quickly! I capture its eye ring in a photo; that will be a helpful clue when identifying the bird. Then I notice how it sits on the tree branch… its body shape, color of feathers, so many helpful clues … and then it is flying off! Do I have enough information to identify this bird?

Yes, I was in a good location to photograph it, plus with enough seconds for me to capture photos and clues for identification … thank goodness! This new bird for my life list is a plumbeous vireo! I love adding life list birds with a photo; then I know for sure I have seen and identified the bird correctly.

It was a fast minute; thanks for hanging around!

MO’s Katy Trail for Cycling, Part 1 of 2

2500 miles driven eastward; now continuing westward with bicycling time to be part of my agenda! Missouri’s roads allowed me time away from the highway interstates as I drove to bicycle trailheads. I built my van’s interior wrapped around the concept of storing my bicycle under my bed platform and yet no bicycle ride had happened thus far. I decided for my return drive across the USA to stop at a couple of trail segments along Missouri’s famous rail-to-trail, the Katy Trail. The Katy Trail stretches across most of the state. It is 237 miles with half of it paralleling Lewis and Clark’s path up the Missouri River. This trail is America’s longest “rail-to-trail” project and enjoyed by hikers and bicyclists, locals and visitors. 

Katy Trail

As I pulled my bicycle off the sliding drawer in the van, along with the front tire and gear, advantages and disadvantages of the set-up became clear and may be worth rethinking another time for my loading of it all. Anyway, I cycled down the trail from Hartsburg access point and at 1.13 miles from the van I had a FLAT tire! Darn it! Fortunately it was the front tire. I flipped the bicycle over and patched the hole since I did not want to use my spare inner tube so early in the ride. A couple stopped, asked if all was okay, and we continued to chat while I patched the tube. They were going the opposite direction from me and mentioned a detour ahead. Apparently water was flowing over the trail and cyclists were getting wet feet. Another guy rode by and asked if all was well … yes, and almost done!

Flip bicycle back over and ride!

I rode to the detour sign and decided I did not need wet feet. I turned around, rode 11 miles in the other direction. So many birds were chirping! There is nothing easy about birding while cycling. Beyond enjoying time to take a good photo of a bird, I sometimes need one to help me identify the bird. Despite the challenge, I think I identified 17 different species in the 3 hours I was riding. Most numerous bird was the northern cardinal!

American redstart

Oh, did I mention it was 92 degrees! Freaking hot and humid! My body was not used to this temperature; it was in shock since this entire trip I usually had 55 degree weather and only the last couple of days 80 degrees. In this 90 plus degree weather, I worked at keeping my body fed, hydrated, and in shady areas while birding. 

The mostly flat trail is hard-packed sand, crossing creeks on nicely built bridges, paralleling the Missouri River, passing conservation areas and agricultural lands, with benches to sit and relax, and overall a pleasant scenic ride. There are a few businesses on the trail, such as the Missouri River Relief and campgrounds, but overall this section of trail has few amenities. I cycled 23.3 miles this day.

Boat henge!

We Rescued A Hawk!

It all started with me seeing a hawk sitting on a log! 

I grabbed my camera, started clicking away, and moved closer to the hawk before it flew off…. yet it did not fly off! It never moved! It watched me!

I gave it more space, thinking it needed more space. As I moved to the other side of the road, it still sat on the log!

I continued walking a short distance down the road to check out a local piece of property. When I returned, the hawk was still sitting on the log!

I shared my hawk observation and concern with one of my younger sisters. She asked if it had been more than an hour since I last saw the hawk. Yes. And so we went to where I had seen the hawk.

The hawk was still there, sitting on the log, exactly as I had last seen it. I was very concerned! We saw some feathers on the ground. I had seen a feather falling off the hawk at my first photo. Is there a broken wing? What had happened? Side-swiped by a motorized vehicle? Or what? This hawk will not survive if it does not care for itself. 

My sister agreed with my concern. We telephoned the Pocono Wildlife Rehabilitation and Education Center and asked them if they would care for the hawk if we brought it in. They said we were their heroes for doing this and yes.

Back at the house, we grabbed a pair of thick leather gloves, towels and a cardboard box, then returned to the hawk. My sister was the brave one; she had the best sense on how to approach the hawk. All I could see was a sharp beak and talons, wondering how she could creep behind the bird, cover it with a towel and grab it. 

As she did approach the hawk, the bird saw her, tried to make itself larger by spreading its wings and as she tried to put the towel on it, the hawk flew. It flew up and then all of a sudden it seemed to have dropped like a lead weight straight down to the ground. What!?!

We hoped it did not land in the lake. We eventually found it between a grounded wooden dock and a rock. With its body angled between the dock and rock, the hawk was again trying to look large. The hawk was not happy; mouth open, powerful feet with talons up, but truly in an awkward position.

My sister grabbed a foot, put the hawk in a towel and into the cardboard box. Two hours later the bird was delivered to the wildlife facility.

We filled out the required state paperwork and left. A couple of days later we received an update: the hawk had a really bad concussion and was very dehydrated. The hawk is slowly recuperating; good news! They were glad we brought the hawk to them.

We took the hawk to the Pocono Wildlife Rehabilitation and Education Center, located in northeastern Pennsylvania. It is a non-profit, all-volunteer wildlife care facility. More information can be found here: poconowildlife.com Check them out, donate if you can, and be aware places such as this exist!

Hawk when first seen by me
Hawk when we returned more than hour later; no movement

Long Point State Park … NY fog, rain and birds!

Why am I not surprised that it is raining on this trip and raining in upstate New York? No worries, birds are around. My friend and I visited Long Point State Park on the east side of Cayuga Lake in Aurora, New York. 

The rain let up, the fog rolled in, but we still walked to the lake’s edge. We immediately saw the silhouette of common loons! These birds bought back wonderful memories for me! I used to hike 4 miles to an Adirondack lake where I knew loons were nesting; few people knew of this location. Also and often, a friend and I would canoe to and set up our tent on an island on Stillwater Reservoir. We loved hearing the eerie calls of the loons at night. 

We saw other birds on this park visit … so we continued to walk the lake’s shoreline and a section of a hiking trail.

Here are some of the birds we had seen:

Common loon
Warbling vireo
Caspian terns
Common merganser

We watched 6 buffleheads. Two male buffleheads were being aggressive toward each other and the female bufflehead swam away!

Female bufflehead followed by male bufflehead
Bufflehead conflict between two males

And then, the best way to end a day … relax with a friend at a local brewery … Aurora Brewery … and drink a craft beer; time for a German style lager! AAAHHH!!!

Visiting NYS’s Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge & Other Stops

A few years ago I bicycled, solo and self-contained, from Minnesota to Indiana, then across New York State. After weeks cycling and a few days of absolute drenching rain, I stopped short of Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge. I had hoped to enjoy some wildlife viewing with its diverse habitats, but it did not happen. When a friend and I could visit the refuge on this trip, I said, let’s go! We lucked out with an overcast, not rainy day; off we went! 

Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge is a huge property, located northeast of Seneca Falls, NY. There is a Welcome Center at the start of a 3 mile Wildlife Drive. At specific locations we could hop out of the car and walk to a blind. Certain times of year a hiking/bicycling trail is open for use too. One could spend hours here and the other parcels of land within the refuge. 

Warblers were arriving in NYS! Yellow warbler and yellow-dumped warblers were part of our 20 different bird specie sightings.

Yellow warbler singing
Yellow-rumped warbler

Our second stop was the Montezuma Audubon Center, north of Savannah, NY. There was an informational center and hiking trail network. Thanks to the director, since we were looking for specific birds, he sent us on our way to Guy’s Marsh. We were welcomed by tree swallows and Eastern bluebirds as we started the mile trail around the marsh. We eventually opted for a shorter walk and the observation tower. There we watched 2 muskrats fighting with each other. We guessed the third muskrat was a female as it swam away.  More birds seen and I was surprised to see a Caspian tern.

Muskrats
Not sure any of it was friendliness
Caspian tern