Monday, September 7, 2015

Trembling and Giddiness, Globetrotters, Winning Hearts and Minds with Weird

Shorebirds.  Gotta love 'em. I've always loved shorebirds...the first rare birds I ever saw, on the same day, were a god damned Mountain Plover and a fucking Ruff.  So an affection shorebirds is deeply ingrained in me.

I recently went out to Alameda in order to track down my county Baird's Sandpiper, something I used to see on the regular...but for some reason it has not been a forthcoming bird for me in recent years, at least here in the bay area. The juvenile Baird's was easy to find, and quickly the outing devolved from a noble chase into a gluttonous crush fest of small shorebirds. This Baird's was the most cooperative of its species I have ever met, and its proximity caused much trembling and giddiness.

The birds were feeding on a big mat of algae that had piled up along a breakwater at the north end of the Elsie Roemer Bird Sanctuary, which can be a great shorebirding spot at the right tide...considering the number of birds that pile up there, the place is overdue for a solid rarity I reckon. The number of flies feeding on the algae was staggering, and the peeps were loving it.

Baird's Sandpipers have longs wings!  So majestic.

Sorry if you thought that last shot was too far away. Here is a closer one.

Most Western Sandpipers I've seen lately have been juveniles, only a few months old.  I can't fathom how these birds (and many other species) hatch on the tundra and then migrate thousands of miles away in the correct direction a few months later. Well, I can fathom it, but it's still a difficult thing to accept.  A human being is essentially worthless at three months of age, and a peep is a globetrotter.

There are a lot of juvenile Least Sandpipers around now as well. Some of these birds are very bright...too bad their reward for making it through their first year will be looking incredibly drab for the rest of their lives.

These tiny flies must look enormous and juicy if you are the size of a Least Sandpiper.

Black Turnstones will abandon their rocky strongholds if there is enough food to attempt them.

There are a lot of crisp juvenile Sanderlings around now as well. While they do have a distinct preference for wintering in saltwater/brackish habitats, they can do it about anywhere. This bird could decide to drop anchor here in San Francisco Bay for the winter or keep going all the way down to Chile or Argentina.

Black Oystercatchers hold down the breakwater with bigger breakwater buddies.

I haven't been to Radio Road in days. By days, I mean hella days, like hundreds of them. They had some avian cholera popping off in the ponds last year so they had them all drained for a while. Eventually they refilled the ponds and it is essentially back to the good birding spot it once was. A bunch of Forster's Terns bred there this year, so I thought I would lurk down to check out the tern scene and see if any interesting shorebirds could be parsed out from the masses.

There were terns of all ages present...tiny downy chicks, recently fledged juveniles (like this one), and somewhat haggard looking adults.

Whenever an adult tern would fly by, all the juveniles would start begging in unison.

Even the juveniles have some burgeoning elegance in them, although it is mostly buried under young awkwardness.

A pair of Black Skimmers were also present, looking weird as usual and being generally enjoyable to look at. Skimmers never fail to make a mark on someone who has not seen one before. Most birds that are so good at leaving an impression are either majestic, facemelting...or an owl. People really like owls. Skimmers win over hearts and minds by just being weird.

Radio Road is the best spot in northern California to see skimmers, which are irregular north of Santa Barbara County. The birds are pretty reliable for a good chunk of the year and do not require any sort of scoping to get a decent look at.

Hella shorebirds at Radio Road, as usual, but nothing weird outside of a couple Lesser Yellowlegs. Here is an s-shaped roost for the hell of it.

No, I'm not going to do a "why did the tern cross the street" joke, that would be highly regrettable and ultimately tragic. Radio Road is in Redwood Shores and is a good place shorebirds, waterfowl (Eurasian Wigeon in winter) and crushing in general, it's a good spot to check out if you're visiting the bay or want to take a beginner out birding.


  1. "swarms of flies" doesn't initially sound like a pleasant setting or backdrop for a photo shoot, but they actually add a sort of effervescent and playful quality to the shorebird shots, which would, of course, be otherwise most eximious in their own right.

    That last Foster's crossed the road because it made a wrong turn eh? eh? eh?

  2. Wow, I've never seen more than three oystercatchers at a time, and they certainly weren't lined up all pretty for me.

  3. The main Radio Road pond is scheduled to be drained yet again; this time to make way for a new water pipe to the sewage plant. The old pipe leaks and needs to be replaced.