Birding the Beach- A Winters Day in Sunny SoCal

by Bryce W. Robinson

Brown Pelican- Pelecanus occidentalis

Brown Pelican- Pelecanus occidentalis

Over the weekend, I found myself once again at the end of the continent, facing the expansive Pacific Ocean. Something about the ocean draws my spirit, and I feel the desire to answer and explore its waters. There will be a day when I make the journey aboard a boat, and explore what can be found above and below the sea, but for now I find myself satisfied with what lives along its shores.

Years had passed since I last saw the ocean, and I could tell. I watched the waters as if I had never known the sight. The excitement of the bird life that I could see riding the waves and flying about gave me the familiar giddiness that birding often brings. I was in a new place, with new birds, and I was happy.

Previous trips to the beach had no focus on birding. I was a young member of a rowdy crowd of miscreants who focused more on the simple fun that the waters bring. This trip was different, as I found myself solely focused on finding birds and testing my knowledge. As it is in the depths of winter, the crowds were minimal and the birds were active. This provided the perfect setting for photographing the birds and learning the new species that I found.

The shores of southern California house many wintering birds. As I scanned the waters with my binoculars, I was delighted to see the large groups of Western and Clark’s Grebes. Scattered about I found a few members of a bird that is new to me, The Red-throated Loon. I did not expect to see the bird, and at first sight I celebrated with a few strange noises of excitement. Loons wear drab basic plumage, and it is often difficult to identify specific to the species. Still, the Red-throated Loon is distinctive and I feel confident with my ID. I was unable to photograph the loons due to their distance from the shores. I was fairly disappointed, but there will surely be a time and opportunity for me to photograph the bird in the future.

Another bird that I saw but was unable to photograph was a bird that I originally set out to find. I am, of course, a raptor enthusiast, and I had never seen the White-tailed Kite before. In the distance I saw a hovering kite hunting. It was incredible to watch it dance through the air with rhythmic wing beats as it looked for food. Other raptors engage this technique, but the kite is king as its form is unmatched. I will make it a point to find the bird again and photograph the scene of the hunting kite, but for now perhaps a painting will have to suffice.

Overall the birds were friendly and I was able to have many enjoyable photo shoots with numerous birds. I would rather let the pictures speak for the birds than summarize the experience with each species. The delicate detail of life is incredible, and I encourage you to take the opportunity and time to truly experience the birds by engaging the photos, zooming in and exploring the detail. The birds are photographed as one would see them, and many are acting in behaviors precisely as the guidebooks describe.

I hope these photos communicate the beauty of the birds, and encourage you to get out to enjoy and appreciate them as I do.

Long-billed  Curlew- Numenius americanus

Long-billed Curlew- Numenius americanus

Long-billed Curlew- Numenius americanus

Long-billed Curlew- Numenius americanus. Note the closed Nictitating Membrane shielding the eye.

Willet- Tringa semipalmata

Willet- Tringa semipalmata. Adult in basic plumage

Willet- Tringa semipalmata. Adult in basic plumage

Willet- Tringa semipalmata. Adult in basic plumage

Willet- Tringa semipalmata. Adult in basic plumage

Marbled Godwit- Limosa fedoa

Marbled Godwit- Limosa fedoa. Adult in basic plumage

Marbled Godwit- Limosa fedoa. Adult in basic plumage

Marbled Godwit- Limosa fedoa. Adult in basic plumage

Marbled Godwit- Limosa fedoa. Adult in basic plumage

Marbled Godwit- Limosa fedoa. Adult in basic plumage

Black-bellied Plover- Pluvialis squatarola

Black-bellied Plover- Pluvialis squatarola in basic plumage

Black-bellied Plover- Pluvialis squatarola in basic plumage

Black-bellied Plover- Pluvialis squatarola in basic plumage

Sanderling- Calidris alba

Sanderling- Calidris alba. Adult in basic plumage

Sanderling- Calidris alba. Adults in basic plumage

Heerman’s Gull- Larus heermanni

Heermann's Gull- Larus heermanni

Heermann's Gull- Larus heermanni

Juvenile and Adult Heermann's Gull- Larus heermanni

Juvenile Heermann's Gull- Larus heermanni

Yawning juvenile Heermann's Gull- Larus heermanni

Ring-billed Gull- Larus delawarensis

Ring-billed Gull- Larus delawarensis

Ring-billed Gull- Larus delawarensis

"1st winter" Ring-billed Gull- Larus delawarensis

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