Birding the Beach- A Winters Day in Sunny SoCal
by Bryce W. Robinson
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
Willet- Tringa semipalmata
Marbled Godwit- Limosa fedoa
Black-bellied Plover- Pluvialis squatarola
Sanderling- Calidris alba
Heerman’s Gull- Larus heermanni
Ring-billed Gull- Larus delawarensis
Fascinating to see the Willet when it’s not in breeding plumage. Just yesterday I commented to my shooting friend Mia how much I’m looking forward to their return to Antelope Island this spring. I hope you have great success with the birds down there in your new area.
Thanks Ron. The Willet was certainly fascinating and exciting. I have never seen it dressed as such. It was very neat to see all of the birds that were present on the shore, each when applicable, wearing their basic plumage. The only “peeps” present were the Sanderlings, running about just as the guidebooks describe. They were very cute, I must say. My favorite, save the kite, was the Red-throated Loon, but unfortunately I was unable to capture it in picture. As always, there are new days with new tasks.
Just got caught up on your blog. Amazing as always, and these beach pics are my favorite so far. Seriously incredible. Hope all is well!
Thanks Kacy. Everything is great down here, but it is a little hot.