Birding and dead Stuff

Haven't blogged in awhile mainly because of a disfunctional blogging app. I have upgraded my IPad to Apple's new iOS8 but my old blogging app that I learned on hasn't updated and it's current version is unusable. Could have used my old computer to blog but I don't think I would know how. This post will be done on Blogsy and I'm totally unfamiliar with it. You will see how this post goes and who knows, maybe I've found a new blogging app.

The “official” SOS shorebird survey period ended on the 15th of this month but some of us just keep birding on. Winter shorebird data needs to be gathered. I have to state that I don't think that the shorebird activity at Virgin Creek Beach has been that good but the tern activity along with the Black Skimmer back in June has been the highlight of the surveys. Elegant Terns were the most numerous of any year on record. During my last “official” SOS survey I witnessed an example of kleptoparasitism between some Heermann's Gulls and Elegant Terns. I'll let you look it up. Also that day I found 4 Common Terns on the beach. While they are not rare at this time in Mendocino County they are hard to find on the beach.

One of them seemed to have an injury under it's left wing.

Earlier in the month, coming back from an SOS survey, there were 6 White-faced Ibis at Pudding Creek. They are becoming more common in Mendocino.

That same day there was a “rare” coastal Ring-billed Gull at Virgin Creek.

We have actually had some rain during the past two weeks. I missed a SOS survey because of it. I was able to get to the beach yesterday. The Pectoral Sandpiper was the star. We had lot's of them last year and there were 3 yesterday. The Pectoral Sandpiper is not a small shorebird. I thought this picture was interesting showing it's size compared to the kelp on the beach.

If you followed my blog last year you would know that I walked up Ten Mile Beach often. I had not been there since California State Parks finished taking out the old washed out Haul Road. Earlier this month I decided to make that first trip. Birding wasn't all that great but I did find a few interesting things. First of all this is how it looks with the Haul Road taken out. Both of these pictures feature an area, Inglenook Creek, where I birded last year.

It's not pretty out there but sand should erase these tracks in a short time. One of the things that I found during my walk was the sand covered by Velella Velella, By-the-Wind Sailors. This picture shows a combination of them freshly washed up and a few older ones.

This is one that was found during a recent pelagic trip. It's amazing that they die by the thousands, if not millions, when they wash up on the beach.

Please check out Wikipedia for more information on these creatures. Another thing I found was a dead Mola Mola. Credit goes to Alison Cebula, state parks Snowy Plover specialist, for telling me what it was. It's also called an Ocean Sunfish.

Here's a picture of a live one taken during the pelagic trip out of Fort Bragg.

You can read about the Mola Mola at Wikipedia. They are an interesting fish. They eat Jellyfish which we have plenty of here. Mola Mola, Jellyfish, Velella Velella, and Elegant Terns are all an indication of a warming ocean.

My Ten Mile Beach walk has been about dead things. I have to continue that theme with this picture of a dead River Otter found near Fenn Creek up near the old Haul Rd. I have always thought of Ten Mile Beach as a graveyard. There has always been lot's of dead carcasses there.

So let's talk about life. During the recent Mendocino Coast Audubon Society sponsored “beginner” pelagic trip, which I got to go on because of a last minute cancellation, we got a surprise when a Townsend's Warbler came on board. We were well out to see and the warbler tried to fly off but kept coming back to the boat. This is not that unusual. Birds get lost all the time. At one time it landed on my shoulder. I got this picture.

Good news! Captain Randy found a box, the warbler was captured, boxed and released when we got back to shore. It was last seen in the trees across from our mooring point. We wish it the best.

Birding at the Little River Airport has been fairly good. In the Fall local migrants, Yellow Warblers, Western Tanagers and something unexpected, always seem to show up. So far the unexpected is a Say's Phoebe. Not a good picture but you go with the picture given you.

Double-crested Cormorants are fairly rare at the airport. This picture is a little unusual for it's location. It was actually watching a plane go by.

Had some disappointment this last week. Dorian Anderson the birder who is biking across the United States in search of 600 species bypassed our section of the coast and moved down Highway 101 to the Bay Area. He actually stayed at the Ukiah Best Western for a night. I had planned to meet him on the Haul Road and bike with him. Maybe even help find him a bird he needed. Didn't happen.

Instead I helped this guy.

While I was birding Navarro Beach Road he came running down the road expecting to reconnect with Highway 1 later. I had to disappoint him and and tell him that that wasn't going to happen. With a few choice words about maps he turned around. In a write up in the local paper I learned his name is Jamie Ramsay. He's from London and he's running from Vancouver, British Columbia to Buenos Aires, Argentine. He expects the trip to take two years. He's riding for several fine charities. You can view his website here. I wish him the best.

I'm going to publish this post. The new app is better in some ways but not in others. Will have to see what the end product looks like.

It seems that the link to Jamie Ramsey's website is wrong. The correct address is If this link doesn't work you are on your own.

Maybe I’m Just Too Old!/Birding News

I’ll get to the, Maybe I’m Just Too Old, at the end of this post. First we’ll do the birding news. There have been several interesting birds during the last several SOS Surveys.

A bird I looked for last year but couldn’t find is the Elegant Tern. This year I’ve seen five of them with other birders seeing upwards of twelve at one time. The Elegant Tern moves up the coast after breeding so they bring their still begging young. I’ve read that warmer water brings them north in greater numbers. This picture is a first year bird.


A bird rare here in Mendocino County is the American Avocet. According to Ebird it’s even rarer on the coast. Found this bird in the morning fog. After the survey while biking north I looked down on the beach and saw a group of about 15 people in the  area where the Avocet had been. With Summer ending maybe the shorebirds can reclaim the sands.


Our SOS Surveys record dead birds on the beach. There has been a slight uptick in dead birds recently. Many are unidentifiable but some are in good shape. I believe that this dead seabird is a headless Scripp’s Murrelet based on the black and white pattern and the bright white underwings. I have only seen a few Scripps’s Murrelets during pelagic trips. Without the head I cannot rule out the Guadalupe Murrelet.


I’m expecting the birding at the Little River Airport to start picking up as we get further  into Fall. This picture is a very young Osprey. Note the white scaling on the wings and red eye.


Just recently I read about a report titled, Observer aging and long-term avian survey data quality, on the ABA Blog. You can find the write-up at the National Geographic News site. It’s titled, The Perils of Aging: A Problem for Citizen Science?, with a subtitle of, “Errors creep into bird population surveys as volunteers get older, new study says.”

I was mildly amused that I could ride the MTA at the senior rate and I guess I qualify for the Denny’s senior meals but this report bases it’s results on birders over 50. That’s hitting below the belt! 

“Each spring, thousands of binocular-clad volunteers scour natural areas across North America to count birds in the name of science. This gargantuan effort helps scientists take the pulse of bird populations and make important management decisions—but errors creep into the data as volunteers age, according to a new study.

Bird-watchers over 50 weren’t as proficient as younger volunteers—those under 40—at detecting 13 (of 43 examined) songbird species during surveys…”

You can read the full report that was published in the June issue of Ecology and Evolution here.

I guess the upside of this is that I can sleep in and avoid the battles with mosquitoes but I bet I’ll still get the calls to help out with our local surveys.


The Return of the Big River Bird Survey.


A week ago Tuesday I was on the west end of the Big River Haul Rd. leading a Spring bird survey. I had been approached by Nicolet Houtz, Trails and Stewardship Coordinator, for Mendocino Land Trust, to see if I would be willing to lead some surveys, something I’ve done in the past. “Since 2003, working in collaboration with Mendocino Coast Audubon Society and Mendocino High School’s SONAR program, as well as trainers from Mad River Biologists, Big River Stewards have pursued a long-term study of bird populations at Big River.” These surveys will establish a baseline from which to monitor changes to the property. I first started doing these surveys probably in 2007 and continued through 2011. Since the death of Matt Coleman in 2011 the surveys have have been infrequent, if not on “hold”. Nicolet’s job is getting them restarted. I’ve written about Big River and Matt Coleman before. You can find that post here. You can find a report on the Big River Bird Surveys on the Mendocino Land Trust’s website.

The surveys are taken on 3 different parts of the Big River watershed, the West Haul Rd., the East Haul Rd., and Laguna Marsh. Each survey route consists of about 10 or 11 fixed survey points about 1/3 of a mile apart. This mostly allows for not recounting birds and since they are fixed you can get a feel for any changes at that point. Below is a map of the points for the West and East Haul Rds.

The surveys at each point is for a 10 minute period. During that time we count every bird seen or heard, trying not to count any birds more that once. This year’s surveys were accompanied by lots of Mosquitos. That not always the case. These surveys remind me just how many Wilson’s Warblers, Pacific-slope Flycatchers, Swainson’s Thrushes, and Song Sparrows there are along Big River. This year we had 2 Hermit Warblers (more on them later) and a softly singing White-throated Sparrow which is rare here at this time. During these surveys we have the rare privilege of driving the Haul Rd. behind the locked gate.

Near survey point 5 we stopped to check out the Double-crested Cormorant Rookery. This is the only “known” DCCO rookery in Mendocino County and with binoculars we could see 5 or 6 active nests. Will have to take my scope next time to observe them better. This rookery was discovered after a Spring Big River Bird Survey in 2011. We had noticed cormorants carrying what we thought was nesting material. I went back later and found the rookery.


On the way back we stopped to check out the Great Blue Heron Rookery which can be seen directly south from Matt’s Memorial Bench. We could only find 2 active nests. That’s Nicolet in back and Linda Perkins of the Sierra Club in front.

I have not been birding as much this year as I did last year. Still catching up with things around the house and my reading. I have continued my weekly Saturday birding at the Little River Airport and have moved to Thursdays for my “off” season SOS Shorebird Surveys at Virgin Creek Beach. Still using the MTA and my bike to get there. In fact I had a 88 day period between gas fill ups for my truck which is a new record. Some of that was caused by rain but it seems the less birding I do the more gas I save. How sad!

At the airport I have found that most of the migrating birds have arrived early this year, some as much as much as 12 days early (Allen’s Hummingbird). Only Wilson’s Warbler and Pacific-slope Flycatcher were on time. I found my first “Spring” Hermit Warbler “airport” record this morning during a bike ride around the airport. With the two we found on Big River (in a place where I’ve never seen them) and the two I heard singing Monday while walking around the “Wood’s” where I live, Hermit Warblers seem plentiful this year.

At Virgin Creek Beach the shorebird surveys during late Winter and early Spring have been the worst I’ve ever seen since I been surveying. Surfbirds, Sanderlings and Black-bellied Plovers were all in short supply. It picked up a little this last month and last Thursday (during some rain) I found 3 Ruddy Turnstones on the rocks.

Looking forward to the start of the regular SOS Shorebird Surveys in July.


Last SOS Survey and Last Airport Walk of the Year

Friday I did my last SOS Survey of the year at Virgin Creek Beach. While I didn’t find anything new I was pleased to find 8 Whimbrels and 1 Willet on the rocks. I haven’t seen them there for sometime. 

Saturday was my last birding walk of the year at the Little River Airport. Had 39 species, a good number at this time, but no new year birds. I did have a first. I heard two calling birds and realized that they were Peregrine Falcons. They were dive-bombing each other and twice locked their talons and spun for a very short time. I’ve never seen this happen before. It all happened so fast that I didn’t get a picture. 

Another thing that I noticed was that the Wilson’s Snipe that I found in the main pond seems to be wintering there. I guess that is another first. This picture is a long shot.

It would appear that 250 year birds is my final number unless something happens during Monday or Tuesday, my work days. 250 birds is better than what I thought I would get at the start of the year. The final carbon producing truck miles saved will probably be 2929 miles. I had wanted to break 3000 but when you add in miles I birded when driving for the Lodge at the Woods it’s well over that.

There are still a few subjects I want to write about before the year is done. Will try to get to them.

Last Weeks Birding

Because of the holidays it’s getting a little hard to stay timely in my posts. Last Thursday I decided to explore my section of the Fort Bragg Christmas Bird Count(FBCBC) that was scheduled for Saturday. More on Christmas Bird Counts in a later post. The problem was that it was cold and very windy. We could only hope that the winds died down for the count. High winds would probably be worst than rain for finding birds. Neither is appreciated during the count. Below is a screen shot of the Fort Bragg CBC.


Area 8 is my section. It includes the community of Mendocino, Big River, and the Mendocino Woodlands State Park. I had planned to take my bike and ride the Haul Rd. and scope the ocean off the headlands. Because of the winds I only walked a short way up the Haul Rd. I was at least able to find Common Goldeneyes, a target bird for the count because it can be hard to find them elsewhere in the circle. Went home early.

Friday I did my SOS Survey at Virgin Creek Beach and then went up to Lake Cleone. Found three Dunlin on Virgin Creek Beach and an American Bittern at Lake Cleone. Both birds have never been found on the FBCBC before so they were at least count week birds (Note: They were not found during the count). Also found two Redheads and while trying to get a picture of one of them I got this picture. I sort of like these kinds of pictures. There’s a Redhead somewhere in there.

I am still stuck on 249 bird species with over 2887 carbon producing truck mile saved.

Next we’ll talk about the “pros” and “cons” of Christmas Bird Counts.


Added a Long-tailed Duck/Final Gas Usage Report/Weeks Birding

Had to fill up my truck Thursday. It was almost empty. I had been wanting to go into the New Year before doing this but a late bus and the Thanksgiving Holiday forced me to use my truck more than I had planned. I went 50 days between fill ups this time which wasn’t bad. My record is 56 days which I did twice. Before this “green” year I was going an average of 21 days. I have saved lot’s of money on gas this year. I only put gas in my truck 8 times which averages out to once every month and a half.

Where did I use gas? Most of it was getting to bus stops. Then there was getting to the recycling centers, banking, and shopping for large items for home projects. As always I tried to get as much birding done while taking my truck into town.

Thursday I stopped at the Rose Memorial Cemetery but still no luck on the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. Scoped off of Ward Ave. and spotted a Mendocino County rare female Long-tailed Duck. We see 1 or 2 every winter. It was too far out to get a picture so this Wikipedia picture will have to do. It’s a little darker then the one I saw. I didn’t see a credit for the picture.



From Laguna Point I spotted what I was sure were Cassin’s Auklets which would be a new “year” bird but because they were so far out I’ve decided not to claim them.

Friday I did my normal SOS Survey at Virgin Creek Beach. While on the bus I spotted the Snow Geese still at the Dana Gray Elementary School. It would have been a good sighting from a bus if I hadn’t already found them on Wednesday. While I didn’t find anything new at Virgin Creek there were 9 Snowy Plovers on the beach in the afternoon. I had heard about them being there earlier. The entire flock had been down at Ten Mile Beach and why they have split is unknown. 

I added a new bird for my Little River Airport list on Saturday.  I heard a strange call coming from a marshy part of one of the ponds at the west end. I suspected a rail and reviewed their calls on my Itouch. It turned out to be a Sora “keep” call. I rarely use my Itouch to call in birds but rails are rarely seen so we talked back and forth for a minute. I never saw the rail. Soras are not a year bird but I was happy to add it to the airport list as it was a bird I was expecting to find there at some point.

New totals are 249 bird species with over 2859 carbon producing truck miles saved.

It’s Cold What am I Doing Counting Birds/Weeks Birding

We are finally getting some Winter weather here on the coast but compared to what’s happening in the rest of the country  and Great Britain and Northern Europe our weather is mild. On Friday the weather report was for a cold rain. I decided to do my Virgin Creek SOS Survey on Thursday morning and then continue down to Ten Mile Beach for what will probably be my last walk for the year there. I believe this was the coldest temperature I’d been out on a bike. Inland Mendocino set new low temperature records with 20°F. 

I used my early MTA pickup opportunity in Mendocino to get down to the drop off point in Fort Bragg before 7:30AM. Needless to say I had the Haul Rd. and Virgin Creek Beach to myself. I found the bridge over Virgin Creek and portions of the beach to be iced over. It was much more dramatic in black and white.

While on the beach I checked the temperature and it was 31°F.  I saw little Least Sandpipers wading in the creek. How do they do that? There were actually good numbers of shorebirds on the beach. Almost 60 Black-bellied Plovers, 30 Black Turnstones, 18 Surfbirds with a few Dunlin and numerous Killdeer.

I continued down to Ward Ave. for a walk up Ten Mile Beach. I found another 60+ Black-bellied Plovers with more Dunlins and over 100 Sanderlings. During the day I saw a Merlin at Pudding Creek, an American Kestral at Virgin Creek, heard a Red- shouldered Hawk at Virgin Creek, and two Peregrine Falcons on Ten Mile. Most of our Peregrines on the West Coast are of the Peale’s subspecies but I believe this falcon is of the Tundra subspecies.

I also found a coastal Say’s Phoebe at the very start of the walk. They are uncommon in Mendocino County.

I got far enough up Ten Mile Beach to see part of the wintering Snowy Plover flock. I hear that there have been 53 of them on the beach. With all the falcons in the area and the cold weather I’m sure that they and other shorebirds are under some stress. 

Now that State Parks can proceed with their removal of the old Haul Rd. it looks like they are preparing for it. I found piles of these barrier material all along the road.

Saturday’s birding at the Little River Airport was also cold and windy. While we had no snow there were piles of hail on the frozen ground. I found another (same?) River Otter in the main pond. In my 8 years of birding the airport this is only the second time I’ve seen them and both have been this year. You can read about my first sighting and speculation on where they are coming from in this previous post.

The ponds have a little more water in them since the rain and they were supporting 6 Hooded Mergansers (3 pairs) that day.

No new birds were found this week so I’m at 247 birds with over 2836 carbon producing truck miles saved. Can I make it to 250 birds and 3000 miles? Only time will tell.


Well it Finally Happened!/It Reminds Him of Maui

I’m was waiting at the Mendocino Main Street bus stop and realized that the bus was late. I was of course going to Virgin Creek for my Friday SOS Survey. After being 20 minutes late I called dispatch and they told me that the bus had broken down in Albion and that Jeff, the North Coast Supervisor, was taking another bus down to rescue any passengers. This created a dilemma for me, did the bus breakdown going south and would still have to connect with Route 75 at Navarro Beach Rd. or did it breakdown coming back north and was heading to pick me up in Mendocino. Another factor would be how long it would take to get another bus down to Albion. I made a decision to drive my truck into Fort Bragg. I’ll tell you why. This bus breakdown was somehow caused by my wife!! The last words she spoke to me before I left were, “I wish that you were driving your truck into town because you could pickup some things (meaning heavy) for me.” I have gotten into what I think is a good attitude of grudgingly using gas in my truck. In this case, I at least had a good reason for driving. Time wise I made a good choice because as I was getting into Fort Bragg I saw the relief bus heading south.

Because of the weather report I was expecting some heavy winds for the day. Apparently that happened during the night (with power outages) in the inland sections of Mendocino and other areas south but not in my section of the Mendocino Coast. We actually had some rain earlier in the week with almost 3/4 of an inch in Little River but on a whole we are having very cold (for us) mornings and warm days. I checked my “Skymate” during my survey and right at the surf line it was 65°F with infrequent 8.5mph max winds. A fellow beach walker whom I know as Daniel said it reminded him of Maui. I was overdressed thinking it was a two sweatshirt day. This is what a “Skymate” looks like. I know some of you guys only look at the pictures:-)

I found nothing new and exciting along the coast so I decided to pickup the items my wife wanted, get a sandwich at the local “Subway” and find a quiet place to eat and watch the birds go by. I decided that the inner harbor along the Noyo River was that place. The birds going by were mostly Buffleheads.

I had parked my truck at Glass Beach and biked down to Virgin Creek from there so at least I saved some carbon producing truck miles (about three). Still at 246 birds with over 2810 carbon producing truck miles saved.



Birding for the Week of November 15-16

I knew that Friday was going to be a windy day. I did my SOS Shorebird Survey on Virgin Creek Beach anyway. While conditions were bad (I recorded 21 mph max winds) it was a good day for finding shorebirds. I found a good mix of Surfbirds, Black Turnstones, and Sanderlings. Throw in a single Western Sandpiper (haven’t seen one for awhile), a few Dunlin and a Snowy Plover that had an unusual look. The Snowy Plover has an incomplete collar which can be either black or tan depending on the sex of the bird and time of season. This plover had a dark collar on it’s right side and a pale collar on it’s left side.

I have never seen this molt pattern before and don’t know if it’s common or rare. This is the first time that I’ve seen a Snowy Plover on Virgin Creek in some time. Don’t know if it’s part of the Ten Mile flock blown south or an individual wanderer. 

I wandered up to Lake Cleone after the survey but it was too windy for birding and was having a hard time keeping my hat on so I biked back to Fort Bragg for a warming Mocha and a bus ride back to Mendocino. 

Saturday at the Little River Airport I found a “Red” Fox Sparrow, a very pretty sparrow. I didn’t have a chance to get a picture of it but found one on Wikipedia that looked the same. Since it’s a subspecies I can’t count it towards my totals for the year.

Photo by: Mdf

The “Red” subspecies of the Fox Sparrow is rare on the California Coast.

I seen 246 bird species and saved over 2782 carbon producing truck miles so far this year.


NOTE:On Friday while I was doing my SOS Survey a Black-capped Chickadee was found by birders along the boardwalk at Lake Cleone. This would be the first record of it being seen in Mendocino County. As mentioned above I was in that area on Friday. I have the habit of turning off my cellphone when I’m out birding and if it had been on I would have received a call from my wife noting that she had received two calls about the chickadee. Since I only received word of it when I got home and I am on a “green” birding year I couldn’t just turn around and drive to Lake Cleone to chase it. In fact the next known time I can chase it will be Wednesday morning. This brings up the urges in a birder to chase or “twitch” a bird. They can be very powerful and causes birders to do strange things. I have been trying to calm my urges to chase birds but this chickadee made them flow. The chickadee has not been refound as of this date. The following clip from one of my favorite books made into a movie explains the feelings I went through:-) Imagine the “Ring” as the Black-capped Chickadee and I am Galadriel passing the “test”