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Piedras Blancas 2003 -- 30Mar-05Apr (week 3 of 11)

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  • Pterodroma@aol.com
    Piedras Blancas Gray Whale cow/calf survey Week 3 of 11 -- 30Mar-05Apr 2003 BIRDS --- Signs of coastal seabird migrations picked up a bit this week.
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 7, 2003
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      Piedras Blancas Gray Whale cow/calf survey
      Week 3 of 11 -- 30Mar-05Apr 2003

      BIRDS ---

      Signs of coastal seabird migrations picked up a bit this week. Red-throated
      Loons which dominated the scene passing at a steady trickle through the last
      two weeks of March are slowing just as the Pacific Loons are warming up. The
      first vanguard of the immense Pacific Loon flight yet to come appeared on
      Tuesday (4/01) with 500-1000 passing the Point during the morning along with
      ~100 Common Loons. There were another 1000-1500 Pacific Loons on Wednesday
      (4/02), then virtually none thereafter to weeks end.

      The first good Brant flight was noted on Wednesday (4/02) with 1500-2000, and
      another 1000-1500 on Thursday (4/03), and ~600 on Friday (4/04). There were
      none on Saturday (4/05). Flocks were few, but what they lacked there, they
      made up in numbers with one flock strung out numbering over 600. There have
      been no big surges of Surf Scoters yet which is starting to be a little late.
      An adult male HARLEQUIN DUCK was seen on Tuesday (4/01) beating it hard to
      catch up with the tail end of a string of Surf Scoters.

      Tubenose seabirds continue scarce. I have yet to see my first albatross of
      the season. Sooty Shearwaters are sporadically present every day but in very
      low numbers, essentially meaning one or two every now and then. The season's
      first and this week's only Pink-footed Shearwater was sighted on Thursday
      (4/03). Black-vented Shearwaters are still about occasionally with sightings
      of one on Tuesday (4/01) and 6 on Wednesday (4/02). Morning flights of
      Common Murres and Rhinoceros Auklets remain status quo as numbers remain at
      unremarkable normal levels.

      There may be good news on the resident Peregrine front. On Thursday (4/03),
      I observed a food exchange with the male bringing in some unidentified small
      prey item but he flew up near the top of the Outer Islet on the north side
      where I can't see anything. Moments later, the female took off and emerged
      from the outside edge of the rock islet. Further encouragement that
      something IS in fact happening up there was a report from one of the
      volunteers who comes out to the lighthouse to help with the native vegetative
      restoration work around here who told me that she had seen copulation taking
      place on top of the lighthouse about a month ago and before I arrived here.
      So, this might explain the silence and lack of sightings. The female is on
      eggs at which time everyone is pretty quiet anyway. If this is then true,
      then everything would be more or less on schedule and in keeping with
      previous years when I've been afforded full views of nesting activity when it
      happens on the south side of the Outer Islet where it usually does. Only
      once in the past 9 years have the Peregrines nested and brought off young on
      the more wind exposed cold north side.

      Anna's and Allen's Hummingbirds continue a daily full-time presence about the
      six feeders placed around the back yard. Most are usually females but I have
      been seeing males of both species attending more regular than usual. The
      most enjoyable feeders are the two window feeders suction cup mounted on the
      kitchen window and the other only inches from my pillow at my bedroom window.
      Conveniently, the hummingbirds seem to favor these ones best. Why I'm not
      sure. Perhaps it's because they like seeing their reflection in the glass.
      Like everyone else has reported, Rufous Hummingbirds simply are hardly
      anywhere. I still see one or two adult males every day but 2003 will have to
      go down as the poorest showing for this species in 10 Spring migrations here
      which can sometimes swarm with 40 or more at any one time in some years.
      Quite rare on the outer coast, an adult male BLACK-CHINNED HUMMINGBIRD made a
      brief feeding stop on Sunday (3/30) then was never seen again.

      I had an "unsettling" experience on Monday (3/31) when I went around on the
      north side of the old office building near the redwood water tank where I
      often sit quietly on the little porchlet just to watch for hummingbird nests
      and anything else going on in the dense cypress cover there. The moment I
      sat down on the little porchlet which I've sat on almost every Spring day for
      all these years, the thing collapsed with a thunderous cracking of rotted
      timbers (I probably shouldn't have had that extra tri-tip last week). In the
      ensuing chaos, a female Anna's Hummingbird bolted from a nest no more than 4
      feet in front of my nose. I didn't even know she or a nest was even there.
      Unfortunately, she didn't get very far and in the panicked departure somehow
      got entangled on the edge of the nest. I've never heard a hummingbird
      *screaming* before but there she was screaming incapable of escape. After
      extracting myself from the debris for which I almost needed a crane since I
      too was stuck, I reached out and was able to free her still with some nest
      material attached to her foot and thigh.

      What was interesting about this nest and a departure from the norm was the
      material being used to line the nest. Typically, both the Anna's and Allen's
      nesting around here build the outer shell out of lichens, cobweb filaments,
      and dog hair, then line it with soft balls of weed seed or thistle fluff.
      This particular nest was lined with comparatively huge reddish House Finch
      breast feathers. It must be a bit of challenge for a little hummingbird to
      even transport such a thing, but I suppose this lady was trying something new
      just to be different avant-garde. Maybe now she realizes that wasn't such a
      good idea. The nest now has been abandoned and when I saw her last, she
      still had some of the stuffing tangled about her foot and thigh. The moral
      of the story is probably good for us all; be careful with what you feather
      your nest with.

      The back yard feeding stations continue to be packed out from dawn to dusk.
      So far in just three short weeks I've gone through nearly 75lbs of oil
      sunflower seeds, 25lbs of white millet, and 10lbs of nyger. Among the
      feeding party is a fairly stabilized flock of blackbirds, both Brewer's and
      Red-wingeds. The Red-winged Blackbirds usually stay out in the marshy spots
      around the vernal pool and up at the spring, our source for water. This year
      for the first time, they've descended on the backyard and never leave.
      Admittedly, their effervescent liquidy and constant song is a nice addition
      to the loads of House and American Goldfinches also around here all the time
      ... to a point. Right now, all the racket is getting a little out of control
      and probably keeping all the neighbors awake. Even I when trying to catch a
      few rays and zzz's during a break the other day, had to finally bring the
      radio out tuned to what else ... the "OTTER" of course (KOTR, 94.9FM) ...
      just to soften the relentless bird song cacophony a bit. I can't even hear
      the surf or the elephant seals anymore.

      The blackbirds go after the white millet like little black vacuum cleaners
      sucking up everything in sight. "Sight" being the operative word here. They
      go for the easy pickings and still leave plenty for the White-crowned,
      Golden-crowned, Fox, Lincoln's, and Song Sparrows which prefer to scratch for
      their grub anyway.

      MARINE MAMMALS ---

      Perhaps boding well for things to come and proof of a successful calving
      season in the Baja lagoons, we had 12 gray whale cow/calf pair this week.
      For the first week of April this is our best early start since 1995. The
      peak "phase 2" gray whale migration period (cows with calves) should occur
      between mid April to early May with the mommas and their babies cruise a very
      near shore route often just outside the surf zone following every little nook
      and cranny of a ragged coast line all the way from Baja to Alaska.

      Come mid April, if you want to see something really amazing, watch the show
      from any one of a number of pullouts along the rt.1 Big Sur coast, especially
      those around and just south of Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. Pick a pull
      out where you literally can look straight down into the calm crystal clear
      waters below. Be patient and just wait a bit. With luck a northbound gray
      whale cow with her calf will soon come along cruising through the fields of
      kelp. Mid to late morning is best when the sun is high but not right
      overhead. The view is like looking through glass. I've been doing marine
      mammal work for nearly 30 years and I have never seen gray whales like the
      killer views to die for that I had up there last year! For even closer in
      your face views, bring a scope. As a bonus, you might even see a California
      Condor too.

      It was also an interesting week for other species. On Monday (3/31) we had
      another pair of northbound Blue Whales about 1.5nmi out in the morning, then
      either another or the same pair southbound in the afternoon. We sighted our
      first Humpback Whale on Thursday (4/03) which came in close and slowly passed
      the 'Point' northbound at 200-300 meters. Like the Blue Whales, this is a
      little early for Humpbacks as well. I noted John Roser's posting this past
      week of a Humpback sighting about a mile off Spooner's Cove (MDO) and have to
      wonder if we may have seen the same one a day later.

      The real show stopper this week was a huge roiling mass of ~200 Risso's
      Dolphins led by a vanguard of ~15 Northern Right Whale Dolphins about 3/4 to
      1.0 nmi out and northbound on the color/convergence line. They were
      definitely on a mission. The Risso's Dolphins were leaping out of the water
      showing their blunt beakless foreheads and variably gray to whitish scarred
      bodies while the Right Whale Dolphins porpoised ahead. Both of these species
      usually remain offshore along the shelf break and beyond so it was a little
      unusual to see them in so close. We do see Risso's Dolphins from time to
      time and they typically are moving very very slow and seldom aerial as with
      this sighting. The Northern Right Whale Dolphin is a rare sighting from
      shore and we don't even see them at all most years. The Northern Right Whale
      Dolphin is one of our most handsome of all dolphins with it's smooth glossy
      black body and white belly streak exceeded in magnificence only by it's
      southern counterpart, the Southern Right Whale Dolphin of the southern cool
      temperate oceans. The right whale dolphins are unique from all other dolphin
      species in that they possess no dorsal fin and as such, can easily be
      mistaken for proposing sea lions.

      Gray Whale sightings:
      cow/calf pairs----- 12
      adult/juveniles---- 123
      other species----- Blue Whale, Humpback Whale, Risso's Dolphin, Northern
      Right Whale Dolphin
      effort hours -------- 58.8 offshore (out of a possible 69.0)
      58.8 inshore (out of a possible 69.0)
      disclaimer: "these counts of calves are preliminary, from unedited data, and
      have not been reviewed to account for sighting conditions or observer bias".

      Sorry folks; this got a little long this week. But somehow, a lot happened
      this week and the Spring migration has hardly even gotten started

      ****************************************************
      Richard Rowlett
      Piedras Blancas Lighthouse
      San Simeon, SLO Co., CA

      "Discovery consists of seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what
      nobody has thought" --Albert Szent-Gyorgi (1893-1986).
      ****************************************************
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