Piedras Blancas 2003 -- 18-22Mar (week 1 of 11)
- Piedras Blancas Gray Whale cow/calf survey
Week 1 of 11 -- 18-22 March 2003
We got off to a pretty rocky start this our 10th season at the Piedras
Blancas Lighthouse site. Wretched gales on Monday and less wretched gales on
Tuesday abbreviated our days. Phase 1 (ad/juv) Alaska-bound whale migration
is already showing signs of slowing. We don't come here for those anyway so
don't really care. We are here to observe and assess calf production during
the winter calving season in the Baja lagoons. San Luis Obispo County's very
own Point Piedras Blancas in the Spring is the best location anywhere along
the entire 2400 mile migration route between Baja and northern Alaska to
conduct these surveys since every single last one of those little babies pass
the 'Point' at just 200 meters starting about April 1st. The fringe benefit
just for my own entertainment / amusement and keeping me attentive, Piedras
Blancas is the California capitol of all coastal viewing sites for witnessing
and experiencing the entire season spectacle from start to finish with the
dazzling to often hypnotic northbound coastal seabird migration which zips by
so nearshore each Spring.
Week One was pretty normal and in keeping with previous seasons. Nothing
much is happening yet. There is a slow steady trickle of Red-throated Loons
while Pacific Loons (the real show stopper) and Common Loons haven't really
started at all. Surf Scoters and Brant haven't really gotten going either
but will be coming along in force soon. This week saw only two flocks of
Brant (total ~60 birds).
The most interesting morning was Thursday (3/20) with about 600 BLACK-VENTED
SHEARWATERS streaming by between about 0630-0800hrs, all heading north along
the color/upwelling line about a mile out. Most were in the steady trickle
containing loose little packs of 10-15 birds each. Some years, they are out
there in small numbers (mostly in March), while in other years I won't see
them at all. Also a 'flock' or string of 18 scaup (14 Lesser & 4 Greater)
were leading a string of 10 Surf Scoters. Notable only in that I've never
seen a "flock" of scaup here before. Usually it's just the occasional one or
two that just happen by at some moment when I happen to be looking.
The back yard feeding stations are going full tilt now utilizing the picnic
table and a ground station outside my bedroom window. So far, all the
ravenous takers are only the usual cast of characters, House Finches,
Brewer's & Red-winged Blackbirds, and White-crowned Sparrows. The three
hanging thistle bag feeders are already being well attended by American
Goldfinches. It's quite the cacophony of bird song around here early in the
morning just as the sun is cresting the Santa Lucias and within seconds after
putting out their breakfast.
Six hummingbird feeders up are keeping those little buggers happy and well
Only a few Rufous Hummers are being seen and it's not looking like 2003 is
going to be a very good year here for them as they must be following a more
inland route. In some years, the place swarms with dozens at any one time.
Others are more like this one. An adult male Anna's showed up on Thursday
(3/20), likely here only on a mating run. Mate, then dash back across the
road and over the hills to more sunny warm flowery climes leaving the females
to do everything else in this Alaskan Aleutian like place stuck on the outer
coastal edge of California.
I'm not sure what our resident pair of Peregrines are up to. They are around
the outer rock on the west point and the lighthouse but I haven't been seeing
or hearing much from them yet. I've seen them coming back to the nesting
rock a couple times with unidentified prey items, one a small shorebird and
the other something fairly large and black, maybe an oystercatcher or a
scoter. I would be surprised if it were an oystercatcher since the two seem
to have had in the past some sort of arrangement to leave each other alone.
Gray Whale sightings:
cow/calf pairs----- 0
other species----- none
effort hours -------- 55.2
Piedras Blancas Lighthouse
"Discovery consists of seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what
nobody has thought" --Albert Szent-Gyorgi (1893-1986).