Piedras Blancas 2003 -- 27Apr-03May (week 7 of 11)
- Piedras Blancas Gray Whale cow/calf survey
Week 7 of 11 -- 27April - 03May 2003
The Pacific Loon flight picked up a bit this week featuring three of our best
day counts of the season. With the calm before the storm, Thursday (5/01)
was the season's big day with ~30,000 passing the 'Point' before noon
bringing to mind some of those glory days of season's past when extended
pulses may run solid for 30 minutes at rates of 600-1,000 per minute. On
Friday (5/02), we were shut down for the entire day with rain and 25-35kt
ESE-SE winds. Loons and other coastal migrants, if there were any, had to
have been pushed way offshore, but my occasional scans of the ocean way out
there revealed little anywhere other than lots of Sooty Shearwaters.
Saturday morning (5/03) was pretty much the same until 1238hrs when the rain
showers abruptly ended, the cloud deck moved inland, the winds dropped as
they shifted more westerly, and we were bathed under a hot sun. Suddenly,
there was a brief flurry of coast hugging loons, brant, and scoters coming
from unusually inshore waters. Although no where in near remarkable numbers,
their sudden appearance with the abrupt change in the weather was rather
interesting since they had been largely absent earlier.
Sooty Shearwater numbers are steadily building accompanied in proportion by
small numbers of Pink-footed Shearwaters. Monday (4/28) was a big Sooty
Shearwater day with many hundreds moving south all day long along the
upwelling convergence color line ~2nmi offshore. This more offshore pattern
is a bit unusual and likely due to the relatively stable weather pattern
evident throughout the month of April where the persistent series of low
pressures off central and northern California have been successfully blocking
the big 'high' which normally affects our weather here, especially afternoons
with those strong and cold northerly winds, and keeps the convergence line
and it's associated seabirds tantalizingly close yet just far enough out and
out of range for more thorough scrutiny.
It continues to be a lack luster Spring for migrant and northward dispersing
gulls, especially the large larids which typically hug the coast on windy
afternoons. Again, the minimal afternoon winds may be the primary culprit.
We are still holding at 'zero' for the season Franklin's Gull count, an
accomplishment that we have never come experience here in all season's past.
Alcid movements continue to slow apart from resident species and those nearby
residents foraging up or down this way. No Xantus's Murrelet sightings yet
This last week of April was a big week for phalaropes with clouds of swirling
unidentified birds (probably Red-necked) way out there on most days. Dunlin
staged a good flight Saturday (5/03) afternoon after the weather cleared with
several thousand steadily passing the 'Point' in small to large flocks.
Peregrines --- Things seem to have gone a little on the quiet side this week
on the Peregrine front. We saw them with much less frequency but remain
hopeful that a failure hasn't occurred. With the eyrie somewhere on the
north and windward side of the Outer Islet, it just doesn't seem like a
choice area to be rearing young when the south side has always proven so
seemingly perfect in the past.
With the approaching late season storm off the Central Coast Thursday night,
I was primed for what I anticipated to be a major passerine fallout event on
the outer coast come first light Friday (5/02). Recalling the spectacular
event several springs ago when hundreds of passerines were sparking in the
light beams of the lighthouse before dawn then plunging into any cover they
could find come daylight, conditions Thursday night seemed perfect and
exactly as observed during that last memorable event. These conditions
featured a mostly clear, calm, starry night after sunset Thursday and prime
for the night time launch of nocturnal migrants from further south and
inland. The moon was 'new' and the clouds, brisk easterly offshore winds,
and rain blew in after midnight. I couldn't have imagined an improvement on
Despite the 'perfect' conditions, the predawn hours featured a mostly
nonevent. There were a few birds, just not the expected throngs. By
daylight and throughout the day, there was a nice assortment of warblers,
vireos, flycatchers, thrushes, grosbeaks, tanagers, and orioles adorning the
leeward sides of the cypress stands like so many colorful Christmas tree
ornaments. Most of these birds remained all day to be joined by others
making their way back from having been blown out to sea. Even an Osprey made
a rare Spring appearance. Every time I wandered out to check up on things,
there was always something new.
With the storm center stalled 300nmi west of Point Conception throughout
Friday night and Saturday morning, the easterly offshore winds and rain
showers continued all night. Saturday morning (5/03) at 0430hrs, I noted a
flurry of passerine activity sparking and buzzing about the lighthouse in the
rain and strong southeasterlies. Debating whether to go or stay and see what
fell out into the bushes at first light, I rushed to the top of the
lighthouse in the dark for a closer view of the action. At the very first
hint of daylight, all that quickly disappeared and I decided to at least give
my normally every 4-5 day scheduled stomp of San Simeon State Park a start
with the option of quitting if that seemed useless due to the rain. I
figured that whatever passerines fell out around the lighthouse at first
light would still be there upon my return at 1000hrs. Turns out they weren't
and I don't think there even were any of significance.
The dramas at the Anna's Hummingbird nest continue. Thursday morning (5/01)
she had laid her first egg in the third nest attempt. Friday night, I left
her at nightfall sitting tightly. A checkup at noon on Saturday (5/03)
revealed that the nest had been pilfered again with the egg gone and nest
Speaking of nests, I have a pair of determined House Finches hell bent to
build on the Barn Swallow platform over the garage door. The Barn Swallows
don't like it and I've torn the work of the House Finches out now at least a
dozen times in the past two weeks or so. It's amazing how fast they can move
in and build. This pair of House Finches can get all their sticks in place
and nest lined with fluff in less than a day.
"Bob" the crow is doing well and I've upped his diet with a bag of pistachio
nuts and cashews. Yum! He's crazy about them. When I bought the bag of
pistachios at the SLO Thursday night market I mentioned that they were for
the crow. The woman running the stall looked at me sternly and said; "We
shoot crows." Apparently crows to a Pistachio farmer around here aren't
regarded with quite the same affection as me.
"Fred and Ethel," the pair of Western Gulls who reside on the rock nearby are
always patiently standing by for whatever little nibble we might toss to them
which isn't much since I don't want to encourage them. Still, it's hard not
to love 'em. They really are a handsome couple and "Bob" eyes them warily
when there is a scramble for a peanut or pistachio. "Fred & Ethel" don't do
pistachios very well and don't quite know what to do with them. OTOH, I had
this bit of salmon which I'd barbecued back up in Seattle ... oh, back in
late February I guess, and brought it down here figuring I'd get around to
eating it someday. What's this now; May is it? I guess I forgot, and when I
caught the salmon trying to get out of the fridge, I figured it was time for
it to go. Thinking only "Fred & Ethel" were around, I dropped it on the
pavement with a hearty splat. Instantly, gulls materialized from everywhere.
Oh good lord! We can't have this so I won't be doing that again!
"Little Wayne," the California Vole who lives in the bushes at our feet is
doing well and getting fatter by the day. "Little Wayne" and our
White-crowned Pitta (a tailless White-crowned Sparrow who's been tailless for
two weeks now) got into a little tussle yesterday over some millet and
cashews and I'm not sure who was intimidated the most.
MARINE MAMMALS ---
The gray whale cow/calf migration continues to ebb slowly with 43 pair
counted this week, down from our high week of 76 two weeks ago (week 5).
This lower count is partly a reflection in losing a day of effort due to
Friday's rain and wind storm which kept us out of business all day. The
sightings should continue to diminish steadily through the next 4 weeks and
by the last week of May, we should be looking at very nearly zero.
Thursday (5/01) was a pretty good day in the 'offshore' survey sector with a
pair of Killer Whales including a very large male, first cruising south out
near the horizon, then coming back ~2nmi out heading north. Also, way out
there under a swirl of birds (gulls mostly), when I just happened to be
looking at that particular moment, I was startled to see a Humpback lunge
skyward, mouth agape, apparently feeding on whatever the little flock of
gulls were swirling over. An unidentified large whale, probably a Blue was
too far south and going south to confirm when we opened shop at 0700hrs on
Gray Whale sightings:
cow/calf pairs----- 43
other species----- Minke Whale, Humpback Whale, unid large whale (~Blue?),
Killer Whale, Risso's Dolphin, Common Dolphin sp?
effort hours -------- 58.8 offshore (out of a possible 72.0)
58.8 inshore (out of a possible 72.0)
disclaimer: "these counts of calves are preliminary, from unedited data, and
have not been reviewed to account for sighting conditions or observer bias."
Piedras Blancas Lighthouse
San Simeon, SLO Co., CA
For more information about Piedras Blancas Light Station & activities,
click on: <A HREF="http://piedrasblancas.gov/">Piedras Blancas Light Station
"Discovery consists of seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what
nobody has thought" --Albert Szent-Gyorgi (1893-1986).