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Piedras Blancas 2003 -- 04-10May (week 8 of 11)

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  • Pterodroma@aol.com
    Piedras Blancas Gray Whale cow/calf survey Week 8 of 11 -- 04-10 May 2003 BIRDS --- The coastal sea, water, and shorebird migrations continue to be slow and
    Message 1 of 1 , May 11, 2003
      Piedras Blancas Gray Whale cow/calf survey
      Week 8 of 11 -- 04-10 May 2003

      BIRDS ---

      The coastal sea, water, and shorebird migrations continue to be slow and
      disappointing. Maybe THIS is normal and those years in the mid-90's were
      just rare anomalies when I was so surprised to witness such a wealth of
      action all season long. Gone are the days of endless surprises it seems like
      Yellow-billed Loons, Manx Shearwaters, interesting shorebirds, gulls, alcids,
      and that _D. cauta_ albatross among others.

      The Pacific Loon migration is winding down now. The biggest flight days this
      week were Tuesday (5/06) with ~15,000 and Wednesday (5/07) with ~8,000, while
      all other days were in the 2-5,000 range. Brant have been reduced now to
      just a few small and mostly afternoon straggler flocks of 5-20 or less. One
      of these small flyby Brant flocks seen on Saturday (5/10) included a small
      Canada (ALEUTIAN or CACKLING) Goose but went into the sun before I could get
      zeroed in on it. I tend to think it was an Aleutian which in silhouette
      seemed to have a slightly longer thinner bill than a Cackling. I didn't
      detect the presence of a neck ring which may or may not be present in the
      Aleutian. Just another 2 seconds in good light would have been nice for this
      one that got away. Surf Scoters continue in modest numbers but in much less
      flock frequency and number than a few weeks ago. There still have been no
      Black Scoters detected all season and the White-winged total seen so far this
      season is an abysmal six.

      Tubenose seabirds were lightly present all week with mostly Sooties and
      occasional Pink-footeds, and all remaining quite far offshore mostly at 2-3
      miles and beyond. The nearly daily sightings of Black-footed Albatross in
      some years past are but a distant memory this season.

      But..., maybe there is still some hope. I've been lamenting for weeks now
      the poor showing of even the commonest of coast hugging gulls which typically
      blizzard past the 'Point' each Spring. Then, just as I was assembling yet
      another lament for this week's report, the storm cut loose Saturday (5/10)
      afternoon with swarm after swarm of California Gulls heading into the
      afternoon 15-20kt winds, and renewing some hope that perhaps Franklin's Gull
      may yet be in our future. With only 14 minutes remaining in the 72-hour
      survey week, that long and patiently awaited 2nd winter GLAUCOUS GULL
      mentioned two weeks ago and hanging out at Morro Bay, swept past the 'Point'
      at 1846hrs embedded in one of those California flocks. Well... I don't
      'know' if it was the Morro Bay bird, but it's fun to think so.

      The Saturday afternoon coastal gull flights also included a few small flocks
      of Bonaparte's which haven't been seen hugging the coast around here for at
      least six or seven years. During the mid 90's, Bonaparte's by hundreds upon
      hundreds followed the coastline in tight little masses, short cutting over
      the south point only to be "blown apart" a few feet over our heads at the
      study site as they encountered the afternoon northerlies blasting over the
      'Point.' Some came to untimely ends hitting the power lines, others hit by
      cars on rt.1, and others nailed by the waiting Peregrines. Until Saturday
      afternoon, the occasional and almost always single Bonaparte's Gull seen this
      season and in recent season's past was almost always Peregrine fodder, and
      most of them doomed to become lunch dare they find themselves isolated and
      alone in this area.

      The Peregrines have indeed been busy this week with at least two Bonaparte's
      Gull kills observed, one taken to the cliffs over the elephant seal beaches
      for a picnic lunch, the other taken to the eyrie. On Thursday (5/08) an
      unidentified pigeon but thought to have been a Band-tailed was snuffed out of
      the air over the water south of the 'Point.' Like Bonaparte's Gulls,
      anything in the pigeon class which out here are out of normal range anyway
      are prime targets of choice and rare it is should one actually escape. The
      only record for White-winged Dove was one nimbly snatched out of the air as I
      was watching it in my bins fly over the lighthouse several years ago and end
      up in the clutches of the Peregrine amidst a shower of feathers raining down
      over the Piedras Blancas entrance gate and rt.1. Rummaging around in the
      remains of bird parts at favorite feeding sites in years past, it had become
      almost routine to find the banded legs of wayward 'racing pigeons' that had
      gone astray from the central valley areas around Fresno, Stockton, and

      This was a good week for Whimbrels as northbound flocks of 20-50+ passed by
      all week long. The Dunlin flight continues but in lesser intensity than last

      A light passerine fallout was observed around the lighthouse and at other
      areas along the outer coast on Wednesday (5/07) with a small assortment of
      warblers, vireos, flycatchers, and Western Tanagers being drawn out and down
      during a period of unexpected early morning overcast, light rain and drizzle.
      A pair of BANK SWALLOWS on Friday (5/09) were the first sightings here this

      That female Anna's Hummingbird which has been dealing with disaster after
      disaster this Spring has launched her 4th nesting attempt in the same cypress
      grove on the windward side of the old office building. After having the
      first nest trashed on 3/31 by virtue of accident, and two others with the
      eggs pilfered by marauding blackbirds, she was back on the remains of old and
      weathered nest #1 on Saturday (5/10) and rebuilding up from the old platform
      with more conventional nesting materials. She is incredibly confiding and I
      can sit quietly on the remains of the collapsed little red porchlet only two
      feet away and she will come and go and sit and weave the nest while seemingly
      having no fear of me at all. This level of confidence made me wonder if she
      was desperate to get an egg laid but a quick examination of the nest this
      morning (Sunday 5/11) indicated nothing yet. Maybe tomorrow.

      "Bob" the crow has picked up a couple of buddies but "Bob" doesn't seem to
      happy about it and is aggressively protective of his territory. "Fred &
      Ethel," the pair of Western Gulls are the most well mannered "seagulls" I've
      ever seen. They just stand or sit around all day a few feet away always
      looking prim and proper and never begging. It's been very interesting
      watching this pair going through their courtship and mating activities which
      has been quite frequent this week. Both are learning how to crack whole
      peanut shells to get to the nuts. It's not easy and can be quite humorous
      sometimes especially when it's windy during the afternoons. "Bob" is always
      wary of his bigger contenders for the peanuts and there is the occasional
      scramble for the one peanut tossed in the drive. Often when "Bob" has his
      peanut, "Fred" or "Ethel" will amble over to try and steal a scrap, with
      "Bob" quickly grabbing up his booty and running or flying a short distance to
      lessen the aggression.

      "Little Wayne," the California Vole continues to grow fat and happy. The
      White-crowned Pitta (tailless White-crowned Sparrow) continues on for it's
      third tailless week, but this week has become the 'white-crowned spine-tailed
      pitta' as it begins to sprout a new tail.


      As the spring gray whale cow/calf migration continues to ebb away, this may
      end up being a short season, perhaps with NO week 11 if week 10 ends up being
      a zero. Twenty-two cow/calf pair passed the 'Point' this week during the
      daylight survey hours and we managed a full week (six days, 72 hours) with no
      weather related or other disruptions. Our total for the season as of
      Saturday (5/10) stands at 251, well below the pace and totals set in 1996,
      1997, and 1998 with over 400 (just over 500 in 1997) but well above the
      dreary low years 1999, 2000, and 2001 when we didn't even break 100 in years
      2000 & 2001.

      Blue Whales were seen on four days this week (Su 5/04, Mo 5/05, Th 5/08, and
      Fr 5/09), with the Friday animal thrilling us with a close pass at ~300
      meters and quite close enough to observe and document excellent individual
      natural marking features with it's prominent pale patch on the right side of
      the dorsal fin. Probably the same pair of Killer Whales (huge adult male and
      smaller female or immature male first seen on 5/01) were seen again on
      Wednesday (5/07) heading south but way out on the horizon.

      An unusual pinniped sighting for here and for this early in the season was a
      California Sea Lion actually giving birth on one of the nearshore rocks on
      Monday (5/05). This was probably a premature birth and the pup appears to
      have been stillborn. The normal pupping season is midsummer.

      Brian Hatfield, the resident sea otter biologist with USGS/FWS here at the
      lighthouse reports an unusal high mortality among the Central Coast sea otter
      population this Spring. A particular curiosity at the moment are the
      presence of barnacles on the tails of stranded sea otters which hints that
      something may not be right either with the otters or something affecting them
      in the marine environment.

      Gray Whale sightings:
      cow/calf pairs----- 22
      adult/juveniles---- 1
      other species----- Blue Whale, Humpback Whale, Killer Whale, Risso's Dolphin
      effort hours -------- 72.0 offshore (out of a possible 72.0)
      72.0 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."

      Richard Rowlett
      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
      </A> http://piedrasblancas.gov/

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