Tag Archives: Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve

Eureka – A Snowy Plover Story

A Western Snowy Plover on its nest

An adult Snowy Plover incubating on a nest scrape

The amazing story of Eureka, the Western Snowy Plover, began with an unexpected event on Memorial Day weekend of 2017. I do quarterly surveys for Western Snowy Plover (Charadrius nivosus nivosus), an endangered species along the west coast of North America. We survey a 2.2-mile stretch of Huntington State Beach in Orange County, CA. With my teammates, Doug and Chuck, we’ve surveyed this beach every January, March, May and September for four years. Huntington State Beach is a crucial roosting and feeding area for Western Snowy Plover, and we see some on every January, March or September survey.

Surveying takes three of us because the beach is quite deep at about 500 feet from the parking lot to the water’s edge. Our team walks in parallel, zig-zagging down the beach to cover everything. Snowy Plovers, with their pale, wet-sand plumage, can be hard to spot. They make it harder by crouching down in little divots on the beach, hiding until danger is right on top of them. May is the boring survey because it’s the only time we don’t see the plovers on our beach. By May, the plovers have migrated to their breeding areas elsewhere. Continue reading

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Elegant Terns

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Elegant Tern in flight

Terns at Bolsa Chica

Elegant Terns galore! In late spring and early summer, one of the birding spectacles in Southern California is the colony of terns at Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve in Huntington Beach, Orange County. The pretty estuary (as its name translates from Spanish) has been host to twelve species of terns, with Common, Royal, Caspian, Gull-billed, Black, breeding Black Skimmer, Forster’s, Least, and Elegant, and rarities Sooty, Sandwich, and Bridled. Continue reading

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Looking for Love – Is This the Right Place?

Ridgeway's Rail at Upper Newport Ecological Reserve.

Ridgeway’s Rail at Upper Newport Ecological Reserve.

Light-footed Ridgeway’s Rail (formerly known as Clapper Rail), are federally listed as endangered. They can be difficult to see here in Orange County California. Unless you know when and where to look, you will rarely get a close-up. They occasionally appear at Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve in Huntington Beach. But until recently, they have been few and far between. They still are not seen at Bolsa Chica with the regularity, quantity, or visibility of Upper Newport Bay during winter high tides.

Even though this Ridgeway’s Rail had been reported, I was surprised to drive into the parking lot at Bolsa Chica and hear it calling loudly, looking for love almost continuously in early July. I could barely see him through the vegetation lining the parking lot, so I walked around to the far side of the mule fat to see if I could get a decent look. There he was, looking for love, at almost point blank range (about 20 yards from me and about the same distance from Pacific Coast Highway). What an opportunity to take some video to try out the new Kowa TE-11WZ 25-60x wide angle eyepiece on my Kowa TSN-884 spotting scope! You can see the rail’s body shake with every call, and if you look closely, you can see his tongue.

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A Yellow-crowned Night-Heron in Orange County

Sub-adult Yellow-crowned Night-Heron

Sub-adult Yellow-crowned Night-Heron

We recently visited Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve to look for the reported juvenile Yellow-crowned Night-Heron. This is one of those location, location, location things. In Florida, a Yellow-crowned Night-Heron excites nobody. But in California, where for decades the nearest breeding population of these night-herons was down in Baja somewhere, it’s a pretty uncommon bird. In recent years, a small Yellow-crowned Night-Heron population has become established in an apartment complex in Imperial Beach, CA, in the shadow of Tijuana. Even so, a Yellow-crowned Night-Heron away from there is newsworthy in southern California.

At the time, this immature bird constituted the second confirmed record for Orange County. The first one showed up in 1977 at San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary. We see Yellow-crowned Night-Herons regularly now. This suggests the presence of a more local breeding population. But back then, a lot of local birders chased this bird.

The Heron was Elusive

We went on a Saturday morning, with someone who had seen the bird only the day before. Thus, we were confident of success. Naturally, we couldn’t find the stupid bird! We circled the entire pond under the bluff there. We checked out every immature Black-crowned Night-Heron on the property, without any success. Finally, it turned out that the Yellow-crowned Night-Heron was actually roosting among a large group of Black-crowned Night-Herons in the trees right where we started. The night-heron cooperated, but only grudgingly. It gave us long looks at fairly minimal distance. But it perched in a dense tangle of branches that always obscured it . Eventually we got a few photos.

A Gift Burrowing Owl

Burrowing Owl

Wintering Burrowing Owl

Next, we searched the ground squirrel burrows around the mesa looking for returning Burrowing Owls. Eventually we found one bird. The didn’t get great views because the bird never completely emerged from its burrow. But at least we found it. Later in the day, someone else found a second bird. Burrowing Owls are often hard to locate. If you don’t know how or where to look for them, overlooking them is easy.

Burrowing Owls are tough to come by in Orange County. Widespread development pretty much gobbled up virtually all grassland habitat in the county. A small  breeding population of this species subsists in an area closed to the public. Also, scattered wintering birds pop up as winter migrants, like the Bolsa Chica birds. Hopefully, these two will stick around for the upcoming Coastal Christmas Bird Count!

The pictures were taken by digiscoping with a Kowa TSN-884 spotting scope and a Nikon CoolPix P6000 (Night-Heron) or a Kowa TSN-883 with a Nikon CoolPix P300 (Burrowing Owl). The optics were mounted on a  Manfrotto MT055CXPRO3 carbon fiber tripod with a MVH500AH pro fluid digiscoping head.

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