Hello! Most of my posts take place around San Diego County, (Mostly Lake Murray) unless otherwise noted.
For more posts and photos, I also post on Hubpages, a site that is a bit different than others. Thanks!: Shorebirdie on Hubpages

Friday, March 30, 2012

Former Easter duck dies right before rescue

Hi everyone!  For some really odd reason, this post got deleted.  I don't know if it's against Google policy to report on animal cruelty or something.  I have no idea why.  I will try to track down all the photos I had.  Not only was the story about the duck, but about some killdeer, too!

The story was that this beautiful buff duck, once someone's Easter pet, was dropped off last year.  She and her companions did fine until breeding season started.  Two days before these photos were taken, she was injured, possibly when some other males ganged up on her.  I called a duck rescuer and she agreed to come pick her up on Friday, two days later.  I called the rescuer, Kim, to tell her that the duck was still alive and where to find her.  I then went on my walk, but remembered to take these photos because I knew it would be the last time I saw her.

About 20 minutes before the rescuer arrived, the duck was found dead and removed by Lake Murray staff.  The staff member said that it appeared that stuff was coming out of her, most likely from trying to pass a crushed or under-developed egg that couldn't be passed due to her injuries.  When the rescuer came, she was gone.

Here she is spending her last living moments with the two males she has known all her life.

Here they were when they first arrived, happy and fat.  Since the time that this photo was taken, the two males have lost half their body size.  They now live alone in the same area where they lived with the buff.

I don't think she was even a year old when she died.

I will try to track down the rest of the photos I took that day.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Killdeer story

Today, I saw lots of killdeer out and about.  Many of them were new ones I've never seen before.  The first ones I saw were Squeak and Pollux, but I didn't take any photos of them.  I went on and found two more whom, I thought were the two that stay in one of the ballfields where one looks like Secret's son.  Nope.  To my surprise, as I began to photograph the bird, he began to chirp and jump around in a manner that only Killer Junior could do.

Killer Junior

And, just a little ways away, there was a female!  At first, I thought, this can't be Miracle because she looks perfect.  Then, when I looked closely at the photo, I could see a small flap of skin just under her eye going to just behind it.  It's barely noticeable.  I think this is, indeed, the formally bald killdeer chick.  The photo is a bit fuzzy, I'll try to get a better one, later:

Miracle now

Here she is at about three weeks old:

Miracle last year

When I came back to the ballfields, I found this female whom I, at first, thought was Shy and her mate. Nope, it's an entirely new female I haven't seen before.  She looks a lot like Shy, though.  Perhaps she's Shy's other chick.  I also thought I heard a chick peeping nearby.

Here is the male that was with her.  I couldn't get an ID on him at all:

I thought I was taking a photo of Junior's mate.  He was off fighting with another male.  But, no, this is yet another female I have never seen before.  I found Junior's mate on the other side of the lake where she normally is.  I guess another couple has come to visit them.  I didn't notice the fishing line in the front of the photo.  :(

Bob2 has been hanging around lately.  Here she is feeding in an unusual location.  It's good to see her.

The long-billed dowitcher is still hanging around.  I have no idea what it was eating, but it was eating something.  I think it's getting juvenile quagga mussels

Finally, this poor female duck (the beige one), has been hurt by over-breeding.  It looks like her foot and hip is hurting.  I am trying to get her some help, but I don't know if it will be possible.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

New hawks move in

So far, no Big Mama Cooper's hawk, but the red-shouldered hawks are fine and were using her hunting area.  So, I think Big Mama might truly be dead because she would never had let any of those hawks get close to her nesting area and prime feeding spots.

I also saw this juvenile Cooper's hawk hunting squirrels in her territory, possibly one of Big Mama's offspring.  She didn't seem very good at it and the squirrels didn't even seem to avoid her.

I don't know if the squirrels don't see her, didn't care, or just were confident that they could get away because they just went along feeding like nothing was happening.  The hawk was rather clumsy at hunting them, though.

A long-billed dowitcher came to visit:

Hurt-wing was quacking for a boyfriend nearby.

Pepper was here:

He and his brother were working together to fight off strange males.  

And, finally, Killer:

And, Dee taking a time out from nesting to fill up on bugs.

Junior and his mate were seen nearby doing courtship dances and vocalizations.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Junior is happy

Junior the killdeer is happy because his mate is with him now.

Junior doing a nest scrape

Junior's mate

I think the next photo is of George III who was hanging out with another female whom, I think, was George's mate, Martha.  He seemed really happy to have her around.  I couldn't get a decent photo of her.

Baby Bob is molting and you can see her spots starting to come through.

Here she is from the back:

This black-crowned night heron is in the middle of a molt, too.

I think the gull on the right is the sick gull from a few weeks ago.  Seems a bit better now.

Bossy duck is doing well, but the ring seems to be getting tighter on him.  I think he's grown a little.

Quacker was being really friendly, but she kept running around in the parking lot getting chased by kids and almost getting hit by cars.  She was just hungry and looking for a handout..

Big Mama Cooper's hawk, dead?

As I drove towards the lake entrance, I saw a dead bird on the road, perhaps two.  I thought it might be Big Mama Cooper, but didn't think it had any sign of barring on its feathers, so I wasn't sure.  The road was busy, so I couldn't get out and check.  I didn't hear or see Big Mama at all today and I almost always, at least, hear her as she's got a nest in George's territory and is always calling for her mate.  When I left, I drove by slower and looked and I could see lots of barring on the wings and what looked like a long (folded) tail and a reddish-tan lower belly.  I couldn't see the chest.  Apparently, the bird had flew head-on into a passing car while chasing what I think was a dove or pigeon whom I think was the other bird (it was gone when I passed by the second time).  I think the dead bird might be her as I've seen her fly low across this road at this spot while chasing birds.  I will keep an eye out for her to see if she is really gone or not.  It could have been the local red-shouldered hawk as well, whom I also didn't see at all today.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Springtime for killdeers

Everyone is all happy today because the weather is clear and sunny on the first day of spring.  So, enjoy the photos.  This first one is of a couple that I am not sure of.  But, I think it might be Secret's son and, possibly, Killer and Dee's daugther.

Below, Shy is being really curious:

This killdeer looks familiar, but I'm not sure who it is.  I think it's the male that I saw Squeak with a few days ago.  He's all alone.  

Below are two naughty killdeer digging nesting holes in the ballfield.  It's Squeak and she's chosen Pollux as a mate.  Look how dirty Pollux is from digging.

Here is one of the holes that Pollux scraped out.  He had others nearby, all in a bad spot:

Saw a sora today:

Baby Goose has been flying all over the place.  I called him over and he swam by to see if I had any treats.  I have a feeling that this one might leave us to go north:

Spoonface still has his ring around his neck:

Cinnamon and four of her five boyfriends:

A boy band:

We have a new gadwall and he's sticking around where that old one got killed by the owl.

These two female shovelers are head-bobbing this brightly colored male:

I saw Pepper and his cousin:

A wigeon:

Or two:

And, finally, a rabbit:

Also seen:  Not-Pepper and the rest of the domestic ducks, plus a brightly colored male cinnamon teal of which I couldn't get a photo.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Eskimo Curlews

Source:  Wikimedia Commons

Since it's a rainy day and I have just finished watching the After School Special and reading the book "Last of the Curlews", I thought I would write about Eskimo curlews (Numenius borealis).  No, they don't visit California, though I have heard of at least one website stating that they have been seen here.  I don't know when that was as California hadn't been a state for very long when they disappeared.

I wanted to write this because the U.S government is considering removing this bird from the Endangered Species List and declaring it extinct as early as this year, 2012.  Now is the time to submit your sightings if you have any.

A little bit of history:

Back in the mid-1800s, the wild game trade had gotten out of control.  As passenger pigeons began to get fewer and fewer, hunters turned to a small, but very plentiful game bird called an Eskimo curlew.  The bird looked similar to the more plentiful whimbrels that winter here on the California coast.  Like the passenger pigeon, several were slaughtered in one single shot.  Within only 20 years, there were practically no Eskimo curlews left.

By 1905, they were presumed extinct, but since then, sightings of stragglers have been seen now and then.  This was the inspiration for the book "Last of the Curlews" by Fred Bodsworth.  "Last of the Curlews" is a story about one of those stragglers, a lone male in search of a mate.  He hadn't seen another of his kind for at least three years until, one day, a female finds him when he's in South America.  However, it doesn't end well.  I won't spoil the book here.  I have a review on my other site, "A little bird says. . ." if you want to read it.

The Eskimo curlew has a long migration, one of the longest on Earth.  They breed at the edge of North America, usually in the Northwest Territories and have been known to breed in central Alaska.  From there, they fly to Labrador, Nova Scotia and the northern New England coast where they fatten up on berries and invertebrates before crossing over the Atlantic to South America.  They return through the interior, often landing on the gulf coast around Texas and Louisiana and traveling up the great plains of the United States and Canada back to their breeding grounds.  A total of 20,000 miles.

The reason why they never recovered from their over-hunting is that the prairies have changed.  They became farmland and their main food source, the rocky mountain grasshopper became extinct.  The grasshopper was extremely plentiful during the 1800s which may have been the reasons why their flocks grew into great numbers back then.  That and the destruction of many of their predators, hawks, falcons, and eagles.  The curlews also relied on the prairie fires that helped exposed much of the insect life they fed on.

What they look like:

Here is a photo of a specimen mounted in a museum.

Source:  Wikimedia Commons

They look a great deal like their close cousins, the whimbrel, which has now taken up much of the Eskimo curlew's former breeding range.  Here are some key differences:

Eskimo curlew are noticeably smaller
The underside of the Eskimo curlew's primary feathers are solid colored, not barred like a whimbrel
Eskimo curlew are more warm brown/dark cream color while whimbrels are more grayish-brown
The wing lining in the Eskimo curlew is a light cinnamon color
Less distinct eye stripe with the Eskimo curlew
Eskimo curlew have a shorter, thinner bill than a whimbrel
Head markings are generally less pronounced on an Eskimo curlew, but more defined than a Little Curlew (see below)
Eskimo curlew have a lighter, thinner body shape than a whimbrel
Eskimo curlews sometimes have a white or very light patch directly under the chin
Eskimo curlews have dark-colored legs, green, brown or gray-blue, whimbrels have light colored legs, bluish, blackish or gray

There is another bird called the Little curlew which is very similar to the Eskimo curlew and may be their closest relative.  They mostly reside in the Old World, mainly Russia, but have shared the Eskimo curlew's Russian breeding range.  They are extremely uncommon  in the United States, though they have been seen in California and Alaska. It is unlikely that they will be a problem for confusion in North America, but they have to be ruled out before any sighting of an Eskimo curlew is taken seriously.  The differences between the Eskimo curlew and the Little curlew are few, but here is a list of them:

Little curlews have a well-defined eye stripe
Little curlews have light colored legs
Little curlews have a conspicuous, but very light head stripe

Little Curlew, source Wikimedia Commons

Since 1890, sightings have been few and far between. The last physical evidence of an Eskimo curlew was a female that was shot in 1963 in the Barbados area.  The last and only photographs were taken in Galveston in 1962.  The last confirmed sightings were in the 1990s.  However, there have been many unconfirmed sightings in the last 100 years that may have been real.  The problem is that to be able to confirm a sighting, there has to be irrefutable evidence that the bird in question is really what it is.  In the past, it was more easy to confirm sightings because the people reporting them were more likely to have known what an Eskimo curlew looked like because they were around when they were more abundant.  Or, they may be experts on curlews and shorebirds in general.  However, since the last confirmation, the only way a sighting of this bird will be confirmed is with actual physical evidence.  That is a good, irrefutable photograph or the actual bird itself.

I am building a list of sightings, but am still tracking some down.  I have just heard of a sighting in Missouri last year, 2011 of 3 Eskimo curlews.  This is far out of the range of whimbrels and long-billed curlews.  Other recent sightings include one in Argentina in 2006 and one in Nova Scotia in 2007.  There also may be sightings that were not made public or people who have sighted them not knowing what they were seeing or not wanting to make it known.

When and where to be on the lookout for these birds:

January-April:  South America. Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Peru and Columbia.  Also, Central America and the Yucatan.  Sometimes Gulf of Mexico, Texas and Louisiana.

April-June:  Gulf coast of Mexico, North America, Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi.  Possibly the southern plains, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Kansas.  Upper great plains and the southern great plains of Canada.  The Dakotas, Alberta and Saskatchewan.

July-August:  Canada, Northwest Territories, possibly Alaska.  Late summer sometimes seen in Nunavut.

September:  Migration begins in September and may be seen in Quebec and Labrador.  May also include Maine and northern New England in the United States.  Some may also bee seen on Atlantic islands (like the Bermudas), especially when hurricanes are present.

October-December:  South America.  Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana, Brazil, Uruguary and Argentina.

Reporting a sighting:

Where to report sightings depends on where you live.  You can usually report your sightings to Fish and Game in your state or nationally.  Or, you can contact an organization or an ornithologist specializing in shorebirds.  Ornithologists can often be found in universities, but many of them have their own organizations or belong to other organizations such as the local Audubon Society.  If you are seeing them in a protected area, you can also contact biologists through the ranger's or warden's offices.  These places can usually put you in touch with your local rare bird record compiler.   Be prepared to defend your sighting because they WILL be doubtful.  You can remain anonymous if you wish to be.

Even if you're not sure, but you're in (or near) the right location for them to be, report it anyway.

Every year people search for these birds.  But, unlike their ancestors, the curlews have learned to fear and avoid human beings at all costs.  Also, because their range is extremely large and their numbers so few, it's like locating a needle in a haystack.