We had our own personal boat tour of the Elkhorn Slough, a 7-mile long tidal estuary on Monterey Bay that was the first estuarine sanctuary in the U.S. It began with a 60-acre purchase by The Nature Conservancy in 1971, and has grown to over 800 acres today. The entire 1.5 square mile marine reserve provides critical habitat for a variety of mammals (discussed in the next post), more than 300 species of birds, and a host of invertebrates and plant species on which the birds and mammals depend.
By some strange coincidence, a number of the bird species we saw on our boat tour had arranged themselves in groups of three — thus, I labeled the trios “the three amigos”. This is the time of year when bachelor groups of males break up and mated pairs are more often seen together, so seeing groups of three was somewhat odd.
We hiked through the cool, majestic big redwoods of the Forest of Nisene Marks in the Santa Cruz mountains the other day. I’m always impressed with the immense change in microclimate that these big trees produce, growing along the coast and trapping cool, moist air from the ocean each morning. The light filters through dense branches high above the trail, and only a few scattered sunbeams actually make it to the forest floor. So photography is a bit challenging under dim light conditions.
it juts right out of the ocean, a lone, huge boulder of a rock, standing 580 feet high. Morro Rock is one of the “nine sisters of San Luis Obispo County”, a series of volcanic plugs that rose into softer rock about 20 million years ago. The Rock is part of the state park and is closed to hikers and climbers so that Peregrine Falcons, Western Gulls, and Brandt’s Cormorants (among many other bird species) have a protected place to breed and raise their chicks.
We have been stopping along the California coast at various sites from San Diego to the Santa Cruz area to check out the shorebirds there. What a wealth of diversity of birds, and what a diversity of adaptations they exhibit, especially in their beaks.
Of course the beak is the primary tool for extracting food in shorebirds, so you would expect to find specialized structures to do that. For example:
Even closely related species (e.g., in the same genus) exhibit particular beak structures that allow them to specialize on certain food resources. Few species exhibit the extreme specialization of the Curlews, whose very long and decurved bill is designed to extract crabs and other soft-bodied invertebrates embedded deep in the wet sand or mud.
This has been a subject of interest every time I visit the California shore, and there is more information about this (and a video) in a previous post: “sharing the resources”
We sit quietly in chairs placed strategically near bird feeders, waiting expectantly with cameras on laps and binoculars glued to eyes, searching for that iconic shot of some new bird we’ve never seen before, or a better shot of a bird we have seen many times before. When we’ve exhausted the possibilities at one site, we get in the car and move on to the next one. It’s such hard work…(not). But it’s the thrill of the hunt for the best shot that keeps us going from place to place.
In Portal, Arizona, in the foothills of the Chiricahua mountains, you are welcome to visit the backyards of the local residents to sit and photograph the birds that visit their feeders. At this particular backyard, a Roadrunner (lower left of the photo) walked through the backyard looking for an unwary bird to capture. It made a half-hearted attempt to lunge at a hummer on one of the feeders in the photo above, but gave up and moved on. We heard it had grabbed and eaten a Cactus Wren just a half hour before.
How would crystals (in particular, selenite crystals, a variety of gypsum), flies, and tiny little shorebirds called plovers possibly be related to each other? Well, this is a story of mutual benefits, with humans actually playing a positive role in the story for once.
Digging for Selenite crystals, a particular form of gypsum, is popular with crystal collectors, and so people come to the salt flats in Oklahoma to unearth some rare beauties to take home each year from April to October, the only times crystal harvesting is allowed on the Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge.
The large holes left by excavating the crystals gradually fill with saline water and host a collection of microscopic organisms growing on the floor and sides of the holes. Along come brine flies that lay eggs on the surface of the water. When the eggs hatch, the larvae drop to the bottom and feed on the bacterial mats. After growing and pupating, adult flies hatch from their pupal cases and rise to the surface of the water to fly around searching for a mate to start the cycle all over again.
But, along comes the tiny shorebird, the Snowy Plover (along with a host of other shorebirds that might also nest in the salt flats) to pick off the adult flies as they emerge from the water before they can fly away.
Unfortunately for the Plovers, their required habitats for nesting are being taken over by beach development or other human recreational activities, and their nests are vulnerable to being crushed underfoot by hikers that wander into their nesting areas. But this unexpected benefit of having crystal harvesters (who are restricted in the areas they can dig) leave holes that can “grow” a food source for the plovers seems to be an ideal solution for nesting birds in Oklahoma.
We spent a dark gray, occasionally rainy afternoon looking for Sandhill Cranes near Grand Island, Nebraska. We missed the massive numbers of Cranes seen last week — 250,000 over a 70 mile stretch of the Platte River had dwindled to a mere 38,000 this week. But we managed to find a few birds.
We’re on the road again, taking our time traveling west to see how many bird species we can find and photograph along the way. Today as we drove through the farm fields of north-central Iowa’s Lake District, we encountered a large flock of Red-winged Blackbirds doing an imitation of a murmuration of starlings, bunched tightly together as they burst upward from the fields, then turning and spreading apart before they landed again, and repeating the pattern over and over. Their numbers were impressive!