Sunday, June 24, 2007

Baby Season

Summer has always been my favorite season, but since I've started birding it drives me nuts. It's the one time of the year when I have extra time to bird (summer vacation for my students should mean bird time for me)—but there's not a hell of a lot to see around here.

But what the local birding scene lacks in variety right now, it makes up for in low-level personal drama. The thing to look for right now is nesting activity—and there's lots of it.

Last weekend at Bolsa Chica, a pair of Black-necked Stilts had established a nest just off the footbridge. We watched as one came by and took over its partner's place on the nest: the latter slowly stood up, looking a bit stiff from a long period of sitting, then the other sat down and fidgeted for several minutes before finding a comfortable position.

Yesterday, we were back at the Least Tern Reserve at Huntington State Beach. A large number of tiny chicks were already walking about and waiting for handouts. We had to stay at some distance from the boundaries of the reserve, since the adults were aggressively dive-bombing anyone who came too close.

It's easy to see why Least Terns are such a vulnerable species: they nest on the sand and lay tiny sand-colored eggs that hatch into little sand-colored chicks. Without the protective fencing, they'd have no chance against dogs, off-road vehicles, or even normal pedestrians looking at the waves instead of at the ground.

And even the fencing can't keep out all potential threats to little terns:

At one point yesterday morning, a police helicopter flew low over the reserve, and the terns rose in a defensive swarm. The helicopter left after a few seconds, but the birds kept swarming. Then we saw why: this Peregrine Falcon had also been circling the area.

Thankfully, he flew off before the situation turned into some kind of Endangered Bird Smackdown. Peregrines are not exactly a dime a dozen either and they are always a joy to watch—but they have the option of eating gophers or more common birds, while the Least Terns don't have too many options at all. Still, I'm glad I didn't have to step in and intervene in this one.


Anonymous said...

That's a fabulous picture of the baby tern.

best wishes,


tenderstorm said...

Your blog is such a good read that we can't wait for the next entry.

Bob & Cynthia Kaufman

Felicia said...

Phil, Bob, and Cynthia,

Thanks so much for your kind comments! Keep on birding!