Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Charismatic "Mesofauna" of Bolsa Chica

Spermophilus beecheyi
Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve
Huntington Beach, California
May 29th, 2010

On my way back to the car from my birding trip to Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve, I came across this very charismatic Beechey Ground Squirrel. I couldn't resist stopping and taking a few photographs. The squirrel was so photogenic I had to insert another memory card to finish the shoot. I couldn't believe how tame this squirrel was, normally they are quite shy and run into the scrub as soon they see you.

There are 23 species of ground squirrels and 119 recognized subspecies in the United States. Throughout California there are at least 5 native species, with one source listing as many as 18 (including subspecies). The Beechey Ground Squirrel (or California Ground Squirrel) is the most common species observed in Los Angeles and Orange Counties. 

Since this squirrel was so charismatic I have included a few bonus images below.

Nesting Terns at Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve

Sterna antillarum browni
Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve
Huntington Beach, California
May 29th, 2010

This weekend I went birding at one of my favorite Southern California locations, Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve. The reserve is located just east of PCH and is bordered to the north by Warner Avenue and to the south by Seapoint Avenue. The reserve consists of approximately 1,200 acres of wetlands and several miles of trails. It is an amazing place to bird. Historically over 320 species of birds have been spotted here, with many, including terns, plovers, and herons nesting in the reserve. I have personally observed over 50 species between the months of February and May this year alone. If you would like to learn more about the ecological reserve or plan your own birding trip click here.

The California Least Tern (Sterna antillarum browni) is one of three least tern subspecies that breed in North America. All three of which are listed as endangered under the Federal Endangered Species Act. One of the reasons they are endangered is that they nest along the sandy shoreline and have to compete with humans for territory. As their preferred nesting locations disappear, they have been forced to nest on  flat gravel roofs of building, or in mudflats. Unfortunately these nesting locations are not ideal, a roof can heat up causing tar to seep through the gravel sticking to fledgling birds, and mudflats can make the birds more prone to predation. Additionally, over-crowding of ideal nesting locations can also make the birds more vulnerable to predation. 

Since 1970, when the California Least Tern was listed as an endangered species, conservations efforts have been somewhat successful. The population has grown from 225 nesting pairs to over 6,561 pairs recorded in 2004. Biologists though, are still worried that the distribution of the species is limited and without future management may not be viable. With an increase in public awareness and future conservation efforts maybe these little terns will have a better chance. 

Saturday, May 1, 2010

A Flock of Skimmers

Rynchops niger
Stearns Wharf
Santa Barbara, California
April 24th, 2010

Last weekend my wife was overnighting in Santa Barbara, so I decided to surprise her and I drove out to take her to dinner. I left a few hours early so I could stop along Stearns Wharf and photograph the human activity along the coast. I wasn't expecting to photograph the wildlife, but when I saw this flock of Black Skimmers I couldn't resist. 

The Black Skimmer (Rynchops niger), is a unique bird among American birds, making its identification unmistakable. What sets it apart is it's red and black bill that is noticeably uneven (the lower mandible is approximately 2-3 cm longer than the upper portion), which it uses to skim the water looking to catch small fish. One interesting fact, is that skimmers are born with their upper and lower mandibles even in length, but by the time they fledge, the lower mandible has grown longer than the upper half. 

The Black Skimmer's traditional North American range has been the Gulf Coast and the Eastern Seaboard, but in the early 1960's, a few were spotted along the Southern California coast. In 1968, a few were spotted nesting at the Salton Sea. Since then, their range, in California, has expanded to include the Coast from San Diego to Monterey County and San Francisco. Today, it is estimated that there are over 1,200 nesting pairs at the Salton Sea and along the coast.