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.

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