Park Week 1/12/2024

A Week of Extremes

Low tide at minus 1.5 feet on Tuesday at 4:30 PM exposes acres of bay bottom
High tide at predicted 7.19 feet on Thursday at 10:45 AM floods walkway leading to park entrance

We giant featherless bipeds get aroused by the highest tides. And we should be concerned, these “King” tides being just a sample of the upcoming new normal. But it’s the opposite extreme, the pauper tides, that excite our small feathered cousins. With the low tide at a minus 1.56 feet in late afternoon on Tuesday, acres of bay bottom lay exposed, and birds had a smorgasbord. A flock of Western Sandpipers at least 500 strong rapid-pecked at the muddy sea floor up by the Open Circle Viewpoint. Four species of shorebirds — Black Oystercatchers, Black Turnstones, Western Gull, and Willet — found easy pickings at the base of the rip-rap on the east side of the Burrowing Owl Sanctuary. Further south, a locally uncommon Ring-billed Gull flew slowly like a raptor over the wet spread, dropping quickly on likely edibles. No fewer than seven Snowy Egrets, a number not seen very often here recently, stirred up the puddles looking for dinner.

Watching the incoming flood on Thursday, I met a City worker with a clipboard who said that the Parks, Recreation and Waterfront department was thinking about how to restrain the extreme high tides in this and two other nearby locations. That’s good to hear. I’ve been photographing the flooding on this pathway since 2012. Again in 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2023. It’s encouraging to hear that PRW is thinking about doing something about it.

Sandpipers by the Hundreds

Western Sandpipers (Calidris mauri) at minus 1.5 tide

The Cafeteria Is Open

Black Oystercatchers, Black Turnstones, Western Gull, and Willet at minus 1.5 tide

Flying Like a Raptor

The Ring-billed Gull is very common in the big picture, but locally the Western Gulls hold a near-monopoly. This individual stood out not so much for its looks as its behavior. It circled very slowly over the exposed bay mud, almost hovering like a kite at times. When it spotted something of interest, it dropped suddenly. The black wingtips with small white spots, pale eyes, and yellowish legs help to distinguish it from similar gulls.

Stirring Up Dinner

No fewer than seven Snowy Egrets stirred up the puddles left behind by the receding tide. They knew from experience that many a small aquatic creature couldn’t or didn’t choose to migrate to deeper water, but remained quietly in one of the hundreds of puddles, pools, and channels the tide exposed. The birds raked the bottom of each pool with great energy, using both feet alternately. They mostly worked as individuals but at times two and occasionally three foraged wingtip to wingtip, sometimes too close for comfort, leading to a warning jab or two.

Some Other Birds Seen in the Park This Week

How many can you identify without help? Mouse over or tap image to see caption with ID.

Portrait on Demand

I was standing in the Open Circle Viewpoint with my lens scanning the rip-rap spots where in former winter seasons a Burrowing Owl might have perched (I keep checking). Suddenly this White-crowned Sparrow popped out of the Coyote Bush a few feet in front of me and demanded I do its portrait. It turned this way and that, and held perfectly still. What could I do but comply?

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2 thoughts on “Park Week 1/12/2024

  • Thank you for the description of the ring-billed gull on Tuesday. I observed the same bird behavior in the east facing water basin later that day : a white bird circling slowly over the exposed mud, hovering, dropping down suddenly. I didn’t know what sort of bird it could be. Then it rose up, and I thought with disappointment, Oh it’s a gull. After that I thought: Why am I disappointed? Just because gulls are common! Anyway, thanks for pointing out what was going on, and for continuing to make all of us who read this blog marvel and the avian diversity of Cesar Chavez Park.

  • Marty what fabulous photos! I think you’re a pro! thank you so much for this wonderful on-going blog. It truly enhances my park/nature experience. thank you!

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