The Brown Pelicans are definitely back in and around the park. Not in the numbers we’ve seen in the past, but enough to fill the eyes with wonder and admiration.
Over on the west side about three quarters of the way north, an old 4×8 panel of plywood has got jammed in the rip-rap. It survives wind and waves, and I suspect that it’s become a shelter for shorebirds. I saw the Wandering Tattlers just north of there, along with Black Turnstones. This Spotted Sandpiper has hung around in its vicinity off and on for a couple of weeks, and on Monday morning I saw it preening on top of the panel. It foraged on the wood for a bit, starting its trademark dipping motions, and then headed down into the rocks, where I lost it. Why it does its constant dipping, nobody knows.
But Tuesday morning it, or one of its cousins, showed up on the most northeasterly rock of the park, at the far edge of the Burrowing Owl Sanctuary, a spot favored by gulls. On Friday morning I saw two of them sleeping in the rip-rap nearby.
The really interesting points about this bird are not its teetering but its sex life and parenting. The females are sexually dominant, mating with several males, and the males do most of the brooding and parenting. Unfortunately, all this unusual action happens in the breeding season, when the birds’ bellies are covered in big black spots. Here it’s winter, it’s break time from breeding, and only little traces of spots remain. Oh well.
Great Blue Sounds Off
A park visitor on the west side walkway alerted me that a Great Blue perched up on a lamp post over by the hotel. The bird was still there when I reached the spot. It had its talons wrapped around the steel pipe for stability.
The bird showed no interest in my maneuvers underneath it. I got a rare chance to view and to photograph straight up. This is what a gopher probably sees looking up from its hole, moments before the bird pounces. The heron’s eyes seem to have a perfect field of vision of what’s underneath it.
Best of all, I got a recording of the bird’s voice. It isn’t beautiful, but it’s rarely heard. I’ve recorded it only once before. This time, the bird repeated its call, if that’s what it was, several times. It spoke only while up on the pole. After a while it glided to the ground and began hunting in total silence.
The main Toyon tree in the Native Plant Area is in its glory stretch. A bumper crop of berries (“pomes”) is almost at that lush, deep red stage where birds will go crazy and pounce on it. When they judge that the crop is ready, they will strip the tree bare in a day.
The Toyon is one of the few native plants that retains some semblance of the name that the indigenous people gave it. Europeans otherwise ignored indigenous names and substituted English and Latin names.
Toyon are also known as Christmas berries and California holly. It’s said that Hollywood is named after this plant. Due to widespread raids on the plant to collect branches for decorations, the State of California made it illegal to take any part of the plant without the landowner’s permission.
Indigenous people used the pomes to make food and beverages. A concoction made from the plant has reportedly shown some benefit for Alzheimer’s patients. Wikipedia.
Owls: Still Waiting Here
Here in the park, the nearest thing to a Burrowing Owl photo I was able to get last week was a Ground Squirrel looking at the spot in the rip-rap on the east side of the Burrowing Owl Sanctuary where owls have perched in recent years (“Perch A”). And on scanning the northside meadow where owls hid out a few years ago, all I could get was another Ground Squirrel peeking out of the vegetation the way an owl might do, if it were there.
Meanwhile, two owls have arrived and settled in at Pt. Isabel. There was one owl there last year and the year before. This year there are two. I was able to find and photograph one of them. Photographer Sam Z. found the other.
I wonder if that second owl was the one that stayed in our park last winter. So it came first to our park and was dismayed to see the complete destruction of established plants along the upper edge of the rip-rap. Parks management clearcut the area in September. So much demolition of long-standing familiar vegetation might make a bird fear for its safety. Of course we can’t know what a bird is thinking. And it’s not too late for owls to come to the park. But seeing two owls at Pt. Isabel and no owls here sets the mind wondering. `