Pecking Away

(Burrowing Owl Update Below)

Western Sandpipers (Calidris mauri) Feb 14 2023

A low tide of 0.3 feet shortly after noon exposed a few yards of mudflats along the eastern edge of the park, and attracted this little flock of Western Sandpipers. I have seen them along the eastern shore of the North Basin a few times this year but have not seen any at this edge of the park so far. This flock, numbering maybe a hundred birds, is only a sample of the much larger numbers that they can assemble. Here they were doing their characteristic “sewing machine” pecking method on the mud. They just peck at random, counting on the law of averages to find something. I found it tiring just to watch them go at it. Such energy! Such persistence! How do they keep it up?

Western Sandpipers breed in a narrow coastal strip in Western Alaska and across the Pacific in eastern Siberia. When they migrate, they may be so numerous that they darken the sky with their passage. Most of them settle for the winter along the Pacific Coast as far south as Peru. The Spring migration back north generally begins in February for the birds that wintered in South America. The flock we saw here today may be part of that motion. Birds that winter in the San Francisco Bay start flying north around March.

Western Sandpiper females are noticeably bigger than males. In the little flock we had here today, well over 90 percent of the birds were males. That’s typical for birds in the Spring migration. The females will arrive later.

Western Sandpipers have black legs. I also saw one Least Sandpiper. They look very similar but have yellow legs. This yellow-legged bird has a few seconds in the video above. Can you spot it?

Burrowing Owl Update

Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia) Feb. 14 2023

Two Burrowing Owl observers, Mary Law and Steve Gaston, both saw the Burrowing Owl in the park at Perch A this morning between 8 and 11 a.m. But by the time I was able to get to the park around 1 p.m., the owl had moved to Perch B. While I watched the bird, it looked left and right, up and down, in its usual way, without registering anything alarming, and it felt no need to preen or otherwise exercise itself. For that I was grateful because the chilly northwesterly wind, in excess of 20 mph, shook the camera and blasted the sound track with wind noise to the point that my video would have been a mess.

Last year this owl, if indeed it is the same individual (as I think), departed on its Spring migration on Feb 19. So, if this bird follows that precedent, we are in the last few days of being able to see it. Carpe diem!

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