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Posts Tagged ‘Shorebirds’

Masked Boobies: Largest of the Boobies

Posted by Greg on November 14, 2012

Masked Booby With Chick. (Photo by Duncan Wright: PD-USGov-FSA)

Surprisingly, no comic book superhero or super-villain has yet claimed the name “The Masked Booby.” It may only be a matter of time!

The Masked Booby (Sula dactylatra) is the largest of the boobies, measuring up to a meter (39 inches) long with a 5 to 6 foot wing span. The term “Masked Boobies” once represented a larger group of birds, but recently it has been divided into two separate species. The birds that are no longer called Masked Boobies are now called the Nazca Boobies (Sula granti).  Those boobies are mostly seen on the Galapagos, they are slightly smaller, and they have a redish-pink to orange bill instead of the Masked Boobies’ yellow bill. Both groups have white bodies with dark brown to black feathers on their tails and on the trailing edges of their wings.

According to BirdLife International, the masked booby “favors smaller oceanic islands for roosting and breeding, especially those that are flat with un-forested terrain, including low, sandy cays, coral beaches, and arid volcanic islands, both bare and with zerophytic scrub.”

NHPT Nature Works says, “The masked booby breeds in the Caribbean, across the Pacific Ocean, to Hawaii, Australia, and Indonesia. Occasionally, it can be found in the Gulf states of Louisiana, Texas and Florida. It winters in open ocean waters. The masked booby plunges head first into the ocean to catch flying fish and squid. It can dive from distances of over 90 feet.”

As you can see in this video below, the masked boobies are as unconcerned about the presence of people as their red and blue footed brothers.

Unlike the blue footed booby, the masked booby only raises one chick at a time. The female sometimes will lay two eggs with only one hatching. If both hatch, one will hatch 4 to 7 days before the other. The older and larger chick will push the sibling out of the nest. The parents do not protect the ejected chick from opportunistic predators. It is thought that this process may insure success to have at least one hatchling since their eggs hatch about 60% of the time, and since they are best equipped to take care of only one chick, the ejection helps insure the success of the first born. Both parents share the incubation duties, and like the other boobies, they use their feet to warm the eggs which hatch in 38 to 49 days. The young make first flight in 109 to 151 days but return to the nest to be fed by the parents for another month or two (kind of like when your kids leave the nest but come home to raid the fridge or grab a free hot meal).

Well, what do you think?  What sort of super power might “The Masked Booby” possess?  Maybe flying and diving fast enough to snatch up Aquaman’s loyal minions from the sea?  Feel free to take a gander (yes, that is a waterfowl pun) and tell us your own ideas on the subject.

Happy beach birdwatching!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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Posted in Beach and Coastal Wildlife, Beach Birding | Tagged: , , , , , , | 10 Comments »

Cormorants: Stars of the Silver Screen and Literature

Posted by Greg on August 29, 2012

Double-crested Cormorant. Photo by Mike Baird (Wikimedia Commons)

The name “cormorant” applies to a large variety of birds worldwide.  According to the USDA Wildlife Service, there are 30 different species of cormorants, both flighted and flightless, around the globe. The flightless cormorants inhabit the Galapagos Islands only.  Many reliable sources currently place cormorants in the Pelecaniformes order of birdswhich also includes gannets, pelicans, boobies and great frigates.  Of course, both the numbers and the order are subject to change as scientific discoveries are made and definitions are tweaked.

Flightless Cormorant. Photo by Charles J. Sharp (Wikimedia Commons)

According to Carolina Birds.org“The Pelecaniformes order is in a state of flux. The order was originally defined to include birds that have feet with four web toes. Most members also have non functional nostril slits. They feed on fish or similar marine life. However, many of these species have obtained these features by convergent evolution and not because of common ancestry. At least one new order will probably be formed.” While researching for this post, I found the cormorants’ order listed as Suliformes in more than one trusted reference. The argument goes on.

Cormorants make their nests in a wide variety of ways and places. Britannica Online says, “Cormorants inhabit seacoasts, lakes, and some rivers. The nest may be made of seaweed and guano on a cliff or of sticks in a bush or tree. The two to four chalky eggs, pale blue when fresh, hatch in three to five weeks, and the young mature in the third year.”

Cormorants aren’t particularly spectacular looking birds. Continuing the quote from Britannica, “Cormorants have a long hook-tipped bill, patches of bare skin on the face, and a small gular sac (throat). The largest and most widespread species is the common, or great, cormorant, Phalacrocorax carbo; white-cheeked, and up to 100 cm (40 inches) long, it breeds from eastern Canada to Iceland, across Eurasia to Australia and New Zealand, and in parts of Africa.”

Brandt’s cormorants and friends on the La Jolla coast

According to e-how.com,The cormorant has featured prominently in many famous works of literature. In “Paradise Lost,” John Milton used the cormorant as a symbol of avarice and dishonesty as it sat in the Tree of Life as Eve entered Eden. In “Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Bronte, the eponymous heroine painted a cormorant to represent a cruel woman she disliked. During medieval times, many cultures used cormorant plumage in their coat-of-arms and other heraldry.”

Jody and I recently saw the movie Master and Commander. In the film, the ship’s doctor (and nature enthusiast) discovers flightless cormorants on the Galapagos Islands but is frustrated as events prevent him from going back to collect one. As Lucky Jack reminds the good doctor in the end:

Capt. Jack Aubrey: Well, Stephen… the bird’s flightless?
Dr. Stephen Maturin: Yes.
Capt. Jack Aubrey: It’s not going anywhere.

Master and Commander

Posted in Beach and Coastal Wildlife, Beach Birding | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Pacific Golden-Plovers

Posted by E.G.D. on May 23, 2012

A Pacific Golden-Plover in full breeding plumage. (Photo by tinyfroglet from Flickr)

My graduate school Alma Mater is the University of Hawaii at Manoa, and let me tell you, the campus is positively covered with Pacific golden-plovers, especially during the months of the standard school year (apparently, the lanky, mottled-gold little guys “winter” in Hawaii and on other Pacific islands, but breed in Siberia and Alaska from May through July).  Here’s the funny thing, though… I never before really thought of them as shorebirds.  UHM is up in the valley, a good 30 to 40 minute walk from the shore.  However, according to pretty much everything I’ve found, they are shorebirds, and they’re usually referred to as “waders” by books and articles.  So, basically my project for today is figuring out on what shores they can be found.

Here’s one with more everyday plumage (Photo from USFWS Alaska Image Library)

The first place I found a note about the Pacific golden-plovers on an actual shore was on the state of Hawaii’s government website.  The quote is as follows: “estimated wintering densities range from 0.22 to 44.7 birds per hectare in wild habitats such as forest trails and coastal mudflats.”  So that’s it!  They like mudflats.  No wonder I’ve seen so few of them on the soft sands.  Incidentally, I added the bold, italic, and underline in the above quote (for dramatic emphasis, of course ^_^.  Watch for a repeat performance).  It’s not, strictly speaking, part of the quote.  On a different note, the line that immediately follows that quote is “densities in developed habitats in Hawai‘i have been estimated as 1.4 birds per hectare on golf courses and 5.2 birds per hectare on lawns,” and honestly, I strongly associate them with UHM’s lawns.  It’s all coming together!

E.G.D. on campus at the University of Hawaii at Manoa

Next, I found this on the Audubon WatchList website: “these plovers adapt to an array of winter habitat, much of it altered by humans. They are found in coastal salt marshes, beaches, mangroves, fields, clearings in heavily wooded areas, airport runways, military bases, golf courses, cemeteries, athletic fields, and residential lawns.”  There we have it!  The Audubon Society should know what they’re talking about, right?  And here they are saying that Pacific golden-plovers can be found on beaches!  I guess I need to work on keeping my eyes open and trying to spot one on a beach, rather than on somebody’s front lawn.  I should have plenty of opportunity, goodness knows, because they can be found all over the place.  The Audubon site says that “the winter range of this species is spread out over about half of the world’s circumference. It occupies upland and coastal habitats ranging from Hawaii to Japan, from the South Pacific through southern Asia and the Middle East to northeast Africa. It also winters in specific areas of coastal California, and probably in Baja California, the Revillagigedo and Galapagos Islands, and Chile as well.”  It looks like Australia and New Zealand are included in the term “South Pacific” here, because the article lists both of those countries as places the bird can be spotted. That gives the birdwatchers of the world one heck of a lot of coastline to comb!

If you happen to spot a Pacific golden-plover on a coast somewhere, please drop us a line!  We’d love to see your pictures and hear your stories.  If you simply want to brag a bit, there’s always the comment block below, as well.  Mahalo, and have a great day at the beach- E.G.D.

Posted in Beach and Coastal Wildlife, Beach Birding | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Birding on the Beach in the Sunshine State

Posted by alainaflute on April 11, 2012

Wildlife Wednesday on BeachTreasuresandTreasureBeaches has brought us many articles on all kinds of fun beach critters: horses, mice, and dolphins, oh, my! But there is definitely one beach-goer that all beaches have in common: birds. In the words of David McRee, Visit Florida Beaches Expert, “Beaches and birds: they’re a natural pairing.” Florida beaches are great places to birdwatch, and in his Birding on the Beach article on VisitFlorida.com, David McRee tells us how to identify these noisy, fine-feathered beach-goers. You may be surprised at just how many varieties there are!

Best known by the moniker “sea”, gulls come in many varieties: herring gulls, laughing gulls, and ring-billed gulls.

Laughing gulls, so named because their call sounds like a laugh, are easily identified by their black head and red bill. Herring gulls are much larger, with a white head. The small, ring-billed gull has a black ring around its yellow bill. They all tend to intermingle.” These birds are bold and daring, so please don’t feed them!

Let’s take a tern (yeah, yeah, I couldn’t help myself). Terns look like gulls, white above and gray below, but they are a bird of a different feather! How can you tell them apart? “They have a lighter, more buoyant flight with sleeker, narrower bodies and wings, forked tails and very sharp beaks. Terns will hover briefly over the water, 10 to 30 feet in the air, and then dive gracefully to catch a fish.”

There are a few different kinds of terns. The Royal tern is the largest and has an orange bill. The Caspian tern‘s bill is red. The smallest tern is the Least tern, and last but not least (again, couldn’t resist) is the Common tern with a black cap and an orange-red bill.

Shorebirds are those cute, little birds that will run away instead of fly away when you get closer. I used to call them Sandpipers because I didn’t know what else to call them! Now I know that Sanderlings, Dowitchers and Willets are more specific ways to identify these little beach joggers.

Sanderlings are one of the smallest shorebirds (about 6 inches long). They have black bills, black eyes, and black legs. Dowitchers are a little larger and are usually gray or light brown with a long, thin bill. The Willet is one of the larger shorebirds. With long bills, long legs, and a grey body, they are fairly easy to pick out, especially if they are hanging out with their shorter shorebird friends.

Now for the elegant seabirds. Herons and Egrets are beautiful, long-legged birds that can be found near water anywhere in Florida. White Herons and Egrets and Grey or Blue Herons are of the more common varieties.

Some other birds you can spy by the sea in Florida are the Roseate Spoonbill, the White Ibis, the Black Skimmer, the Oystercatcher, and the Brown Pelican.

There is plenty more to know about beach birding in Florida: how to respect birds nesting on the beach, keeping beaches clean, what to do if you see a bird in distress, and the best places to find birds. Read this important information in David McRee’s article on VisitFlorida.com!

Who knew there was so much to know about these seemingly common beach creatures? It’s time to hit the beach with our binoculars and field guide to see just how many kinds of beach birds we can identify!

Posted in Atlantic Coast Beaches, Beach and Coastal Wildlife, Beach Birding, Gulf of Mexico Beaches | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Boobies? Seriously, Boobies.

Posted by Greg on February 15, 2012

Male Blue-Footed Booby Displaying Foot. (Photo:Pete/Wikimedia Commons)

While researching coastal birds, I ran across boobies.  Seriously, boobies! The name was unusual enough to grab my attention, but after learning more about them, I found these shore birds not only to be quite beautiful, but interesting too. Especially the Blue-Footed Boobies (Sula nebouxii). They have the most unusually striking blue feet I’ve ever seen, outside of Cartoonland. It also works out that the brighter the blue feet, the more attractive the males are to the females, and the males really do like to strut their stuff. Their feet, that is. According to National Geographic,  “All half-dozen or so booby species are thought to take their name from the Spanish word “bobo.” The term means “stupid,” which is how early European colonists may have characterized these clumsy and unwary birds when they saw them on land—their least graceful environment.” They are, however, good fliers.  The article continues,  “Blue-foots (boobies) nest on land at night. When day breaks, they take to the air in search of seafood, sometimes fishing in cooperative groups. They may fly far out to sea while keeping a keen eye out for schools of small fish, such as anchovies. When their prey is in sight, these seabirds utilize the physical adaptations that make them exceptional divers. They fold their long wings back around their streamlined bodies and plunge into the water from as high as 80 feet (24 meters). Blue-footed boobies can also dive from a sitting position on the water’s surface.

Male Blue-Footed Booby in Courtship Display. (Photo:Wikimedia Commons)

Blue-footed boobies average 32 inches long with wingspans of 5 feet. They weigh just over 3 pounds. Females are slightly larger than the males. They range from the Gulf of California to Peru, along the eastern Pacific coast. About half of the breeding pairs are found on the Galapagos Islands. They are not very self-aware and show unwarranted bravery, so they are easily captured (or worse) by people or predators.

Blue-footed boobies have a unique mating dance.  New Hampshire Public Television describes the mating ritual as follows; “Blue-footed boobies have a very elaborate mating ritual. The male raises one blue foot in the air and then the other as he struts in front of the female. Both the male and the female stretch their necks and point their bills to the sky. The male spreads his wings and whistles. The female may tuck her head under her wing.” If you would like to see the spectacle for yourself just click this link to YouTube. Stay tuned for the credits. They’re a real hoot!

If you have an interest in a shore bird (or any coastal wildlife) and would like more information, please let us know on the Questions and Requests page. 

Also, we’d appreciate it if you shared us with your friends and Liked us on Facebook. (One Shell of a Find)

Happy beach birdwatching!

Posted in Beach and Coastal Wildlife, Beach Birding | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Brown Pelican: a Skimming, Soaring, Diving Treat for Coastal Birdwatchers

Posted by Greg on February 8, 2012

When Jody and I walk on beaches or  piers, we’re often mesmerized by pelicans. They are amazing and graceful fliers. It’s so much fun to watch a formation of pelicans glide inches from the surface of the water or soar through the air. Occasionally you’ll see a pelican dive, and if you do, you know you’re seeing a Brown Pelican. The Brown Pelican is the only species of pelican that dives, from as high as 30 feet, into the water to catch its prey, and it features front-side internal air pouches to give it buoyancy and to cushion the impact of the water (like an inflatable life raft and air bags in one).

Venice Pier, California. (Photo ©Jody Diehl)

Brown Pelicans (Pelecanus occidentalis) are large coastal birds with a body that is from 39 to 54 inches long and with a wingspan up to 79 inches. Their diet consists of mid-sized fish. Although they do eat sardines and anchovies, most of their prey are “trash fish,” meaning fish that have little commercial value. Being a large bird, a pelican needs about 4 pounds of food per day. They may be expert fishermen, but Brown Pelicans are also opportunistic and adaptive. You’ll find them hanging out on piers and fishing boats to get scraps.  The juvenile Brown Pelican, pictured above, was demonstrating this to us by perching near a number of fishermen on Venice Pier, California.  He wasn’t afraid, although a bit leery, when Jody approached him with her camera. He seemed a bit of a ham, actually, and we would swear he was posing.

Pelicans, of course, are known for their large bills with the pouch hanging down. The bird’s bill actually can hold more than its stomach: a 3 gallon bill vs. a 1 gallon stomach, which makes sense considering that quite a lot of what pelicans catch when they dive is actually water.  They need to float and drain the water off before they can swallow the fish whole.  During that draining process, sea gulls commonly try to steal their catch. Gulls have been known to perch on the heads or shoulders of pelicans to raid their bills of the fish.

Brown Pelican in Flight. Photo by Alan D. Wilson(Wikimedia Commons)

As for the areas where these birds can be found, according to The Smithsonian National Zoological Park, “Brown Pelicans breed from Anacapa Island, California south to Chile and from Maryland to Venezuela and Trinidad. After breeding, they may be seen as far north as British Columbia and Nova Scotia. They are the only species of pelican that is strictly marine in habitat, never found more than 20 miles out to sea or inland on fresh water. They prefer shallow inshore waters such as estuaries and bays.” There are five subspecies of the brown pelican. The United States is home to two subspecies. The California brown pelican (P. o. occidentalis californicus), is indigenous to the Southern California coast; and the eastern brown pelican (P. o. carolinensis), can be found on both the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts.

They’re quite a sight to see, whether inches from the water or higher in the air!

“A wonderful bird is the pelican, / His bill can hold more than his belican, / He can take in his beak, / Food enough for a week, / But I’m damned if I see how the helican.” (Dixon Merritt, circa 1910)

Posted in Beach and Coastal Wildlife, Beach Birding | Tagged: , , , , , | 4 Comments »

 
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