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Archive for the ‘Beach Birding’ Category

Walking in Our Winter Wonderland

Posted by Jody on January 1, 2013

Let it snow! Let it snow! Let it snow!

Here’s how Greg and I celebrated the last day of 2012 at Tingley Beach in Albuquerque, New Mexico…

It was our second dusting of snow this season!  -Click on any photo to enlarge and scroll through.

~~~Happy 2013 to one and all!~~~

Posted in Beach Birding, Inland Shores, Today's Special | Tagged: , , , , , | 16 Comments »

Weekend’s Rock!

Posted by Jody on December 30, 2012

Haystack Rock at Cannon Beach, Oregon

Haystack Rock at Cannon Beach, Oregon

Haystack Rock is located near Cannon Beach on the North coast of Oregon, Haystack Rock is a unique monolith that attracts wildlife and tourists alike. Towering 235 feet over the beach, the Rock is home to nesting seabirds in the summer and marine invertebrates all year long. It is one of the largest “sea stacks” on America’s Pacific coast.

The rocky reefs of Haystack Rock and the neighboring Needles have abundant and rich intertidal life. Tidepoolers are drawn to its wonders every day. As many as 200,000 people visit Haystack Rock every year, mostly during the summer months when the tidepools are teeming and the nesting seabirds, proudly showing off breeding plumage, are busy introducing little ones into the world. Haystack Rock is protected under Fish and Wildlife regulations as a Marine Garden and a seabird nesting refuge.

Source: City of Cannon Beach

Haystack Rock, Cannon Beach, Oregon

We stop for a leisurely barefoot stroll on Cannon Beach every time we visit Oregon’s wild and wonderful coast.  The wide, sandy shoreline somehow always seems uncrowded.  Cannon Beach’s beautiful, clean strand is  always worth the time.

Be sure to bring your binoculars so you can spot the well-coiffed resident Tufted Puffins throughout the spring and summer months!


Posted in Beach and Coastal Wildlife, Beach Birding, Pacific Coast Beaches, Tide Pools, Weekend's Rock | Tagged: , , , , | 9 Comments »

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!


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“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,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 »

A Wealth of Wildlife on Louisiana’s Gulf Coast: The Creole Nature Trail

Posted by E.G.D. on August 8, 2012

Long Beach, Louisiana Gulf Coast – Creole Nature Trail

Recently, my mom (Jody) and I spent a weekend enjoying the gulf coast along the Texas/Louisiana border.  We spent nearly a whole day in southern Louisiana enjoying the “Cajun Riviera,” and one of our most amazing and delightful discoveries was that much of the “Cajun Riviera” coast is part of Louisiana’s Creole Nature Trail.  According to the official website, “Louisiana’s Creole Nature Trail All-American Road is a hands-on opportunity to experience one of America’s untamed natural wonders,” and we certainly found that to be the case.  We spotted a good many shorebirds, hermit crabs, and wildflowers along the nature trail’s 26 miles of natural beaches, and while we were at it, we had a spectacular time shelling!  More on that in future posts (we’re slated to do articles on Mae’s Beach and Holly Beach, if not more!), but while we’re on the topic of the nature trail, I would like to point out that there’s a downloadable beachcombing guide on the website because the nature trail’s beaches, “located west of the Mississippi Delta… are constantly replenished by the ‘muddy river’s’ southeast tidal flow which carries rich deposits of driftwood and a wide variety of shells including whelks, cockles, angelwings, cateyes, olives, wentletraps, coquinas and periwinkles” as well as sea beans, though Jody and I weren’t lucky enough to find any sea beans or driftwood on this particular trip.

Beachcombing along Louisiana’s Creole Nature Trail (Holly Beach)

Back to the wildlife, though (this is Wild Wednesday, after all), the Creole Nature Trail is one of the Top 10 Birding Destinations in the country.”  There is a southwest Louisiana birding guide available on the website that includes the quote “the gulf beaches themselves are extensive, and vary in composition from sand to shell fragments, to mud. Here, common nesters include Snowy Plover, Wilson’s Plover, and Least Tern. Rarities have included Little Gull, Glaucous Gull, California Gull, Thayer’s Gull,  Black-legged Kittiwake, Arctic Tern, Smith’s Longspur, and Yellow-nosed Albatross, to mention a few.”  What a wealth of awesome birds to spot, and what a great reference material to have available free to all online!  If you are at all interested in birding and think you might someday be in southern Louisiana, you really should go check it out.

Wildflowers of Louisiana’s Gulf Coast

Finally, the Creole Nature Trail passes through terrain rich in bright, fragrant wildflowers that are far more than “just pretty faces.” Able to thrive with intense heat, the Creole Nature Trail’s wildflower population plays an active role in the ecosystem.” 

I could not find any Louisiana wildflower guides specific to the Gulf of Mexico coast, but if you visit the Creole Nature Trail, I absolutely guarantee you will spot wildflowers, and when that happens, you can attempt to identify them using the Louisiana page of, if you’re the type to be curious about flower names.

Creole Nature Trail, Louisiana Gulf Coast

And there you have it!  I personally give the Gulf coast section of the Creole Nature Trail five out of five stars for natural beauty and educational opportunity, and if you keep your eye on our future posts, we’ll give you a full report about its beachcombing opportunities, friendly locals, and soft sands.  Suffice it to say, we are duly impressed.

Happy beach-going -E.G.D.

Posted in Beach and Coastal Wildlife, Beach Birding, Beach Flora, Gulf of Mexico Beaches, Seashells | Tagged: , , , , , , | 9 Comments »

Curious about cormorants? So is Rover!

Posted by Greg on July 11, 2012

Today’s feathered feature is the Brandt’s cormorant Jody and I met on our last trip to sunny Southern California.

The Brandt’s cormorant (Phalacrocorax penicillatus) is a sea bird common to the Pacific Coast of North America, from California to Washington. The full range, however, is from southern Alaska to Baja Mexico, wherever the food is most plentiful. This sea bird depends heavily on the California Current, which moves south along the Pacific Coast of North America, causing  upwellings of nutrients that attract the bird’s food. Its diet consists mainly of fish, along with shrimp and crabs. The Brandt’s cormorant is a great diver that descends from the water’s surface and uses its powerful webbed feet to swim masterfully. This cormorant commonly dives to depths of 40 feet, chasing prey that they grab with their hooked bill and then swallow whole.

We came across this juvenile Brandt’s cormorant on La Jolla’s beautiful coast.

Juvenile Brandt’s Cormorant enjoying the view in La Jolla, California

Brandt’s cormorants have distinctive white cheeks, making them easy to identify. According to the Channel Islands National Park, California, “Brandt’s cormorants weigh about 4.6 pounds and measure 34 inches in length, with a wingspan of about 4 feet. Sexes look similar; with short black legs, a long black body and neck, and a dark bill with a hooked tip. Breeding adults have brilliant turquoise eyes and a bright blue gular pouch-distinctive among this species of cormorant-which fades quickly after the nesting season. Their breeding plumage also includes white plumes on either side of the head, neck, and back. Like other cormorants, Brandt’s cormorants often spread their wings out to dry after a dive, as their feathers are not completely waterproof and become soaked. This helps reduce buoyancy and allows the cormorant to forage deep under water.

Juvenile Brandt’s cormorants (like the one we met) are brownish black with a lighter tan underside that forms a V-shape where the neck meets the chest.

What’s up?

The picture below shows the result of a pet owner disregarding  San Diego County beach dog laws and commonly accepted beach pet etiquette. Although the bird seemingly remained calm, cool and collected, this unexpected encounter gave Jody and me a good scare! Luckily, Rover was just curious. He didn’t get any closer to the young cormorant before his errant owner realized where he was and called him off.

Uh oh! Fido isn’t on a leash!

The inquisitive pooch was not only off-leash but was also on the beach within restricted hours. San Diego County has a very specific set of hours in which dogs are allowed on beaches, and at all times they must be kept on a leash.

Of course, our pal Rover didn’t know any better, but his human might want to consider planning a visit to one of the four special “Dog  Beaches” on the San Diego Coast. They include Dog Beach-Ocean Beach, Fiesta Island-Mission Bay, North Beach Dog Run-Coronado, and Del Mar Dog Beach-Del Mar. Each of these beaches has their own rules. Stop by the county’s Dog Beaches site for details.

“Properly trained, a man can be dog’s best friend.”  ~Corey Ford, American humorist

Posted in Beach and Coastal Wildlife, Beach Birding, Southern California Beaches | Tagged: , , , , | 7 Comments »

American White Pelican – A Team Player

Posted by Greg on June 27, 2012

American White Pelican landing in water. (Photo: PD-USGov FWS)

The American White Pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos)  is a very large bird by any standard. It stands about 4 feet tall, can have a wing span of over 9 feet, and weighs between 10 and 30 pounds. It flies north during breeding season (as far as Northern Alberta, Canada) and winters south (as far as the Gulf of Mexico and Central America).  In the continental United States, you can find American White Pelicans on lakes, streams, rivers and marshes from Minnesota, west to Northern California  in the summer months, and in the Gulf Coast States and southern California in the winter months.

American White Pelican (PD-USGov FWS)

According to Nature Works (New Hampshire Public TV): “It is entirely white except for its black-edged wings that are visible when the American white pelican is in flight. It has a long neck, a long orange bill with an expandable pouch and short orange legs with big webbed feet. In breeding season, it has a light yellowish crest on the back of its head and a nuptial tubercle or fibrous plate on the upper part of its bill. The nuptial tubercle will fall off when mating season is over and the crest will turn gray. Young American white pelicans have grayish markings on their heads and backs.

Other than shallow surface dives, the American White Pelican does not dive for its food like its cousin the Brown Pelican. He usually just dips his head into the water to scoop up his prey. Sometimes these pelicans fish cooperatively. Forming a semi circle, they splash with their feet and wings to drive the confused fish into shallow water where they can scoop them up. Sometimes they will form opposing lines, one side driving the fish to the waiting pelicans on the other side.

American White Pelicans (Photo: PD-USGov FWS.)

According to The Cornell Lab of Ornithology: “The American White Pelican is a graceful flier, either singly, in flight formations, or soaring on thermals in flocks. They soar in different portions of thermals for different distances: wandering flights in lower portions of a thermal, commuting flights at middle heights, and cross-country flights in the upper reaches of thermal columns.

No matter the beach or water’s edge you happen to be on, these magnificent birds are a real joy to watch.

Posted in Beach and Coastal Wildlife, Beach Birding | Tagged: , , | 3 Comments »

Wet & Wild, Wild West!

Posted by Jody on June 20, 2012

On the way to Cattail Cove State Park, Arizona (Photo: Alaina Diehl)

Heading south on AZ 95 from Lake Havasu City, it’s an easy hop between three gorgeous Arizona State Parks.  All three have lovely beaches; one rests on the shores of Lake Havasu, and two are nestled along the banks of the Colorado River. Each one has amazing scenery and access to cool waters along the sandy riverside.

Beach at Cattail Cove State Park, Arizona (Photo: Alaina Diehl)

Cattail Cove State Park is a quiet, out of the way campers’ sanctuary.  Although Cattail Cove feels more like a river beach than a lakeside respite, it is located on Lake Havasu (north of Parker Dam), fifteen miles south of Lake Havasu City. There is a very nice swimming beach available and at the time of our visit, the park ranger told us that a new load of fine beach sand was being brought in within the week. Hiking, boating and Sea-Dooing are all quite popular at Cattail Cove. The surrounding area is also very well known for its rock hounding.

River Island State Park, Arizona

Beach at River Island State Park, Arizona

River Island State Park is about 11 miles down the road from Cattail Cove. There is plenty of welcoming shade at River Island and a  narrow, sandy river beach.  Visitors to this beach can boat, swim, hike, and camp, but in the 100+ degree temps of a mid-June day, the most exertion Alaina and I saw was folks resting on the beach under a shade canopy with their feet dipped in the cool river water. Having a small watercraft parked nearby seems a must for really stylish lounging! I’m beginning to wonder – does everyone on the river own a jet ski?

Beach at River Island State Park, Arizona

Just one more very short hop down the road from River Island State Park, Alaina and I came across Buckskin Mountain State Park.  It’s only a little more than a mile between them!  Buckskin Mountain is the larger of the two (practically) side-by-side recreation areas, with similar activities and plenty of day use potential. The large campground, multiple cabana sites, and playground make this state park very family and group friendly.  There’s even a camp store and restaurant on site. But, of course, our main goal was scoping out the beach!  Buckskin Mountain has a lovely little swimming beach. And, once again, the river bank was was lined with shade-seeking feet soakers! Seriously, I’m guessing they were just conserving energy for their next turn on the Sea-Doo.

Buckskin Mountain State Park, Arizona (Photo: Alaina Diehl

Buckskin Mountain State Park, Arizona (Photo: Alaina Diehl)

If you plan to visit any of these beaches, don’t forget to pack your binoculars. Out here in the Wet & Wild,Wild West we have some pretty interesting beachside critters. All three of these Arizona State Parks offer the perfect setting for wildlife viewing.  Bobcats, ringtail cats, coyote, gray fox, racoons, rabbits and an occasional bighorn sheep can be spotted in the area. You might even spot snakes (Red Racers and King Snakes) and desert iguanas.  Birds of the area include egrets, turkey vultures, great horned owls and red-tailed hawks. The Colorado River is also a flyway for migratory birds, making this a very popular area for bird watching.

There we have it. We’ve just added three more beautiful, Colorado River beaches to our Colorado River Beach Week collection.  Happy travels!

“A river seems a magic thing. A magic, moving, living part of the very earth itself.”

~ Laura Gilpin, American Photographer

Posted in Beach and Coastal Wildlife, Beach Birding, Beaches of North America, Inland Shores | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

The Regal Great Blue Heron

Posted by Jody on June 6, 2012

Great Blue Heron on the Texas Gulf Coast

Great Blue Heron, Preparing for Flight

Great Blue Heron in Flight

Greg, the kids, and I have had the pleasure of seeing Great Blue Herons in many different settings.  It’s no wonder, since they are found throughout North America.  Their range extends from Alaska to Florida, into the Caribbean and Mexico, and even farther south to northern South America.  Found on saltwater coastlines, freshwater lake shores, riverbanks and creeksides, the Great Blue Heron has a diet consisting primarily of fish. Mice, lizards, insects, frogs and turtles are also on the menu.

The largest of the North American herons, Great Blue Herons (Ardea herodias) are wading birds, some standing up to 4½ feet tall. They strike quite a dignified pose, with their long legs, graceful necks, blade-like bills, and subtle blue gray plumage. They have a definite, bold black stripe above their eyes that extends to the back of their heads.

When in flight, they reveal two tones on the upper side of their wings, dark flight feathers with light coloring forward.  Their wingspread can measure 6½ feet! In flight, their necks curl into an s-curve and their feet stick straight out behind their bodies. What a majestic sight they are!

The above photo series of a stately heron was taken from the west jetty at Quintana Beach County Park, on the upper Texas Gulf Coast. I imagine this beautiful Great Blue Heron was hoping for fish, just like the many tackle-toting visitors to the jetty!

Quintana Jetty, Quintana Beach County Park, Texas Gulf Coast

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has lots of information on the Great Blue Heron.  Their website has audio recordings of the different calls, as well as a live webcam of  Great Blue Herons nesting, giving us a wonderful opportunity to get even more up close and personal with these regal birds.

~ Happy beach birding! ~

Posted in Beach and Coastal Wildlife, Beach Birding, Gulf of Mexico Beaches | Tagged: , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Quintana Beach County Park on the Texas Gulf Coast – So Many Reasons to Visit

Posted by Jody on June 5, 2012

Quintana Beach County Park:

Our family gives this 51 acre beach and park complex a definite “two thumbs up!”

“Natural” Quintana Beach County Park

Quintana Beach County Park is located on the upper Texas Gulf Coast on the tiny man-made island of  Quintana, the “Gateway to the Gulf.” We think it offers one of the nicest beach experiences on the Texas coast. Here you’ll find a “natural” beach that is maintained by the tides and weather.  Expect to see seaweed and driftwood strewn across the sandy beach. This simply means that Brazoria County leaves it to Mother Nature to care for her Gulf Coast shoreline. You won’t find the county regularly raking or “cleaning” the sand, and this just makes beachcombing that much more interesting.

There are so many reasons to visit Quintana Beach County Park! Here are just a few:

Sea Bean Collection from Quintana Beach County Park, Texas

1) While beachcombing on the 1/2+ mile of sands within the county park’s boundaries, we found a wonderful assortment of seabeans (also known as drift seeds), driftwood and delicate angel wings.

The Quintana jetty, locally known as the west jetty,  is the eastern border of the county park. It offers plenty of fun on its own!

2) The fine folks at the county park told us that the jetty measures about 1/2 mile long.  It’s a lovely walk. While strolling along the Quintana jetty, you can try to find the shape of the Lone Star State embedded in the concrete. I think it was our 5 year old grandson who spotted it first!

The Lone Star State

3) One of my favorite activities at the beach park was just sitting on the rocks of the jetty, watching the tugs go out and the ships come in through the Freeport Ship Channel.

Watching the Banana Boat

4) Our family doesn’t fish, but it was easy to see that surf fishing, pier fishing, kayak fishing, and fishing from the extra long jetty are all the rage at Quintana Beach County Park.

View from the Quintana Jetty

5) Birding, too. Most notably, we watched pelicans in flight and the regal great blue heron.

6) Swimming – NOT from the jetty! (of course), although there are no lifeguards at the beach.

7 & 8) Surfing and kayaking are very popular sports here.

Kayaks on the Gulf of Mexico

9) Clean, well maintained camp sites and rental cabins are available just off the beach. Special event pavilions can be reserved for day use, too.

10) There are lots of amenities and a few historic sites just beyond the dunes. Be sure to use the dune preserving crossovers! Nice washrooms and showers are available, along with picnic tables and vending machines.

Dune Crossover

Pick a reason, any reason, to visit Quintana Beach County Park and your family will have a great day at the beach, too!



Posted in Beach Birding, Gulf of Mexico Beaches, Surfing Beach, Tallies & Tips | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments »

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