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Posts Tagged ‘Beach Bird Watching’

No ~Hula~ for the Red-Footed Booby!

Posted by Greg on April 25, 2012

Often seen perched on coastal trees and shrubs, the colorful Red-footed Booby (Sula sula) lives and breeds on tropical and subtropical islands and atolls of the Caribbean Sea, the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans, and the three seas north of Australia.

Adult Red-Footed Booby With Chick. (Photo:GSH1967/Wikimedia Commons)

Unlike blue-footed boobies, red-footed boobies don’t have an elaborate mating dance. Nesting on land, these handsome sea birds breed throughout the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWMI) and at limited sites on the Main Hawaiian Islands (MHI).  Red-footed boobies, or ′ā (as they are known in Hawaii), are the only boobies that commonly nest in small trees and shrubs. Egg laying usually peaks from February through April, with the ′ā producing only one egg per season. Equal opportunity guardians, both the males and females share in incubation duties. The young are ready to fly around September. The doting parents feed their young for up to 4 months after fledging (developing wing feathers large enough for flight).

White Morph Red-footed Booby in Flight Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

White Morph Red-footed Booby (Photo:PD-USGov-FWS)

Red-footed boobies have been known to follow, and sometimes land, on ships and fishing boats. They feed mostly on squid and fish and can snatch a flying fish, their favorite food, out of the air. Like their blue-footed relatives, they are great divers and have keen eyesight to spot their prey. They can dive from as high as 26 feet to capture their dinner.

Red-footed boobies are the smallest of all the boobies. They measure 28 to 30 inches in length and have a wing span of  around 4 1/2  feet. Unlike their blue-footed relatives, they aren’t very uniform in appearance.  Almost all Hawaiian birds of this species are white, however, according to The Cornell Lab of Ornithology: “The Red-footed Booby comes in a confusing array of color morphs, ranging from individuals that are all white except for blackish on the wing, to individuals that are entirely dark brown. Some birds fail to fit neatly into any of the typical color morph categories, and many variations exist. Color morphs do not segregate reproductively or geographically; individuals representing several morphs breed in a single colony.”

Like their booby cousins, they are unafraid of people and easy to capture. In some areas these birds are used for food. Poaching, coupled with other encroachments on their habitat (e.g., insects, rats and feral cats), is resulting in the appearance of declining numbers.

Red-Footed Booby, Kauai, Hawaii (Photo:DickDaniels/Wikimedia Commons)

Jody and I hope that our next Hawaiian vacation will take us to the island of Kauai. We’ll definitely plan a visit to Kīlauea Point National Wildlife Refuge, where we now know to be on the lookout for these very interesting and beautiful coastal birds!

-Now, can someone please tell me how to pronounce ′ā?

Have a great day birding at the beach! Aloha! 

Related links: Hawaii’s Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy

Boobies? Seriously, Boobies, Blue-Footed Booby

National Geographic, Red-Footed Booby

Posted in Beach and Coastal Wildlife, Beach Birding, Beaches of The Hawaiian Islands | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a 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, 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!

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 »

Tufted Puffins, Birds With “Do”s

Posted by Greg on April 4, 2012

Tufted Puffin. Photo by Jeff Foote (NOAA Photo Library)

Here’s a great bit of news for those who want to see puffins but can’t go to Newfoundland or Europe. They’re coming to Oregon! Cannon Beach no less! According to the Coast Explorer, “Each spring, colorful Tufted Puffins return to Cannon Beach’s Haystack Rock to lay eggs and raise their chicks, offering the Northwest’s most accessible location to see nesting puffins. Throughout the spring and summer months, the Haystack Rock Awareness Program is on the beach at Haystack Rock offering interpretive information about the rock and the habitat it provides for intertidal creatures and birds. The program offers spotting scopes focused on nesting Tufted Puffins to offer visitors a look at the colorful birds.” This is definitely going on my to-do list.

Misty Morning at Haystack Rock

The Seattle Audubon Society tells us, “Tufted Puffins can be found in many coastal habitats adjacent to the Washington coast and elsewhere in the northern Pacific, with the exception of estuaries. They breed in colonies on islands with steep, grassy slopes or on cliff tops.

Tufted Puffin (Photo:Mike Boylan/PD-USgov-NOAA) Nice "do"

Winter habitat is well offshore, in mid-ocean.They dive and swim underwater, using their wings to paddle and their feet to steer their way through schools of small fish, which they catch in their bills. They can be seen carrying fish crosswise in their bills (sometimes 12 or more), which they take back to their young.

Tufted Puffins (Fratercula cirrhata) are a Northern Pacific sea bird. They are found along the Pacific Rim from the islands of Japan to Central California. Their average height is 15.5 inches, and these puffins have a relatively short wingspan. They are a stocky bird and need a running start to take off. Flight is difficult for them, but their wings aid them in swimming. They carry fish for their young to the nest in their bills, but they eat their own meals while under water.

The Alaska SeaLife Center explains: “During the summer breeding season, adults have dark bodies and white faces. Their legs are orange and their large triangular shaped bill is red-orange, with a buff or olive green plate at the top. The Tufted Puffin is distinguished by the long, straw colored tufts that curve backward from their red-ringed eyes. In the winter, they shed that buffy bill sheath and plumes and their face becomes dusky.”

I haven’t been to Cannon Beach, Oregon, in a while. Now seems like a good time to go, and what a great excuse to get away to the beach!

Happy coastal bird watching!

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

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 »

Ospreys, Magnificent Birds of Prey.

Posted by Greg on January 11, 2012

Osprey with fish. Photo by Terry Ross (Wikimedia Commons)

When Jody and I go to the islands of Sanibel and Captiva, Florida I’m always on the lookout for ospreys. I have long been interested in birds of prey.  According to The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, “One of the largest birds of prey in North America, the Osprey eats almost exclusively fish. It is one of the most widespread birds in the world, found on all continents except Antarctica.”

Osprey at Morro Bay, California. Photo by Mike Baird (Wikimedia Commons)

An osprey (Pandion haliaetus) is fairly easy to identify, especially when flying, because of its gull-like crooked wing shape. It has a bright white breast and belly with the white extending out on the underside of the wings, mixing to white and dark at the ends of the wings and on the tail. The back is black or dark brown. The osprey has a white head and a distinctive dark mask across its eyes. This large raptor has a body length ranging from 21 to 26 inches and a wingspread that can measure almost 6 feet.  According to  the United States Geological Survey, “One species makes up the family Pandionidae and that is the osprey. It is a specialized fish-catching hawk and has a number of anatomical distinctions indicating it has pursued its own evolutionary course. For these reasons, it has been placed in a separate family from the hawks and eagles.”

We first learned about ospreys on Sanibel Island, Florida because of the area’s local efforts to bring them back in larger numbers. We spotted osprey nest stands on power poles as well as freestanding nesting platforms.  The osprey population drastically declined in numbers in the 1970s as a result of pesticide use, and it is now protected by the Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

We’ll certainly be on the lookout for ospreys in other coastal areas. These magnificent birds of prey can also be found in forested habitats near rivers and lakes.

Happy birdwatching!

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

The Black Skimmer

Posted by Greg on January 4, 2012

Black Skimmer. Photo by Dan Pancamo (Wikimedia Commons)

The Black Skimmer is a unique and quite beautiful bird. Its name describes its top color and its feeding method. According to The Cornell Lab of Ornithology,  “the remarkable bill of the Black Skimmer sets it apart from all other American birds. The large red and black bill is knife-thin and the lower mandible is longer than the upper.”

Another fascinating trait of the Black Skimmer is its call.  Dave Mehlman of  The Nature Conservancy says “it has a call somewhat like a dog, a distinct voice among coastal birds in the United States. In fact, some have described the black skimmer as an ‘aerial beagle.’ ”

Dave Melman continues, “the skimmer feeds by flying low over the water and putting its lower bill into the water. As it flies along, when it encounters a fish with its lower bill, the upper bill snaps down instantly and the skimmer catches and eats the fish. The key to this whole feeding mechanism is that the lower bill is shaped like a knife, with a narrow leading edge. So, it can literally slice through the water while flying along at a normal speed.”

Black Skimmer. Photo by Dan Pancamo (Wikimedia Commons)

The Black Skimmer is found in Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coastal areas of North America from Massachusetts south to Central and South America. It likes to frequent open sandy beaches, and it nests on low-lying sandy areas with low vegetation.

Watching birds is one of many things we enjoy at the seashore. From pelicans to plovers to birds of prey, all are unique and beautiful, and it’s a lot of fun to discover new and different coastal birds. Watch for more beach birds on Wild Wednesdays to come, and in the meantime, happy beach birdwatching!

As always, please feel free to tell us about your favorite beach bird-spotting experiences in the comment box below.  Also, you may consider submitting a guest article on the subject.  We’re always happy to see your ideas!

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

What is a Snowy Plover?

Posted by Jody on November 2, 2011

A Snowy Plover is a small sparrow-sized shore bird with a gray neck and back. They sport dark patches behind the eyes, on either side of the neck, and on the forehead. Year round residents of Washington, Oregon, and California coastal beaches, they crouch in small depressions in the sand to take cover from the shore winds. In their natural habitat of flat, open coastal beaches, dunes or near the mouths of streams, Snowy Plovers are extremely well camouflaged. (OK, I’ll say it. They are sooooooo adorable!!) “Plover nests usually contains three tiny eggs, which are camouflaged to look like sand and barely visible to even the most well-trained trained eye. Plovers will use almost anything they can find on the beach to make their nests, including kelp, driftwood, shells, rocks, and even human footprints.”(

Western Snowy Plover, Morro Bay, California (Photo by Mike Baird/Wikimedia Commons)

“Plovers have lived on California beaches for thousands of years. Currently it is estimated that only 1300 Western Snowy Plovers are breeding along the Pacific Coast.” (NPS/Point Reyes National Seashore) The Snowy Plover is currently listed as a federally threatened species and is therefore protected by the Endangered Species Act. This means that beach goers who disturb plovers or their breeding habitat may be cited or fined.

3 Snowy Plover Eggs on the Beach, San Diego County, California (Photo UpLoad: Magnus Manske/Wikimedia Commons)

Here are some tips from the National Park Service for sharing the seashore with the Western Snowy Plover:

Respect posted habitat areas. Stay at least 50 feet away from the birds and nests & report unprotected nests.

Walk dogs only where authorized and always on leash. (Dogs are prohibited from Snowy Plover nesting beaches during breeding season – from mid-March to mid-September)

Properly dispose of garbage to avoid attracting predators. (Crows, ravens, falcons, harriers, foxes, skunks, bobcats, coyotes, raccoons)

Leave driftwood lying on the sand.  It provides nesting and feeding habitat for Western Snowy Plovers.  Upright wood provides perches for bird predators.

Walk near the water line on the beach.

Let’s share the seashore with our fine feathered friends!  We’ll all have a great day at the beach!

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

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