As often as I go to Sands Beach at UCSB for Western Snowy Plover docent duty, I still get surprises. This Thanksgiving Matt Hall joined me for my 11-1 shift and we had a memorable outing. For one thing, the wind was fierce, making a 73-degree day bone-chillingly cold. Nothing could be seen floating, but flocks of shorebirds, including the Snowies, took off and swerved in unison over the heavy waves. A Killdeer greeted our arrival on the beach, and four Marbled Godwits were poking in the sand near the docent station. I can’t remember seeing so many Snowy Plovers nestling in the sand: the blackboard said that 225 had been counted recently. Of course, Black-bellied Plovers were massively abundant, but there were fewer Semipalmated Plovers than I expected. There was a Western Grebe, quite dead, sprawled on the sand; four Turkey Vultures took turns approaching their Thanksgiving meal.
While watching the Snowies, we saw one, then two, stockier, browner birds picking at the wrack: Dunlins. One smaller sandpiper with light legs wandered by, probably a Least Sandpiper. Vees of Brown Pelicans soared in the wind, and a lone Whimbrel joined other birds at the water’s edge. The day’s highlight was a majestic Peregrine Falcon that landed on a log in the protected area of the Slough and sat there as we approached the edge of the fenced-off area. Its black hood set off the bright yellow above the upper beak and on the powerful talons. It showed off its darting flight before re-alighting on the log, then eventually took off inland, scattering songbirds in front of it.
We headed down to Coal Oil Point where the exposed rocks held a mass of birds, mostly Western Gulls, but also a bunch of Willets and more Black-bellied Plovers. One red-billed Heermann’s Gull settled in, and four Royal Terns grandly faced into the wind, in front of eight diminutive, by comparison, Forster’s Terns. As we headed back, we saw a single, larger gull standing at water’s edge: a Glaucous-winged Gull, a treat.
As we drove out, something on the dirt road attracted both a Black Phoebe and a Say’s Phoebe, along with White-crowned Sparrows and a California Towhee. And Devereux Slough, which had been bone dry a week ago, had water from Wednesday night’s rain and ducks had descended – from where? – mostly Mallards but also American Wigeon, Coot, six Redheads and a single female Ring-necked Duck. One Domestic Mallard, slightly larger and white-fronted, stood out among the others. Double-crested Cormorants and Black-necked Stilts, regular Slough denizens, rounded out the company.
Back home on Lilac Drive I was happy to find Townsend’s and Orange-crowned Warblers mixing in with the Yellow-Rumps and Ruby-crowned Kinglets. Everyone seems to be pointing to the Christmas Bird Counts starting in three weeks.