Sands Beach Birds

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.

Twins Manager

The Minnesota Twins began their offseason by hiring Rocco Baldelli from the Tampa Bay Rays to be their new manager, replacing Hall of Famer Paul Molitor, 2017’s AL Manager of the Year. The Twins’ dismal season was not Molitor’s fault, and no one found particular fault with anything he did, except not winning more games, which is really up to the players. We should also note that the Twins finished second in their division, ahead of Detroit, Kansas City and Chicago – none of which fired its manager. The Twins will offer Molitor another job and hope he remains in their system, another sign that he didn’t really mess up.
Nevertheless, I am totally on board with the decision, if for no other reason than it gives me, and all Twins fans, something new to look forward to. I’m not aware of any hot rookies on the way, and no one expects the Twins to deviate from their policy of not entering the sweepstakes for big-name free agents. As to the core of remaining players, none appear to be on a trajectory toward major improvement. In short, if the Twins began 2019 with the same-old, same-old, there would have been a major excitement deficiency, not to mention a fall-off in ticket buyers. The easiest way to inject interest is to introduce a new manager, who may have a new way of doing things or connecting with his players, even if turns out he is just putting lipstick on a pig.
Of course, the easiest way for the Twins to regain relevance is to resurrect the careers of their potential superstars, Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton. You could be fairly sure it wasn’t going to happen with Molitor. Maybe Baldelli can strike a chord and offer them a fresh start. As I see it, their problems are not physical: Sano has lacked maturity and Buxton confidence. If a new manager cannot make a difference, it will be time for the Twins to move on. The simple possibility that he will make a difference is enough for me to look forward to the season ahead.