Birds Apr 20-22, 2007

When I captured my first full frame picture of a bird (Towhee), a photographer friend remarked that I must have been close to the bird and used a long lens. I said yup – 500mm – and I was less than ten feet from the bird. Distance has always been the challenge, especially with non-shorebirds, such as those on More Mesa that tend to fly away at the slightest disturbance. Shorebirds often circle around and return to the same stretch of land. Creeping forward slowly and then standing quietly, have become habits that paid off a little with this weekend’s photos of mostly migratory shorebirds.

Bonaparte's Gulls
(Bonaparte’s Gulls at Goleta Sanitary District – click image for larger picture)

The hours between 3 and 5:30pm on Friday were very rewarding, with a first stop at Goleta Sanitary District. The number of Bonaparte’s Gulls, with many juveniles,  was quite amazing, and they were reasonably easy to photograph. Not so, with a Black-headed Gull.

Black-headed Gull
(Black-headed Gull in two crops – click image for larger picture)

A slow walk to the tanks, where some of the birds were standing on railings and fixtures, yielded some good, clear shots.

Juvenile Bonaparte's Gull
(Juvenile Bonaparte’s Gull – click for large image)

At Goleta Beach, where sandy expanses had been uncovered by the receding tide, I walked onto the wet soil to better observe the Western Sandpipers. While standing quietly, I watched the birds wheel in flocks as they moved about the Slough mouth, and was surprised that on two occasions they landed about ten feet away from where I was standing. As a result, I was able to capture a couple shots of the flocks as they flew by. In the photo below, two of the birds did not leave their food behind despite the flocking behavior. (I learned from the Cornell Link below, that this is known as ploychaete worm prey, a food eaten among others, on migration.)

Western Sandpipers
(Western Sandpipers at Goleta Slough – click for larger image)

There were many peeps at UCSB East Beach, especially Western Sandpipers. A tired Dunlin was determined to sleep, standing in a shallow pool of water close to the main path. I was able to get close to take a photo of its rusty-colored breeding feathers, but was disappointed that it was not feeding, so that a better view of the black spot on its belly could be captured. But the late afternoon, cloudy spring light was wonderful for photography in this area of water, seaweed/kelp and birds.

(Dunlin in breeding plumage – click for larger image)

Further along at the Campus Point rocks, I saw a large flock of what seemed to be Brant’s, fly by. By this time, it was becoming quite chilly and windy. On the way back up the stairs, I was lucky to come upon a Scrub Jay for a decent full-frame shot. It is often all about being at the right place at the right time.

Wandering Tattler
(Willet at Campus Point – click for larger image)

On Saturday, I re-visited the above locations, and was amazed at the difference twelve hours and a clear day (night?) could make. Most of the birds had left or moved somewhere else. As a result, I decided to look for the many hummingbirds reported along Merida Drive. I was not lucky with Calliopes, but was able to get shots of Black-chinned and Rufous Hummingbirds – firsts for me. Maybe a Calliope will be found when the sun shines again.

Rufous Hummingbird
(Rufous Hummingbird at Merida Drive – click image for larger picture)


Birds & Plants, Apr 14-15, 2007

To conserve gas, I usually plan one round-trip per day for any outings over the weekend. During the week, I telecommute, and therefore feel a little less bad about weekend trips, not having a higher gas-mileage car.

Clark's Grebe
(Clark’s Grebe – click image for large picture)

For Saturday shopping, I planned a round-trip that included birding at Goleta Beach/Slough, Mesa Los Carneros wetlands and Devereux. Timing was such that the only birds of note were Grebes (Western and Clark’s) at Goleta Slough and White-faced Ibis at Mesa Los Carneros, although the latter were too far to take a good photo.

White-faced Ibis
(White-faced Ibis – click image for large picture)

On Sunday, I planned to return to Figueroa Mountain primarily for birding, although there were some revisits to plants for id purposes.  The wind was so strong that I got no further than the 9 mile marker on Figueroa Mountain road, before turning back.

Figueroa Mountain
(Figueroa Mountain, cloudy and windy – click image for large picture)

When at the 9 mile marker area, I took my birding lens out for a better shot of the Lark Sparrows – they were not where they were last time. I walked along the paths looking at plants, and instead of turning back on a fairly steep path – hands too tied up with camera – continued on a downward path. After a short while, I looked up to see a Lark Sparrow not very far away, perched on the edge of a water tank. I lifted the camera very slowly, and took a few pictures, before the sound of the shutter annoyed the bird and it flew off.

Lark Sparrow
(Lark Sparrow – click image for large picture)

While driving back down the mountain, I stopped off at an area where Cream Cups, Linanthus and a variety of other flowers grow. Of note was a brilliant, but lone Purple Clarkia, Clarkia purpurea ssp. quadrivulnera.

Purple Clarkia
(Purple Clarkia – click image for large picture)


Goleta Sanitary District

Visited GSD briefly to view the reported Canada Goose nest. Indeed there was a Canada Goose sitting on a nest constructed in the crossway between two ponds – on the rocks and surrounded by a heavy chain. The male was sitting not far from the nest.

Canada Goose Mon-to-be
(Canada Goose nesting – click on image for larger picture)

A third Canada Goose was preening at the edge of the south pond.

Canada Goose preening
(Canada Goose preening – click on image for larger picture)

Also present, a number of Yellow-headed Blackbirds including at least one male.

Yellow-headed Blackbird
(Yellow-headed Blackbird, male – click on image for larger picture)

Yellow-headed Blackbird
(Female Yellow-headed Blackbird – click on image for larger picture)

La Purisima/Burton Mesa – Mar30, Apr1, 2007

Two floristic areas, La Purisima and Burton Mesa, situated close to each other in the Lompoc area, share many interesting endemic plants. Stabilized sand dunes are the underpinnings of the unique maritime chaparral found at these locations. Underneath these very porous sands is a shale substrate of low permeability.

(Ceanothus – Ceanothus cuneatus var. fascicularis)

There was very little rain this year, yet there were many plants flowering in the sandy areas where the tour participants were led. The most noticeable flowers in both areas were Ceanothus and Prickly Phlox (large pictures here and here). The Ceanothus (Ceanothus cuneatus var. fascicularis) is a sub-species of the more common Buck Brush (Ceanothus cuneatus) and is endemic to the sandy areas of La Purisima and Burton Mesa.

Prickly Phlox
(Prickly Phlox – large picture here and here)

At La Purisimia, there were wide sandy fields of flowering plants. Many of these plants are found elsewhere in other soil types: Common Brodiaea, Fiddleneck, Owl’s Clover, Bedstraw, Phacelia (Distans), Chia, Wild Taragon, California Dandelion, Pincushion/Yellow Chaenactis, Death Camus, Wild Cucumber, amongst others. Of interest was a low-spreading type of Yarrow, Manystem Woollysunflower, and a pale blue Phacelia, Douglas’ Phacelia. Large picture of Douglas’ Phacelia here, and Distant Phacelia here.

(Golden Manystem Woollysunflower and pale blue Douglas’ Phacelia)

After viewing the sandy fields, we continued up the hill to a more woody area, with many Oaks, Manzanita, Ceanothus, Mountain Mahogony, and others. One longish trek through reasonably thick sand was an effort the trip leader called Botanic Boot Camp. Yet in this area, the Ceanothus and Manzanita grew quite tall. Pictures below are of two types of Manzanita seen – both endemics – Shagbark Manzanita with shaggy red bark, and La Purisima Manzanita with beautiful smooth, dark red bark. (A picture of the fruit of the latter was taken in 2005 and is included just for reference).

Shagbark Manzanita
(Shagbark Manzanita)

La Purisima Manzanita
(La Purisima Manzanita?, taken in 2005)

At an inclined sandy field in Burton Mesa, many interesting and endemic plants were seen – some, such as Curly-leaved Monardella, flower later in the season. Some of them are very small, for example, California Spine Flower, and one has to walk carefully, preferably on invasive grass, to avoid walking on tiny plants.

On a second trip to Burton Mesa on April 1, I photographed the Lompoc sub-species (Erysimum capitatum ssp. lompocense) of the Coastal Wallflower (Erysimum capitatum).

Lompoc Wallflower
(Lompoc Wallflower)

And finally, a garter snake seen on the La Purisima walk.

Garter Snake

The slideshow below starts with photos taken on the SBBG trip in 2007. Tacked on to the end of the slideshow are photos of other plants of interest, taken when I visited Burton Mesa on my own, in previous years.

Jalama Beach Road – March 30, 31 2007

On a Santa Barbara Botanic Garden tour of three Lompoc areas of floristic interest, a short stop was made some 5-6 miles along the Jalama Beach Road at Jualachichi Summit. The Jualachichi Summit area is interesting because of a number of relictual endemic species growing there; species that are more suited to redwood habitat than other local habitats. (Relict – an organism that was abundant at an earlier time but currently found in a just a few places.) Redwood-type habitat consists of trees and shrubs usually found in the cool redwood forests of the Northern Coast ranges and the Sierra Nevada – and is present in only a few north-facing slopes in Santa Barbara county, one of which is Jualachichi Summit. Others are Kinevan Canyon, Painted Cave and north-facing areas of Santa Ynez Mountains.

Jualachichi Summit
(Jualachichi Summit)

Some of this vegetation can be seen along a short area of the Jalama Beach road and includes: California Huckleberry (Taccinium ovatum), Tanbark Oak (Lithocarpus densiflorus), Bishop Pine (Pinus muricata) and Refugio Manzanita (Arctostaphylos refugioensis).

Bishop Pine
(Bishop Pine)

A follow-up trip was made on March 31 for more pictures, but more importantly to follow the road all the way to Jalama Beach to view the Giant Coreopsis that grow along the cliffs overlooking the beach. Some scattered Coreopsis plants also grow up to about a mile inland. The timing was a little late – should have been a couple weeks earlier.

Giant Coreopsis
(Giant Coreopsis – click image to open larger image)
Giant Coreopsis
(Giant Coreopsis – click image to open larger image)

About a mile inland from the beach, there is a panorama of hills covered with Purple Sage.

Purple Sage
(Purple Sage, Oak Woodland along Jalama Creek inflows –
click image to open larger picture)

The road to the beach mostly runs along Jalama Creek, surrounded by Southern Oak Woodland habitat of ecological importance. Some of the trees found in this habitat include Southern California Black Walnut (Juglans californica), of which the nearest population is about 30 miles away – making it a disjunct, and the westernmost, population. Other trees are Black Cottonwood (Populus trichocarpa) and Pacific Willow (Salix lasiandra).

Black Walnut
(Southern California Black Walnut)