Goleta Slough Fall 2012

After weeks of heat, there was a noticeable drop in temperature as I headed out to Goleta Beach on September 25th, a few days after the Autumnal Equinox of 2012 which occurred on September 22nd. The sky was cloudy, and later it was reported that the fog had moved inland. On September 27, 29 and 30, it was clear and warm. Bird observations are performed from the east end of the beach at the end of the slough where it has been blocked by the sand, westward to the east viewing platform. Where taken, additional observation routes are noted.

The water level in the slough was high, and there seems to be a good supply of fish. Where birds used to gather on the flats in the middle of the slough, they now find places along the edges of the cliff, as shown in the first photo or they gather on the beach sand as they have always done.

Note – click on any of the thumbnails to view a larger version of the image in a new window.

September 25th, 0855 to 1000 (63 deg, 75%, 5mph)

In addition to the usual Great Blue Herons (Ardea herodias), Great Egrets (Ardea alba), Snowy Egrets (Egretta thula), Double-crested Cormorants (Phalacrocorax auritus) and Pelicans (Pelecanus occidentalis) there were about twenty to thirty terns diving into the slough for fish.

At first, just two species were seen –  Elegant Terns (Thalasseus elegans) and Forster’s Terns (Sterna forsteri). In the center photo, there are many black legs and just one pair of red legs – sometimes Elegant Terns have orange/red legs. Among a group of about 35 terns that had collected on the sand just beyond the end of the closed slough mouth, the third photograph shows a Common Tern (Sterna hirundo) on the right, with a black-tipped red beak and red legs.

Double-crested Cormorants  Elegant Terns with a Forster's Tern  Forster's, Elegant, Common Terns

Another diver at the slough was a female Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon), shown in the left photo below. These birds are hard to miss because of their chattering call. They also do not like to be approached even more than most birds, and stay on the far side of the slough.

Among the usual gulls seen at the slough, was an infrequent visitor, Bonaparte’s Gull (Chroicocephalus philadelphia) It seems to have stayed for just one day, September 25, center photo.

Far above the slough, where very few would notice, was a Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus), shown in photo on right. It appears to be an adult, because the chest stripes are horizontal instead of vertical. At one point it flew off its perch and headed straight to the end of the pier, after which it flew right back. I wonder if it was looking for the many pigeons/doves that gather in many places around Goleta Beach including the pier.

Belted Kingfisher, female  Bonaparte's Gull  Peregrine Falcon

September 27th, 1500 to 1630 (70 deg, 71%, 8mph)

Pied-billed Grebes (Podilymbus podiceps) are seen throughout the fall and winter at the slough. They are often preyed upon by over-wintering Peregrine Falcons or Ospreys (Pandion haliaetus). In the photo on the left below, a grebe has caught a fish that is large for its beak, and it took a number of dives by the grebe before the fish was consumed.

Black-crowned Night Herons (Nycticorax nycticorax) roost during the day in the Myoporum trees that grow along the south bank of the slough. An adult is in the center photo,  and a juvenile in the right.

Pied-billed Grebe  Black-crowned Night Heron  Black-crowned Night Heron, juvenile

September 29, 0715 to 0830 (58 deg, 81%, 0mph)

Many over-wintering shorebirds were observed and documented. There are still small numbers of most species at this time. From left to right, a pair of Whimbrels (Numenius phaeopus), a Long-billed Curlew (Numenius americanus), and a pair of Marbled Godwits (Limosa fedoa). They all have long probing bills for extracting food from wet sand and mud.

Whimbrels  Long-billed Curlew  Marbled Godwits

There are two kinds of Yellowlegs that spend winter in the area – the Greater (Tringa melanoleuca) , which is more common, and the Lesser (Tringa flavipes), smaller and far less common. A single Greater Yellowlegs, is in the left photo below. I saw just a handful of these at the slough mouth. A Black-bellied Plover (Pluvialis squatarola) without the breeding black belly, is in the center photo, and seemed to be the only one in the vicinity of the mouth.

Far from its usual foraging areas along the edges of  water, the Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis macularius) with fading breeding spots,  was feeding on insects in the beach wrack. I was at the east end of a mound of sand on the beach, behind which the Spotted Sandpiper had walked. As I stood quietly, it walked over the mound and toward me without hesitation, probing left and right looking for flies.

Greater Yellowlegs  Black-bellied Plover  Spotted Sandpiper

September 30th, 0700 to 0800 (60 deg, 90%, 0mph)

Many diurnal birds are active even before sunrise, such as the terns that were fishing in the slough before the sun was up. Many shyer birds, such as the Green Heron (Butorides virescens), can be seen flying in the early morning (first two photos below). In the barely lit reaches of Atascadero Creek before it enters the slough mouth, a Western Grebe (Aechmophorus occidentalis) was slowly swimming in an area with few other birds.

Green Heron  Green Heron  Western Grebe on Atascadero Creek

Besides the shorebirds and waterbirds, there are many land birds around the slough mouth. Black Phoebes (Sayornis nigricans)  are very common flycatchers, feeding primarily on flies and other insects, wherever they are found, including the beach. I saw four at different parts of the east parking and beach. Black Phoebes occasionally catch tiny fish,  by diving into small, shallow stretches of water.

Common Yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas), center, is a common bird near wet habitats, and one was photographed in a Myoporum in the central portion of the east Goleta Beach parking area. In the vegetation growing down the tall cliffs behind the beach and beyond the closed slough mouth, a House Wren (Troglodytes aedon) was heard and then photographed among the leaves of a Eucalyptus tree.

Black Phoebe  Common Yellowthroat  House Wren

October 28th, 1000 to 1042 (76 deg, 31%, 0mph)

Many duck species overwinter at Goleta Slough, and other places with water in the Santa Barbara area, such as the Harbor, Devereux Slough, Lake Los Carneros, UCSB lagoon, the Bird Refuge, etc. On October 27th, the first Buffleheads (Bucephala albeola) were reportedly seen at Goleta Slough, and I stopped by on 28th for photos.

Also photographed on that day, was a juvenile of a group of about 15 Western Grebes (Aechmophorus occidentalis) that are staying in the Atascadero Creek waters just before the water merges into the slough mouth. For the first time this season, I came across Least Sandpipers (Calidris minutilla), in  a good-sized flock of about 20-30. They had found some muddy foraging areas at the edge of the slough where it is surrounded by beach sand.

Goleta Slough - Bufflehead Goleta Slough - Western Grebe, juvenile Goleta Slough - Least Sandpipers

November 4th, 1630 to 1700 (74 deg, 33%, 11mph)

A pair of White-tailed Kites (Elanus leucurus) were seen perched on a sycamore close to the bike path at 1638:04. They were observed from the east viewing platform at Goleta Slough. I decided to walk over the Goleta Beach entry bridge and onto the bike path to get a closer view. After walking to a point along the bike path where the tree came into view again, just one kite was seen on the tree. The second was flying over the area to the left and right of the bike path, and I turned around to watch it hovering. Suddenly it dropped to the ground close to a Pyracantha bush, and I managed to get a photo at 1644:15 as it flew up with a vole back to the sycamore tree where it had perched earlier.

By this time, the second bird had also flown from the tree to hover over an area further west of the bike path. After it saw the catch by the first bird, it flew back to the sycamore tree. The bird with the prey is probably a female, because it is the larger of the two birds. When it became apparent that no sharing would take place, the prey-less bird flew off again to search for food.

WTK pair on sycamore near bikepath bridge First WTK hovering First WTK with caught vole

First WTK eating vole Second WTK flying back to tree Two WTKs back at tree - one with food, the other hungry

November 17th, 1600 to 1630 (60 deg, 96%, 11mph)

A number of Royal Terns (Thalasseus maximus) have arrived at the Goleta Beach area, and on the 17th there were about 30 perched on the sand near the slough mouth. I managed to get better close-up shots of a pair of Forster’s Terns (Sterna forsteri) that were near the Royal Terns.

Royal Terns Royal Tern Forster's Tern