Tuesday, April 16, 2013

California Clapper Rail, Elegant Tern and Eared Grebe

[Huntington Beach. Bolsa Chica. Orange Co., CA. April 2013]

The Clapper Rail is commonly found on the East Coast; however, the Californian subspecies is classified as "Endangered" and populations are under threat due to habitat loss.

This large rail was found calling in the marsh at Bolsa Chica Ecological Preserve. Bolsa Chica is a gem of a hotspot and is always good for shorebirds and waterfowl; but, in Spring, not only do you get the residents but also the last of the over-winterers; passing migrating species and breeding arrivals such as Elegant and Forster's Terns.
[Male Clapper Rail]
Californian Clapper Rail shows largely chestnut undersides with a white crotch; it also has a white chin, barred flanks and greyish-brown upperparts.
Bolsa Chica is renowned as a breeding site for Elegant Tern. This attractive tern is classified as "Near Threatened" and has a very restricted range in the US. Found in pockets along the Pacific shore from California down to Chile, it is entirely coastal and the majority of its global population (~50,000) breeds in a handful of areas in California (including Baja) and the Gulf of California.

Elegant Terns gathering to pair-bond -- this species is known to favor very high breeding densities.


Upto 10% of the global population breeds at Bolsa Chica and the tumultuous cacophony of them congregating in large flocks is a truly spectacular sight. 

In terms of identification, the Elegant is easily distinguishable from the Forster's which is also found here. The Forster's has orange legs, "slicked back" black breeding cap and is smaller in size. On the other hand, Elegant Tern is a medium-sized tern with very pale grey upperparts and a distinctive shaggy crest. Black legs and its long, somewhat drooping orange bill complete the picture.
Here the Elegant Tern is seen completely obscuring a Forster's seen partially in the background.

Eared Grebe, known in the rest of the wold as Black-necked Grebe (a translation of the word nigricollis which is part of its scientific name), is found all over the world excepting Australasia (and Antarctica). Numbering about 4 million individuals, it is one of the most abundant grebes in the world (along with Little Grebe). 
In breeding plumage, it has a stunning black neck, distinctive golden "ear crests" and deep red eyes.

Another specialty bird of the area is Belding's Savannah Sparrow -- this is a larger billed and darker subspecies of the Savannah Sparrow.

A trip to Bolsa Chica is always rewarding and offers the opportunity to see several species that are easier to see here than anywhere else in the US.

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