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Friday, April 19, 2013

Western Shorebirds and Brant

[Coastal Orange Co., CA. April, 2013]

Black Brant is a sea goose found on both our coasts; the Pacific subspecies, shown here, has a black instead of a grey belly that is found on the Atlantic version.

Black or Pacific Brant -- a pair seen at Bolsa Chica, Huntington Beach.

Black Brant showing its characteristic black belly; this is one of a pair spotted at Laguna Beach.

Black Brant breed in Alaska and the Canadian Tundra while they winter along the Pacific coast. This small, black goose with a distinctive "white lace" collar is a global bird found in Europe as well. Numbering about a half-million, their population trends are stable and hence this species is classified as "Least Concern" by BirdLife International.

Now over to shorebirds:

The Black Oystercatcher is being highlighted by the Audubon's Society "10 under 10,000" awareness campaign -- the current population of this charismatic shorebird is estimated at about 9,000 only.

Black Oystercatcher seen at Laguna Beach, CA, feasting on molluscs.

This signature shorebird of the West Coast is found from Alaska to Baja

Next up -- the Black Turnstone, a cousin of the Ruddy Turnstone, is found all along the North American Pacific Coast; it however breeds exclusively in Alaska.
Black Turnstone seen at Laguna Beach

Earlier thought to be a plover, it is now classified as a sandpiper and has a preference for rocky shores. Other than a few records from Northeast Siberia, the black turnstone is exclusively restricted to North America. And, 80% of its 100,000-strong population breeds at a single location in Alaska. A single ecological disaster in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta could have disastrous consequences for this species.

While no one will see a Black Turnstone on the East Coast, the next shorebird will surely be familiar to birders on both coasts. The Greater Yellowlegs (seen here at Bolsa Chica), is, surprisingly, not closely related to the Lesser Yellowlegs -- instead, its closest relative are the Shanks (both Green and Spotted Red) of the Old World.

Also at Bolsa Chica, a couple of stunning Long-billed Curlews:

This, our largest shorebird, is no longer found in the astounding numbers it once was on the East Coast. However, it is still fairly common on the West and Gulf coasts.

On the other side of the water, several long-billed dowitchers were also spotted in small flocks; busily feeding:
Long-billed Dowitcher seen at Bolsa Chica.

The other signature shorebird of the area is the Surfbird. Another "rockpiper" [favoring rocky shores like the black turnstone], this sandpiper's closest relative is in the Knot family.

Breeding in the Arctic Tundra, Surfbirds winter all along the Pacific Coast south to Argentina. It is one of our longest ranging shorebirds.

Surfbird feeding on molluscs.

Surfbirds are exclusively coastal -- they are never found inland. While there are some indications that their population is declining, the decrease is not significant enough to warrant concern.

Hudsonian Whimbrel was spotted at both Laguna Beach as well as Bolsa Chica.

Formerly considered a subspecies, the Hudsonian Whimbrel has recently been split off from the Old World Whimbrel and attained full species status.

A similar split may be imminent for the Western Willet. Currently considered a subspecies,the Western and Eastern Willets are sufficiently different in breeding habitat (saltmarsh vs. freshwater marsh), shape, bill size and call pitch that future taxonomic classifications may promote them to separate but full species status.

While many species will be familiar to the Eastern (or Gulf Coast) birder, there are still some distinctive shorebirds that can only be found on our Pacific coast that will beckon those determined to round out their North American shorebirds.
================= Epilogue ====================
While not seen on this trip, it is sometimes possible to see Wandering Tattler at Laguna Beach as well:

Here is a link to  Sanctuary Integrated Monitoring Network which monitors the ecosystem of the Pacific shore marine sanctuaries.

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