Wild at the Point: Shore and Sea Birds. Part 2
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This article concludes our two-part report of the diversity of shore and sea birds living in or migrating through Point Roberts at this time of year. While many others can be seen I have listed mainly the 40-plus species that I have seen this fall. I hope that it will inspire you to challenge yourself and friends by seeing how many you can each find and photograph.
In the same family as upland game birds, such as Ring-necked Pheasants sometimes spotted running along the beach, are Loons, Grebes, Cormorants and wading birds such as herons.
There are three types of cormorants – Double-crested Cormorant, Brandt’s Cormorant and Pelagic Cormorant. The latter two have dark plumage and they can be distinguished by the pencil-thin black bill of the Pelagic as compared to the Brandt’s thicker bill. The Double-crested has orange at the lower base of the bill, longer wings, tail, and flies with a crook in the neck. The Pelagic can leap from the water to fly while others must run along the water to gain speed.
We have Western Grebe, Horned Grebe and Red-necked Grebes. The Western has a long neck with distinct white throat and black behind. Their population has drastically declined. Horn Grebes get their name from the golden “horn” plumage from eye to back of head when breeding. Non-breeding color is dark gray with white cheeks. They can stay submerged for three minutes and dive to depths of 150 meters. Red-necks carry their young on their backs. During breeding they have a reddish-brown neck that is dingy gray when not breeding.
There are Common Loons, Pacific Loons and Red-throated Loons. When breeding both male and female Common Loons have a dark collar on the lower neck. They are common in winter but uncommon local breeders as they breed across North America to Iceland. Pacific Loons are gray and white during winter with silver-gray crown and nape with vertical whiter stripes on both sides of the neck. The red-throated has a red throat with dark back when breeding. They are white on face and front of throat and gray back with white speckles. The Red-throated Loon is the only loons that can take flight from land.
Great Blue Herons are common year round in the region. They nest in tall, dead or dying trees in colonies. They eat a varied diet from fish to rodents.
Family – Jaeger, Gulls, Terns – Alcids (murres, guillemot, murrelet, auklet)
Guillemot shows a very different winter plumage from
mostly dark blackish brown bodies with orange feet to the mostly white with black wing tips.
Common Murre also change dramatically from their dark brown head and throat to white throat and lower face during non-breeding. They have a dark line behind the eye.
California Gull, Ring-billed Gull, and Mew Gull can all be seen. The most frequent are Glaucous-winged Gull. The most fun to watch are the Bonaparte’s Gulls who are the only gull that can synchronize flight as do Black Turnstones. The fall migrant, Parasitic Jaeger, chases them in flight to get their regurgitated food. Jaegers eat lemmings and small birds when in the tundra. They breed in arctic tundra and winters on both tropical and subtropical seas.
Caspian Terns, identified by their screeching kaa yarrr, sounds differ than common tern. They fly high and plunge-dive for fish that can be several feet below the surface.
When Rhinoceros Auklet forage, the upwelling of fish they instigate is a major attraction to other birds. They excavate nests on grassy, bushy slopes above the shoreline.
Rail and Coot – Shorebirds (Oystercatchers, Sandpipers, Sanderling, Turnstone)
It is interesting that the Killdeer, known to feign broken wing in fields and parking lots, belongs to this marine family. They can be seen on the beaches catching insects.
Mixed groups of Sanderlings and Black Turnstones can be quite friendly. If I am sitting on the shoreline they will pass by within a few feet. Some will stop and do some human watching. They haven’t considered me a threat as the more wary Turnstones chose not to call out in alarm. Sanderlings stay from August to May then travel 13,000 kilometers to reach spring nesting grounds in Arctic tundra.
You can view the “Shore and Sea Birds Report” all photos at www.lifeforcefoundation.org
Respect and Enjoy Wildlife
While we marvel at the wonders of wildlife please don’t approach, feed or try to touch. They may look cute but they can cause severe injuries. Bread and junk food can kill them. So respect and enjoy them from a distance.
Lifeforce Wildlife Reports, Nature Moments videos, and Wildpeace photographs are available at www.lifeforcefoundation.org.
Note: This is the seventh article about birds and wildlife on and around the Point in 2009. The other stories are at http://www.allpointbulletin.com/archives/archives.html
Donations are greatly appreciated and can be sent to Lifeforce, Box 121, Point Roberts, 98281 or Box 3117, Vancouver, BC V6B 3X6. Thank you.