La Jolla: Birds of sea and shore

2007 November 6
by David J. Ringer

SAN DIEGO, CALIF. — With the afternoon more or less free, I headed up the 5 to La Jolla, intent on finding some of the Pacific species I’ve missed on previous visits to California. The free street parking along Coast Boulevard wasn’t full, so I grabbed a spot and had my first life bird as soon as I stepped out of the car.


Brandt’s Cormorants huddled on the cliffs, offering good looks at their dark bills and pale chins. I couldn’t pick out any Pelagic Cormorants either on the cliffs or in flight, but it’s likely that I just missed them. They lose their distinctive plumage features in winter, and I am not experienced enough with Pacific cormorants to pick out flying birds by structure alone.


Brown Pelicans joined the cormorants on the rocks and in the air.

I’ve always liked the striking, colorful Western Gulls. A few all-dark juvenile birds were still making begging calls to unresponsive parents. This adult was really showing off. If you click the image for a larger size, you can even see its dusky iris and orangey orbital ring.


Heermann’s Gulls were the other common gulls today. This is a winter-plumaged adult. In breeding plumage, this bird’s head will be bright white.


There was a single Bonaparte’s Gull (totally dwarfed by the large Westerns) on one stretch of beach. The bird seemed to have oil or something black on its breast and belly. I hope it’s not enough to do lasting damage.


Aha! I finally found a pale-mantled bird. Yellowish legs, red and black on bill, red gape and orbital ring, dark iris — California Gull. The bird in the middle is a Herrmann’s Gull, and on the right is (I think) a second-year Western Gull.


Most of my attention was focused on the rocks and beaches, but I kept scanning the ocean too. Surf Scoters were passing south along the coast in flocks of dozens. I saw hundreds of Surf Scoters this afternoon — wow! Never having lived by the coast, it’s a spectacle I’ve missed till now. I didn’t see any shearwaters or alcids, which seawatchers had reported from La Jolla Cove over the weekend.


Black Turnstones were fairly common on the rocks. They can be almost invisible when still, but their black-and-white pattern is quite striking in flight. Here, one is joined by two tiny Least Sandpipers. There were also a few Ruddy Turnstones and Black-bellied Plovers, as well as solitary Willets and Whimbrels.


Finally, a rather nondescript, mid-sized shorebird caught my eye. Yes! Wandering Tattler. It waded in the tide pools, probing underwater crevices with a long, sturdy bill and bobbing its body lightly.


The rocks and tide pools held all sorts of other interesting creatures too, of course. I was particularly interested in the green anemones.


Rocks? Seaweed? Nope, they’re harbor seals, sound asleep on the sand.

Sleep? Mmm, sounds like a good idea. More about California later. Meanwhile, today’s pictures are up in the gallery.

Related posts:

  1. Birds of San Diego coastal scrub
  2. Mexico’s Coronado Islands: Brown Boobies, cormorants, oystercatchers, and pinnipeds
  3. Big river birds make for great CBC
  4. One-footed Ring-billed Gull
  5. Oasis
5 Responses
  1. November 6, 2007

    Are you going to bring a seal back to Dallas?

  2. david permalink*
    November 6, 2007

    I think that might be illegal…. Also, they’re a bit big for my suitcase. :)

  3. November 6, 2007

    Great photos, sounds like a great birding time!

  4. November 7, 2007

    You are a whiz at identification. Thanks so much.

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