Tag: Ballona Creek (Page 2 of 4)

Semipalmated Sandpiper: Continuing and Updated

Semipalmated Sandpiper Ballona Creek

Once a rarity, now old news: Semipalmated in my 5MR

Semipalmated Sandpiper on Ballona Creek: Update!!

These truly are crazy times. During a bike ride this morning along the creek, I found another Semipalmated Sandpiper. From never seen west of the L.A. River to twice in a week. This time, it was between Centinela Avenue and Inglewood Avenue, the section of the creek a block from my house. Odds are it’s the same bird I saw on Monday. The creek doesn’t strike me as a particularly bountiful spot for long-distance migrants to layover, but what do I know? One advantage of shorebird watching on the creek, compared to the L.A. River, is the chance to get closer to the birds. This bird got close enough to me that I was able to get a picture that showed the webbing between the toes.

Semipalmated Sandpiper Ballona Creek

Not totally palmated, and not not-at-all palmated, toes

But spying another Semipalmated is not the half of the update. The Semipalmated Sandpiper I saw on August 31st wasn’t an L.A. County lifer like I believed. It turns out that I found a Semipalmated Sandpiper on Ballona Creek–in the very same spot as I found one this morning–three weeks ago. At the time, I’d given this bird a close study, and got great photos. But I left unconvinced it was a Semipalmated for some reason that I can no longer recall. Life got in the way, and I never took a second, closer look at the photos on my computer until this morning. To my surprise, the bird I saw back on August 12th was indeed a Semipalmated Sandpiper. Is it possible that the same bird has been hanging around for 3 weeks on the creek? Is this even a one-bird theory question?

Semipalmated Sandpiper Ballona Creek

The true L.A. County Lifer, huddled down on alert

Sandpiper Trifecta Ballona Creek

The Sandpiper Trifecta: Semipalmated, Western, Least

Semipalmated Sandpiper Ballona Creek

L.A. County Lifer: Semipalmated Sandpiper

Semipalmated Sandpiper Ballona Creek

Semipalmated Sandpiper stretching its wings

Semipalmated Sandpiper on Ballona Creek

Every spring and fall for the past 4 years, I’ve scanned the small groups of sandpipers on Ballona Creek east of Centinela Ave. My goal: turn one of the regular Western Sandpipers into a rare Semipalmated Sandpiper. For reasons I can’t explain, the creek doesn’t get many migrating shorebirds. Maybe it’s the smaller size of the creek (compared to the L.A. River). Maybe it’s the lack of vegetation (this part of the creek gets essentially vacuumed at least twice a year, and the bushes that grow alongside it are cut down). Or maybe the creek runs too much east-west instead of north-south. Whatever it is, the peep flocks never get much bigger than 20-30 birds. But I was convinced that careful, patient eyes could eventually find a Semipalmated Sandpiper some day. And after years of hunting, my search is over. 

Semipalmated Sandpipers breed on the Arctic tundra. They travel through the United States on their way to wintering grounds on the South American coasts. Some of the eastern-most birds are thought to make a non-stop flight from New England to South America over the ocean. One tagged (less-than-two-ounce) bird made a 3,000 mile non-stop flight. They are regular migrants on the east coast of the United States. On the west coast, they are fewer and farther between. They apparently prefer to migrant a bit inland, rather than along the coast. They get reported on the L.A. River every year, but had never been seen in my 5MR on Ballona Creek. 

Semipalmated Sandpiper Ballona Creek

There were very few birds on the creek today, which is pretty usual. As the creek turned north just past the Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook, I spotted about a dozen peeps (an unusual spot for them). Dutifully, I looked through the group. Most were Least Sandpipers. Two were obvious Western Sandpipers. A final bird was short-billed, dark-legged, and showed no rufous in the scapulars. I studied it for 10 minutes. Usually, these birds morph into Westerns the longer I look at them. The bill lengthens and droops. A hint of rufous appears on the back. But this one stayed the same. I took some fuzzy photos with my pocket zoom. I posted them to LACO Birds, and received several replies that agreed with the ID of a Semipalmated Sandpiper.

Sandpiper Trifecta Ballona Creek

Sandpiper Trifecta on Ballona Creek: Least, Western, Semipalmated

Semipalmated Sandpiper is a new L.A. County lifer, and even better a new bird for my 5MR. Other than a 2010 bird at Malibu Lagoon, it’s also the first eBird report west of the L.A. River for L.A. County. I’m sure this isn’t the first that’s ever stopped on the creek, but it’s nice to have finally picked one out.

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