Tag: Ballona Creek (Page 3 of 6)

Pacific Golden-Plover on Ballona Creek

Pacific Golden-Plover Dockweiler Beach

Pacific Golden-Plover, Dockweiler Beach, CA, January 2018

Years of Pacific Golden-Plover in my 5MR

This is the story of Pacific Golden-Plover in my 5MR. Pacific Golden-Plovers have been occasionally reported in eBird on Dockweiler Beach and along Ballona Creek. For a long time, it was a rare sighting. Some meticulous record keepers back-entered a series of reports from the 70s and early 80s. After that, eBird sightings of Pacific Golden-Plover in the area vanish until one was reported over a couple of October days in 2010. A one-day wonder was seen in October 2015. Since November, 2017, however, there are hundreds of winter reports. All of them may be of a single returning individual.

In November 2017, I was making one my regular bike rides from my house down the Ballona Creek bike path and then south along the coast. I stopped, as I often do, at a Snowy Plover enclosure on Dockweiler Beach. Not only can you find banded Snowy Plovers there, but I’ve found Red Knot and even a Mountain Plover there before. On this day, a Golden-Plover was standing by itself inside the enclosure.  Distinguishing Pacific from American Golden-Plover was above my birding pay grade at the time, so I left it to the experts to make the ID.

Birders dutifully made their trip to the beach to see it. After 10 days, the reports stopped. On later bike rides along the beach, I didn’t see it again. Until I did see it again. On a stop in January, there it was, back in front of the Snowy Plover enclosure.  It continued on the beach until the end of February. I think it’s safe to assume that all these 2017/2018 sightings on Dockweiler Beach were the same bird.

Given historical reporting trends, it would probably be another 3-5 years before one was spotted in the area again. But on Halloween 2018, I found a Pacific Golden-Plover along the rocky Ballona Creek with a big flock of Black-bellied Plovers. Was it the same bird who spent the previous winter at the beach just a mile away? The bird and I had no way to communicate and resolve the mystery. This Pacific Golden-Plover, like the one the year before, stayed around  until mid-February 2019.

Pacific Golden-Plover Ballona Creek

The return? Pacific Golden-Plover, Ballona Creek, Halloween 2018

A single Pacific Golden-Plover was back on the creek in the fall of 2019. This one was found much earlier than the previous two: on August 30, 2019. And it ended up staying longer than the birds the previous two years, being reported on the creek until mid-March 2020. Like the bird the year before, this one stayed with a large flock of Black-bellied Plovers, and roamed up and down the creek with the tide., Was it, however, the same bird? Was it enjoying its L.A. winters so much that it decided to arrive earlier and stay later?

Pacific Golden-Plover Ballona Creek

On the creek, October 2019

Pacific Golden-Plover Ballona Creek

Still on the creek in March 2020

This fall, a Pacific Golden-Plover showed up again along the creek. I first spotted this one on September 1, 2020 (2 days later than the first report in 2019). Does this make it likely that it was the same bird as the one that spent the winter of 2019/2020 along the creek? The timing is right, but this bird had more black feathers on its belly than the bird that arrived in Fall 2019 did. Could that mean it’s not a juvenile, but is that same bird, this time coming back with a few breeding feathers still hanging on? If the world wasn’t so crazy these days, I might find some time to research Pacific Golden-Plover molt.

Pacific Golden-Plover with Black-bellied Plover) Ballona Creek

Back on the creek, with a Black-bellied Plover, September 2020

None of these unanswered questions may be as important as this one: how do you pronounce “Plover”? Is it a long “o”, as in Homer? Or is it a short “o”, as in cover? I’ve heard it both ways, from old-timers and newby birders alike. One birding blogger explored the issue, without resolution. For what it’s worth, I’m a long “o” plover pronouncer.


L.A. County Lifer: Stilt Sandpiper

Stilt Sandpipers, L.A. River, Los Angeles, CA

Stilt Sandpipers, L.A. River, Los Angeles, CA

L.A. County Lifer: Stilt Sandpiper

After a Friday night earthquake, I didn’t manage to get up and out for a bird walk this Saturday (though I wasn’t as lazy as my 11-year-old, who slept until 11:30am). Sometimes, a delay turns out to be an advantage. As I was eating breakfast, I checked the L.A. County birds listserv. It’s the time of year when vagrants abound. There was a 20-minute old report of a Stilt Sandpiper on the L.A. River. It was found, of course, by Richard Barth. (Who knows what the twitchers would do if he wasn’t out there hustling all year finding birds for them). I’d only seen Stilt Sandpiper twice, five years ago in Texas. Sensing an easy L.A. County lifer, I grabbed a mask and headed out.

When I arrived at the spot (the L.A. River at Slauson Ave), I was surprised that no one else was there. I double-checked that I had the location right. I did. Along with several hundred gulls, dozens of Black-necked Stilts, some Avocets, and a bunch of Least Sandpipers, I found the target group of dowitchers. But the river is wide, and even walking down to the water’s edge, the birds were far off on the other shore. I didn’t see anything amongst the dowitcher flock, but I did see three birds off to themselves that looked promising. With the report not indicating the number of Stilt Sandpipers seen, I figured they were probably Yellowlegs.

I crossed over the bridge to the other side of the river and scanned the dowitcher flock again. Still nothing. Another birder showed up and agreed there wasn’t a Stilt Sandpiper amongst the dowitchers. I decided to walk a bit upstream. I passed that same group of 3 long-legged sandpipers I’d seen earlier from afar, and gave them a closer look. They all looked pretty similar, and weren’t quite right for Lesser Yellowlegs. The eyebrow (birders say “supercilium”) was prominently white, and the bill was too long. I could convince myself the bill drooped down at the end. But because there were three of them, and not one, and thinking the report was of a single Stilt Sandpiper, I decided to wander a bit further up the river.

I hadn’t walked 20 feet when the other birder called me back. He was looking at the group of 3. We stared through our binoculars. He fired off shots with his mega-lens. We exchanged bird-nerd (“bnird”) references to field marks (“Bnird.com” was my runner-up choice for website name). And we agreed that we were looking at three Stilt Sandpipers. It never feels good to stare at the rare birds and have the guy behind you ID them. But it’s better than misidentifying a regular bird as a rarity.

More From the Week: Pectoral Sandpiper on Ballona Creek

The magic of the barren concrete section of Ballona Creek between Centinela and Inglewood continued this week. One afternoon, I spotted a Pectoral Sandpiper amongst the peeps. It wasn’t my first 5MR Pectoral sighting. A few years back one showed up at the Ballona Freshwater Marsh. But it was a pleasant surprise. They only get reported every 3-4 years on the west side, and only once previously on the Ballona Creek. Maybe a Sharp-tailed Sandpiper will wander into my 5MR before the year is up.

Pectoral Sandpiper, Ballona Creek, CA

Pectoral Sandpiper, Ballona Creek, CA

The birds apparently get their name from a puffed-up chest display they do on the breeding grounds involving an inflatable sac on their chest. There’s a good picture at the bottom of this article about Pectorals on their breeding grounds. 



Pectoral Sandpiper, Ballona Creek, CA

Showing off those namesake pecs?

Pectoral Sandpiper, Ballona Creek

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