Posts Tagged ‘Seabirds’

I spent last weekend in the wonderful little town of Bolinas, CA. This special spot on the California Coast a relatively short drive north of San Francisco is a quite and quirky and very laid back. It is also right on the shore of the Pacific Ocean and Bolinas Lagoon and as such it provides access to a bunch of coastal and aquatic habitats, and I took advantage of this positioning to do a lot of birding!

Wildlife photographer captures osprey carrying shark, carrying fish in  'one-in-a-trillion photograph' | Fox News
Osprey carrying a fish. Photo Credit: Fox News

One morning, I went out to the beach to see what coastal and ocean birds I might spot and to do a bit of beach combing while I was at it. The sky was gray over the ocean, but not foggy. The tide was low and it was fun to spend a little time looking at washed up kelp, finding Sand Crabs as the waves broke on the shore, and looking out to sea at the rolling ocean. I was also enjoying watching the Western Grebes and Clark’s Grebes fishing off shore, the Double-crested Cormorants flying back and forth, and the Brown Pelicans cruising above the waves when I heard a bit of a commotion overhead. I looked up to see three birds chasing each other around in a mid-air tangle. One bird was an Osprey with a fish in its talons. The second bird was an adult Western Gull trying to steal that fish. The third bird was an adult Bald Eagle also trying to rob the Osprey! All three birds were engaged in some fancy flying over the waves as they attempted to secure their breakfast as the sun rose above the tree topped hills.

Sound Library - Bald Eagle - Yellowstone National Park (U.S. National Park  Service)
Adult Bald Eagle. Photo Credit: National Park Service

The tangle of birds did not last long. The Osprey was ultimately successful at defending its catch from the two would-be thieves and flew off to enjoy its meal. The gull quickly disappeared to forage elsewhere, but the eagle stuck around for a little while. It circled out over the Pacific for a couple of minutes, and watching for so long was a real treat for me. It then turned toward shore, dropped altitude, and flew along the beach. As it spread its huge wings about 50 feet over the sand, it flew slowly over beach goers and surfers. None of whom noticed at all! The humans were all absorbed in their own activities and did not realize that an enormous, not to mention iconic, bird was cursing right over their heads. I suppose that I should not have been surprised by this lack notice, and to a certain extent I wasn’t, but it was definitely amusing.

The Bald Eagle continued flying smoothly down the beach until it followed the bending line of the sand around a bluff and out of sight, and I continued my morning of beach exploration. It was a lovely morning that I enjoyed very much, and I hope you get out for some time on the coast as well.

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Wisdom 03

Wisdom and her chick, Kukini.

Wisdom is a female Laysan Albatross (Phoebastria immutabilis) that has become pretty famous, and rightly so. As the species specific portion of her scientific name suggests, she is immutable, unchanging, indelible, persistent. Wisdom is the oldest known wild bird in the world! She is 68 years old!

And at 68 years of age, she is a mom once again! Her 31st chick, named Kukini, has just recently hatched on Midway atoll.

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Wisdom and her mate Akeakamai

Wisdom has returned again and again to the tinny island named Midway Atoll northwest of Hawaii in the Pacific Ocean. An extensive colony of Laysan Albatross nest on Midway, and Wisdom has joined that colony repeatedly over the years. She has had several mates over the course of those years, and her current partner in success is an albatross named Akeakamai.

Both Wisdom’s age, and her reproductive success are really incredible. Banded as an adult bird in the 1950s by the late great Chan Robbins who was a researcher for the U.S. Geological Survey, she has exceeded the lifespan of all other known wild birds. Birds do not age, physically, in the same way that humans do, so Wisdom looks just about exactly the same now as she did 50 years ago. And that she is still reproducing is a testament to how amazing of avian biology is. Another way birds and human age differently is that birds do not loose the ability to reproduce as they age. A human in their 60s is generally going to be past their reproductive age, however the reproductive abilities of albatross in their 60s seem to be unphased.

Albatross pairs only have one egg each year, and individuals often skip years and don’t breed at all. Once hatched, the young birds take longer and average for a bird to reach maturity and start breeding themselves. The low reproductive rates of all the albatross species means that each young bird is a significant contribution to the future of the species. Wisdom is definitely doing her part!

So, check in with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the agency that is monitoring the albatross populations on Midway Atoll, and see how the amazing Wisdom is doing this year!



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Adult Brown Booby

Scientists have been making predictions about the effects of climate change for the past couple of decades. One such prediction is that as the earth’s climate becomes warmer the geographic range of species will shift towards the poles and up-slope. This will occur because species will be moving to try to find areas that have the environmental conditions they have evolved to thrive in. So, a species that evolved in a temperate region such as California will be used to the temperatures found in California. As the earth warms, California will warm and the species that are adapted to life here will have move north to Oregon, Washington, or even farther north to find the temperatures they can tolerate.

BRBO - Ventura County Star 2

Adult Brown Boobies in flight.

Yet another example of these predictions coming true has been found on the Channel Islands of the southern California coast. Sutil Island is a small, rocky formation a little to the southwest of Santa Barbara Island and is part of the Channel Islands National Park. This year it has received a new visitor. About 100 Brown Boobies (Sula leucogaster) were observed by Channel Island biologists roosting on the island. Especially noteworthy was that among those 100 or birds were 4 nests! Brown Boobies are generally thought of as a tropical species, but they have been expanding their range north since the 1990s, and this is the first time they have nested on the Channel Islands. There is little doubt but that they will return next year, and likely in greater numbers.

This is what climate change looks like.

BRBO - Ventura County Star

A Brown Booby preening on Sutil Island.


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