Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Bulletin #3 - Monterey CA #2

David McDonald Photography
Friendswood Texas

Bulletin #3 – Monterey, California – part 2

Hello friends,

There are many shorebird and seabirds in California. One family of seabirds is the Alcids (alcidae). These are mostly black and white pelagic seabirds that occupy the same ecological niche in cold northern oceans as the penguins do in the southern oceans. However, they are in different families – not related. There are 21 species world wide in 10 genera. Unlike the penguins , the alcids can fly. But the Great Auk, the largest of the alcids was flightless. Because of their inability to fly, they were rounded up and herded to their deaths for the down feather industry. The Great Auk went extinct in the 1840’s.

Because of the warm Gulf Stream up the Atlantic Coast in USA, no alcids are found south of the Virgina. However, the Pacific is very frigid and alcids of many species are found as far south as Baja California in Mexico.

Monterey is a main port for pelagic trips to see alcids as well as shearwaters, petrels etc.

Some actually get close to shore especially with strong onshore Pacific storms. The Pigeon Guillemot is regularly found on rocky islands close to shore, in summer. On this trip actually I found another alcid, the Common Murre swimming off Carmel River beach.

This breeding plumage Pigeon Guillemot is a pretty black bird with a big white wing patch and bright red legs.

Here he is taking flight, showing his colors.


This breeding plumage Common Murre is black & white.


There are 3 phalarope species, the Wilson’s Phalarope is regularly seen on the Upper Texas Coast in spring. The other 2 are more common in California. The Red-necked Phalarope is a regular, but the Red Phalarope is a pelagic bird that sometimes is blown ashore with storms. My expert guide, Rick Fournier(
http://www.montereybirdingadventures.com/), had found several Red Phalaropes ashore and was able to show them to me. They are currently in the sandpiper family, but in the past have been classified as a separate family.

As you know, phalaropes are unusual in the bird world in that the female is the brighter colored bird. The females also leave the nest after laying the eggs. The males have to incubate the eggs and raise the young alone!

Below is the breeding plumage female Red-necked Phalarope. Notice the red comes around the front of the neck.


The breeding male Red-necked Phalarope is below. There is no red around the front of his neck – just a patch on the nape of the neck.


Here is the breeding female Red Phalarope. The male is identical, except the breast is a more orange color. The white patch on the face is diagnostic of this species in breeding plumage.


The western oystercatcher is the Black Oystercatcher. He has the characteristic orange bill of this family.


There were 4 gull species. The normal summer coastal breeders in Monterey are Western Gull and Ring-billed Gull. The California Gull breeds inland, but a few were still on the beach. Also some lingering sub-adult Bonaparte’s Gulls were present.

Here is the breeding adult Western Gull. It is a large (25”), dark-winged gull distinguished by red spot on bill and pink legs. The eye may be dark or pale yellow.


Here is a close up of the facial detail.


This breeding adult California Gull is smaller (21”) with gray wings, yellow-green legs, and both black and red spots on the bill. The iris is dark.


Here is a close up of the facial detail.


The Bonaparte’s Gull is a small (13”) dove-like gull. He is still in the 1st winter plumage with brownish patches on wings and a white head. However, he is starting to get some black feathers on his head. The black bill, pink legs, and dark spot behind the ear are the field marks to ID this gull.


I didn’t take photos of the Ring-billed Gull as I already had some good ones in my files. So, for completeness, as some readers are novice birders, I’ll show those photos as well.

This photo is of a non-breeding adult Ring-billed Gull. This is a smaller (17”) gull. The diagnostic marks are the black ring around the yellow bill, pale yellow eye, and yellow legs. In breeding plumage, the head would be pure white. On the Texas coast in summer, it is the common white headed gull.


As man cannot live by birds alone, I also photo other wildlife when present.

The ‘rock-star’ of Monterey wildlife is the Sea Otter. This amazing animal was hunted to almost extinction for its fur. It has been protected for a long time now and is starting to come back. When my wife and I started going to Monterey on vacation 25 years ago, it was a lucky trip if we saw one or two of the otters from shore. Now, they are more common and in some locations such as the harbor at Moss Landing, there were over 100 on a recent count.

These photos were taken at that location.


My birding guide in Monterey was Rick Fournier. His web site is Monterey Birding Adventures.

and his email is

All comments and suggestions are welcomed and appreciated.

Happy Birding,David McDonald

photos copyright 2007 David McDonald

Note – photos with the name preceded by an asterisk (*) were updated for this blog and the text was edited accordingly

No comments: