This evening’s outing was directed specifically at watching the Black Skimmers feeding on the lagoon at Bolsa Chica, Orange County. Earlier posts describe long bus journeys for what is a simple 20 minute drive south from Long Beach. From my previous experiences, I had discovered that skimmers are more active and more likely to be seen ‘skimming’ later in the day.
They drop their enlarged lower mandible into the water as they fly along and fish by sense of touch which is just as easy to do in low light levels and even in the dark. My only concern would be crashing into man-made obstacles such as the boardwalk that stretches across their fishing lanes. Just a thought, skimmers completely submerge the black section of the lower mandible. Is the bill-tip black to conceal it from prey in the water and does the bird use it as a Plimsoll-line to guage how far to lower it in?
On the tern breeding island in the distance, to the south of the boardwalk, they appeared as large black birds with red bills. Only when they fly do the white underside and the long black bill-tip become visible.
I had arrived earlier than expected and still had a couple of hours until dusk. A group of big cameras were gathered further up at the inlet from the northern lagoon and were probably taking pictures of the terns fishing in the current there. I considered going up to join them for a while before the skimmers started, but was sidetracked by a Peregrine Falcon flying over and moments later the tern colony exploded.
Perhaps there was more than one falcon, or perhaps it was unsuccessful, anyhow, a short while later the Willets behind me flew up and were chased across the upper lobe. The terns rose spectacularly again several more times, so I didn’t feel that I was missing out on the fishing terns. Each time the colony rose, the skimmers would rise too and fly languidly around, occasionally passing the boardwalk and circling around before settling down again. The light was beautiful and in a perfect direction. I hoped that the light breeze that ruffled the water’s surface would give the birds extra lift, enabling them to fly slightly slower as they came towards me. All was set very fair.
Elegant terns flew in synchronised pairs, screeching. Forster’s Terns flew back and forth carrying fish. A few young ones were already providing for themselves.
Some Black Skimmers had already ventured past the boardwalk, but at around 45 minutes before dusk they began to move in greater numbers. They did not seem anxious to start feeding and for the most part cruised by and up towards the inlet.
Perhaps the cameras had been able to predict that a rising tide would attract them to the current as it passes through the pipe. It would have made a good vantage point with the light behind and the birds approaching straight up the lagoon, pulling out at the last moment and arcing round for another run (but that is merely fanciful speculation as I did not go up to join them).
Back at the boardwalk, I had been joined by Mark, another photographer and the skimmers were giving some nice fly-bys, making us duck with their close passes, but there was very little skimming going on. Just the same, it was a glorious evening, if a little chilly in the wind.
Other birds that put in an appearance included a very accomodating Great Egret that flew to and fro a couple of times for our photographic pleasure and big numbers of Brown Pelican that had found a roost beyond the boardwalk, sheltered from the wind.
Find the boardwalk at Google Earth ref; 33 41' 46"N 118 02' 45"W
Birds seen; 16
Brown Pelican 300, Double-crested Cormorant 20, Great Egret 1, Reddish Egret 1, Black-crowned Night Heron 1, Peregrine Falcon 1, Black-necked Stilt 1, Willet 25, California Gull 4, Western Gull 150, Caspian Tern 25, Elegant Tern 150, Forster’s Tern 60, Black Skimmer 60, Mourning Dove 3, Savannah Sparrow 3.
The numbers shown above cannot reflect the amount of terns in the breeding colony, only those flying past the boardwalk. When the colony rose under threat from the Peregrine there were thousands of birds in the air and counting them would be for someone more diligent than I am.
Follow the links below for other posts from Bolsa Chica and Los Angeles;http://redgannet.blogspot.com/2010/12/long-beach-california.html
Visit the dedicated USA and Canada page for more posts from the region.
Skimmers at Bolsa Chica, Los Angeles, LAX