I'd certainly been looking forward to Marina del Rey, because it had two birds, the Surfbird and Black Turnstone, which I had yet to see.
But Marina del Rey was not the first on the list. My parents wished to scour the shopping lanes at Santa Monica (and it was my mothers' birthday so I couldn't really complain). I almost thought I had a Great-tailed Grackle (a common local bird) at one point but unfortunately it was just another Brewer's Blackbird.
Santa Monica still had some tendency to provide new birds, because it was on the coastline and had an extensive coastline. I still had those two uncommon winter gulls (Glaucous-winged and Thayer's) to find. While uncommon they seem to pop up in reports all the time, so they can't be that hard to find (says me who can't even find the common birds in my area. Stupid thrashers and grackles don't exist.).
But gullwatching is unique. At first it seems easier than "normal" birdwatching, because all the birds are either stealing food or flying overhead, and both in great numbers. I probably see more than 100 gulls in one beach trip. After a while you learn what balances this type of birdwatching out. Typically, birds have 3 plumages at any one time of the year; juvenile, immature and adult (not including genders). But not gulls. They have 4 basic plumages named by the year they are in; 1cy, 2cy, 3cy and 4cy. Cy stands for calendar year, and does not relate to the bird's age as such. If a gull gains its 1cy plumage in October 2010, it does not keep it until October 2011. As soon as the new year turns over it is considered a 2cy bird (you can be more in depth and call them first summer, winter etc. but then it gets complicated).
Not only do they look different each year, but there is also intermediate (half-moulted) birds and simple species variation. Now this can be tolerated in most places, but in California there is something worse; hybrids. So now you have the 1234cy plumages of two gulls mixed together, and due to the way of genes each bird comes out slightly differently. And what if this hybrid is half-moulted? The number of gulls (while good for species lists) makes it harder with the Western, California, Ring-billed, American Herring, Mew, Glaucous-winged and Thayer's complex.
Naturally I forgot to check the underwing plumages of gulls, but at least if there was a Glaucous-winged here it would be easy to identify because they are one of the palest gulls around. The other local gulls are very dark grey on the mantle, but the glaucous winged is pale grey. They also lack the stereotypical black primaries found in nearly all other gulls. If I had a 4cy bird there would be no mistaking it.
So while being alert for pale gulls I made my way down the pier and back. Western and Heerman's were everywhere, as per usual and there were a surprising amount of Ring-billed Gulls (these birds are winter visitors) and I hoped that if there were a lot of Ring-billed finding there way here then the other winter gulls would too.
So finally, after all this time I had the chance to check out the marina. As already mentioned, I was keen on finding both the Surfbird and Black Turnstone. Both were apparently effortlessly seen here in the winter (The Surfbird has been found on 100% of reports by visiting birders) and what is better than definite new birds? Even better there was a report of a wintering Long-tailed Duck here (a vagrant to the region, but hard to find even in its natural habitat) which had been sticking around for a week.
Of course it is never that simple and it took some time to actually find the "right" spot (most of it was private access, boats only etc.) and in the end I had to survive with Playa del Rey, which is on the other side of the river. And because of shopping I couldn't get here until 4pm, where the sun had almost completely set, and there was very little time to locate things before it became totally dark.
|My first blurred flight shot for a while....I find it interesting that the wing|
markings are identical to the Hooded Merganser though.
|This picture is interesting because the reflection|
parallels its breeding plumage (black with gold ear tuft)!
And still no Surfbirds. I have managed to make a dent in the 100% reporting rate even though they are supposed to be always present. I must have been looking in the wrong place?
|Cormorants fill the rocks here, but somehow I didn't notice|
them until I posted the image on this blog! Perhaps that is where
the Surfbirds were.