Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve in Huntington Beach, California is a one of Southern California’s birding gems. We spent a morning there learning to identify the variety of shorebirds. Sometimes this can be a tricky task because many of these migrating birds are visiting Southern California when they are in their drab non-breeding coloration. That means you have to look harder at their behavior, their beaks and feet.
Some birds like the long-billed curlew have a very distinctive feature.
The long downward curving beak on this large shore bird helps it stand out in a crowd. To the far left of the two curlews is a willet in its winter plumage. A somewhat larger sandpiper, gray with a medium-length, straight beak, the willet may not stand out at first, but in flight they flash very distinctive bands of black and white on their wings.
The whimbrel is the most widespread member of the curlew family in North America. It’s long bill also droops downward, but it isn’t as long as the long-billed curlew and the lower mandible or lower part of the beak is pinkish at the base. The whimbrel typically forages alone and, while small groups may fly together, they do not tend to mix with other species. We saw this individual foraging on its own. The whimbrel has two bold dark stripes separated by white at the crown of the head. The whimbrel also tends to probe around with its beak more than the other curlews as it looks for food in the mud.
Tiny sandpipers like the western sandpiper and the least sandpiper can be a real challenge. The large flocks at Bolsa Chica that swirl like schools of fish, are mostly western sandpipers. Westerns tend to flock in larger groups than the least sandpiper. But a large flock can sometimes have several different species milling together. If you see them feeding on the shoreline, the western sandpiper has black legs while the least sandpiper has pale greenish-yellow legs. Both are brownish on the top and white-bellied.
CLICK HERE to WATCH a flock of sandpipers.
Bolsa Chica is a wonderful place to experience sandpipers, ducks, pelicans and more. Give the Gift of Adventure this Holiday Season. Take your loved ones to a nature preserve and explore.
More Information and Directions to Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve.
Next week we’ll post our first
AnimalBytes PodCast - Bolsa Chica Audio Adventure