Thursday, January 26, 2012

Winter Escape in San Diego, Part 2: Birds and Other Beach Critters

We had an awesome time exploring the San Diego shore, and we got to hang out up close with some pretty cool creatures. I mentioned the seals and squirrels in my last post, but the birds, especially, seemed completely unafraid of people, and many let us get within a few feet of them without showing any signs of discomfort. Some of the birds, like this Snowy Egret, were ones that I already knew from my home on the east coast, but that didn't make them any less cool:

Check out those yellow feet! This fancy fellow was hanging out on our whale-watching boat, perhaps keeping an eye on us in case we dropped some fish. (Hey, you never know!)

Even though I've seen egrets and herons plenty of times now at the ocean, I still find myself surprised to see them there, I guess because for some reason I have it in my head that these should be fresh water birds. Either way, we found another Snowy Egret hunting in the tidal pools near our hotel. They're such elegant little birds, and this one looks almost like it has horns:

I saw Brown Pelicans for the first time just a few weeks ago, in New Orleans, but not in nearly as large numbers as they were here:

So many pelicans! These pelicans were also much more brightly colored than the ones I saw in Louisiana -- I don't know for sure whether this is because of some regional difference, or if these birds were coming into breeding plumage, or maybe a combination of both. (The internet is inconclusive on this question.) In any case, I definitely didn't see anything near this shade of red when I was watching those other Brown Pelicans last month:

This cute Black Phoebe was a new bird for me, although it looked almost identical to our Eastern Phoebe from back home -- the only difference that I could see was its all-black breast, and it was making a chirping sound instead of the familiar "phoe-bee" call:

So many of the gulls on the beaches looked all the same to me (I'm still not very good at identifying gulls), except for one strikingly different species. This handsome fellow is a Heermann's Gull, a species that lives only along the Pacific coast:

I don't know of any other gull that has a head lighter than its body. And how about that bright red beak, and the ring around its eyes?

Here's something interesting that I learned just now: The Heermann's Gull is listed globally as near threatened (on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species) because, although its population is relatively stable, 90% of its entire worldwide population nests on a single small island, and if something happens to the island, there goes the gull! Fortunately, the island is well protected, so it doesn't sound like these birds are in any immediate danger. Maybe you should think about spreading out a little, gull!

Back at the beach near our hotel, we had a lot of fun poking around in the tidal pools, with the ocean roaring nearby but failing to reach us:

My camera is woefully incapable of taking clear pictures through the surface of the water, so I don't have any shots of the many hermit crabs and seaweed-green fish we found in the pools. But there were plenty of things to see above the water, too, like these carefully closed-up barnacles and chiton -- these are barely recognizable as animals, but they'll come back to life once the tide comes in!

And speaking of animals in hiding, Paul was the first to notice these strange doughnut-shaped mounds of shells in several places on the rocks:

We had no idea what could've been gathering bits of shell together like that, and on closer inspection, the shells turned out to be all stuck together. Then we found a similar mound covered by a little water, and that provided the answer to our mystery:

Sea anemonies!

The creatures in tidal zones are always amazing -- what a crazy environment to have to live in, and it seems like they do a good job of it!

I have one more creature from our trip that I'd like to share, but it's going to have to get its own post. (I took too many pictures, and it's too cool!) So one more day of spring-like San Diego, and then it's back to normal post about gray/snowy/rainy/wet Connecticut!

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