Lincoln County Coast/late September storm 2013
Dave Irons | September 29, 2013 | 10:45 am
The forecast of high winds drew us to Oregon's central coast on 28 September 2013. Strong southwesterly and southerly winds lashed the coast throughout the night Friday/Saturday and all day Saturday. Light rain early in the day transitioned to torrential rains from about 3PM on. We birded almost exclusively from inside the car, as we were able to position ourselves such that we could open windows and scope without getting our optics or ourselves instantly soaked. We tried a brief stint out of the car at Boiler Bay, but even on the lee side of the car the buffeting winds made it near impossible to use our spotting scopes.
We spent nearly four hours scoping the ocean from Boiler Bay viewpoint. There was a steady stream of northbound Brown Pelicans, Brandt's Cormorants, and Pelagic Cormorants. Unfortunately, the mostly southerly winds did not drive many tubenoses or other offshore seabirds inshore. We saw a modest southbound movement of shearwaters that included mostly Sooties, a few Pink-footeds, and 3-4 Northern Fulmars. We had three juvenile Red-necked Phalaropes land right next to the car at Boiler Bay.
After Boiler Bay, we went to Newport, where we spent most of our time out along the south jetty road at the "gull puddle." A group of five Greater White-fronted Geese and two Elegant Terns, reported earlier in the day by Wayne Hoffman, were still present and we had a group of five Arctic Terns come in off the ocean. The gull puddle was loaded with gulls, mostly various ages of California Gulls and there was single juvenile Long-billed Dowitcher feeding in the grass between the puddle and the jetty rocks. On the incoming tide there were about 2200 gulls (again mostly Californias) on Idaho Flats southeast of the Hatfield Marine Science Center.
On our way home we made a brief stop at Boiler Bay. By this time the weather had deteriorated to the point where the visibility was virtually nil. Since we couldn't see any birds offshore, we humored ourselves by capturing video of the wind and rain blasting the parking area, which looks more like a flowing river in our videos. Driving home, we made a brief stop at the parking lot behind the Bay House Restaurant at Cutler City. This section of Siletz Bay was alive with hundreds of pelicans and thousands of gulls, but the wind, which by this time was more westerly, made it uncomfortable to open the car windows and scope the bay. As we drove through Lincoln City, there were several places where water was either flowing or ponding across U.S. Highway 101. The link below offers a video sample of the late afternoon weather at Boiler Bay.
At the bottom of this report (below the checklists) there is a series of California Gull photos that show some of the variation that can be seen in this species at this time of year.
These storm waif juvenile Red-necked Phalaropes were taking a break from the high winds at Boiler Bay. They huddled out of the wind behind a tuft of grass at the edge of a small asphalt pad next to the parking area.
This flock of juvenile Red-necked Phalaropes was feeding between the jetties at Newport, Oregon on 28 September 2013.
This hatch-year Greater White-fronted Goose was part of a flock of five hanging out near the "gull puddle" along the south jetty road at Yaquina Bay. Note that the bill color on young birds is orangish-yellow rather than pink and there is no white around the base of the bill or black mottling on the underparts. Young Greater White-fronts often don't show much if any black on the underparts until after second prebasic molt (24 months after hatching). Another clue to the age of this bird is the size and shape of the scapular and covert feathers, which are smaller and more rounded than they would be on an adult.
This image shows the head, breast and mantle pattern of an adult Greater White-fronted Goose. In addition to the black on the underparts, the bill is pinkish rather than orangish and it has white feathering around the base of the bill. Also, the scapular and covert feathers are broader and more squared off at the tip with paler edges that create a more obvious scalloped look above.
We thoroughly enjoyed this juvenile Long-billed Dowitcher, which was feeding almost non-stop in the grass near the "gull puddle" along the south jetty of Yaquina Bay. Note the absence of lateral barring on the tertials (the elongated feathers above the rump and tail) of this bird. Tertial pattern is the most reliable way to tell apart juvenile Long-billed and Short-billed Dowitchers. A good secondary mark is the breast color, which tends to be more plain and buffy-orangish on Short-billed and more grayish and spotted on Long-billed.
Here's another shot of the juvenile Long-billed Dowitcher that was near the "gull puddle" along the south jetty road at Newport, Oregon 28 September 2013. Note how different the shape was when it was puffed up and preening (above) versus when it was actively feeding and had its neck extended. The shape of a shorebird can be quite plastic.
Adult Elegant Tern near the "gull puddle" along the south jetty road at Newport, Oregon on 28 September 2013. This bird still had a pinkish cast on the breast.
A flock of five Arctic Terns was a pleasant surprise. They were whipping about and feeding along the entrance channel to Yaquina Bay and were often viewed side-by-side with the two Elegant Terns that were present.
Here's another view of the Arctic Terns in flight. Note the proportions of these birds. They are comparatively long-winged and show very little head and neck in front of the wing. It's hard to see in this image, but the pattern of black on the underside of the primaries is more crisp and forms a narrower edge along the trailing edge of the wingtip than it does on Common Tern, which has more smudgy pattern of black on the underside of its primary tips.
Boiler Bay State Wayside
Sep 28, 2013
|Common Name||Scientfic Name||Count||Action|
|Cackling Goose||Branta hutchinsii||2||---|
|Surf Scoter||Melanitta perspicillata||150||---|
|White-winged Scoter||Melanitta fusca||2||---|
|Red-throated Loon||Gavia stellata||1||---|
|Pacific Loon||Gavia pacifica||8||---|
|Common Loon||Gavia immer||2||---|
|Red-necked Grebe||Podiceps grisegena||1||---|
|Northern Fulmar||Fulmarus glacialis||3||---|
|Pink-footed Shearwater||Puffinus creatopus||8||---|
|Sooty Shearwater||Puffinus griseus||80||---|
|Brandt's Cormorant||Phalacrocorax penicillatus||400||---|
|Pelagic Cormorant||Phalacrocorax pelagicus||200||---|
|Brown Pelican||Pelecanus occidentalis||600||---|
|Black Oystercatcher||Haematopus bachmani||2||---|
|Red-necked Phalarope||Phalaropus lobatus||3||---|
|Red Phalarope||Phalaropus fulicarius||4||---|
|Heermann's Gull||Larus heermanni||30||---|
|Western Gull||Larus occidentalis||150||---|
|Common Murre||Uria aalge||7||---|
|Cassin's Auklet||Ptychoramphus aleuticus||1||---|
|Savannah Sparrow||Passerculus sandwichensis||1||---|
|Song Sparrow||Melospiza melodia||1||---|
|Brewer's Blackbird||Euphagus cyanocephalus||2||---|
Yaquina Bay SW 26th St (South Jetty Road)
Sep 28, 2013
|Common Name||Scientfic Name||Count||Action|
|Greater White-fronted Goose||Anser albifrons||5||see note|
|Harlequin Duck||Histrionicus histrionicus||5||---|
|Surf Scoter||Melanitta perspicillata||8||---|
|Common Loon||Gavia immer||3||---|
|Brandt's Cormorant||Phalacrocorax penicillatus||10||---|
|Double-crested Cormorant||Phalacrocorax auritus||8||---|
|Pelagic Cormorant||Phalacrocorax pelagicus||25||---|
|Heermann's Gull||Larus heermanni||35||---|
|Western Gull||Larus occidentalis||3||---|
|California Gull||Larus californicus||125||---|
|Glaucous-winged Gull||Larus glaucescens||1||---|
|Arctic Tern||Sterna paradisaea||5||---|
|Elegant Tern||Thalasseus elegans||2||see note|
The blueish-gray maxilla shown by this gull is unique to 2nd-cycle California Gull. No other North American gull shows a bill this color. First-cycle California Gulls start out with a all-black or nearly all-black bill, which quickly transitions to a striking two-tone pattern that is pale pink on the basal two-thirds and black on the outer third. When a California Gull goes through its first prebasic molt (at about 14-15 months of age) it starts its 2nd-cycle. At this point the basal section of the bill turns gray or bluish-gray and outer third of the bill will be mostly black with a pale tip, as seen here.
Aside from the blurred-out adult in the foreground, all of the birds in this image are hatch-year California Gulls. Note the variations in bill pattern, amount of gray on the mantle, darkness of the breast and darkness on the head. At this time of year, hatch-year birds are going through their first post-juvenile molt. Unlike subsequent fall molts, which are complete–in prebasic molt cycles all feathers are replaced–this molt cycle (preformative) is partial and does not involve the replacement of flight and tail feathers. Although the timing is variable, for many hatch-year California Gulls the preformative molt starts almost immediately once they hit the coast after leaving the nesting grounds. As an example, the larger front left bird shows little evidence of preformative molt. It still has a dark breast, a very dark head, and the mantle is still pretty brown. Note also that the bill is not fully transitioned to showing a pale pink base. Compare this bird to the pale-headed bird in the middle back. It's mantle is grayer and it is not nearly as spangled on the coverts.
These two gulls are hatch-year Californias. They show a plumage pattern and bill color that is typical for late September hatch-year birds. Note the pink and black bill pattern and heavily-spangled white and chocolate-brown wing coverts. California Gulls start their first post-juvenile molt (preformative molt) shortly after leaving the breeding grounds. Dark brown feathers on the head, breast, and mantle are replaced by paler off-white or gray feathers. Note how pale the foreheads are and grayish cast to the mantle of these birds and how the upper breast, throat and chin of the bird in the foreground are near white.
There is a variation in hatch-year California Gulls that cause some birds to have a decidedly cinnamon tone to their breasts, heads, and mantles. Such birds are often referred to as "cinnamon morphs," although this isn't really a color morph in the true sense because this look is age specific (only hatch-year plumage) and does not carry forth with subsequent ages. Pigment variations are often the result of diet or hormonal variation. As far as I know, no one has done a study that explains the origin of this variation and it has not been definitively connected to a particular population or subspecies of California Gull. Also, birds in fresh juvenile plumage don't seem as likely to show this look, which seems more prevalent later in the fall season, so it could be wear of bleaching that creates the cinnamon look.
Here's another cinnamon California Gull. Compare the coloration of this bird to the two typical birds in the photo above (two photos up). Note the warm cinnamon tones on the head and mantle and how the pale areas of the and head and breast are warmer and buffier in tone. Also, note the delayed transition in bill color. This bird still shows a fair amount of dark on the basal tw0-thirds of the bill.
We looked at lots of hatch-year California Gulls on 28 September and this was the only one that we found still sporting a nearly all-black bill. In overall appearance–dark bill, dark smudge through the eye and auriculars, and dark breast–this bird looks more like the juvenile California Gulls one sees in July and early August, when they are newly arrived from the breeding colonies. This bird show no outward evidence of being in preformative molt–the feather replacement that results in its "first winter" appearance.