For the last four New Year’s Days, I’ve made it a tradition to count shorebirds along the Bayshore Bike Path which runs along the south San Diego Bay. This area is part of a National Wildlife Refuge that is in the process of restoration from being an active salt pond farm to an important bird stopover. I’ve been there before, mostly riding my bike as the path goes around the entire bay. But, I’ve only been counting birds since May 2010.
I start out as early in the morning as possible, usually about a half hour after dawn. However, this year I planned to go a little later during high tides in order to document the King Tides. Many of the shorebirds were pushed up closer to shore during high tide. Usually, I recommend people count shorebirds at low to mid-tide level, but in this area, it’s best to go at high tides because the mud flats during low tide are wide and far.
I started my observations about a little less than an hour before high tide. I brought my scope and camera with me and walked from just past 13th street in Imperial Beach until almost to the Coronado Cays housing area. The tide ended up covering the entire mudflat area leaving only small islands of vegetation. Ducks and geese seemed to enjoy eating the flooded plants. Northern pintails were very plentiful. In one area, there was a large number of scaup and redheads. Brant, as usual, were very plentiful and swam close to the bike path in many areas.
The shorebirds mostly slept on berms and near the shoreline as they waited for the water to start receding so they can eat. Once the water level started going down, they were quick to begin feeding on invertebrates before they buried themselves deeper into the mud. Most of the shorebirds observed were willets and godwits, but killdeer, western sandpipers, and long-billed curlews were frequently seen. Stilts and avocets were not seen or heard at all, which is unusual for this area. There were also royal terns, a few eared grebes, and many western and ring-billed gulls.
Raptors were very few, mostly the resident osprey, a northern harrier, and a red-tailed hawk. There was, possibly, one kestrel or Cooper’s hawk there, but I couldn’t quite identify it. Usually there is a peregrine falcon harassing the birds. The very next day, a juvenile bald eagle was seen in the refuge. This would be a first record of one in that area.
Each year I’ve noticed different birds using the refuge. A couple of years ago, right after the first dredging was done in the area to open up the area to the tides, there was an abundance of stilts. One year, it was mostly wigeons, grebes, dunlin, and raptors. Next year, it might be something completely different as restoration and redevelopment continues in this area.