Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Spotted Dove Spotted; Ruff Search for a Ruff, 09/26/13

When I was at Gambel on St. Lawrence Island, I asked Paul Lehman (no relation known), now from San Diego, where is the current best place to find Spotted Dove.  Paul has extensive knowledge of birding locations around the country.  I was aware that the population of Spotted Doves has been decreasing since the late 70's and 80's.  I saw my first Spotted dove near the LA Airport, LAX on October 5, 1985.  One theory is that Cooper's Hawks are taking them, primarily because the Cooper's Hawk population has increased in metropolitan areas over the past 20 years or so, perhaps also due to an increase in feeding birds and bird feeders.  Paul suggested Salt Lake Park not too far from LAX.  When Neil Hayward arrived at Gambell, he verified that he found Spotted Dove at Salt Lake Park near the north side of the park near the houses along the street to the north outside the park.  Salt Lake Park is only about 20 miles and 29 minutes from my motel near LAX. 

I headed there early enough to arrive between 7:00 and 7:30 am. at the north parking area and spotted and photographed two Spotted Doves by 7:50 am on a power line behind the first house at the corner of Saturn Avenue and Bissell Street just north of the north parking lot at Salt Lake Park.  One bird was singing its three syllable rolling "coo-coo-cooooo" song while leaning forward and bowing its head down.  I saw the white edges to the tail from above on the singing bird and the large white markings on the underside of the tail on the second bird facing me.  The tail is square in comparison to the tail of Mourning Dove.  The singing Spotted Dove was facing away from me and raised its head showing the white spotted black nape patch, from whence its name.  It is an attractive dove with gray-brown upper-parts and pink-brown under-parts, with a pale gray cap and dark eye line.  See photos.

By 8:30 am, I was on my way to try for a Ruff  or two at San Jacinto Wildlife Area.  A juvenile and adult Ruff have been reported recently.  San Jacinto Wildlife Area (SJWA) is 80 miles and about an hour and 37 minutes from Salt Lake Park.  I had never been to this area.  Consequently, I stopped at the field office and found two people who directed me to the spot where the Ruff (s) had been seen and gave me a printed out map.  The Ruffs had been seen in Ponds 6 and 7 accessible from the Wildlife Area side on a road between two parking areas, Central Parking Lot and Walker Parking Areas or along the connector road between two porta potties.  The area is also accessible from the Walker side also.  When I arrived at the location, I saw one car parked at the far end of the road at the Walker Parking Area to the southeast and a birder was gathering his gear to apparently search for the Ruff.   I started scanning the large flock of Black-necked Stilts and American Avocets that contained only two dowitchers, Long-billed by flight calls, a single yellowlegs and a few ibis.  There was a rather large flock of peeps, mostly Least Sandpipers and some Western Sandpipers.  I heard the flight call of Pectoral Sandpiper and a Dunlin.  A local Northern Harrier was flushing all the shorebirds, and there was constant movement.  The birder joined me but did not stay very long, because he had a doctor's appointment and thus was very impatient to see the Ruff.  Unfortunately, the Ruff did not oblige.

Later, Chet McGaugh and Tony Metcalf, two local experts on the SJWA area arrived.  We continued to scan for the Ruff and walked the edge of Pond 6 back toward the entrance and office of SJWA.  Along the willows and bushes, Chet found a Willow Flycatcher, which is a new bird for my California state list but not a new bird for the year.   We looked through the yellowlegs, mostly Greater Yellowlegs that had been chased out of the northwest corner of Pond 7 to the more eastern part of Pond 6.  There was a swimming Pectoral Sandpiper, which from a distance first appeared to be a phalarope.  That's a first for  me.  I do not recall having ever seen a swimming Pectoral Sandpiper, but that obviously happens.  There were additional Pectoral Sandpipers mixed in with the yellowlegs.  Tony was on an extended lunch break and afternoon break and had to return to work.  We walked back to the cross road that connected the two porta potties and ran between Ponds 6 and 7.  We approached the connecting road from the wrong angle and walked through some relatively deep mud, caused by a leak in the piping used to pump water into Ponds 6 and 7 in preparation for waterfowl hunting season.  Sometime in the near future, the water may become too deep for good shorebird habitat.  The same thing happens in Ohio.  Shorebird habitat is sacrificed for waterfowl hunting.  Nothing seems to change across this country.  A flock of Greater Yellowlegs flew in as well as more dowitchers, all of which sounded like Long-billed Dowitchers by flight call.  Still no Ruff.  Tony started walking back toward his car parked at the Walker end of the porta potty connecting road, and Chet and I were going to drive to the Walker side to join him and look for the large flocks of shorebirds that are usually there according to Tony and Chet.  Just when Chet and I were ready to get in our vehicles, we heard Tony yell something that sounded like Ruff.  We hustled back to join him to briefly see the Ruff, which had just flown in and was preening amongst a flock of Greater Yellowlegs.  I saw the bulky body, relatively long neck and small head, the relatively long legs, the buffy edges to the feathers on the upper-parts (back and wings), the barring on the back and sides of the neck and the short dark slightly down turned bill.  There appeared to be a fair amount of white on the face.  Just when I reached for my camera, the Ruff took off and flew over the nearby row of trees that bordered Ponds 6 and 7 toward the north or northwest.  We could easily see the large white elongated ovals on the sides of the rump and tail as the bird flew away.  The large white ovals are the ultimate confirmation of the identification as a Ruff.  Unfortunately, I did not get any pictures, and I am not sure if this bird was the juvenile Ruff or the adult Ruff reported, although Tony originally thought that it might be the adult.  Since then, I have checked the on-line photos on Flickr by Howard King and Tom Benson.  The bird we saw on Thursday, 09/26/13 appeared similar to the juvenile Ruff reported recently.  Thanks, Tony for helping me find this Ruff, a new bird for the year and also for my California list. 

Tony, Chet and I met again beyond the Walker Parking Area to survey the large number of shorebirds present and were joined by a local lady birder (Rose?).  There was a large flock of Black-necked Stilts, American Avocets and Long-billed Dowitchers with two Black-bellied Plovers.  I identified the dowitchers as Long-billed by flight calls.  Tony and I identified the plovers as Black-bellied by the black axillaries when they flew a short distance as the flocks repositioned due to Chet approaching the edge of the water using his high boots.  Tony and Chet headed to get some lunch, but I had picked up lunch at a Subway on the way to SJWA in the morning.  Thanks, guys for the invite to join you for lunch.  However, I decided to stay and try to get a look at the local Prairie Falcon that Chet photographed being chased by one of the local Peregrine Falcons and to try for another look at the Ruff and possibly a photograph.  Chet observed this interaction between the two flacons on his way to the shorebird spot in the morning.  I missed Prairie Falcon as a new bird for the year by only 1.5 minutes!

I stayed and met the lady birder again after she had walked around all of the pond areas north of Ponds 6 and 7. and after I had driven the roads around the north area ponds looking for Prairie Falcon.  I found a large flock of yellowlegs, mostly Greater Yellowlegs, in Pond 6 late in the afternoon.  We checked them out but did not find the Ruff.  Several additional birders joined us in the search but did not find the Ruff.  A large flock of blackbirds, mostly Red-winged Blackbirds, was feeding in the reeds of Pond 6.  The local Peregrine Falcon attacked the flock and chased it around, but not apparently catching a bird.  See photo of perched, hunting Peregrine Falcon.  There were at least three Yellow-headed Blackbirds in this flock and no Tricolored Blackbirds that I could find.  Local birders indicated that it is probably too early in the year for Tricolored Blackbirds at SJWA, but that they are common later in the fall and during the winter.  I heard and then saw a Nuttall's Woodpecker in the line of trees along Ponds 6 and 7 and got some distant but limited photos of this species, my first photos of this year for Nuttall's woodpecker.

I also drove Davis Road, the entry road to SJWA, to the point where this road is blocked, and checked the power poles for perched Prairie Falcon, but found only a local Red-tailed Hawk.  I made one last checked of the Walker area from my vehicle, and saw a tawny colored large falcon flying north from the Walker Pond entry road, but could not get a positive identification on this bird.   I was the last of the birders to leave at sunset.

Spotted Dove and Ruff are new for the year, raising the total to 669.

Spotted Dove, showing spotted neck patch

Spotted Dove, frontal view

Peregrine Falcon, adult, hunting at SJWA
dark on breast is shadow from power line
Nuttall's Woodpecker, at SJWA
black face bordered by white

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