2017-05-17 Nesting Season At The Saltworks

American Avocet ChickIt’s always a good day when visiting the nesting sites at the Saltworks, especially when it includes spending time with wildlife biologists Brian, Robert, Lea and Kate. On my way down to the rendezvous with the biology team this morning I made a pass by the mudflats at J Street, hoping to get the Reddish Egret in my lens. I’d failed to get opportunities for good pictures on Monday, and today was no better <sighing again>. While at J Street I saw Great Blue Heron, Reddish Egret, Snowy Egret, Greater Yellowlegs, Marbled Godwit, California Gull, Forster’s Tern, Least Tern, Western Gull, Willet, Caspian Tern, Black-Necked Stilt, Double-Crested Cormorant, Cliff Swallow, and Black Skimmer.

Even though the nest counts this year are not as high as hoped, bird encounters here are special, and unlike any other location in the county. Last year a record high 59,000 Elegant Tern nests were recorded. This year the Elegant Terns established an early colony, laid eggs and then abandon their nests after gulls deprecated all the eggs. There are small groups of Elegant Terns roosting at a few locations around the reserve, and while it’s possible that nesting will start again, it seems unlikely this year. Tern nesting success depends on the ebb and flow of weather, ocean currents and ocean water temperature variations that affect the fisheries these birds depend on.

On our walks along the dykes in the reserve we encountered numerous American Avocet nests, some with freshly hatched chicks. Gull-Billed Terns are beginning to hatch and seem to be doing well, though not as well as hoped. Caspian Terns, Royal Terns, Forster’s Terns were in lower numbers than expected, and only a few Least Terns are nesting this year. Snowy Plovers are doing well. Black Skimmers haven’t laid eggs yet though they are making scrapes in preparation. Black-Necked Stilts seem to have raised their first broods already, but haven’t started a second nesting yet.

This time of year shorebird numbers are low, but we saw the expected resident breeding Killdeer, and non-breeding Marbled Godwits, Western Willets and one Spotted Sandpiper. Migrating flocks of Sanderling and Red-Necked Phalaropes in breeding plumage were spotted on the reserve. The Sanderlings put on a nice show, wheeling and turning, showing off their flying skills.

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