The day started off well. I left in the dark hoping to have enough time to stop at Coal Oil Point prior to meeting up with class. I got there around 7:30 just as it was getting light. Sunrise was at 7:15 but there were low clouds threatening rain so it was still rather dark.
Over the past couple of days there have been 3 interesting birds seen at Coal Oil Point - Ancient Murrelet (seen for just 10 minutes), an Elegant Tern and a Surfbird. I figured the Murrelet was a long shot, and the latter two are early migrants and I am most certain to find them at some point in the year.
While scanning over the water I noticed an interesting bird off the point. It was low to the water and smaller than a loon, black on top (no white on the wings) with a white breast, and a long thin bill. When it sat up in the water and flapped its wings, they were white underneath as was its belly. A Common Murre, new bird for the year! This is a very nice bird to see, as it was not on the list of ones I was expecting to find this year. I watched it dive for a few minutes before starting to scan the shorebirds.
I found nothing really unusual among the shorebirds. Some of them are starting to obtain their breeding plumage. For Santa Barbara that means they are about to disappear to their nesting grounds.
I did see a group of 6 Dowitchers. I did not spend much effort trying to determine if they were Short-billed or Long-billed Dowitchers. The light was not great, and I was a bit lazy about it. The most common type here is the Long-billed, and the two can be quite difficult to tell apart. The only sure-fire way to tell them apart is by their call (Short billed has a 3 note call, Long-billed is a single note). They usually call when they are startled and fly away. This particular group did not fly before I had to leave for class, so I did not have the benefit of this clue.
I left Coal Oil Point around 7:50AM. About 1 hour later Tom Turner arrived and saw 6 Dowitchers. He got some photos of them. He stayed until they flew away - calling with 3 notes. Short-billed Dowitchers. He sent his photos to local Dowitcher Guru Nick Lethaby, who said by their location and plumage alone they were almost certain to the Short-billed Dowitchers.
Now I find myself in a bit of a dilemma - should I count the ones I saw as Short-billed Dowitchers? On the one hand, I did not identify them at the time, so I do not think I should count them. On the other hand, the ones I saw were almost certainly the ones Tom saw. Sometimes sightings do get revised after the fact - just last week during Bird Class we reported a female Bullock's Oriole. After getting home and posting the photo it was pointed out that it really looked more like a Baltimore Oriole, so the sighting was revised. At the moment I will leave it off the list, but would like to hear opinions of you've got them.
During Bird Class we of course did not find the Grace's Warbler. We did see a pair of Cooper's Hawks (the ones I saw mating yesterday) working on building their nest, which was nice.
Afterwards I visited a couple of spots around Goleta looking for spring birds but did not find any. That part was a bit frustrating, but I did get a nice bird for the day.
A single photo from today:
After the addition of today's 1 species, the year's total stands at 186.
Today I rode a total of 34.4 miles