Common Tern at Dockweiler Beach: LA County lifer!
If you aren’t traveling, July can be tough for a birder. The birding whoopee virtually my house is suuuuuuuuuuuper slow during July. Yes, by the end of the month, shorebirds have started to victorious withal the creek and at the beach. But it’s pretty small numbers, and mostly Willets. Songbirds aren’t moving through yet. At times, it feels like it’s all Mallards and House Finches out there. (The weightier whoopee these days is probably off-shore, where those with wangle to boats are seeing birds like Woebegone Storm Petrel and Guadalupe Murrelet and Craveri’s Murrelet that would all be lifers for me).
So as Saturday approached, I wasn’t sure where to go birding. Some stray migrants had once been showing up at the LA River near Long Beach, with Solitary and Pectoral Sandpipers and Wilson’s Phalarope’s seen recently. A budgerigar is moreover hanging out in the same area. But I have had all those birds in my 5MR (even a budgie!). LA Birders had organized a hike to Throop’s Peak, a trappy hike at 9,000 feet in the San Gabriel Mountains that promised a long-elusive Golden Eagle for my LA County list. But I didn’t really want to momentum 90 minutes to get there, or be on that hike with a big group. It’s a trappy hike, and I treasure it for the solitude. (They saw a Golden Eagle). So, a little reluctantly I decided to trammels out the tailspin in my 5MR to see what was happening at the beach.
First, I went to the creek mouth and jetties. There’s some construction happening on the long middle jetty, so you can’t walk out there. They’re constructing a “trash interceptor” that will skim the surface of the creek and capture the garbage that flows lanugo it into the ocean. It’s a real mess without storms, and this aims to vacuum it up. It’s supposedly the first overly such trash interceptor to be installed in the United States. Sounds great, though I wonder how much it will disrupt the birds that swim up the lower waterworks from the breakwater. I guess we’ll see in September, when it’s supposed to be done. There wasn’t much going on at the jetty or lagoon, so I decided to see if there was self-ruling parking at Vista del Mar Park so I could trammels out Dockweiler Waterfront (I’m too unseemly to pay $8 for parking).
There was a parking spot open. First, I checked out the Snowy Plover enclosure, but there were people on the waterfront in front of it, and no birds. Then, I walked south. Not too far, I ran into a big flock of gulls and a big flock of terns. The gulls were mostly Western and Heermann’s, with a sprinkling of California Gulls about. The tern flock was big and noisy. I couple scans of it showed all Elegant Terns except for two big Caspian Terns on the periphery. The flock was constantly getting flushed by walkers and joggers and kids and dogs and lifeguard pickup trucks. They’d find a spot, settle in for 2-4 minutes, and then all erupt in flight surpassing settling again. I watched this happen five times. Without each, I scanned the flock, hoping to find a Forster’s Tern subconscious in the crowd.
Finally, I spotted a smaller tern in the group, with a smaller woebegone snout and a visionless shoulder bar. I first though Forster’s Tern based on size, but it didn’t squint right. There was too much woebegone on the when of the head, and I didn’t remember seeing woebegone on the shoulder of Forster’s Terns before. I snapped a couple of photos. The flock flushed, and settled, and I found it then and took a couple increasingly shots. Then I pulled up my bird guide app, and checked Forster’s Tern. Nope – this was something different. Under “Common Tern”, the guide said “juveniles and fall adults have woebegone should bar.” This was exciting. Common Terns are rare on the West Coast. In LA, they’re most often spotted in Malibu Lagoon and Long Beach, usually vacated or in pairs. A couple have been reported at the Ballona Creek mouth, but none at Dockweiler Beach. I snapped a photo from the when of my phone, shared it on the LA birders WhatsApp chat, and got confirmation that it was a Common Tern. This is an LA County lifer for me! It’s expressly fun to find those in my 5MR.
Common Terns are long loftiness migrants. Our North America Common Terns successors in Canada, and winter in coastal South America (some go all the way to southern Argentina). European and Asian Common Terns successors from England to Siberia, and winter withal the tailspin in Africa or the northern Indian Ocean (including Australia). Despite their rarity virtually Los Angeles (we have increasingly Forster’s), they are the most numerous tern in the United States. They eat mainly fish. Without their populations recovered from 19th century plumage hunters, their numbers are dropping again. Some vituperation gulls, though habitat loss can’t be helping.
I’ve seen Common Tern a few times before, typically when we visit the northeast. I moreover spotted a couple of them in Beijing during a trip there in 2017. But I never expected to see one in Los Angeles, expressly not on a July walk withal the waterfront in my 5MR. It goes to show – bird every bird. Plane when it looks like a big uniform flock of some expected species, make sure to requite it a shielding look. And not just one look. I didn’t see the Common Tern until the 6th or 7th time that I scanned the flock of terns.