If you’re a migrating bird, why not choose Southern California for your winter layover?

I almost went for the obvious and titled this post, “The Super Bowl is for the Birds.” I only watch the game with one eye, and that eye isn’t fully on alert.

There’s football–and then for me, there’s almost anything else!

Of course, here in the United States it is Super Bowl Sunday.

I enjoy any excuse for gathering with my family, and I never begrudge others the pleasure of THE game. I just don’t share in the interest.

I’m discreet. I can sit here with a laptop while the die-hards enjoy THE game, parked in the back of the room, still comfortably near the food, but not occupying a hold down on television viewing prime real estate.

My mind is elsewhere.

I know it was only yesterday Punxsutawney Phil  gave us the good news that spring is just around the corner. I performed a celebratory happy dance in response and then somehow jumped right into dreams of summer.

My summer is ocean and beaches and the time to fully enjoy.

Yesterday morning I was planning to meet Aimee and the girls at a little preschool function.  Freeway closures for a movie shoot necessitated a slight detour.

But the change in route proved interesting. Sitting at a traffic light I was mesmerized by a flock of sea gulls. No, not the 80s band, but a flock of at least three dozen California Gulls. We live inland; not on the coast.  It’s not unusual  to see an occasional lone gull.  But a flock? Unusual.

Once in rapid population decline, they must be making a come back.


I would be more than happy to have my information updated by anyone in the know, but I think this gull may belong to the Heermann’s Gull family. He is distinctly different form the California Gull, sporting predominantly gray coloring.

3 pelicans in flight

Heermann’s also play well with Brown Pelican’s, which thanks to aggressive conservation measures are plentiful on our local beaches.

Once again, I do my best to determine the species of birds. Because Southern California is winter home to many migratory birds, I don’t always recognize the new faces.

I believe these little guys are a member of the curlew genus and may be Whimbrels. Whimbrels are waders in a very large family, probably not originally from California, but a frequent visitor.

The best way to learn is observation, but I don’t live at the ocean. I do use the guidance of books and museums.

During our recent trip to Santa Barbara we spent some time at the Natural History Museum and enjoyed the shore bird exhibit. I was particularly interested in identifying a Cormorant. This isn’t a bird I know, but after reading about the Lone Woman of San Nicolas Island  I developed a greater interest.

Fish Eaters Cormorants

The woman, rescued after 18 solitary years on San Nicolas Island, wore a dress made of cormorant feathers. She had sewn the feather dress together using whale sinews. The birds (above) between the pelicans and the gulls are identified as cormorants.

There are some 40 species of cormorants and shags, but I don’t believe I have ever seen one other than behind glass!

We did have a very special little visit a month or so ago from a young Canadian Goose. He apparently temporarily lost his mother while on his migratory vacation to Laguna Beach.

If you find yourself separated from your flock, Laguna Beach is a nice place for your layover. The weather is mild, there is plenty to eat and the crowd is happy to see you.

I hope if I’ve labeled the birds incorrectly you’ll inform me! I do want to learn. There just isn’t enough time to learn about everything interesting is there?

Enjoy some warm thoughts this week. Spring is coming!

And for those who aren’t watching the Super Bowl, it just got interesting as they lost power in half the stadium. A delay could interfere with my Sunday evening Downton Abbey viewing. Now I’m paying attention!

59 thoughts on “If you’re a migrating bird, why not choose Southern California for your winter layover?

    • We left my brother’s during the outage and by the time we got home they were “up and at ’em” again! We celebrated my nephew’s birthday and I spent time with my five-month-old great-niece, so that made the day very special! And the commercials were good. LOL! I hope you had a quiet day and feel better this week!

  1. We have lots of cormorants and anhingas around here . . . excellent at catching fish and then drying their wings by stretching them out on both sides.

    Thanks for sharing your birds’ eye view of So. Cal.

    • Now there’s another species I don’t know at all–anhingas! I love to watch these shore birds and could spend hours watching them dip in and out of the water. We live about 45 minutes from the closest real beach, and so we can visit often, but it’s not like living there and watching bird habits year round. From what I was reading there are many different sizes, colors and characteristics within the cormorant species, and some are very large. The ones at the museum were quite small. I think the name itself just makes them sound very grand! 🙂

  2. I must do a post on cormorants for you .. we have so many here by us… I love those birds the curlews as you call them… don’t know them my self… but they do look interesting… wonderful post.. thank you…

  3. I’m like you Debra. One eye on the game if nothing else is distracting me. Anything else. 😉 I just told Mike tonight that we’re going to start watching Downton Abbey. I watched a marathon of a few episodes earlier in the year and enjoyed it. Now I want to start from the beginning and get caught up. Loved the photos of the birds! Do people really get excited about seeing geese in Cali? I think I’m just so used to them. They live in our neighborhood and yard nearly year-round. 😉

    • The little Canadian Goose did draw a crowd, and many of us weren’t at all sure if we was from the north or not! 🙂 A local man gave us quite a history of their yearly fly-overs and how from time to time one is separated and then catches up with a new flock at a later date. So I guess to answer your question, no, we don’t see them up close very often. My mom and I stayed with him for a long time just watching him enjoy himself! And YES to Downton Abbey! Last year when some of us were going on and on about the series a fellow blogger from Great Britain commented that she didn’t understand our excessive delight in the show. All I could say was that she didn’t understand what a vacuous wasteland much of general American television seems to be…at least that’s my opinion. So DA is a real treat! I hope you do follow up and start from the beginning. 🙂

    • I’m only marginally making a dent in my understanding of local birds, Rommel, and if I traveled very broadly seeing more, I’d probably be hopeless! I always enjoy trip to any Natural History Museum, and each one is different, which is fun. I learn new things in small batches…I need lots of repetition! 🙂

  4. Great photos! Your gull is a Heermann’s, for sure. I love their “ack ack” calls.
    As for the shorebirds, I believe you have both a whimbrel (the long downturned beak) and perhaps a marbled godwit (the straight-to-upturned beak). But shorebirds are tough and I’m guessing a bit here.
    I love cormorants. I was once in a small boat with thousands flying around me — magical!

    • Hi Lori! It wasn’t until after your comment that I really noted the differences between the whimbrel and godwit. I did get out one of my books and I think you’re right. One of the issues I have in being strong in bird identification is that I tend to notice their habits and behaviors more than I take note of the detail. I need to pay attention more to some of the physical characteristics, part by part! Your experience with the cormorants would indeed be magical. You have had some interesting bird and mammal experiences! I’m looking forward to hearing more from you after your wonderful trip in March! 🙂

    • Thank you so much for stopping by. I was actually thinking about you. I am so intrigued with your area of study, not just because I do love birds, but because I am aware of how difficult it is to note all the subtle differences between species and then to remember the detail enough to record the data accurately. And in your case, distinguishing the differences in sound. I am really impressed by that and would love to follow behind you just to watch your process! 🙂 They are such beautiful creatures, though, aren’t they? So nice to hear from you!

  5. I will remember Laguna Beach next time my flock and I are separated, Debra. I’ve actually been to Laguna Beach, and wish I was there right now as we are in the twenties with snow and a sluggish rush hour.

    Imagine, a dress of cormorant feathers? I think about that poor woman, surviving all those years, only to succumb to the first nasty germ she encounters.

    Did you see Downton Abbey? I’m not a Super Bowl, or football, fan (I know. That’s considered un-American), but got comfy with it, only to have our own little power failure, which only affected the television, computer, and few lights and such. Sigh. I did get to see the rest of Downton later.

    • Oh Penny! How odd that you’d have a power failure at just about the same time! It does sound cold there on the cutoff! I did get to see Downton Abbey but it’s the last thing we do on Sunday evening and the last couple of weeks I’ve not felt particularly ready for bed. My mind is too active. Who would have thought it would be more emotional than World War I?

      I think of the Lone Woman a lot since learning more about her. It is beyond my understanding how she actually survived. The island is so remote, with wild dogs and great cold. She was a tremendously resourceful person. It is a shame she wasn’t able to leave more of a record of her 18 years, but from what I have read there are archaeologists and anthropologists still studying the island and piecing together a reasonable story that I hope is published beyond just academia. If I ever hear more, I will indeed share it! Sending warm thoughts… 🙂

  6. Hello, Debra! Thanks for reminding me to “breathe lighter” – it’s something I’ve needed to do for the last few months, that’s for sure. We have some of the cormorants here in Texas, they are everywhere! Our small lake, White Rock Lake, has some Pelicans, a small bird that looks like a parrot, and a few seagulls (but we are in Texas, after all). However, you don’t usually see them all together at once. I see them randomly. Great post! Beautiful birds. Deborah

    • Hi, Deborah! I just looked up White Rock Lake, and that’s a beautiful spot with a lot of very interesting history. I only read the Wikipedia reference, but I was quite fascinated. I do love the story behind different geographical locations. Texas is such a historically rich state to begin with! I wonder what the small parrot-like bird is. We’ll both need to keep our eyes open to see if we can be even more observant to which birds are home-based, and which are just traveling through! 🙂

  7. It does sound like you have a constant exhibit of birds visiting your area. We have cormorants in Maine that visit our lake and they were plentiful in Florida…perhaps the whole east coast.

    • I have never forgotten your Loon, Karen. I would imagine there are many birds in some of our less populated areas that represent species less familiar to me, but I’m just not there to see them! I am intrigued with cormorants right now, mainly because I really don’t know them, and now I want to see one for myself! I may need to travel. 🙂

  8. Dear Debra, I hope you got to watch “Downton Abbey” last night or at least tape it. I’m not a football fan and so the only thing I know about the super bowl game is that the Ravens won and that it went clear to 10 pm. Last night’s episode of the abbey is one you don’t want to miss. Just as last week’s was.

    As to birds, I don’t know much at all about them. It’s another area–among zillions–that I know little about. When I was getting ready to enter the convent I got a letter from my college roommate in which she said, “Isn’t it wonderful that now that we’ve graduated from a Catholic college we know all we’ll ever need to know?” And you know what, I was so immature that I agreed with her!!!!! And yet it took only reading the headlines to the newspaper that day so long ago–1958–for me to realize I knew next to nothing about anything. Ah, the callowness of youth.c

    • I love your comment, Dee. I often think back to being younger and recall topics and circumstances that didn’t hold much interest for me, and now, I’m wondering why I let so much time pass before asking some good questions! Maybe that is part of youth. Now we’re playing catch-up. 🙂 I did get to see Downton, thank you! Oh my but this is a “heavy” season, isn’t it? I wouldn’t have thought we’d be on more of an emotional roller coaster than WW I but I believe I am! We should create an on-line support group. LOL!

      I wanted to make sure you’re getting my comments on your blog. I always read them, but since they don’t display for me (at the time) as immediately as WordPress, do let me know if I drop off! I’ll have to change settings again. I hope you have a great week, Dee. oxo

    • We are right in their flight path–between Canada and Mexico, so I think we have more migratory birds than I’ve really thought about before. I feel a new interest coming on! I did get to see Downton. Thank you! 🙂

  9. I love the image of the wave with the pelicans flying over it. We have a lot of seagulls here – they certainly aren’t in short supply. I heard the super bowl was on but we don’t get it covered here; maybe on pay TV but I don’t subscribe to pay TV xx

    • I wouldn’t pay money for the Super Bowl, Charlie. There are many people who seem to eat, sleep and breathe American football..I am not one of them! I have enjoyed any photos you have shared from the ocean. We share the Pacific Ocean, don’t we! I love shore birds, and I’m wondering if your gulls are similar or different in coloring. I know there are some gulls that never leave our Southern California beaches, and then others I don’t see year round. They are funny little creatures. I was really surprised to see so many 30 miles inland, though. I will now be looking for them while I’m driving, which is probably not a really good idea! 🙂

  10. I feel the same as you Debra. I long to see more of the ocean. I wish I could rent a little space on someone’s patio overlooking the ocean. I’d be ever so well behaved. I’d just sit there and look about me and dream…

    Your bird photos are great!

    I too don’t care for the SuperBowl but as I work Sundays I don’t have to watch it. I heard a documentary on NPR that the TV ads during the game are all little stories – and because of the half hour delay I got home in time to see some of those Ads last night! Gosh I was impressed.

    I’ve been a loyal fan of Masterpiece Theater for over 30 years. I love their English Dramas.
    What do you think is going to happen to the baby in “Downton Abbey”? If I was the writer what would I do? Allow her to grow up with her Irish Catholic father or her grandparents? I can’t see the baby Sybil disappearing to Liverpool never to be heard of again – I think she has to grow up in splendor at the big house. What do you think?

    We need to have lunch. I’ve got some stories to share with you…

    • We’ll have to get together soon, Rosie. I’ll send you an email and begin to do some calendar swapping! 🙂 I was able to get to Downton without a problem! And I don’t
      know, but Lady Mary looked awfully sweet holding that dear baby! 🙂 We’ll see… and as for the ocean, your thoughts are mine! I have said for years that if one of my children would just buy a home at the beach with a small garage…I don’t need much space! 🙂

  11. Last Summer, while Max was frolicking in Lake Huron’s waves, I was experimenting with my camera’s telephoto lens. Lo and behold! There was a pair of cormorants on some rocks across from us. Our family has been in this area for 40+ years and this is the first cormorants have been seen. It was mid-Summer so, hopefully, they’ve set up house and weren’t just passing through. It’s always good to see wildlife numbers rebounding or spreading into new areas.
    A great post, Debra. My, but we do have similar interests!

    • I totally know the excitement discovering a species “new” to the neighborhood! I’m so impressed you knew a cormorant when you saw it, John! That’s part of my problem. I will spy a bird I haven’t previously seen and unless I can get a photo, by the time I can get to a book or the Net I have already started to lose some of the detail from my memory. And sometimes they are literally just passing through! There is something so relaxing about watching the birds look for food and make their homes. And once in a while to find them in a squabble or socializing is just sublime! One of my favorite things to do when we are away from our home environment is notice the different species and I have broadly hinted that if I had an even BETTER camera lens I could capture even BETTER photos! LOL! I do enjoy hearing that we have that interest in common. Spring is coming…we can get out and explore even more! 🙂

  12. We’re not football fans here either, and NOTHING but NOTHING interferes with Downton Abbey! LOL I never heard of the Lone Woman of San Nicholas Island – sounds like an interesting story. Love your bird photos – the one of the three over the wave is incredible!

    • Fortunately I did NOT miss Downton! 🙂 It’s fun to see how many of us are committed followers! The Lone Woman of San Nicolas Island is totally amazing. If you click on the link of my latest post you can read what I learned and how it connects to a book. If you didn’t read the post before, I hope you will…Juana Maria is an amazing woman! I am still trying to find out more about the Nicoleño people! Thanks for the nice comments on the bird photos. If I had a little more time I’d love to be a serious bird watcher!

  13. Great mix of birds – I’ve only got European / African bird books here but the bird with the down turned bill is almost certainly a Whimbrel whilst the ones with the long slightly upturned pink and black bills are probably juvenile Bar-tailled Godwits. Don’t forget that’s from a European book 🙂 Can’t help with the Gull – Sorry! Your young Canada Goose probably took a wrong turn on his way back from Kew Gardens in London 😉

    • I thank you for help on identifying the birds, Martin. One of the areas that most trips me up is distinguishing the young birds for more mature, and when the plumage changes color seasonally or otherwise, I get stumped! I have wondered what ever happened to the poor goose. I hope his tribe came back for him! 🙂

  14. If you don’t have one yet, an extremely good book to have (with excellent full color images) is the National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America (6th edition). It shows the migratory patterns of all the birds found in the US plus where they occur year round and such. Also, you’ll LOVE the website Whatbird.com. VERY helpful if you have seen the bird and heard it’s call. If it happens to not be the bird you saw, or the call is wrong but still looks similar to the bird, it gives you a list to the left side of similar birds. I use the app on my phone all the time!

    I’d be happy to discuss birds with you, I used to work at my local zoo here in Palm Desert as a Wildlife Rehabilitator as well as volunteer at the Wild Bird Sanctuary in Indio, come and visit it some time!! and bring a camera!!

    • Thank you for the suggestions. I do not have the book (and I have a birthday coming up) and have not heard of the website. I will look into both. Is the zoo you’re speaking of The Living Desert? My daughter took her two young girls there late last year and what I want to know is how did I NOT know about this wonderful place. I have it on my very short list to return. I’d probably have already gone except I’d love to take the girls back. And I don’t know a thing about the Wild Bird Sanctuary. Thanks again to Mr. Google…I will be finding a way to visit soon. I am thrilled for the direction. I am in the Pasadena area, so these are just very fine day-trips! Do you have a blog? I’d love to follow along if you do. 🙂

      • I do not have a blog but if you click on my name it should direct you to my google profile where I have a few pics uploaded on it. (soon to be more because my Winter Migratory Birds class starts this thursday.
        I am no expert by any means with birds, I do know my fair share though (I should hope so since I am majoring in Wildlife Conservation.) The variation in seasonal plumage does get quite confusing, especially if they are in the transition of plumage change. as well as the transitions from juv. to adulthood lol
        But yes, you’ll very much enjoy the website, the app has a few kinks to work out, but it is very useful when you’re out on the field and really wanting to identify whether seeing or hearing the bird.

    • Thank you so much, Ashley. One of the reasons I tend to find it difficult to identify birds is the changes in seasonal coloration and then distinguishing between adult and young. I am quite literal when I’m looking at a photo, and if it isn’t just a perfect match in color, I get thrown off! I appreciate that you took the time to better inform me. I really am trying to learn! 🙂

  15. Did that game already air? JK – I’m not that out of it!
    Really great images in this post. Reminds me to take a little more time out to appreciate the birds on our island in the Pacific Northwest.

    • Thank you for stopping by, Wendy. I do enjoy birds! I would imagine you have some lovely shorebirds if you live on one of those beautiful Pacific Northwest islands! It’s amazing how much personality birds have if you do just pay attention. I’ll now make my way over to your blog and share the visit. Thank you! 🙂

  16. Super photos, Debra, and I’d have thought about birds too in your situation. 🙂 DH and DD are both American football fans, but not me.

    Sadly February 2nd (Candlemas Day) was beautifully sunny here, the first sunny day for weeks. Naturally winter has now returned with another snowfall and more forecast for the weekend. Sigh….

    • I do often think about how easy it is for me to stay active in our climate, Perpetua. I think it would be very different if we had days and days (weeks) without sunshine. I know that I really do have less energy when we have even slight reductions in consistent sunshine, and I don’t think it’s all in my head. It’s already mid-February, so I am sure you have an eye towards spring and warmer weather. We all do well “blooming where we’re planted,” though, don’t you think? oxo

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