Bird Nerds

San Diego, California is full of fun surprises.  As an extension to my trip to CA for the SAA art exhibition, friend and fellow SAA member Sandra Blair arranged to have professional photographer and friend Jim Dunn take us out to the local San Diego birding hot spots.  We stayed in southern California for several extra days after the SAA events ended, trekking the fabulous coastline in search of shorebirds.  Thanks to Jim’s  knowledge of the area, the trekking wasn’t very difficult!  He knew the best places to go and we were not disappointed!

(Below) Jim with fellow wildlife artists and SAA members Sandra Blair (middle) and Kelly Singleton on the rugged California coastline.


If ever there were two bird species that say “ocean”, the brown pelican and the seagull are it!  This species is the “Western Gull” and like all gulls, they were very abundant on the coast of southern California.  I shot this on a foggy morning at the break of dawn…


Pelicans are very entertaining to watch, as they are such a strange adaptation to life on the sea.  These clownish chaps gather in large groups and lounge around, dozing or preening.  Then all at once when they see that another bird has found food out on the water, they lift off and try to get in on the action.  When it turns out to be a false alarm, they come  back in in small groups and proceed with their napping again.

(Below) This pelican seems to be saying to his sea faring friends “Come forth yee fellow pelicans…come one, come all”.


In comes this youngster.  This poor chap has somehow gotten his head stuck in a piece of rubber trash.   This bird still has a bit of growing to do and may parish from strangulation due simply to human irresponsibility.   Call me crazy, but I do believe that animals have a right to live in a trash-free world.   When people discard unwanted items in irresponsible ways, it is often animals and birds that pay the ultimate price.  Millions of shore birds and marine animals die each year because of this carelessness.

No one will be there to watch as this bird takes his last desperate breath…so it remains beneath our notice.   That is why I am posting him here.   Please, please be mindful of what you buy and where you ultimately discard it!


(Below) This silly guy has turned his pouch completely inside out.  When a pelican “yawns” the arch of his neck pushes his pouch up and out.  That “lump in his throat” is actually the front of his neck!  Not just anyone  can do this!  Such a comical creature Mr. Pelican is!


(Below) A slightly more dignified looking brown pelican…


(Below) The “Three Amigos”.   Or for folks who have seen us yucking it up a different title might come to mind… “The Three Stooges”!

Wildlife artists have a special kinship that is hard to explain.   We seem to come from a similar place in our lives as far as what we value and prioritize.  I’m never happier than when I’m with a group of talented fellow animal/bird artist friends…

This photograph is compliments of Jim Dunn  (  Thanks Jim!!!  🙂


Another famous resident of the California coast is of course the Sea Lion.  Below is a nursery.  This adult is solely responsible for a rather large group of youngsters.  Some lounge with their babysitter here on these rocks, while many babies were playing about in the water.   I have no idea how it is decided who stays behind to play lifeguard and watch over the  youngsters.


This Double-Crested Cormorant seems to be trying to make a deal with his sea lion buddy…”If you scratch my back, I’ll come and scratch yours!.  No WAIT!  Let  ME do that!


Meanwhile, a bit farther out in the water these two adult sea lions were trying to settle an argument.   The bickering went on for quite some time.  I have no idea what the dispute was over…maybe who had to take the next shift as communal babysitter!  I know that I myself would sure hold my ground on that one!   NOT ME!!!


During low tide, we visited the “mud flats” of the San Diego River.  As the water recedes a myriad of tiny sea creatures are revealed.   Shorebirds come en mass to feed.   We sat for hours watching and photographing them.

(Below) A snowy egret “reflects” on his day.  Snowys have bright yellow feet and if you look closely, you can see one of those feet through the water.


Shorebirds are incredibly hard to identify, especially those in the Sandpiper categories.  This (I believe) is a Dowitcher.  Jim would know this bird’s species at a glance.  Having him with us was like adding a natural history lesson to our birding trip.  It doesn’t get better than that!


Here two Dowitchers reflect twice as much as one!


This little beauty below is a Willet.  Unlike many of the smaller sandpiper species who feed in small groups, this bird seems to like to hunt for food alone.  Watching shorebirds will bring your blood pressure down like nothing else in the world!