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If you've been out to a beach recently, you may have seen numerous bird carcasses. While I've written about this topic in the past and how to best report dead birds, it's a different thing entirely if you find a bird on the beach and it's alive!

I've been noticing and getting email inquires about these particular birds that are coming ashore on sandy beaches in Monterey Bay right now. These are Surf Scoters, a type of seaduck, and while they are commonly seen in Monterey Bay in the fall and winter, they should be migrating north to breed up in the arctic. What cool guys (see range map below). But if you've got crummy feather quality, it's going to be hard to fly, dive in 50°F water to forage, or get a mate once you get up to the breeding grounds. The process of molting, or replacing feathers (either specific tracts or whole sections) on a bird's body, is an energetically demanding process, and if you're not finding the right type or amount of quality food, you just might look scruffy all spring or not even be able to migrate at all!

These two Surf Scoters initially caught my eye at Del Monte Beach in Monterey on a busy, sunny afternoon, where seeing a waterbird sitting on land within 20 feet of playing children first made me concerned. But watching these birds actively preen, ambulate (get up and walk out of the water, stretch and flap their wings), and looking closely at the feathers, I felt confident that they weren't injured, oiled or entangled, just trying to get a little warm and attempting to preen the brown and frayed feathers into compliance. I observed them then left them alone.

On the flip-side, poor Brown Pelicans are having a rough time! A recent article in Lookout Santa Cruz quotes a wildlife rehabilitator from Native Animal Rescue in Santa Cruz saying that while it's not Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI), starvation and possibly domoic acid poisoning is causing a big influx of Brown Pelicans into rehabilitation facilities along the California coast. The SPCA for Monterey County has received over 80 Brown Pelicans just since mid-April, many of which have since been transferred to International Bird Rescue. If you see a Brown Pelican in an odd location or see one on the beach who is not moving for beach walkers, give the SPCA a call. If you live in Santa Cruz County, call Native Animal Rescue. And even if you don't find any birds yourself, please send some funds to your local wildlife rehabilitation facility - they are nonprofits, not run by Fish & Wildlife or your city like some people think. They are trying to save lives on shoestring budgets!

If you are able to walk up to a seabird on the beach and it's doesn't notice you or it is afraid and trying to get away but can't move, then you should definitely call the SPCA Wildlife Center at 831-264-5427. Thanks for looking out for the local birds!

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Most of our conservation projects have a neat logo associated with them. We use these in written reports, graphics, and to make stickers and swag. We're excited to reveal the new Point Pinos Seawatch logo, created by local artist, naturalist, and birder Morgan Lewis of Ripple in the Wild.

The logo features our two main target species that are monitored through this conservation project: the Surf Scoter and Pacific Loon. Although 223 species have been identified by our counters during the fall seawatch sessions, these are the two main birds that fly by in large numbers. The logo also depicts the offshore red buoy, a key visual marker on a featureless ocean.

The birds are facing to the left, since in the fall when the Seawatch is occurring, we are witnessing these species heading south for winter and are generally flying west, out of the bay. These birds are heading back south after breeding up in the arctic and boreal forests of Canada. But if you go out to Point Pinos right now (early May), you'll see some of these same species headed the other way - northeast into the bay! And even more stunning, you'll see them in their finest breeding plumage as they travel north to find a partner and build a nest. The loons are particularly beautiful this time of year - see Mark Chappell's picture below. We are used to seeing them in the fall when they are in their drab, basic plumage, but right now they are glammed up.

Any opportunity you have to hang out along the coast and look out to sea with your binoculars or a spotting scope, you should take it. Monterey Bay is one of the most ecologically rich places on the planet and for marine life it is unrivaled. 223 bird species have been seen just by standing at that one bench at Point Pinos... read more about the Seawatch Program on our website. See you in the field!

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Below is a review of how to accurately use eBird posted to a birding listserv by San Mateo County's eBird editor, Malia DeFelice. All of these recommendations are important to remember if you think you are seeing a rare bird while you are bird watching. Thanks to all the eBird users and especially the volunteer eBird editors and reviewers. That's a tough job!

Here comes Spring Migration! And here are a few reminders for best practices when using eBird at any time, but also at this exciting time of the year. Please feel free to share.


Everyone who has used eBird to report a rare bird, unusually high counts of a species, or birds that are unusual for the time of year, or location, is familiar with the automated prompt requesting more documentation. Just a few reminders about documenting your rare/unusual sightings on eBird:


Written Documentation: When you are prompted to provide documentation for a sighting of an unusual or rare bird, the #1 comment to add is a description of the bird. A description of the bird should contain field marks and defining physical or audible characteristics that helped you separate it from similar species. This is the most important element you can add to your checklist record. The bird’s behavior, what the bird was doing, where it was seen etc. can add depth to the record, but a description of what the bird looked/sounded like is the most important component. Remember, the rarer the bird, the more important thorough documentation becomes.


Early Arrivals: Accurate reporting of arrival timing is just as important to science as correct ID, and the two can go hand in hand. It is understood that not everyone will know if a bird is extremely early, sort of early, or just a little bit early. Some migrants return earlier than others.  Some return a lot later than others. So please treat the prompt for more details for an early bird in a similar way that you would treat rare birds. Please provide confirmable media, or a description of what the bird looked like or sounded like and how it was separated from confusion species. When writing your details, consider how helpful your choice of words will be to other eBirders, researchers, scientists and people doing important conservation work now, and far into the future.


Photos and Audio: eBird has made uploading photos and audio recordings relatively easy.  Media are a great way to document your sightings. However, there are times that we see photos or hear audio, that are of a less than optimal quality and they alone do not support the ID of the bird. If your uploaded media is less than optimal, please supplement your record by adding descriptions of the bird(s) as noted above.


“Details to be added” “Photos/Audio to be added”: When compiling checklists in the field using a smart device, it can be difficult to type detailed notes. For birds flagged for more details, please use comments like “Details to be added” or “Photos/Audio to be added”. But use that wording only as a temporary placeholder in your checklist comments. Avoid making those “to be added” comments permanent. Try to write your descriptions of the birds and field marks/notes etc. as soon as you can while the details are still fresh in your mind. Don’t wait until a time too far in the future when details are fuzzy at best. Upload your supporting photos and audio as soon as it is convenient, especially if it is an early arrival or a rarity you are documenting.


EBIRD FILTERS: eBird filters are extremely complicated and I could write more words of explanation than anyone will ever want to read. So to keep the answer simple.........

eBird Filters are set to:

·      reflect the overall rarity of a species at any time of year i.e. Slaty-backed Gull

·      Address timing and seasonality  i.e. arrival and departure dates

·      Where on-going identification issues for some “common” species have become apparent based on what the review team has experienced over time and continue to experience

·      We more geographically refined filters. But eBird is not prepared to give them to us. So there are likely many birds reported erroneously that the filters do not catch at the time of the observation. The review team has to search for those potential erroneous records manually and then contact observers for more details after the fact.


HOTSPOTS: If you are birding at a known eBird Hotspot please select the known eBird Hotspot as your checklist location. Unfortunately, it is very easy to select an auto-assigned location when entering your checklist data with a smart device in the field. The eBird Hotspot may not be the first location option in the list of location choices, so please take care to look for the official hotspot.


Merlin Users: If you are using Merlin to identify a bird that gets flagged for more details, please upload your audio recording to your checklist as soon as it is convenient. Leaving a comment “ID”d by Merlin” is not sufficient documentation. Merlin can be accurate, but Merlin can also be very wrong and still needs the human element to review suggested Identifications. It is always best to try to see a vocalizing bird in order to get visual confirmation of the ID when possible.


Species High Counts for eBird records: The mobile app now prompts species “High Counts” with a request for added details. A brief comment describing how the number was determined, i.e. “counted by 10’s” or “direct count” is what eBird is looking for. A numeric estimate of birds is always better than an “X”.  In addition, in some cases it may be necessary to confirm how the species was ID’d by providing a brief description of the species and how it was separated from similar species. 


A Big Thank You to All, for your media contributions, documentation and note-taking efforts to support rare bird sightings, unusually high counts of a species, or birds that are unusual for the time of year or location. Your efforts to set a high standard for data quality for eBird.


Good Birding and Have Fun.

Malia DeFelice

eBird-San Mateo County

Below are a series of eBird help articles covering various topics:


Here is an eBird help article about how to document your sightings.


For more information and tips for counting large numbers of birds or birds observed over a duration of time here are 3 help articles:


Here is an eBird help article that talks about uploading media.


We are seeing a lot of new users on eBird. If you are new to eBird here is a help article about Getting Started with eBird:


For new eBirders, I highly recommend taking the FREE eBird essentials course

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