Sunday Nov 1, 2015 news Volume 14 Issue 15

Fall Migration


A coot or two may arrive in the last days of September but the real migration in any number of birds usually doesn't begin in earnest until the last two weeks of October.



It is difficult to estimate the number of coots that arrive early since many are transients that disappear the next day. When a small "flock" as shown above arrives, they may have no relationship to each other than a group of shoppers at WalMart. Not being able to recognize any individuals, they may be mistaken for a flock, but come and go at random and have no particular significance. In the last few days of October, we begin to see some changes.

Settling In

This reference The Displays and calls of the American Coot maintained at the University of New Mexico is an accurate and unbiased study of coot behavior. Refer to this for further information about the following description.

The coots put on a remarkable show on October 27.


The coots begin to form pair bonds, or renew old ones, and establish territory. Only a few pairs will stay together and maintain territory in winter, especially migrant coots. The coots begin by slowly approaching each other while dabbling their beaks side to side in the water. If this is successful, they wil bow to each other. (above)This is an invitation to "nibbling" (a word Gordon Gullion used to describe this sort of allopreening). The bird that bows the deepest or longest may have his head nibbled.


In the last week of October, two mated pairs appeared at the back of the boat. They were intent on establishing territory and each on repelling the other.


Notice the "ruff" on the neck of the coot in the picture below. It is quite noticable, but this is a subtle detail that is easily missed.


Straight away, they established positions for aggression or defense which resulted in a "charge" against their enemy.




The ultimate conclusion to a territorial confrontation is called the "paired display". Two or more birds "face" each other with their tails. If they all perform this mutual display, the agreed boundary is between them. This pair of coots, on the West side of the boat, both made beautiful paired displays.


The general meaning of the paired display is something like "danger keep back" and can be used as a warning. If a hawk comes many of the coots will be showing their white tail coverts like flags.


After a successful confrontation and establishment of territory, and especially if there is a fight, the coots bathe and preen. This was an exciting naval battle conducted in miniature right behind the boat as I watched. It is unusual to have more than one female in the marina, and unusual to find two mated pairs so ready to perform this early in the season.

Then this seagull appeared and all the coots went away.


Other Coots

In any group of new arrivals there are often several birds with unusual or special characteristics or skills. One of the new coots is a diver and dives to the bottom in the yacht basin the dredge up anything that might be interersting. Almost all coots can and will dive but avoid it if they can.

The coot shown below is a juvenile with some of his gray baby feathers still showing. This is only the second time that a "baby" has appeared here on migration.



At the Park

Marina View Park on Marina Parkway usually supports the largest band of migrant coots in this area. In a typical starvation sort of subsistance the coots climb up on the lawn to eat the grass. They enter by paddling up a drainage ditch on the far South side of the property. The water is brackish with tidal salt water from the bay moving up at high tide and runoff from street storm drains bringing somewhat fresh water down from Chula Vista. With drought conditions there is very little water poured into the street, making what little fresh water available even more highly polluted than usual.


There were 25 coots counted in the ditch at one time early in the month, but they turned around and went away. They can't see the grass from the ditch. Every day now, that I know that they are here, I try to coax some of them up on the lawn.


The idea is to lure them up out of the water, at least for nearby daily feeding. Occasionally a coot will see me and run to me as if showing recognition from last year, only to turn away at the last moment. It can be daunting for a little bird considering the number of people and dogs around the lawn.


There are just as many seagulls to harass the coots as the crows, but farther up the ditch are ducks. Two large males are especially obnoxious and with the gulls ensure that the coots have little chance to eat. The best solution here has been to arrive for feeding before sunrise. Coots will come any time day or night.

Coot Ladder

The original coot boarding ladder (shown last month) was torn in half and swept away when it was left deployed while the boat was under way.

It appears to have been designed in Frank Lloyd Wright style for a specific purpose rather than growing up by itself in a process of errors and partial corrections.

None of the coots have come up so far.


At the end of the month, no coots show any certain signs of recognition of either me or any of the feeding locations. More is to come.

The Crows

The Nose Ornament

Our favorite little female's son who had the unusual facial protuberance (right) lost it when it fell off sometime around October 5 (below).

I still don't know what it was. This indicates that it is probably not the avian pox, which is a deadly virus that forms similar "white" deposits around areas not covered by feathers ie, mouth and eyes. The victim is eventually starved, suffocated, and blinded.



The Enemy

Coots and crows and other smaller and lesser aggressive birds around the bay are often made miserable by other native birds. Seagulls and (to a lesser extent, ducks) can easily take food from crows and coots. Both ducks and gulls are large, powerful, agile and aggressive. But, mostly, there seems no limit to how much they can eat at once. They simply take it all. I once saw a gull, bent over and retching. The gull puked up a golf ball size lump and he shook himself all over. He quickly saw the lump as a new treat, picked it apart, and ate it over again.

Sometimes the crows will threaten the gulls by "mobbing" them just as if they were hawks.


A possible solution for protecting the crows while feeding was suggested by the fact that seagulls avoid trees. The two following pictures show the results of placing crow treats in tree branches. The crows always watch carefully to see where any food might be, but the gulls are entirely oblivious to this. It's impossible to hide anything from the watchful crows so they take to this immediately.




The crows know what the drinking fountains in thepark are for, but the water slips away so quickly that they have no chance to get a drink. When a crow is thirsty, or after a meal, the bird goes to the nearest fountain and stands there watching me until I get a dish and fill it.


There's plenty of room for several crows and a flat surface for dishes on these fountains.


Some of the crows seem to be able to get a small drink of water from the fountain, but it must be very little.

Hawks, &c

Pursuit and harassment of a hated enemy is high sport for crows. They are all eager to participate. One morning I was playing with the crows and feeding them in the park when they started cawing and pointing to the south. Then they started flying to the East end of the street several blocks away. A few of them hesitated, not wanting to leave the easy food. But within a minute they were all flying to join other crows that were forming an impromptu flock. Then they headed North, crossing Marina Parkway to the trees there. Then, they turned West and flew to yet another park and to the large eucalyptus trees there around the boat ramp.

The crows were all gone so there was no point of my being there. I put my stuff in the car and drove back to the marina for a while. I came back out to the marina parking lot to see that the crows were driving their enemy back East to an old palm tree across the street from the marina. This is a vacant field of a few acres (below) still held by the Port.


I abandoned the car and walked across the street with a camera. The object of the crows' hatred could be easily seen. (right}

No more crows appeared to join the flock, and there seemed to be about thirty of them circling the old tree. Perhaps they became tired of this and settled to the ground under the tree and rested a while. (below) Then they would start up the harassment again.

Five or six of them left together, but there was no sign that any of the others would abandon this. The hawk with nerves of steel refused to go. I waited another forty-five minutes until the West Marine store opened and went on my way.



Parting Shots

Sometimes I just hold the camera's shutter button down so I don't miss anything. I'm not wasting film.


When the birds drink, they take turns. Presumably, it is important to have as many eyes as possible looking up for danger. They also maintain the same order.

The main problem with the crows in October is that they all have finished the molt and have perfect, beautiful, and shiny new feathers. And they all look the same. The only unique characteristic is that the angelic little female crow will often come looking for me if I am at the marina, and late to come to the park to feed them. She doesn't want to be fed, she just leads me away to the park.

News Links

This section presents links to news agencies with the intent of showing news articles as they were written by the originating author. Websites using obnoxious popup advertising or employing HTML tricks to discourage taking quotes, protected by US Code Title 17, will not be referred here.

Species that seem today to be doing fine may be sensitive to change in ways that are difficult to foresee. And we are are now changing the planet at a speed that’s probably unprecedented in at least sixty million years. The New Yorker "Species that seem today to be doing fine may be sensitive to change in ways that are difficult to foresee. And we are are now changing the planet at a speed that’s probably unprecedented in at least sixty million years.”

bird lovers fume over bizarre welcome for Raghuveera - Studio N - ap "The Congress flags were tied to the pigeon and it was placed in a closed cylindrical tube used for sending rockets."

LA earns NOAA grant to study ocean acidification "UCLA is one of three colleges nationwide to be awarded a federal grant to study how ecologically and economically important coastal habitats and marine species are impacted by ocean acidification ”

Global Scheme to Clean up Oceans "The Global Ghost Gear Initiative aims to bring together fishing industry leaders, governments and environmental and animal welfare organisations in a bid to clean up the - "

Mexico Registers Huge Increase in Frozen Shrimp Exports Mexico exports all sorts of food products to the EU

California governor signs renewable electricity bill Reuters "California Governor Jerry Brown on Wednesday signed into law a bill requiring the state to produce half of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030"

Un-Baaahlievable! Overgrown Sheep Gets Record-Breaking Haircut Live Science "An enormously overgrown sheep that spent years in the wild and was saddled with so much wool that it could barely walk underwent a lifesaving "haircut" last month that removed more than 90 lbs. (41 kilograms) of fleece. "

The Reign of Recycling new york times " The slump has forced some recycling companies to shut plants and cancel plans "

USCG reaches North Pole in historic expedition The Log The ice up there is getting thin.

Coastal Commission to Consider SeaWorld San Diego Orca Tank Expansion nbc sandiego "The $100 million proposal would greatly expand the tanks SeaWorld San Diego uses to hold killer whales. "

The Mad Man and the Sea: Big Blue Marlin on a Bass Boat sd fish This spectacular season of sportfishing has presented some unique opportunities. And in the last few weeks, perhaps the most alluring of them all…the realistic opportunity to catch a large blue marlin in local water

662 pound marlin caught in San Diego; largest in last 84 years sd fish The magnificent blue marlin is thought to be the largest marlin caught in California since 1931

El Niño on the radar: Wet winter could be in store the log STATEWIDE — Weather forecasts for the upcoming winter season indicate Southern California could face a steady dose of rain. - (note: a winter of rain won't change the drought. It will take more than a season or two of rain and snow to replenish the underground aquifer where we draw much of our potable water. -- editor)

Crows will gather around their dead. And the reasons why are intriguing BBC My experiences tell me that most birds recognize people and each other by facial recognition. This BBC article goes a bit farther and speculates into the "why" part of bird behavior.

Raven loony: Bonkers bird steals cameras to take selfies and swears at police the sunday post A FOUL-MOUTHED raven is leaving tourists in a flap by nicking everything from cameras to babies’ dummies!

Scandal of animal charity fat cat: Scottish SPCA chief's £230,000 pay deal as animals suffer the sunday post THE Scottish SPCA has come under fire after its boss was given a huge pay rise – while shutting a rescue centre to save costs.

Steps Reef Lovers Can Take as U.S. Warns of Global Coral Bleaching Event the new york times Federal marine scientists issued a four-month forecast (October through January) for coral bleaching extending through many of the world's tropical seas

An “exotic, incredibly venomous” sea snake has been spotted along the Southern California coast, and a local environmental group said the creature was brought to shore courtesy of El Niño. KTLA At least one yellow-bellied sea snake, which lives its entire life in the ocean, was recently spotted at Silver Strand Beach near Oxnard..

Australia Writes Morrissey to Defend Plan to Kill Millions of Feral Cats New York Times HONG KONG — Australian officials have responded to criticism from animal rights activists and celebrities, including the former actress Brigitte Bardot and the singer Morrissey, that a government plan to protect threatened species by killing millions of feral cats is unnecessarily cruel. (feral cats prey on more than 100 of the country’s threatened species and that they were a “major contributor” to the extinction of at least 27 mammal species in the country over the past 200 years.).

That Arctic Seed Vault Isn’t Just There for a Doomsday. IN THE SEVEN years since the Svalbard Global Seed Vault opened, hundreds of thousands of seed samples have gone into its icy tombs. And not one has come out—until now.

Russ crow refuses to leave saviour who cared for him after falling from tree Mirror The bird - named after actor Russell Crowe - was taken under Warren Home's wing three months ago but the 53-year-old now says he's a 'prisoner in his own home'

Orcas Take Down Tiger Shark Scuba Diver Life video

Fish and Game Commission broaches fishing license reform FishRap these guys have nothing important to do.

SeaWorld Gets Super Defensive Over 'Depressed' Mother Orca Footage The Dodo "A video that appears to show a mother orca too depressed to nurse her baby at SeaWorld San Diego made the rounds this week — and it's sending SeaWorld into a defensive spiral."

Australia plans to kill 2M cats — hear them out WKYC "There are at least 20 million feral cats prowling Australia, and together they kill an estimated 75 million native animals every day.

Wild American crows gather around their dead to learn about danger Science Direct "we demonstrate with experiments that wild American crows, Corvus brachyrhynchos, respond to dead conspecifics"

Scientists Attempt to Launch Human Noise Monitoring Network for UK Seas pollution solutions "A collaboration between the Centre for the Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (CEFAS), Marine Scotland and the University of Exeter is seeking to initiate the first underwater network designed to monitor human noise levels in the sea."

The Truth about Farm Raised Shrimp Beyond Paleo "The industry acknowledges that 5 percent of the world’s mangroves, hundreds of thousands of acres, have been destroyed creating shrimp ponds. "

16 Pictures of Bats Just in Time for Halloween National Geographic "During National Bat Week, the scariest thing about bats is how endangered they are"

From Clitheroe to Japan to raise awareness of dolphin hunts 2br 99.8FM "They're very emotional animals. They're really bonded with their pod. It's heartbreaking when one's taken for captivity and their family are being slaughtered. They can see, hear and feel all this."

New York Governor Vetoes Feral Cat Bill, Protects Wildlife American Bird Conservancy "(Washington, DC, Oct. 28, 2015) This week, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo vetoed legislation that would have used public funds to support statewide Trap, Neuter, Release (TNR) programs for feral cats. "










"No aquarium, no tank in 
a marine land, however
spacious it may be, can begin
to duplicate the conditions
of the sea. ” 

Jacques Cousteau


Beaky the Coot
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