Sunday, October 26, 2014

Story of a Dumped Duck

This was a story I published about a year and a half ago about "Bitey", a male Pekin duck.  I miss Bitey a lot and think of him often.  I still don't know what happened to him, but I hope he ended up in a safe place with lots of food, nice people, and girls galore.

"Bitey" was a pekin duck that was dumped off at Lake Murray in the fall of 2012. Many ducks are dumped off in the fall months, usually about six months after Easter. Last year, a large number of domestic ducks were dropped off at the lake. People dump ducks for various reasons. They are either sick of having them, can't keep them any longer, or think that ducks belong near a lake or waterway. What's worse is that the general public doesn't seem to notice that these ducks don't belong at the lake. They see the same white ducks year after year possibly thinking they're the same ducks they see all the time not knowing they don't live long.
When Bitey first arrived, he behaved like any other dumped duck. He began socializing with an older, previously dumped pekin and both became very good friends. This older duck showed Bitey where to get food and girlfriends. Bitey didn't stand out in any way. Then, something changed in the spring and Bitey's behavior began to change, too.

Bitey liked eating out of that small bowl
In spring, duck hormones change and many male ducks get frustrated and agitated. Bitey no longer wanted to be near any other ducks. Other male ducks, even ducks smaller than him, began to attack and chase him around. One thing that began to be a real problem with Bitey is that he began to act strange around people. He didn't move if you walked up to him and he would bite if you tried to touch him. He would also bite you if he wanted you to feed him, sometimes biting really hard. It's not abnormal for domestic drakes (male ducks) to get a little bitey during breeding season, especially. But, most of the other drakes at the lake never let humans get close.
He would spill food, but choose to eat out of the bowl
It wasn't that Bitey wasn't afraid of people. He actually was terrified of them. When I picked him up one time, I could feel how scared he was. But, he wouldn't move away like the other ducks did. As a result, he was the potential subject of abuse. So, I worked to find him a home. I couldn't take him, myself, as my apartment complex doesn't allow animals, except cats, not even temporarily. So, I let him stay at the lake while I put the word out.
After a month of not getting anyone to take him in, Bitey disappeared. No one knows what happened to him. Another duck in the same area was left there and was fine. I did find a small clump of white feathers that looked like they were plucked near where he slept, but Bitey sometimes did that to himself. Or, one of the other ducks could have done that to him. Other than that, there was no sign of him at all. I hope someone took him home. He was there about eight or nine months. A few weeks after Bitey disappeared, two more ducks were dumped near the same area. Within a couple of days, one had disappeared with no trace, as well. The average lifespan of a dumped duck is less than three years.
I have a Squidoo lens on dumped ducks, including Bitey.  But, they're being transitioned over to HubPages.  Check back soon for the new link.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

What's going on this weekend, October 25-26th, 2014

Wow, lots of things going on in San Diego this weekend, mostly related to fall and Halloween.  Here are a few things I've found:

Boo Parade:  This parade is happening October 25th at 10 AM along El Cajon Boulevard from 54th Street to Montezuma Road.  Then, there will be a festival at College Avenue Baptist Church from 11AM to 5PM. Visit the official website,  for more information.

Least Tern Habitat Restoration:  If working outdoors and helping wildlife is your thing, come out to Stony Point on Fiesta Island to work on the least tern nesting area.  Volunteers will be helping with weeding and repairing the habitat to help manage the weeds before the terns return to nest next year. Stony Point is located at the far end of the dog run on the west side of Fiesta Island.  It starts at 9:30 a.m. and ends at 12:30 p.m.  Contact the Conservation Program Intern, Christina Hirt, at 858-273-7800 or at

By the way, if you want more information about San Diego's wildlife or nature events, you can visit my column on

Borrego Days:  I really love this festival out in the desert in the middle of the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.  It happens every year on the last weekend of October.  This year, it will start on October 24th at 5PM, but the parade takes place on the 25th at 10AM.  From the 24-26th, there will be live music, food, and art booths at the Circle.  For a schedule, directions, and all the rest,  visit the Borrego Chamber of Commerce's official page.

There are a lot of other things going on this weekend, but to list them all would make this a really long article.  These three are my favorites.  Don't forget, also, there will be a special Bicycle Birding tour on the Silver Strand next Thursday morning, October 30th at 8AM, as well.  You can find more details about that on the San Diego Audubon Page.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Nest Monitoring for Science: My Experience

Last year, I wrote an article for Yahoo Voices about my work with Nestwatch, a Cornell Lab of Ornithology Citizen Science program.  I've been doing Nestwatch for a few years now.  I just finished monitoring a dove's nest on my neighbor's porch light.  I've also done several killdeer and hummingbird nests.  Here is what I wrote last year:

Killdeer nest I monitored 

I have been monitoring nests and reporting them though the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's Nestwatch program for a couple of years now. Each year, I have to be "re-certified" for the program by taking the online training and quiz again. To do this program, you don't need special skills or knowledge, just a love and concern for birds and an interest in science. Cornell Lab of Ornithology has several "citizen science" programs that center around birds such as "Feeder Watch" and "Celebrate Urban Birds".
Where I live, hummingbirds nest in the courtyard of my apartment building, so I usually monitor all of those. Plus, I monitor any other nests I find on my regular routes, such as at Lake Murray where I often walk. I've tried monitoring other nests in my area, but I've found that unless I can visit them at least twice a week, it's not worth monitoring them because the data I enter might not be helpful to the scientists. The program usually wants people to visit their reported nests at least twice a week or on a regular basis.
So far, I've monitored about ten Anna's hummingbird nests, three or four killdeer nesting sites, one mallard duck nest, two osprey nesting attempts, two raven nesting attempts, and three red-tailed hawk nesting attempts. What I love about nest monitoring is watching the babies growing up and getting to know them. I especially love watching killdeer nests. Technically, killdeer are considered fledged once they leave the nesting area, but I still monitor them until they can fly (if I can find them as they often move around). The same goes for ducklings. I think it's important for scientists to know exactly when these birds feather and fly even though they're not in a nest. I also monitor the hummingbird babies as long as they're still being fed by their mother.
It's not all fun, though. Watching nests can be sad because predators sometimes eat the eggs and babies. I've lost two hummingbird nests; at least one, for sure, to crows. Crows have also gotten one entire killdeer nest and probably were the cause of a missing egg of another one. Gulls got many of the ducklings of the mallard nest I monitored. So, one has to be prepared for these things. I just hope that all the data I enter is helpful to scientists.
This article is based on my personal experiences, but here are some helpful links about the Nestwatch program and some of the birds I've mentioned:

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Remembering my first birding trip to the Tijuana River Mouth in 2013

Back in April 2013, I did my first birding trip to the Tijuana River Mouth where I saw snowy plovers and other birds getting ready for migration.  I have been back since then, most recently when they huge shoals of anchovies arrived and thousands of birds took advantage of them.

In early April, 2013, I made my first trip to the mouth of the Tijuana River to do some birding. Though I have been birding for over three years in San Diego and Imperial Counties, I haven't been to this "hot spot" of local birding, yet, though I've heard a lot about it. Recently, a Wilson's plover was seen in the area. Wilson's plovers are rare in this area and most of the time; they stay south of the U.S. border, except for summer visits along the Gulf of Mexico, east coast, and the very south part of Florida.

The closest place to park was at the end of Seacoast Drive in Imperial Beach. From there, you can see the Tijuana River flowing down towards the mouth. In this area, you can often see waterfowl and herons and, perhaps, a rare light-footed clapper rail. There is an observation deck situated over the marshy area. Where I had to be was about a 20-30 minute walk south which can be awkward if you're carrying tripods, scopes, cameras and the like. I walked along the edge of an area roped off for the least tern and snowy plovers to nest until I reached where it ended and set up my equipment.

In front of me was a flock of black-bellied plovers turning into their breeding plumage. 

There were several tiny western sandpipers; some of them were half-buried in the sand. sandpipers were running all about.They seemed to be the most bold of all the birds there, coming very close to me. 

A couple dozen snowy plovers were running around in the more sandy areas nearby.

Not far from me was a large flock of terns and gulls, screeching and flying all around. Pelicans, both brown and white, sat on a mud patch. One thing I enjoyed was the plentiful long-billed curlews flying and calling all around. They seem to like to fight with each other. A whimbrel tried to fly into their area and was chased off.

I tried to take pictures through my scope, but I just haven't gotten the hang of it, yet. I did manage to take several pictures with my normal camera lens. Just after I started to leave, a family came by and started flying a kite, causing all the birds to fly off and scatter all around. They were reacting to it like it was a falcon. Just a few minutes ago, they seemed calm, but were now agitated. Needless to say, the family got a good talking to by Fish and Game officials about that.

I didn't see the Wilson's plover.
Though I used most of my own personal experience in this article, here are some helpful links:

Sunday, October 5, 2014

George the killdeer and the killdeer blog

In late 2010, I wrote about one of my other blogs here on Blogger:  Killdeers, Phoebes and Finches.  I also talked about George the Killdeer as well.  George was a real killdeer, but he may have passed away recently as I haven't seen him for at least a year.  He left Lake Murray in 2011 or 2012, but returned each year with his family.  You will find this blog in my lists of blogs on this site.

You can also find out more about George and his family at:

Killdeers, phoebes and finches (and ducks!) is a blog that I am currently keeping on a family of killdeer at Lake Murray in San Diego, California. 

One might wonder what, exactly, a killdeer is? A killdeer is a plover, a shorebird, but they have adapted themselves to living close to people and away from the shore. Most killdeer need some kind of permanent fresh water nearby for their daily requirements. However, a small drainage ditch or creek is more than enough for a killdeer to live a good life provided that there is always drinkable water. Killdeers like to live in open areas like golf courses, airfields, farms, fields, and, of course, on a beach.
Killdeers are mostly brown and white and are distinguished from other plovers by their double banded breast-marks and necks. They are about the size of a mourning dove with long, stilt-like legs. They often nest in the open and divert predators with a broken-wing act. Both parents usually care for the eggs and chicks. Their eggs look a lot like rocks and can be easily missed if they're laid in a rocky area. Their chicks hatch after about 24-28 days and the babies can run within hours of hatching.
Killdeers, phoebes and finches (and ducks!) talks about killdeers, chicks, ducks, and other birds that live around the lake. There are stories about chicks, ducklings, and other babies that hatched or were born in the summer. Raptors are also mentioned as are other shore and water birds.
So, if one is interested in birds, especially in the San Diego area, check out Killdeers, phoebes and finches (and ducks!). The main killdeer family in the blog, headed by a male killdeer named "George" (also called M2 in the blog) can also be chronicled on Twitter as @killdeergeorge or by clicking on the link in his name above.