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Conservation | Birding Coal Oil Point Reserve, Goleta, CA

Habitats: shoreline, sand, dunes, estuary.

May 2020 Field Trip

We parked our car in Isla Vista on the corner of Camino Majorca and Del Playa and followed the West Campus Bluff Trail toward the Coal Oil Point Reserve (COPR) Field Station.

Beautiful view of Sands Beach with coastal dunes in the foreground and the mouth of the Devereux Slough Lagoon in the background.

We walked the path down to Sands Beach after reading the educational signs.

As we were standing with our camera and binoculars in the corridor (section of sand between the plover fence and the ocean), the docent on duty from the Snowy Plover Docent Program (SPDP) approached us and kindly asked to only stay in the same spot for a minute or so, which we did.

The docent was interpreting plover habitat and behaviors to beach visitors including making sure dogs were on leash.

Surfers and Brown Pelicans.

An adult Western Snowy Plover in breeding plumage called: a whistled "tur-weet," accented on the second syllable.

Dunes are fenced-off with a symbolic rope fence to remind beach visitors of the protected habitat boundary. Plovers use the sand berm, which is the high, flat area of the beach just above the high-tide line, to roost and feed.

Beyond the fence, several Western Gulls were resting by the slough. Cliff Swallows were also flying in the distance.

Here is an interesting shorebird perched on the rope fence post...

...Yes, it is an unmistakable male Western Bluebird! Too bad it was looking the other way.

The plover breeding season lasts from March through September. Plovers nest on the open sand along the beach. In 2019, the reserve staff started protecting plovers nesting area from crafty predators such as American Crows by putting metal exclosures over nests. Plover parents can come in and out of the exclosure using a small mesh entrance which is too small for a crow to get in. The roof is made of plywood to block the view of owls that would otherwise prey on adult plovers while on their nest.

We found a pair of Western Snowy Plovers with their three chicks, they move quickly thanks to their long legs and toes made for running. One of the chicks is outside the frame of this family photo.

Chick: I’m so tired after exploring the sand dunes…time to take a nap!

A Black Phoebe with its toes in the seaweed!

How many chicks can you find?

Yes, there is a total of three chicks in the photo. Here is a close up of the two chicks snoozing in case you missed one of them.

Plover parent is giving us the look.

Beach visitors sometimes stand up pieces of driftwood in the sand to keep clothes dry. Did you know that if driftwood is left standing, it could provide a perch for avian predators such as falcons?

Willet catching a critter.

Sanderlings foraging in the sand, run comes a wave!

Plovers forage for invertebrates such as beach hoppers and kelp flies living in the piles of washed up kelp and seaweed (wrack zone) in the corridor.

Plover chick in this slow motion video found something to eat.

It was time for us to go, as we got close to the entrance of the beach. We noticed a plover chick running around its parents in the corridor.

It is noticeable how tiny a plover chick is compared to a human footprint in the sand. Best is to walk on the wet hard packed sand as plovers use it less than the upper beach.

We walked back up to the top of the bluff, passed the COPR Field Station then we followed the trail along the slough towards Slough Rd.

Partial view of the sand berm from the slough.

We then turned around and walked back to our car.

That's it for now. Stay tuned for more birding adventures in the Santa Barbara area!


Interesting Facts

Western Snowy Plovers were listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1993.

"Historically, the coastal population of the Western Snowy Plover thrived at COPR year round. In the late 1960’s, the plovers abandoned this site for nesting and only returned for winters. Researchers attribute this nesting site abandonment to the intolerably high levels of human disturbance as a result of increased beach recreation during this time.

In the year 2001, COPR began to actively manage the plover environment by installing educational signs, restoring the habitats on the dunes, creating a fence line to signify plover habitat, and creating the SPDP. These efforts to protect the birds were implemented in June of 2001, and within months Snowy Plovers returned to COPR for breeding."

"Snowy Plover breeding sites are often located on beaches backed by dunes.

Foredunes, the dunes closest to the flat sand of the beach, play an important role how nesting pairs select their site. Scientists do not know exactly why this is, because they do not often place their nests directly in the foredunes. The dunes may provide a source of sand to ensure a wide, expansive beach (another preference for nesting), or perhaps they provide some measure of wind blockage. It could also be that the plovers retreat into the dunes during very high tides and storm events."

In summer 2019, seven Western Snowy Plover eggs rescued from Ormond Beach, South Oso Flaco and Oceano and raised at the Santa Barbara Zoo were released at Coal Oil Point Reserve.

In summer 2019, Cristina Sandoval, longtime director of UC Santa Barbara’s Coal Oil Point Reserve rescued fourteen viable eggs after massive waves at high tide caused the water to reach the plover nests. Eggs were incubated at the Santa Barbara zoo. Once hatched, chicks were raised in the plover nursery and released at the reserve once they are able to fly.


Credits and Additional Information



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