The Wild Life of Ocean Beach

by on June 9, 2021 · 3 comments

in Environment, Ocean Beach

By Steve Tatro

Newport Avenue has plenty of wild life, especially on weekend nights, but another kind of wildlife lives in Ocean Beach, and not on the streets.

There are the parrots, of course, with their sleep-cancelling squawks, screeches and screams. They are Mexican Redheads, an endangered species from northeastern Mexico transplanted northwest by smugglers.

Then there are Red-Masked Parakeets, which look a lot like small parrots, but with longer tails. They might have migrated north from Ecuador on their own, but it’s unlikely. They’re not quite as loud as the parrots, and their voices are higher.

The Western Seagulls are always around, squawking, soaring and scavenging the garbage cans. They are beautiful birds and crafty survivors, but hang on to your food if you’re eating at the beach, they’ll swoop down and steal chips, candy, ice cream cones, even hot dogs right out of your hand! Anyone who has tossed popcorn up into the sea breeze for the gulls to catch on the fly has encouraged their larcenous behavior, but it’s so fun!

The gulls have to watch out for Merlins, which look almost like crows as they climb above the soaring gulls, pick out a big target, and dive down onto its back, sinking talons into its neck and head. Then the two birds tumble down in a flurry of feathers, and the Merlín savors its bloody victory on a roof or in a bush.

Fish had better look up too, because there are Ospreys in OB, and these huge sea hawks hover in the wind until they spot some poor fish, then drop like rocks and grab the slippery meal with their talons. If the fish is big it drags the Osprey underwater, but the bird spreads its massive wings and hangs on until one of them tires. If the fish tires first the Osprey tries to carry it to a perch, but sometimes the fish is twice as long as the bird, and too heavy to take off with, so after a few attempts it drops the fish.

If the Osprey gets the fish into the air, it hugs it to its belly head first until it reaches a perch where it can eat in peace, as long as it’s nest isn’t close. Otherwise it’s mate will cry for it to bring the food to the nest full of eggs or chicks, which it will do, after eating enough to fish again.

For many years there has been a big Osprey nest at Robb Field on top of the light pole over the handball courts. It is occupied continuously from December until April, when two or three chicks fledge and fly away from the nest with their parents. After that the nest is used mostly for mealtime rendezvous.

Ground Squirrels are common in OB, especially along the San Diego River, where they are hunted by hawks, feral cats, and Gray Foxes. There are also some big, bold raccoons around, some of which might tackle a ground squirrel. The family of raccoons in the rocks at the end of Del Mar Avenue in Ocean Beach is even brave enough to attack a golden retriever.

The boulders placed along the coast to slow erosion are full of rats, which eat the seaweed trapped in the rocks.

Non-venomous Gopher Snakes up to four feet long live in the rocks, and six-inch gophers tunnel under the sweet grass of Robb Field, where they also have to watch out for Great Blue Herons, Black Crowned Night Herons, Great White Egrets, and Common Egrets.

But these waders are more at home in the San Diego River channel, which flows downstream with ebbing tide, and storm run-off, or upstream with flooding tide. There the waders are joined by several kinds of terns, from tiny Least Terns to bullying Caspian Terns, which dive on small fish near the surface.

Sometimes Black Skimmers fly with their long lower beaks skimming the surface, and when they hit a small fish they snap it up without missing a wing beat. It’s one of the fastest reflexes in the world.

Brown Pelicans fly back and forth in the river, plunging into the water at the end of each hop, hoping to catch something tasty in their chin sacks.

A few huge White Pelicans fly down from the frigid north each winter to bask in balmy San Diego. They fish by swimming in formation to herd and encircle fish before dipping their beak nets into the water.

Almost every species of duck visits in the winter: Northern Shovelers, Mallards, Both Blue and Green-Winged Teals, Ruddy Ducks, Pintails, Mergansers… Least Grebes, Horned Grebes, Clark’s Grebes, Western Grebes, Common Loons, Pelagic Cormorants, and Double-Crested Cormorants, all these chase fish underwater.

Farther up river, where the sandbars have clumps of Spiny Rushes growing on them, live the Clapper Rails, brown chicken-sized ground birds that rarely fly. They nest under every rush clump, and use their long bills to catch crabs, worms and other creepy crawlers.

Beautiful American Avocets and Black Necked Stilts often wade in the shallows, sometimes joined by American Oystercatchers, with their bright orange bills.

Only the pelicans have longer bills than the Long Billed Curlews, which have to walk with their heads back so they don’t trip over their own noses! There are also Short Billed Curlews, Willets, Common Sandpipers, Sanderlings, six kinds of plovers, Brant Geese, and an occasional lost Canada Goose.

Let’s not forget the awesome possums and skunks, both of which are surprisingly common in Ocean Beach. Who knows where they all sleep, probably under our very houses. That’s a lot of wildlife for an urban beach community, and there is probably more, we just have to slow down and notice it.

Elegant Terns in Flight. All photos by Budd Titlow

 

Reddish Egret Stalking Prey. All photos by Budd Titlow

Black-Necked Stilt Feeding

 

Snowy Egret with Fish

 

Tricolored Heron Hunting

 

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Judi Curry Judi Curry June 9, 2021 at 11:14 am

Great pictures, Frank.

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Frank Gormlie Frank Gormlie June 9, 2021 at 11:56 am

All photos are by Budd Titlow

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Avatar Geoff Page June 9, 2021 at 2:56 pm

Yes, great shots and good information.

There is a relatively new Osprey nest at Correia Middle School. It is on top of one of the new light standards put in during the complete rebuilding of the sports field. The ospreys returned to the nest this year for the second time and raised new chicks there.

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