Blue-footed boobies – those birds made famous by their mating dance – are being spotted all over the Los Angeles area and as far north as Marin County. It’s rare, but not unheard of, for boobies to find their way to the California coast. Still, the sightings had birders, myself included, out in search of a glimpse of a booby.
Despite having studied bird behavior in grad school, I don’t actually know all that much about birding. So I asked for some tips on twitter, and Neil Losin responded.
— Neil Losin (@neillosin) September 20, 2013
RBA stands for the Los Angeles rare bird alert, which was updated last Thursday, September 19. That report said that at least seven of the birds had been spotted on the breakwater where the Ballona Creek dumps into the Pacific Ocean in Marina Del Rey. You can’t actually walk out to the breakwater, but there are three jetties that approach it, and they are accessible by foot.
Still, that report was a few days old, and I was planning on going out to try to photograph the bird on Saturday morning. Audobon of California pointed me to an online birding message board, which provided verification that at least three blue-footed boobies had been spotted as late as 9am. I hoped that they’d still be there when I got there, around 11am.
— Audubon California (@AudubonCA) September 21, 2013
After finding a place to park, taking the long walk down the jetty, scrambling over seagull-covered rocks, I reached the end. The breakwater was still quite a distance away, and some birders who I had passed on the path said that the ones hanging out on the breakwater had greyish feet. Not the brilliant blue I was hoping I could use to identify them. And the 300mm telephoto lens I had on my camera didn’t provide quite enough zoom to distinguish among the hundreds of birds crowding the rocks.
Luckily, I met a couple who had driven all the way from Glendora – some fifty miles! – to see the boobies. They had some birding experience, and had already centered their telescope on one of the birds. Even after adding a 1.5x teleconverter to my camera, effectively turning my 300mm lens into a 450mm lens, I was still way too far away to get a good shot. Still, there it is!
Despite only sort-of seeing one blue-footed booby, there were hundreds of birds out! Plenty of gulls, but also some sandpipers, plovers, pelicans, terns, and lots more I couldn’t quite identify. In the coming weeks, I’ll share the rest of my bird photos from yesterday’s adventure.
And for some better photos of blue-footed boobies, head on over to Southern Fried Science.