Monthly Birdlog 2011
December 2011 was the third driest in recorded history. There were only traces of rain and no freezes on the Pacific Slope of the outer coast range. Many rare passerine insectivores spiced-up birding, mostly on Christmas Counts (CBCs). Emphasizing this point were seven species of eastern or unseasonal wood warblers and an unprecedented count of fifty-eight Orange-crowned Warblers between Stinson Beach and Bolinas on 12/31.
A Red-throated Loon in the moat that loops on the eastern border of the Village Mall 12/19 was a definite highlight of that day! (RS, HC). I know of 12 Red-throated Loons from Marin’s “interior” and only three Common Loons. This is reverse the trend anywhere in California.
There was a flurry of overshoot Tundra Swans at the beginning of the month as twelve flew from Creamery Bay towards Abbott’s Lagoon, six were on Nicasio Reservoir (BB, JM) both 12/1, and an astounding 82 were on Bolinas Lagoon 12/2 (KH). A Yellow Rail was accidentally flushed from damp, grassy habitat near Point Reyes Station 12/2 (JE).
Rare landbirds outside the CBCs were an Eastern Phoebe in Muddy Hollow 12/7 (PRBO banders) and another at the Nunes Ranch O.P., 12/8 (a PRBO intern). Two of this species equals Marin’s allotment for any year. A male Black-and-
White Warbler at White House Pool 12/10 (JD, RS) was refound nearby on the PRCBC 12/17 (S + LT) and the male Prairie Warbler at the Fish Docks since September (MR, MB) delighted many through at least 12/8 (m.ob), amazing for the O.P. mid-winter. In the same “amazing” category was the beautiful (though sometimes elusive) Dickcissel found at Nunes Ranch 11/29 (BB et al.) through at least 12/4 (m.ob).
Christmas Counts: Three CBCs were run in Marin in 2011. The long-running Point Reyes Peninsula (PRCBC) count logged 206 species and will be in the top six in the United States and Canada for avian diversity ... there are hundreds of count circles. Marin County Southern (MCSCBC) includes Bolinas, Mount Tam, Marin Headlands and the bay side north to the Marin Civic Center. Following a request in this column in early 2011, the Cheap Thrills Count (CTCBC) was resurrected after twenty years of dormancy and was renamed Cheep Thrills. It covers the northeast corner of Marin.
Unusual Birds on Marin County CBCs 2011
Cheep Thrills 12/15
A tight flock of “other geese” among the Honkers at the Novato Sanitation Ponds included: 1 (Aleutian) Cackling; 1 White-fronted; three Ross’s and a Snow! Over 100 Common Mergansers at Stafford Lake was amazing, and a Glaucous Gull was in the flock near Redwood Landfill. Thanks MAS, Susan, Mark and Barbara for causing this CBC to chirp once again.
PRCBC – 12/17
Rare birds listed without comment: Tufted, Long-tailed and Harlequin Ducks, Swainson’s Hawk, Red-naped Sapsucker, “Western” Flycatcher, Cassin’s Vireo, Black and White, Nashville, Palm, Cape May, MacGillivray’s and Wilson’s Warblers. Thanks to John and Tom for all their hard work on this one!
MCSCBC – 12/31
Vaux’s Swift, Cassin’s Vireo, Nashville, Palm and Wilson’s Warblers, Summer and Western Tanagers, and Bullock’s Oriole. Thanks Susan, Mark and Harrison, and of course, MAS.
Far outshining any single rare bird report this fall in Marin is the resurrection of an entire ecosystem. After five autumns of low presence for migratory shorebirds, Abbott’s Lagoon is its good old self. From mid-July on, flocks and singles of a fine diversity of species would arrive, and stay! Rare species like Pacific Golden-Plover, Ruff, Buff-breasted, Stilt, Pectoral, Baird’s and Semipalmated Sandpipers (most staying 2-3 days before moving on) delighted many birders.
Another Pacific Golden Plover was briefly present at Rodeo Beach, soon to be chased off by dogs.
Most unusual on the local level was a young Common Tern at Nicasio Reservoir at the very end of the month!
As has been the case for the past few years March 2011 was rainy! but that didn’t slow Marin’s intrepid birders from finding the unusual. Several rarish ducks were found and returning spring migrants were on time or early.
Eighteen Black and five White-winged Scoters on the o.p. 3/18 (NB) were good numbers for recent times. Both species were more numerous in the 1990s and before. A female Long-tailed Duck just past the surf off Rodeo Beach 3/5 (WL) was the only one reported in March as was a male Harlequin Duck at Loch Lomond 3/21+ (JM). The male Tufted Duck at Stafford Lake remained through the month to the delight of many birders (m.ob).
Another excellent find, an apparent Canvasback x Redhead hybrid on the bay just NE of Loch Lomond 3/19 (HK), continued through 3/21 and was thoroughly documented in pictures. The genus Aythya including both species of this combination plus scaup, Tufted and Ring-necked Ducks are not always particular about mating with their own kind and crosses between all six of these species are known.
Swainson’s Hawks are an annual occurrence in Marin in March or April in tiny numbers. On 3/30, one was seen in the Marin Headlands (HB,TB,NW). Merlins are scarce but present in the county from mid-September through mid-April. On 3/31, one repeatedly made passes on panic-stricken Cliff Swallows at the bridge by the parking lot at Las Gallinas. For those of us ON the bridge, this was the closest and wildest Merlin encounter ever.
The adult Laughing Gull that sometimes hung out with up to 400 Ring-billed Gulls at the Marin Civic Center was present on-and-off through March 27 (m.ob) (AK, JC), the last time anyone looked. Tiny pelagic birds (those that would never willingly go to land except to breed) are seldom seen from shore or onshore, so an adult Black-legged Kittiwake with other gulls at the mouth of Pine Gulch Creek, Bolinas Lagoon 3/27 (BB) was a nice surprise. Average first-arrival date for Caspian Terns in Marin is March 14, so one at Limantour 3/16 (MR,MB) was right on time.
In the San Anselmo hills, an adult male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 3/3 (AB) was the second reported in the county in 2011. The other was an individual that successfully wintered at Olompali State Park.
Rufous Hummingbirds are most often seen here on high ridges or peaks from February into April but very few find their way to lowland feeders. Two males appeared in far-east Novato, one 3/18 to 3/22 and a second 3/29 and 3/30 (HC). They don’t stay long but because they are highly pugnacious, the local Anna’s and Allen’s are temporarily terrorized. A female Rufous at radish blossoms was identified at Las Gallinas 3/31 (RS).
Thirteen Evening Grosbeaks at Olema 3/30 (JM) were remnants of the strong winter appearance of this irruptive species. Most years there are none and when some are present they are usually in flocks (up to 45) and feed on the seeds of box elder and non-native maples.
Rough-winged Swallows returned to the Highway 101 bridge over Rush Creek in Novato 3/12 (RS) and Cliff Swallows followed four days later. Wilson’s Warblers were singing on territories by 3/6, Pacific-slope Flycatchers about the same time, and Warbling Vireos by 3/25. These are just a few examples of migrants returning from the south on time or just a little early.
Most years I lament that February is the worst month for birders along the northern California coast. Except for departing gulls and diving ducks and arriving Selasphorus hummingbirds and Tachycineta swallows, there is little motion. Rare birds found earlier in the winter are showing signs of heavy wear from being looked at too often.
In 2011, things were better than in other years and several “new” rarities were found.
As usual, a few “Valley geese” were scattered around like two young Ross’s and five Greater White-fronteds at Las Gallinas 1/14 (NB). Other small flocks of “White-fronts” were seen around Mill Valley (JD,MF,LS).
Duck discoveries were excellent with a male Tufted Duck at Stafford Lake 2/5 through the end of the month (RS, m.ob) and a “new” female King Eider, this one on the ocean side at the end of the Chimney Rock trail 2/19, 2/20 (MB, MR). The bird seen in January on Tomales Bay was a youngster – the one at Chimney Rock, an adult. Also at Chimney Rock (O.P.) were a male and a female Harlequin Ducks 2/20 (MD) and an Oldsquaw (Long-tailed) was on Drake’s Bay off the Fish Docks 2/19, 2/20 (MD).
Another good February find was an adult Laughing Gull at the Marin Civic Center duck pond 2/6 (FH et.al) and through 2/25 at least. This is the seventh Marin County record.
Four Barn Swallows with Tree and Violet-green Swallows at Las Gallinas 1/14 (NB) is something new we have now come to expect. Barn Swallows winter mostly in the southern cone of South America and before about 1985, the species was barely known in North America between October and March.
And OK! Here comes spring migration…wildlife once again on the move.