Monthly Birdlog 2012
by Rich Stallcup
A female Brown Booby on a seastack off the end of Point Reyes 10/13 (KH+) was only the second ever documented in Marin County. The first was an after-second year male at the same spot June 7, 1998 (m.ob).
Where are the divers? Diving Ducks like Ring-necked, scaup, scoters, and even Canvasbacks are usually piling-in around here by mid-October but here it’s 11/2 and there are very few. What’s up with that?
Of at least six Harlequin Ducks that summered along the Point Reyes peninsula, two males (still present) at the Fish Docks thrilled hundreds of birders.
During a scientific study 10/15, two Black Rails and a Yellow Rail were captured and released unharmed at the south end of Tomales Bay (fide JE).
A Black-necked Stilt was at Bolinas Lagoon 10/5 (KH) and two were at Stafford Lake 9/8/12 (RS). This species is very rare on the Pacific slope of Marin.
After a virtual absence of several winters along the outer coast, Rough-legged Hawks may have one of their irruptive years as one dark-morph bird and one light were seen together on the O.P. 10/28 (MR, MB). The birds didn’t linger and flew east.
On 10/9, 12 birders were knocked breathless as a young Golden Eagle flew right past them then back towards the mainland as they stood at the end of Point Reyes. Migrating raptors that have lost their way make an abrupt 180 when they get to the end of the point and are over nothing but water.
Four Tropical Kingbirds scattered along the coast is average for October, but fourteen species of wood warblers (most in the first week of the month and including western kinds) is not statistically useful because each October brings different unruly weather. Northwest wind keeps migrants from reaching the outer coast. If the breezes are favorable most of the warblers found are very expectable, the exception being a young female Black-throated Green at the Fish Docks 10/20 to 10/22 (MB, MR, +). There are only about seven fall records for Marin, all mid-October into December. Any report of one in August or September should be scrutinized as a possible Townsend’s X Hermit hybrid.
A Sage Thrasher was reported at Battery Mendell in the Marin Headlands 10/16 (DS). This species was a far more frequent find during autumn in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s.
A flyover Townsend’s Solitaire 10/5 at the Wildlife Gallery in Bolinas was a new bird for what may be the most thoroughly birded patch on the continent (KH).
Another good find was a Black-throated Sparrow quite late in the year on 10/15 (LG,JF) near Rodeo Lagoon in the Marin Headlands.
The 2012 fall migration was “mighty average” (MP) with no brain-numbing rarities, only two “high-end” warblers and one vireo (Philadelphia 9/27). Since I wrote this, Marin’s first Field Sparrow was well-documented on the O.P. 11/3 (KH +).
Observers and Acronyms
Kerry Wilcox, Rich Stallcup, Dan Singer, Mary Anne Rotella and Mark Butler, PRBO Conservation Science, Desert Peach, Mike Parmeter, O.P. = Outer Point Reyes, Jeff Miller, + = many observers, Keith Hansen, Laurie Graham, Deborah Fitzpatrick, fide = according to, Jeff Fairelough, Jules Evens, Erick Enbody, Devon and Adam Donkin, Kate Carolan, Heather Cameron, Tony Briggs, Dave Bengston, Bob Battagin
For serious Marin County birders (and there are many of us) the landbird migration of September 2012 was as outrageously exciting as any since 1998. It is all about the wind! When the breeze velocity is low and comes from anywhere but northwest, it is likely that some small, brightly-colored, wild-eyed energy-balls from very far away may land in a tree near you.
Here is a list of rare birds (with numbers of individuals) that made landfall for refueling in Marin County last month: White-winged Dove (1); Black-chinned Hummingbird (3); Yellow-bellied Flycatcher (1!); Tropical Kingbird (1); Eastern Kingbird (2); Philadelphia Vireo (1); Tennessee Warbler (2); Chestnut-sided Warbler (7); Magnolia Warbler (3); Black-throated Blue Warbler (1); Blackburnian Warbler (2); Prairie Warbler (1); Palm Warbler (5); Black and White Warbler (2); Ovenbird (1); Northern Waterthrush (1); American Redstart (7); Connecticut Warbler (1); Summer Tanager (1); Rose-breasted Grosbeak (3); Lark Bunting (1); Brewer’s Sparrow (1); Clay-colored Sparrow (1); Vesper Sparrow (2); Yellow-headed Blackbird (3 males); Orchard Oriole (1); Red Crossbill (15).
Except for Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, all of the listed species might be expected on Marin’s outer coast during periods of “vagrant weather” in September.
As we would have to consider Muir and Stinson Beaches and Bolinas “outer coast”, very few of these birds were found “inland”. A Northern Waterthrush was found on a WFO field trip at White House Pool. The Lark Bunting spent 2 days on the driveway of PRBO’s wetlands center at Hagmier Ranch and was replaced by a Vesper Sparrow there a couple of days later. Birding your “patch” away from the thoroughly trampled “hot spots” can be very satisfying because it is you who makes the discoveries.
At least six Harlequin Ducks summered on the Point Reyes Peninsula (m.ob) but two at the Fish Docks starred!
On 9/13 a Loggerhead Shrike was found at Spaletta Ranch (RS, AD) and was seen on-and-off through the month. This species is no longer of annual occurrence in West Marin.
Every five to eight years there is an irruption of Red-breasted Nuthatches on the coast during fall. This is an invasion year represented by more than 30 at the Fish Docks 9/29.
Fall is the season of Broad-winged Hawks with more than 100 counted by GGRO 9/27, and homogeneous flocks of up to 30 were spotted elsewhere.
There were hundreds of birders (most, well behaved) on the O.P. some days, and I don’t have all of their names—here are some.
Observers and Acronyms
Liga Auzins, Bob Battagin, Tim Behr, Mark Butler, Heather Cameron, Everett Clark, Josiah Clark, Jack Dineen, Adam Donkin, Todd Easterla, Jules Evens, Mark Forney, Susan Kelly, Jeff Kimura, Keith Hansen, Phil Henderson, Diana Humple, William Legge, m.ob = many observers, Jeff Miller, O.P. = Outer Point Reyes, Desert Peach, PRBO Conservation Science, Peter Pyle, Mary Anne Rotella, Rich Stallcup, Dave Shuford, WFO = Western Field Ornithologists Conference, Nick Whelan, David Wimpfheimer, Jim White, Kerry Wilcox
While August is the month of departure for many species and individuals that nest here, rare and vagrant migrants are scarce compared to their abundance in September.
A Hooded Merganser reported from Nicasio Reservoir 8/19 (BB) was at least eight weeks early for normal arrivals and may have been displaced from some Sierran lake by fire. The only other August HOME was at Abbott’s Lagoon in 1999. It looked singed and sooty.
Baird’s Sandpipers pass through here annually in small numbers in August and early September. All are on their first southbound journey to the southern cone of South America. In spring, on the way back to their high-Arctic nesting territories, they go a different route… up through the Rocky Mountain states. Pectoral Sandpipers do the same. Isn’t that all rather strange?
At least six Baird’s paused at Nicasio Reservoir this fall (BB, m.ob) and two at the Rush Creek Wetlands (RS).
Another Black-chinned Hummingbird was at the Wildlife Gallery in Bolinas 8/18 (KH). While we would see one every couple of years on the O.P., their history of recent presence is proving to be a more regular passage.
A male Rose-breasted x Black-headed Grosbeak hybrid was carefully studied at Five Brooks 8/26 (AD, RS, m.ob). This is a rather frequent combination (especially in the center of the continent). I (RS) watched a male RBGR and a female BHGR fledge chicks in Inverness, and a hybrid male was banded and photographed at Muddy Hollow (PRBO).
Two Indigo Buntings were located, both in Bolinas. One youngster hung around the Wildlife Gallery for several days (KH), and an adult male was identified at its single sighting 8/26 (RD).
Six hundred Tricolored Blackbirds arrived on the O.P. between 8/22 and 8/25 (HC, RS). There had been only four previous to the influx. The Marin County history with TCBB is complex, but I will detail it all in my next book. Thank You!
Observers and Acronyms
Missy Wipf, Rich Stallcup, Mary Ann Rotella, PRBO Conservation Science, O.P = outer Point Reyes, m.ob = many observers, Keith Hansen, Ryan DiGaudio, Ann Dewart, Heather Cameron, Mark Butler, Bob Battagin, Scott Anderson
May, June and July 2012
This Birdlog talks about rarities and trends documented in May, June and July. All of the out-of-place songbirds are disoriented spring migrants, even if they have appeared in July.
Two male Harlequin Ducks spent the entire period on western Drakes Bay (m.ob) after five were there at least through May (RS, m.ob). Just offshore from Rodeo Beach a male Long-tailed Duck was loafing with scoters 4/19 and a female was there with 500 scoters 5/26 (both WL, DW). A mated pair of Blue-winged Teal 5/27 were at Mendoza on the O.P. where they are rare (MR, MB, HC).
The Northern Gannet seen occasionally and documented at Southeast Farallon throughout the period (PRBO) has been accepted by the CBRC. It is the first of its kind for California and the entire Pacific Ocean.
Brown Pelican, a graduate of the Endangered Species Act had an unusually productive spring with many-more-than-ever youngsters (2012 models) moving up the California coast beginning in June. So many birds combined with crashes in some forage fish caused aberrant behaviors and starvation in inexperienced pelican chicks.
Forster’s Terns nested for the first time on the island in the pond east of the Vintage Oaks Mall, Novato with 17 scrapes in May that fledged at least 14 chicks by the end of July (RS, HC). The species only other breeding site is at Shorebird Marsh, Corte Madera that was first established about ten years ago.
When we think of hawk watching, most of us think of autumn but for a few years now some intrepid GGRO members have been gathering spring migration data in the Marin Headlands. The most startling report was that of a young Gray Hawk 5/10 now under scrutiny of the CBRC. (Marin’s other “record” was of an adult I saw very well at Fort Baker in June 1998.) The team also recorded four Swainson’s and one Broad-winged Hawks 5/6. The total for Swainson’s Hawks spring 2012 was sixteen (all TB, HB, m.ob). At Kent Lake, twenty-five Osprey nests was about the “recent average” and a pair of Bald Eagles raised a single eaglet for the fifth year in a row (both JE).
A late Spotted Sandpiper was at the Mendoza stock pond 5/27 (RS, MB). Red-necked Phalaropes were thick 5/10 on every stock pond on Point Reyes totaling over six hundred birds (RS). On 5/11, an alternate plumage Red Phalarope was observed in Mill Valley (JD). Thirty-three fall migrant Wilson’s Phalaropes stayed at the Rush Creek wetlands 7/20 to 7/31 (RS).
While not found by humans each spring here, Yellow-billed Cuckoos may be regular in tiny numbers. On 6/1 one was seen flying across the road at the Bolinas “Y” (PP). Before 1960, Purple Martins seemed to nest in every fir and Bishop Pine snag in the county. The first European Starlings appeared in Marin in 1956 and soon outcompeted martins for every suitable cavity. During spring of 2012 the 12 birds at snags in Kent Lake 5/11 (JE) were the only breeders found. Each year post-breeding dispersants gather over Olema Marsh and roost at Bear Valley where 34 have been seen together. A Varied Thrush in the “oven” of the Point Reyes Lighthouse trees 5/20 (JD) may seem very late, but when the weather is right this species is often in the wave-mix on the O.P. late May through June. Two Black-and-White Warblers were detected, one at the PRBO Palomarin Field Station (RD, m.ob) and one at the lighthouse trees 6/23 (MB, MR). Northern Parulas are regularly territorial in west Marin and have fledged young on at least four occasions. One to four singing males are found each spring so one at Bear Valley and one at Tocaloma were average. Second-rarest wood warbler of this spring was the Worm-eating Warbler briefly detained at Palomarin 6/10 (PRBO).
A singing Chestnut-sided Warbler was at Road Forks Pool 6/24 (RS). Some birders always seem surprised but it is normal to see individual Yellow-rumped (Audubon’s) Warblers beginning mid-July bouncing around the lowlands having dropped from highest ridge nest sites. Twelve singing Hermit Warblers heard along a hike to “Firtop” from Bear Valley 5/12 (JE) was thought to be high but may just reveal how large a part of our breeding avifauna they really are. Two Ovenbirds were present, one at the Bolinas “Y” 6/1 (PP) and one rescued in San Rafael 6/16 that was rehabilitated by (VB) in Sebastopol and finally released into appropriate habitat on Sonoma Mountain 6/24 (RS). Amazingly a Kentucky Warbler was heard singing at Muir Beach 5/11 (DH) for the second-ever Marin record!
Two Indigo Buntings (HC, NW) and four Rose-breasted Grosbeaks (DH, KH, NW, RS) was average for spring. A Blue Grosbeak at Muir Beach 5/14 (DM) was a good rare bird anytime here but especially in May and similarly, a 10-month-old male Summer Tanager at Point Reyes Station 7/22 (JR, DS) presumably of the eastern race P. r. rubra is more frequent in the autumn. Finally, a male Great-tailed Grackle at the Mendoza Pond, 5/26 (MR, MB) was an overdue first for the O.P. and on the “bay side”, documentation of the species nesting in the marsh east of the Vintage Oaks Mall was a county first.
OBSERVERS and ACRONYMS
Dave Wiechers, Jim White, Nick Whelan, Rich Stallcup, Dave Shuford, Jennifer Roth, Mary Anne Rotella, Peter Pyle, PRBO Conservation Science, O.P. = outer Point Reyes, Devon Nuno, m.ob = many observers, Dave McKenzie, William Legge, Diana Humple, Keith Hansen, GGRO = Golden Gate Raptor Observatory, Jules Evens, Adam Donkin, Jack Dineen, Ryan DiGuadio, Renee Cormier, CBRC = California Bird Records Committee, Heather Cameron, Mark Butler, Herb Brant, Veronica Bowers, Tim Behr, Bob Battagin, David Adams.