Monthly Birdlog 2017
Marin Birdlog: May-July 2017
By Noah Arthur
With breeding birds settled in and not much migration going on, late spring and summer is the slowest season for rare birds in Marin. The first half of May, however, still falls squarely into spring migration season, and is the time when some of the rarer western migrants make appearances, such as the Black-chinned Sparrow continuing from April on Pine Mtn. Fire Road.
Early May’s most interesting event was a major incursion of Fork-tailed Storm-Petrels inshore throughout the Bay Area counties, with Marin sightings – all, rather surprisingly, on May 8th – including two seen in Bolinas Lagoon (AW, JS); one seen in Drakes Bay (DaS), one seen in Dillon Beach and another in Tomales Bay (RD). Meanwhile, offshore, another seabird highlight was a Short-tailed Albatross observed May 11th during an Oceanic Society pelagic trip in the Gulf of the Farallons (DW, m.ob.).
Perhaps the rarest bird of May was a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher found along Estero Drive at Pt. Reyes on the 20th (SB).
Late May and early June are the time for singing eastern vagrant songbirds in Marin, often in exotic flashy breeding plumage and sometimes even outnumbering the dwindling trickle of western migrants passing through outer Point Reyes. Eastern migration began this year on May 22nd with two male Rose-breasted Grosbeaks: one found at Estero Drive (JC, DH) during an unsuccessful Scissor-tailed chase, and another found at the Fish Docks (DF). Myself (NA) and BB visited the Point on the 25th and were rewarded with two more eastern migrants: a secretive Red-eyed Vireo at the Fish Docks and a lone, loudly singing White-throated Sparrow at Nunes Ranch. On the 23rd, a male Indigo Bunting was at the Fish Docks (MF), interestingly interacting with an unidentified female bunting that was either an Indigo or a Lazuli but couldn’t be seen well enough to tell for sure. Most of these rarities continued for at least several days.
June kicked off with a rarity from south rather than east, a Least Tern at Limantour Beach on the 5th (DN), surprisingly rare in Marin despite being a regular breeding bird as close as Alameda County.
More eastern songsters, this time brilliant male warblers, were found on June 7th: a Northern Parula and a Magnolia Warbler, both in Inverness (JE). Northern Parulas were soon popping up everywhere in West Marin: three in one day on the 11th (AM) with one at White House Pool, another at the Bear Valley Visitor Center, and yet and another in Inverness (probably a different bird from the previous Inverness individual). The singing White House Pool male was intriguingly joined by a female on the 24th (RA), and the pair hung around the area for some weeks afterwards. Given the species’ history of nesting in West Marin, it seems possible that this pair was tending a well-concealed nest in the area, although no obvious breeding behavior was observed. A Hooded Warbler, a much rarer eastern migrant, was caught at the Palomarin Banding Station on the 15th. AM struck again on the 18th with a Red-eyed Vireo at Pine Gulch in Bolinas. More Parula Warblers mid-month concluded a decent but below-average spring vagrant season: a male near Bear Valley on the 19th (D&DH) and yet another along Redwood Creek in Muir Beach on the 20th (MD, RC).
On my (NA) last visit to the Outer Point for the season on June 22nd, the highlight was not an eastern rarity but an out-of-season western migrant: a female Varied Thrush skulking in the cypress tangle known as “the oven” at the Lighthouse.
ML has a track record of finding mega-rarities while doing Snowy Plover surveys at North Beach on Pt. Reyes, and on June 23rd he found the rarest bird of the entire summer season there, a female Snow Bunting that had apparently been seen (but of course not identified) by non-birders the day before! This female is part of an interesting pattern of Snow Buntings showing up on the California coast in late spring and early summer, suggesting (to me, at least) a reverse-migration pattern, with individuals that wintered north of us migrating south instead of north in spring.
As usual in coastal California fall began at the end of June (this time, exactly four days after the first official day of summer), with the first southbound shorebirds, a Least Sandpiper and a Greater Yellowlegs, being found at Shorebird Marsh in Corte Madera on the 25th (WL).
On the 28th another mega-rarity was found, a probable Red-footed Booby that flew by the mouth of Bolinas Lagoon (KH). The bird followed a fishing boat northward and wasn’t seen again.
Hot, sunny July is the single slowest month of the year for rarities, but it is also when shorebirds begin to arrive from the north en masse. First-of-season sightings included six Western Sandpipers seen in Corte Madera on the 4th (DE), and a Red-necked Phalarope found in Mill Valley on the 8th (DS).
Least Bittern is one of only a few quintessential summer rarities, and several of the diminutive herons were seen by many observers throughout June and July at Las Gallinas, with fledglings out and about by mid-July, confirming that the birds nested. Another nice find for midsummer at Las Gallinas was two Blue-winged Teal spotted on the 11th (GG).
AM: Alex Merritt, AW: Anna Weinstein, BB: Bob Battagin, CL: Calvin Lou, DDH: Denise & David Hamilton, DE: Daniel Edelstein, DF: Dea Freid, DH: Derek Heins, DN: Dan Nelson, DoS: Don Simborg, DaS: Dan Singer, DW: David Wimpfheimer, GG: George Gibbs, JC: Jim Chiropolos, JS: Jude Stalker, KH: Keith Hansen, m.ob.: many observers, MD: Mark Dettling, MF: Mark Forney, ML: Matt Lau, NA: Noah Arthur, RA: Richard Ackley, RC: Renee Cormier, RD: Ricky Davis, SB: Sharon Barnett, WL: William Legge
Marin Birdlog: April 2017
By Noah Arthur
As breeding birds arrive and stake out their territories, and common migrants continue to stream northward, April can be a slow month for rare birds in the North Bay region. Nevertheless, a few nice ones were found this month by Marin’s many determined birders. Early in the month, the very long-staying Red-necked Grebe and Harris’s Sparrow were present at Las Gallinas through the 6th (RR).
April is the month for less-common western migrants, such as the calling male Purple Martin that flew along Bolinas-Fairfax Rd. on the 9th (DM).
Yet another getting-late winter rarity was the continuing male Common Teal at Las Gallinas on the 12th (LD).
Five Brooks Pond has been haunted by at least one elusive Black-and-white Warbler this spring, and a/the bird was seen again on the 14th (ST). This is almost certainly a locally-wintering bird, as our eastern migrants generally don’t show up until mid-May and reach their peak in early June. And in yet another deja-vu repeat of other sightings in recent months, a Sandhill Crane flew over at F Ranch on Pt. Reyes on the 22nd (EC, AM).
More uncommon migrants made appearances late in the month, including a Pacific Golden-plover at Abbotts Lagoon on the 25th (ML), and a Black-chinned Sparrow found at Pine Mountain Trailhead on the 27th BA. The sparrow lingered into May. Another Purple Martin was spotted at Pt. Reyes Horse Trail on the 29th (BP).
A final good bird – and April’s rarest sighting – was a Black Vulture seen flying over Inverness (SA). This is probably the same long-staying vulture that has been cruising up and down the North Bay coast for several years.
Observers and Acronyms AM: Alex Merritt, BA: Bob Atwood, BP: Bob Power, DM: Dominik Mosur, EC: Everett Clark, LD: Langdon Stevenson, ML: Matt Lau, RR: Ruth Rudesill, SA: Scott Anderson, ST: Steve Tucker
Marin Birdlog: March 2017
By Noah Arthur
Here on the California Coast we get our migrants several weeks earlier than much of the continent, and March is the month for spring arrivals in Marin County. By the beginning of the month wildflowers and butterflies have emerged, the leaves are back on the riparian trees, and the landscape is ready for the warblers, tanagers, grosbeaks, and hummingbirds that are on their way back from the tropics.
However, many wintering birds, including some nice rarities, stick around well into March. Continuing birds included the long-staying Harris’s Sparrow and Red-necked Grebe, both of which remained at Las Gallinas throughout March and into early April, both last reported on April 4th (RR). At least one Nelson’s Sparrow remained at Corte Madera Marsh into mid-March, last reported on the 10th (CW).
More nice winter birds were found on the Outer Point on the 3rd, including more than 40 White-winged Scoters at South Beach and two Black-legged Kittiwakes (DS). These kittiwakes represent part of a dramatic coastal invasion by this usually pelagic species during the latter half of winter 2017, with multiple kittiwakes showing up regularly at creek mouths, beaches, and rock stacks all along the central and southern California coast.
Spring put in an appearance at Las Gallinas on the 4th in the form of a Barn Swallow (DE).
Gulls stole the show again on Pt. Reyes on the 7th, with a Black-legged Kittiwake at the Lighthouse and a Glaucous Gull near South Beach (JW). This has also been an excellent season for Glaucous Gulls on the California coast, which combined with the kittiwake invasion and an unusually generous scattering of very rare vagrant gulls, made this perhaps the best gull season in recent memory.
With Warbling Vireos already showing up to our north in Sonoma, it was high time for some migrants by mid-month, and an early Hooded Oriole visited a feeder in San Rafael on the 13th (RA) for some much-needed fuel after its long northward flight. In Inverness the spring chorus began on the 15th with a singing Wilson’s Warbler and Pacific-slope Flycatcher (DW).
A much rarer warbler and one of the best birds of the month was a Black-and-white Warbler found at Five Brooks on the 17th (KS). This is likely a locally-wintering bird, as our eastern migrants generally don’t arrive until much later in the spring, with March being perhaps the least-likely month for any of these colorful wanderers to show up.
Another superlative rarity was found at Las Gallinas on the 21st, a high-breeding-plumaged Least Bittern (KF).
By the end of the month more migrants were arriving, with Warbling Vireo and Blue-gray Gnatcatcher reported on the 30th at Mt. Burdell (DS).
And a final rarity was spotted near North Beach on Pt. Reyes, a fly-over Sandhill Crane heading in the direction of Abbott’s Lagoon (ML).
Observers and Acronyms CW: Charley Walker, DE: Daniel Edelstein, DS: Dan Singer, DW: David Wimpfheimer, JW: Jim White, KF: Kathy Francone, KS: Kim Savides, ML: Matt Lau, NW: Nick Whelan, RA: Richard Ackley, RR: Ruthie Rudesill
Marin Birdlog: January 2017
By Noah Arthur
Rain is good! Or so they say. It doesn’t seem so good when you’re trying to bird in it. But a rainy January brought some nice winter rarities to Marin, as well as what I like to think of as the last warbler of fall and the first hummer of spring.
Continuing at Las Gallinas was the Harris’s Sparrow found in December, frequenting the (wet) parking lot with other sparrows. On the 5th of January, another interesting bird was found at Las Gallinas (LB): an apparently intersex Northern Pintail showing markings intermediate between males and females.
A wet day on the 12th didn’t stop scoping the ocean off Muir Beach (JW), where a Northern Fulmar and two Short-tailed Shearwaters showed themselves, perhaps driven inshore by weather.
A Tiburon/Sausalito herring spawn that began on the 14th yielded some good gulling opportunities over the next week, with thousands of gulls along the shoreline in downtown Tiburon. Numerous Thayer’s Gulls were present, and one lightly-marked adult may have been an Iceland or intergrade with Iceland (NA, BA), but no definitive rarities surfaced.
The best gull – and perhaps the best bird – of the month was found on the 14th, and (predictably, given the species) not at a herring spawn: an adult Franklin’s Gull discovered in flooded fields in Novato (MF). This numerous Great Plains-breeding small gull, which normally winters on South American coasts, has an interesting pattern of showing up as a vagrant in California fields in deep winter, far to the north of the latitude at which it would normally spend the nonbreeding months.
On the 16th several good birds turned up, including a Prairie Merlin over Bolinas Ridge and a couple of Caspian Terns on Tomales Bay, continuing this winter’s trend of wintering Caspians in the Bay Area (DM).
A nearly solid six days of rain began on the 18th, during which time a distinctly wintry bird was spotted, a male Harlequin Duck on the rocks at San Quentin Prison on the 20th (CB). In Bolinas, during another brief break in the rain on the 21st, a gummy-billed Lucy’s Warbler that had presumably been foraging in eucalyptus trees was reported (RD) – an exceptional midwinter record of this very rare warbler that usually occurs as a fall vagrant. This bird had apparently been present since mid-December and was/is probably wintering in the area.
Deep dark winter is the time for rare ducks, and a probable female Tufted Duck was spotted at Stafford Lake on the 28th (MS). But, with the previous week’s rains gone, one might also say that spring sprung on the morning of the 28th when the first Allen’s Hummingbird of the season visited ML’s yard.
Las Gallinas put on another great show on the 30th and 31st, with two American Bitterns and a Red-necked Grebe (BB) as well as a male Common Teal (TP, m.ob.), perhaps the same bird found in December (DE).
Finally, on the 31st a Nelson’s Sparrow, the other candidate for Marin’s best bird of the month, was found at Corte Madera Marsh (MS). This secretive little bird has continued through mid-February.
Observers and Acronyms BA: Bob Atwood, BB: Bob Battagin, CB: Courtney Buechert, DE: Daniel Edelstein, DM: Dominik Mosur, JW: Jim White, LB: Len Blumin, MF: Mark Forney, ML: Margareta Luff, m.ob.: many observers, MS: Mark Stephenson, RD: Ryan DiGaudio, TP: Todd Plummer