Monthly Birdlog 2010 and earlier
December 2010 was wet but there were no prolonged freezes. Christmas Bird Counts (CBC) at the end of the month thus yielded more than the usual number of unseasonable frugivores and insectivores. Waterbirds appear to be in good shape but Loggerhead Shrike is teetering on the edge of extirpation. Some very rare species were found!
Naturally, most rare birds found in December come from the early side of the Christmas Bird Count (CBC) period. In 2009, Marin County counts were: Point Reyes Peninsula 12/19 and Southern Marin 12/26 and here are some of the highlights:
On the POINT REYES PENINSULA CBC there were at least five different Bald Eagles, three Prairie Falcons and two Oldsquaws. A Short-billed Dowitcher (possibly the most over-reported species on CBCs) and eleven Red Knots were reported (JC,DM) as seen from a kayak at the Walker River Delta, Tomales Bay. A young male Tufted Duck was at the southeast corner of lower Abbotts Lagoon (AK), the fi rst in several years.
Unusual landbirds and/or good numbers for more resident species were a Townsends x Hermit Warbler hybrid and a Black-and-white Warbler near the Point Reyes Caltrans maintenance yard (RS,HC), a Northern Waterthrush in Inverness (TE,m.ob), a Red-naped Sapsucker (returned for the second year) at Point Reyes Seashore Headquarters (IS), eight Pileated Woodpeckers and five Rock Wrens.
The SOUTHERN MARIN CBC produced a Bald Eagle, a Harlequin Duck at Loch Lomond, Spotted, Northern Pygmy and Short-eared Owls (and four more common owls), a Nashville Warbler and several Swamp Sparrows.
Collateral observations from both CBCs included four species of snakes and five of salamanders, five butterflies and even a dragonfly. Its good to count in California.
Outside the CBC period, some special reports were: 28 Wilsons Snipe (JM) in the Pumpkin Patch on Gospel Flat (that’s a lot of snipe, but over 200 at one pond at Ellis Creek Wildlife Area, southern Sonoma County in December was astonishing); 450 Violet-green Swallows with only 30 Tree Swallows 12/6 at the Vintage Oaks mitigation site (RS,HC). Usually, if there are any swallows here mid-winter, they are Trees… perhaps we will be seeing the other species lingering longer in the fall, arriving earlier in the ‘spring’ or simply overwintering because warmer climates equal more insects. A male Rose-breasted Grosbeak 12/14 in Corte Madera (NW) was a good find. Did you know Rose-breasted Grosbeak records in California in winter exceed those of Black-headed Grosbeaks! On 12/21 a gray Fox Sparrow, probably Passerella iliaca megarhyncha, stopped for a meal in Novato while ‘just passin through’ (RS). Normally, Fox sparrows visiting the lowlands of coastal California are of brown taxa but a few gray ones winter on high, serpentine ridges with chamise chaparral.
If the American Ornithologists Union Committee on Taxanomy and Nomenclature asks you what the common names for Fox Sparrow groups should be, please say Brown, Gray and Red … not sooty (an allusion to gray) for the brown ones, slate-colored (inviting confusion with that race of junco) for the gray ones, and stick with red. Thank you!
OBSERVERS and ACRONYMS
Missy Wipf, Hilary Winslow, NW-Nick Whelan, Janice Tweedy, RS– Rich Stallcup, Dave Shuford, IS-Ivan Samuels, Maggie Rufo, Jennifer Roth, Mary Anne Rotella, Don Reinberg, Point Reyes Bird Observatory Conservation Science, Melissa Pitkin, DM-Dominik Mosur, JM-Jeff Miller, m.ob-many observers, John Longstreth, WL-William Legge, AK-Andy Kleinhesselink, John Kelly, Harrison Karr, Oliver James, Diana Humple, AH-Alan Hopkins, Deborah Fitzpatrick, JE-Jules Evens, TE-Todd Easterla, Cindy Dickey, DD-Dave De Sante, JC-Josiah Clark, CBC-Christmas Bird Count, HC-Heather Cameron, Mark Butler, Len & Patti Blumin, BB-Bob Battagin, SA-Scott Anderson.
November, as always, was tame compared to September and October and only the usual unusual bird species were reported.
Red-necked Grebes are to be expected on Drakes Bay in mid-winter but since that is about the southern end of their normal range, individuals farther down the coast are extralimital. One was on Rodeo Lagoon 11/8 (WL).
Twelve Tundra Swans flying over the Marin Headlands 11/28 (DM,PS) were a bit early for an appearance on the coast. An Oldsquaw (senior native-American female) was on Tomales Bay 11/10 and on for a week (JE). They are regular in tiny numbers at this latitude. Hooded Mergansers are more numerous and much more reliable. They began to become obvious in late October then six were at Marin City and two at the San Geronimo Golf Course 11/2 (both BB). Fourteen at the hole #7 pond 11/27 (BB,JE) is about as big as that flock ever gets.
The usual few Ferruginous Hawks were scattered over grasslands (m.ob). A Broad-winged Hawk at Hawk Hill 11/16 (EB) was late for a migrant but at least seven individuals have successfully overwintered in Marin. (None have done-so for many years.) Bald Eagles continue as year-around residents in the county but two youngsters heading north over the Marin Headlands 11/15 (KW) were clearly migrants. Where might they have hatched? As usual, two or three Prairie Falcons were found along with about ten Merlins and many Peregrines.
A Sandhill Crane high over Rodeo Lagoon 11/29 (WL) was definitely lost. There are only about six sanitary records for Marin, all-time. One of those was on the Giacomini pasture for the greater part of a whole winter.
Considering the fact that anchovies were virtually and really absent from the nearshore Pacific in the fall of 2009, it was astonishing to have Elegant Terns here so late. Six were still at Bolinas 10/30 (RS,NB) and another at Sausalito 11/3 (BB).
The status and distribution of Short-eared Owls here has been enigmatic since they ceased to be fairly common (for an owl) about 20 years ago, so documentation of each encounter is of value. One was seen near the Green Gulch Zen retreat above Muir Beach 11/7 (DM).
Probably the last Tropical Kingbird of the year was near the public parking lot for Point Reyes Lighthouse visits 11/3 (B & JM) and a Nashville Warbler was at the Wildlife Gallery in Bolinas 11/5 (KH). Nashvilles average about one per winter in Marin.
Our pelagic (way out in the ocean) trip 11/15 encountered these animals: Laysan Albatross – 2, Black-footed Albatross – 64, Northern Fulmar – 600, Pink-footed Shearwater – 13, Bullers Shearwater – 9, Sooty – 8 and Short-tailed Shearwater – 5, unidentified dark shearwater – 5, Pomarine Jaeger – 4, Black-legged Kittiwake – 10, Bonapartes Gull – 550, Red Phalarope – 4500, Rhinoceros Auklet – 55, Cassins Auklet – 270, Blue Whale – 8, Humpbacks – 40, five species of pinnipeds and four of small cetaceans.
A couple of unusual reptilian events happened. In mid-October, two young Rubber Boas were found together in Inverness (MB,MR). This native snake is a scarce and usually nocturnal denizen of coastal coniferous forest. This connection was excellent just because of the excellent connection and for the late date.
In late October an Olive Ridley (sea turtle) crawled ashore on Stinson Beach. It was dehydrated and hungry so was sent to San Diego for rehab by turtle people. This was the third individual of this species to be detected on the Marin waterfront. The last one was a healthy young male that hauled-out on Shell Beach, Tomales Bay in 2002. He probably sent himself back to more tropical waters.
OBSERVERS and ACRONYMS
EB-Eddie Bantly, BB-Bob Battagin, LB-Len Blumin, MB-Mark Butler, HC-Heather Cameron, GC-Graham Chisholm, JE-Jules Evens, DF-Deborah Fitzpatrick, GGRO-Golden Gate Raptor Observatory, KH-Keith Hansen, DH-Diana Humple, WL-William Legge, DM-Debra Maier, B&JM-Bunkie & Jeff Mangum, NM-Natalie McNear, m.ob-many observers, DM-Dominik Mosur, NB-Native Birds Field Group, PRBO-Point Reyes Bird Observatory Conservation Science, DR-Don Reinburg, MR-Mary Anne Rotella, MRu-Maggie Rufo, PS-Paul Saraceni, RS-Rich Stallcup, KW-Ken Wilson.
Every September if the sky is sealed by high overcast and the light breezes tend towards southeast, many migrant landbirds from a nice diversity of species convene on the coast of Central California to rest and refuel before the next leg of their migrational journey. They fly by night and feed by day, some making as many as twenty nocturnal “hops” to reach their “winter” destinations.
Because Point Reyes jukes 13 miles farther west than the rest of the average Marin coastline, more migrants and rarities are found there, virtually at sea from whence the tiny travelers have come.
Conditions and convergences in September 2008 were nearly perfect.
At PRBO pelagic trip to Cordell Bank 9/14 was excellent with high overcast (no glare) and calm water (good Alcid hunting and no birder hurling). There was a Laysan and many Black-footed Albatrosses; the usual four Shearwaters; Ashy (2000), Fork-tailed (20), Wilson’s (12) and Black Storm Petrels (2); all three jaegers, Sabines’s Gulls, Phalaropes, and six Alcids including Cassin’s Auklets (showing signs of population increase following two years of total reproductive failure), a Tufted Puffin and two Xantus’s Murrelets. There were eight Blue Whales, 20 Humpbacks, 150 Northern Right Whale Dolphins and 250 Pacific White-sided Dolphins and five species of pinnipeds. Three lost landbirds landed to rest on the The New Sea Angler, a Brown-headed Cowbird, a Yellow-headed Blackbird (nice!) and a young Boblink (Awesome!) that stayed aboard for over two hours.
On 9/21, 14 species of raptors! were identified (GGRO) as these diurnal migrants slide on rising warm thermals along north-south ridges funneling down to the Marin Headlines.
Diving Ducks were definitely late in arriving. An exception was a 2008 model Hooded Merganser (9/24) at Las Gallinas (LYT). Eurasian Wigeons, still in eclipse plumage, were at Bolinas 9/26 (HC) and Las Gallinas 9/29 (LB).
Barn Owls do not nest on Point Reyes but each fall, many juveniles appear on the O.P. to forage the rodent-rich grasslands. They hunt at night and roost by day in planted Monterey Cypress trees. When flushed they are vulnerable and we have seen them killed by Peregrines, ravens and, even crows. Great-horned Owls have taken-them-out crepuscularly in the woods. Thirteen healthy Barn Owls were counted on the night of 9/16 between the RCA station and the Nunes Ranch (DN).
A Solitary Sandpiper was at the Mendoza stock pond 9/12 (RS) and another was there 9/16 (HC,RS).
A minimum of two White-winged Doves were present on the O.P. during September, occasionally flocking with their old-world cousins, the Eurasian Collared Doves. A Costa’s Hummingbird was at Grazer 9/25 (HC) and three Rufous Hummingbirds were at Nunes, O.P. until 9/26 (m.ob).
Western Flycatchers (which is what we should call silent migrants of this sort) were unusually populous on the outer coast as were Willows and Western Wood Pewees. A Hammond’s Flycatcher 9/16 at the O.P. (lighthouse) (S<) was the only one mentioned.
By far the rarest bird of the season was a hatch-year Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, well seen and carefully identified by twelve birders 9/29 at Junior Mendoza on the O.P. It is only the second ever in Marin and one of less than twelve for Western North America (RS,NB)! A Tropical Kingbird was at the RCA Station, O.P. on 9/30 (MB,MR) – nice and normal.
Surprisingly, the only odd Vireo documented was a young Red-eyed at the Nunes Ranch, O.P. 9/9 through 9/12 (RS, et al.).
Thirty species of wood warblers were seen in Marin in September. Most rare were a Connecticut Warbler banded and released unharmed 9/25 in Muddy Hollow (PRBO) and a Worm-eating 9/11 at the RCA, (RS). All of the “western” species were involved including two Nashvilles and two Yellow-breasted Chats, both far rarer than many vagrants.
Twenty-four American Redstarts was about five times the average and 12 Blackpoll Warblers was twice the recent expectation. Two or three Cape May Warblers was encouraging and may indicate a population increase in response to recovery of the Spruce Budworm. The rest were similar to trends in recent waves and tsunamis of passage.
A Scarlet Tanager 9/14 on the O.P. (MB,MR) was the earliest of four previous fall county records. There have been eight overall. A Dickcissel was at the Mendoza, O.P. 9/12 (RS et al.) for the seventh county record and an Indigo Bunting was at the same place on the same date – but not the same scarcity. Only one Lark Bunting was reported at the Fish Docks, O.P. 9/15 (RS, et al.).
A young and tired Bobolink landed on our boat 9/14 and stayed for two hours (PRBO) then a Yellow-headed Blackbird did the same. Both these birds joined us more than 12 miles seaward. A fine juvenile Baltimore x Bullocks Oriole intergrade was at Nunes, O.P. 9/16-9/17 (RS, et al.). There are many of these during summer in the center of the continent where the two “species” merge.
Observers and Acronyms
LB-Len Blumin, VB-Veronica Bowers, MB-Mark Butler, HC-Heather Cameron, et al.-and others, JE-Jules Evens, GGRO-Golden Gate Raptor Observatory, WL-William Legge, LYT-Leica Youth Team (PRBO Birdathon), C&LL-Cindy & Les Lieurance, m.ob-many observers, DM-Domonic Moser, NB-Native Birds Birding Group, DN-Danielle Norris, O.P.-outer Point Reyes, PRBO-Point Reyes Bird Observatory Conservation Science, DR-Don Reinburg, MR-Mary Anne Rotella, RS- Rich Stallcup, ES-Emily Strauss, S+LT-Scott & Linda Terrill.