Monthly Birdlog 2013

November 2013

With the onset of November the days are obviously shorter but the traces of migration become more subtle. The winter pattern should be firmly in place. Now in the midst of California’s driest period on record even the hardiest native plants are parched, lakes are low and indeed we should all begin to practice our rain dance.
Northern Gannet spotted on Gull Rock 10/25 constitutes yet another new Marin county record (RC). This is presumably the same individual that first took up residence on SE Farallon some 19 months ago. Incidentally, the presence of this first ever stray to Pacific waters is speculated by many to be a sign of global warming.
The one and sometimes two juvenile Blue-footed Boobies retain intermittent roosting rights at Gull Rock (at least until 11/10) and remain extraordinary for Marin, even if you missed the Gannet (SC, JW, RR, RB).  
Late October brought waves of grassland birds to fields and open country throughout Marin. The wide open pastures around Abbotts Lagoon proved a good hunting ground for birders on 10/27 turning up Pacific Golden-PloverLapland LongspursFerruginous Hawks and a rumored Red-throated Pipit (TP, EC). 
In a year with few vagrant warblers, Pine Gulch Creek and Bolinas birders continued to squeeze them out, with a Blackburnian Warbler on 10/13 (RB). Also in the tantalizing vagrant songbird category was an American Tree Sparrow sorted out of the vast sparrow flocks at the edge of Pt. Reyes Station (DSd).  Sparrows were also on the agenda in outer Pt. Reyes where on 11/11,  a Clay-colored and an apparent morphna Song Sparrow were chilling out at the Nunes trees after a long journey that likely took them out to sea (DSi).
American Coots are not what most people would consider a rare bird in Marin. That is unless you really know your patch. On 10/26 an astute birder noticed the first returns of this species since the Cosco Busan oil spill to Strawberry Cove in Richardson Bay (MS).  Also over on the under-celebrated Bayside was a locally rare Red-necked Grebe, targeting pipefish in the flood channel of Corte Madera creek 10/23 (BL).  
Not to be outdone in the southernmost part of the county patch birders continued to pull down birds of note. On 11/3 Rodeo Lagoon had a smattering of waterfowl including a Blue-winged Teal, 12 White-fronted Geese and an American Bittern, which is very cool for the Marin Headlands (WL).
Bring on the CBCs!
By Josiah Clark

Observers – BL: Bill Lenarz, DSi: Dan Singer, DSd: Dave Shuford, EC: Everett Clark, RC: Robert Clark, SC: Scott Carey, JW: Jim White, RB: Rob and Robyn Blaney, RR: Ruth Rudesill, TP: Todd Plummer, MS: Marjorie Siegel, WL: William Legge   

November – December 2013

Though the solstice is still ahead, winter is truly here. One of the coldest periods in recent decades has wintering birds flocking and foraging in full force to retain the energy they need to fight off the feather-piercing chill. When it comes to wintering land birds, the fruit eaters have it relatively easy; with many concentrating on Madrone, Toyon and Bay Laurel, they are set for months. Seed-eaters may have to scratch a bit harder and wait a bit later to sort through the frosty earth, but contend well with the cold. It is the insectivores, however, that will have the toughest time in the months ahead. Indications of food stress have set in with many more birds than usual moving into exotic ornamentals and alternate habitats. As often happens, the toughest times for birds can be the best for the birders who pursue them. No better time to get close looks and photos of those wintering warblers than when they are feeding on the ground as they have been.  
Winter Wren in the willows along the Giacomini Wetlands might sound seasonally appropriate, but, of course, it is darn rare. The relatively recent split has in-the-know birders now taking extra note and listening for those funny sounding wrens, which might once have escaped detection. If this is not a first documented county record, it’s close (TE).  Not far away on 11/21, an apparent Nelson’s Sharp-tailed Sparrow was in one of their traditional hideouts, waiting to be counted on the upcoming CBC.  
Vesper Sparrow is always a good bird in Marin, but by 11/13 it is even better. Nearby at the Teal Pond a wayward coastal Ross’s Goose stuck it out alone, as if in protest to the deafening mobs now gathered in the Central Valley (DS). Proving productive ground, the fields of Pierce Point Road continued to get combed over. On 12/3 a Mountain Plover was discovered there, very rare anytime, anywhere along our shores (MDe). Further looking on Dec 9 revealed at least 4 Pacific Golden Plovers, 11 Lapland Longspurs and the continuing, roving presence of Rough-legged and Ferruginous Hawks (DM, LK).
Further out on the Point and late 11/23, was a Blackburnian Warbler at the Fish Docks, which may have been continuing there undetected from weeks previous (MDo). On this same day, the loyal patch birders of Rodeo Lagoon continued to rip it up, with the prize a Rusty Blackbird. Also there were a pair of Redhead and the oft times fickle male Barrow’s Goldeneye (WL, DW). A sighting of this species on 11/23 off of Agate Beach, Bolinas might explain where this Rodeo bird disappears to (MD, NS). 
No better place to watch birds on a cold day than from home. Backyard highlights include a Red-naped Sapsucker in Inverness 12/4 (TP), and a very interesting keen observation of a Slate-colored Fox Sparrow in Lagunitas, perhaps decending from the rare traditional wintering grounds of Chamise Chaparral located not far upslope from there 11/27 (CS).
On 12/1 a Rock Wren and 9 wintering Blue-gray Gnatcatchers were observed on trails above Gerbode Valley in the Marin Headlands, not easy , nor unexpected for birders ready to hike for it.  Oh yes, they saw the continuing Blue-footed Booby, too (AL, JY). Coming up on three months this mega-rarity is almost like yesterday’s news.
By Josiah Clark

Observers – AL: Amy Lauterbach, CS: Chloe Scott, DS: Dan Singer, DF: Dea Freid, DM: Dominik Mosur, DW: David Wiechers, JY: James Yurchenco, LK: Logan Kahle, MDe: Mark Dettling, MDo: Matthew Dodder, TE: Todd Easterla, TP: Todd Plummer, WL: William Legge

Marin Birdlog – October 2013

By October blackberries are getting hard to find, madrones start to bear fruit and oak trees hit their stride, pumping out acorns by the ton. Most of the insect-eating warblers, flycatchers and tanagers have already passed. With forbs now dry, seeds abundant and winter not far away, October is sparrow month.

In the third week of September a Black-chinned Sparrow was captured up in scrub by banders at the Palomarin field station. This phantom-like sparrow has scarcely been detected anywhere along the north coast in recent years, but decades ago this species actually bred at this location for a short period.  A Blackpoll Warbler (PRBO) captured there around the same time is one of the only observations for this otherwise expected fall vagrant. A shortage of good vagrant conditions was compounded by the closure of outer Pt. Reyes and other federally controlled public lands. Many have expressed that eastern vagrant songbirds were as scarce this fall as any in the last 30+ years. Western migrant songbirds, on the other hand, appeared more abundant than usual.

Down the road Bolinas’s Wildlife Gallery continues to pump out what appears to be Marin’s most overlooked hummingbird, where 3 more individuals rounded out the season total of Black-chinned Hummingbird to six. There are now 15 records for this spot. That is half of all the records for Marin! This phenomenal fact says as much about the observer as it does about the effect of at least 9 well-tended feeders (KH). The breeding of this species also appears to be expanding in suburban areas in counties to the east.

Other Bolinas birds included a Chimney Swift October 6 (PP), 2 Clay-colored Sparrows, a Tropical Kingbird also in town and a Rose-breasted Grosbeak October 12 at Pine Gulch Creek (KH). Black-throated Gray Warblers made their biggest showing ever remembered at this location, with 25 observed (KH) on October 5. This bird of dry woods may have just made the most of California’s hottest, driest year on record.

October 4 was a big day for birds and birders alike. Howling warm NE winds delivered Marin’s only Sandhill Cranes folks could remember since the ’80s. Cranes were observed at multiple locations including Pine Gulch Creek (JM) and Marin Headlands (DW, JW, JTC, RF, LK, HC). A pair remained the following day, observed at Rodeo Lagoon along with a persistent Pectoral Sandpiper (WL). At least two White-faced Ibis were in the county that day, one on the Bolinas Mesa (SH) and one very tired one sleeping in the pickleweed at Richardson’s Bay Pohono St. Marsh (RF, JTC, JW, DW). Fifteen White-fronted Geese and at least 2 Broad-winged Hawks were observed by the preceding observers group.  A Prairie Falcon crossed over from Marin and was identified as it crossed into San Francisco airspace (LK, HC).

But what would this last month be without boobies? Blue-footed Boobies, that is, a species that was just added to Marin’s impressive species list last month. At least 2-3 individuals were observed in multiple locations including fleeting sightings of single birds off Tomales Point (SA) and offshore of Pt. Bonita as part of a feeding frenzy (JTC, MP). The most enduring roost, however, was just north of Muir Beach at Gull Rock, where 1-2 birds were seen by dozens of observers scoring a new county bird.

Observers  DW: David Whimpheimer, HC: Hugh Cotter, JTC:  Josiah Clark, JM:  Jeff Miller, JW: Jim White, KH: Keith Hansen, LK: Logan Kahle, MP: Michael Park, PP: Peter Pyle, RF: Rob Furrow, SA: Scott Anderson, SH: Steve Howl, WL: William Legge.