Monthly Birdlog 2015

Marin Birdlog: November – December 2015
By Josiah Clark

With November arrives the first real dose of winter, and birds are among the first to notice.  Migration has all but ceased and food resources become scarce.  The flocks that recently held and welcomed passing migrants from out of town are now quite locked up and orderly.

With insects dormant and most fruit gone, there is only so much food around, and with so many slots in the flock, the pecking order becomes more ruthless.  Oddballs, loners and smaller birds are kicked to the side or driven off completely.

Seasoned Christmas Bird Counters know that Bushtit flocks hold a disproportionate number of winter vagrants–likely because they are small, diminutive and on the bottom of the totem poles themselves.

Out at Abbotts Lagoon it is a flock of Savannah Sparrows that for the second winter that is holding Marin’s first LeConte’s Sparrow; found by Christmas Bird Counters last year, it was seen again on 12/4 (JW, RC).  On 12/4 a Red Knot and continuing Tufted Duck were also worthy of note (MD).

Hawk Hill had one of its biggest migration days ever witnessed earlier this fall, but on 11/25 a Northern Goshawk was captured by GGRO banders in the Marin Headlands.  This was at least the second of this species observed from this location this fall.

It’s always a good time for a rare bird in Bolinas, where in late November a White-winged Dove and an Orange-Bishop appeared to have made a visit to the wildlife gallery from areas to the south (KH).  Perhaps of greater significance, the Swainson’s Thrush found on the Christmas Count last year appears to be back this year (PP).

On 11/21 a Black Tern over San Francisco Bay was seen with Elegant Terns by a Golden Gate Audubon field trip.  This is especially rare this late in the year, and it was probably the least expected bird of the period (DA).

Observers and Acronyms  DA:  David Assman, GGRO:  Golden Gate Raptor Observatory, JW:  Jim White, KH:  Keith Hansen, MD:  Mark Dettling, PP:  Peter Pyle, RC:  Rich Cimino  

Marin Birdlog:  October – November 2015
By Josiah Clark

By most accounts this fall has been a bit disappointing overall for vagrants in Marin, with a couple of major exceptions in the southern part of the county.  On 10/15 banders at Point Blue Conservation Science mist-netted a Dusky Warbler along Redwood Creek near Muir Beach.  After first being missed for a day or so, this skulky bird was re-found on 10/16 (TG), and then enjoyed by many through 10/20.  On that day, a White Wagtail was found at Rodeo Lagoon (WL) and enjoyed by many through 10/22. I know of a lucky few observers who were able to see both of these Asian vagrants on 10/20.

Outer Point Reyes used to be the hotspot in Marin, where 75% of the vagrants in the North Bay area were located each fall, but this year, anyway, it seems to have lost some of its luster, with Owl Canyon near Bodega Head (Sonoma County) taking charge.  Is this a trend due to more observers scouring every corner of these counties, catching up to the coverage typically enjoyed by Point Reyes?  Or was it simply due to chance influences of precise local weather patterns on migrating birds?  Southeast Farallon Island was also a bit slow this fall, suggesting the latter, but it will be interesting to see how this develops moving forward.  Not that the Outer Point didn’t provide a few goodies this fall, with a Pine Warbler on 10/17 (TE) and a Yellow-green Vireo on 10/23 (DS), both at the Fish Docks, being quite notable.  Other vagrants or interesting migrants this period on the Outer Point included White-winged Doves at the Lighthouse 10/15 (DF) and 1-2 at Nunes Ranch (A Ranch) 10/17-18 (TE, ES), a Magnolia Warbler at the Fish Docks 10/15 (DF) and two there 10/16 (RH), a Long-eared Owl 10/19 (JC), up to three Palm Warblers at Mendoza (B Ranch) 10/20-31 (m.ob.), and two Lapland Longspurs at Spaletta Plateau 10/25-26 (DS, ST).  Toward the end of the period up to 4 Rough-legged Hawks and 4 Ferruginous Hawks were noted at various spots on the Outer Point 11/11 (AA), perhaps indicating a flight year for the former.

Elsewhere in the county, another Magnolia Warbler was found at the Las Gallinas Ponds 10/15 (BA) and another Palm Warbler was also there 11/6 (BB), a dozen or more White-faced Ibises at Abbott’s Lagoon 10/20 (BH), and a Sage Thrasher and Nashville Warbler along Paradise Drive in Corte Madera 10/23-24 (JW, MF).  Generally, numbers of Fox Sparrows seem very high this winter, while those of White-throated Sparrows and Slate-colored Juncos seem lower than normal.

Observers and Acronyms  AA: Anne Ardillo, BA: Bob Atwood, BB: Bob Battagin, DF: Dea Fried, DS: Dan Singer, ES: Emilie Strauss, JC: Jim Chiropolos, JW: Jim White, MF: Mark Forney, m.ob.: many observers, RH: Roger Harshaw, ST: Steve Tucker, TE: Todd Easterla, TG: Ted Gilliland, WL: William Legge

Marin Birdlog: April 2015 – May 2015
By Josiah Clark

By May winter becomes a distant memory and the signs of summer are well on their way. Golden-crowned Sparrows disappear, wildflower blooms taper off and grassy hills begin showing the first signs of brown. In just a month, all the hills will be the brown. During late May and early June the spring songbird vagrant season begins in earnest but Marin birders turned up lots of interesting birds during April.
On 4/17, Rodeo Lagoon had its first record of a Great-tailed Grackle, with others passing north across the Gate with the offshore winds the day before (WL).
The Lewis’s Woodpecker continued until at least 4/24 in the northeast border of the county while the first returning Swainson’s Thrushes were reported from Inverness that same day (DW). On May 1 the Indigo Bunting returned to the trail above Big Rock on Lucas Valley Road, where it has bred with Lazuli Bunting in years passed (BH).
As usual Bolinas and the birders there turned up many good birds this period. An Eastern Phoebe made a brief appearance at the base of the Bolinas Fairfax road on 4/18. Several Purple Martins returned to nesting sites above the reservoirs over the hill as well (JC). On 4/25 the Black Vulture rematerialized above the school in its usual location in time for a large group of birders (PP, JC). A female Calliope Hummingbird captured by Point Blue birders at the Palomarin field station on 4/14 was a rare record for the coast in spring (RC).
Outer Point Reyes will likely take a bigger role in next month’s Birdlog, but this month ambitious vagrant chasers were out on the scene early, detecting many of the more common western migrants. One less common migrant found during the offshore winds on 4/30 was a Cassin’s Kingbird at the Pt. Reyes lighthouse (DS).

Observers BH: Bob Hall, DW: David Wimpfheimer , DS: Dan Singer, JC: Josiah Clark, PP: Peter Pyle, RC: Renée Cormier, WL: William Legge

Marin Birdlog: March – April 2015
By Josiah Clark

April brings the highest bird diversity seen all year to Northern California. With wintering birds lingering, resident birds breeding and colorful northbound migrants showing up each day this period of peak migration is among the more exciting times of year for observing birds. While the extreme rarities are generally less common at this time of year, it is the rapid pace of change that can keep birders engaged.
Things come and things go. Marin’s first Black Vulture was last seen near Bolinas on 3/29 (KH, PP) and has not been seen since. The first Elegant Terns of the year on the lagoon were noted on 3/21; this early date was very noteworthy. These birds are likely dispersing from the south in search of better breeding areas (PP, SH).
Around this same time a calm period allowed a rare early spring birding visit to the Cordell Bank. Twenty-five Black-footed Albatrosses, five Sabine’s Gulls and forty-five Cassin’s Auklets were a testament to the importance of this protected Marin area (PP).
Spring arrivals take much of the spotlight. A few less common species of note include Hermit Warbler and Black-throated Gray Warbler on Bolinas-Fairfax Road on 4/3 (DE), a Western Kingbird at Stafford Lake on 3/29 (DH) and MacGillivray’s Warbler on 4/10 at the base of Mt. Vision Road (EC). On 4/12 at least three House Wrens were on territory in the eastern part of the county, two on Lucas Valley and one at Stafford Lake (JC). These are uncommon breeders in Marin in all but the most northeastern part of the county.
On the east side of the county a wintering Lewis’s Woodpecker continued at the edge of the county along San Antonio Road until at least 4/10 (DW, JD). Aleutian Canada Geese numbered 8 at Las Gallinas and there were at least as many territorial Great-tailed Grackles on 4/1 (DE). A female Hooded Merganser there on 4/12 was getting late (JC).

Observers EC: Everett Clark, DE: Daniel Edelstein, DH: Daphne Hatch, JD: Joannie Dranginis, JC: Josiah Clark, PP: Peter Pyle, SH: Steve Howell

Marin Birdlog: February – March 2015
By Josiah Clark

Brown Boobies have been observed almost continuously along the coast from San Mateo to Marin all winter with Chimney Rock being one of their favorite spots. Three individuals were seen at once there on 2/19 (RC), a mega rarity in the county until just last year. It is the warm water that is bringing boobies from the south, with no end in sight, along with larger numbers of wintering Heermann’s GullsBrown Pelicans and even Elegant Tern. The warm sea surface temperatures are also linked, of course, to this warm, dry weather we have been having.
Another seabird that has been recorded in unprecedented numbers this season near shore in our region is the Black-vented Shearwater, rarely seen from shore in Marin. On 3/9 a mega feeding frenzy off Rodeo Beach dominated by 80,000 Common Murres hosted up to twenty of these highly pelagic tubenoses usually seen in fall and rarely observed by March (WL).
The GGNRA hosted other interesting birds in west Marin with the first ever recorded American Dipper for Muir Woods on 3/2 (MM). A Common Poorwill in Tennessee Valley follows a long tradition of their sparse presence there and elsewhere in the grasslands of the county. This one was calling near the parking lot on 2/20. Typically one used to be reported sitting on the cement path at night, this is the first calling one I have heard of. Could they breed here?
The big show stopper county rare bird for the month was surely the continuing Black Vulture in Bolinas that showed up in February and was last reported 3/8 (SO). After eluding most northbay birders for over a year, it finally settled down in Bolinas. It was often seen hanging out by the big Turkey Vulture roost, which is appropriately situated right above the Bolinas Cemetery.

Observers RC: Roy Carlson, BF: Betsy Finn, MM: Mia Monroe, WL: William Legge, MP: Matt Perry, SO: Sherri Oster

Marin Birdlog December 2014 to January 2015
By Josiah Clark

Winter brings both opportunities and challenges for birds. The long awaited rains in December may have drenched land birds but it created new feeding opportunities for water birds. It has also given the seed producing plants a good start, which will hopefully mean stronger numbers of wintering sparrows for next year’s CBC counters. Meanwhile frugivorous robins and thrushes appear more common this year, likely in response to difficulty finding food to the north.
In Marin, the Christmas Bird Count season brings more birders into the field than any other. These counts are not only surveys of the local bird populations; they also help to acquaint newer birders with what is expected. For seasoned Christmas Bird Counters even the rarities start to become expected.
But on the nationally renowned Point Reyes CBC on December 20, the Abbot’s Lagoon team discovered something no one could rightly expect. Marin’s first recorded LeContes Sparrow was well enjoyed, studied and photographed by veteran bird counters, then by throngs of vagrant chasers (WD, KS). One unexpected sparrow deserves another, when the next day a Grasshopper Sparrow was discovered in the same flock, a first winter record for the county (MD, RC, eBird).
Among the more expected goodies on the Pt. Reyes CBC count were 2-3 each of Red-naped and Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers. Their favorite areas were Inverness, Olema Marsh and Nicasio (BB, HC, KH, TP, RT). Remote and rarely birded, upper Walker Creek held the count’s only Rough-legged Hawk (RF), and its delta the count’s apparent final holdout Red Knot (AK, JC).
The South Marin Count on December 28 sent hardy hikers to locations such as Barth’s Retreat, where 2 Townsend’s Solitaires were found at their favorite spot in the county (DS). The only Snowy Plover for the count was sleuthed out among the many beachgoers at Sea Drift (DK). Among the 159 species noted by Bolinas counters were many noteworthy ones, but none more so than a wintering Swainsons Thrush. The bird was photographed and constitutes one of the few winter records for the state (PP).

Observers and acronyms AK: Andy Kleinhesselink, BB: Bob Battagin, DK: Durrell Kapan, DS: David Sexton, HC: Heather Cameron, JC: Josiah Clark, KH: Keith Hansen, KS: Ken Schneider, MD: Mark Dettling, PP: Peter Pyle, RC: Rene Cormier, RF: Rob Furrow, RT: Ryan Terrill, TP: Todd Plummer, WD: Wendy Dreskin