Monthly Birdlog 2016
Marin Birdlog: December 2016
By Noah Arthur
Many birders, myself included, might argue that December is the most excellent month of the year in Marin. Vestiges of fall linger on into this coldest month of the Bay Area year that is mostly populated by the birds of winter. And the Christmas Bird Counts conducted at the end of the month bring us together to count the birds in this season of highest species diversity.
December kicked off with mild conditions for the first week. A pair of Mountain Bluebirds found 11/30 at Drakes Corner on the Outer Point (DS) were present at least until 12/ 17. Another continuing bird from November was the Sandhill Crane at Laguna Lake on Chileno Valley Road found on 11/25 (MD). Two wintering Palm Warblers were present throughout the month at Las Gallinas. Three individuals were reported on 11/27 (JM), but no more than two at a time were seen in December.
Northeast winds blew in the Valley geese with a flock of more than 30 Snow/Ross’s-type geese flying over the Marin headlands 12/2 (WL).
A White-winged Scoter on Abbotts Lagoon 12/4 was a nice find (EC). It was relocated 12/11 accompanied by a Long-tailed Duck (MP, DK).
A remnant of fall showed itself in a Nashville Warbler and a Hermit Warbler at Stinson Gulch in Bolinas on 12/5 (PP), associating with Townsend’s and Yellow-rumped Warblers in flowering eucalyptus – very often the ‘go-to’ habitat for wintering warm season warblers in the Bay Area. Sparrow numbers were reported to be noticeably low in Bolinas (PP).
Along Highway 1 just north of Point Reyes Station another lingering fall warbler, a Palm Warbler having braved the month’s first light rain event that occurred on the 7th was found 12/ 9 (DW, ME).
One of the best birds of the month was a male Common (Eurasian) Teal at Las Gallinas 12/11, associating with American Green-winged Teal in flooded weedy fields along the entrance road (DE).
Rare passerines on the Point Reyes CBC 12/17 were few and far between but included a Rose-breasted Grosbeak near Muddy Hollow and a Wilson’s Warbler in Inverness. Three Caspian Terns over Tomales Bay were a new species for the count, and fit into this winter’s unusual pattern of wintering Caspians throughout the Bay Area.
Weather remained fair and mild to chilly for the rest of December, and as the month neared its end one more nice rarity was found, a Harris’s Sparrow spotted at Las Gallinas on Christmas Eve (SK).
Observers and Acronyms DE: Daniel Edelstein, DK: Durrell Kapan, DS: Dan Singer, DW: David Wimpfheimer, EC: Everett Clark, JM: Joseph Morlan, MD: Mark Dettling, ME: Magnus Eriksson, MP: Michael Park, PP: Peter Pyle, SK: Susan Kelly, WL: William Legge
Marin Birdlog: November – December 2016
By Josiah Clark
By November everything starts feeling like a Christmas Bird Count. Any remaining summer migrants are rare, big flocks of ducks and sparrows are common and the days have become noticeably shorter and colder.
It makes sense that altitudinal migrants from the mountains tend to descend from the coldest areas when the first big storms arrive, as presumably happened to two Mountain Bluebirds at Drake’s Corner in Outer Point Reyes on 12/2 (DS).
Another winter bird from the state’s interior that has been getting more common in recent years is Sandhill Crane. One of these showed up at the northeast boundary of the county at Laguna Lake on 11/26 and stuck around for at least several days (TB, JM).
Also on the eastern edge of the county were two apparently wintering Caspian Terns at Rush Creek on 12/1 (JTC). These are remarkably rare in winter in the Bay Area, though this year less so with perhaps a dozen or so scattered around SF Bay.
Just south of there on 12/3 things got much more interesting with a very rare photo documentation of a “Harlan’s” Red-tailed Hawk at Las Gallinas Valley Wastewater Treatment Facility, a bird that apparently may have shown up at other locations as well (NA, JH).
By 11/17 few fall vagrant hounds are out looking for eastern warblers. Palomarin banders found just that, however, upon the capture of a young female Blackburnian Warbler at the Palomarin Field Station (RC).
And just when the period was almost up on 12/9, the first sighting of “The” Northern Gannet transpired on Marin’s Bayside as it surveyed for baitfish before moving on (DA).
Observers and Acronyms DA: David Armstrong, DS: Dan Singer, JTC: Josiah Clark, JH: Jack Hayden, JM: Joseph Morlan, NA: Noah Arthur, RC: Renee Cormier, TB: Tony Briggs
Monthly Birdlog: October-November 2016
By Josiah Clark
With shorter, colder days most southbound migrants make haste to get to their wintering grounds. Here in Marin, all the winter birds are in place and the species around today are ones we can expect on the rapidly approaching Christmas Bird Counts. We have had better than average rainfall so far this fall, larger than average surf conditions and some hotter than average days making for an interesting mix of conditions that has brought us some interesting birds.
Vagrant chasers at Point Reyes refused to give up the season without some serious looking in the final quarter. Along with the more expected Palm Warblers and less numerous than usual vagrant Blackpoll Warblers, noteworthy birds from the lighthouse and ranches during the last part of October included at least two Black-throated Blue Warblers that hung around a bit, a Summer Tanager and, most rare and noteworthy, a Yellow-green Vireo found on 10/14 (NA). A Sage Thrasher on 11/2 was among the last vagrant songbirds found at the outer point this fall (DM). While most birders hang around the trees at the Outer Point, some walked the vast open fields, and one was rewarded by an American Golden Plover mixed with 3 Pacific Golden Plovers at Drake’s Corners, a favorite spot for rare birds of open country (MS).
Other vagrant songbirds of note found away from Outer Point Reyes included another Yellow-green Vireo at the Bolinas Mesa 10/30 and a late Magnolia Warbler caught by Point Blue banders at Muir Beach on 11/1.
Over on the east side of the county a Redhead at Las Gallinas 10/19 and a Barrow’s Goldeneye on 11/9 at Bahia were rare ducks that appeared to arrive after the first big rains (DE). Not far away, Shorebird Marsh in Corte Madera remained a happening spot through the month, with Red Phalarope and Blue-winged Teal as highlights. A fly-over Ferruginous Hawk for this site was nothing to sneeze at either (WL).
Surely the rarest bird last month for the county was a Lesser Sand Plover (formerly Mongolian Plover), found at the beach near Abbotts Lagoon by the local Snowy Plover Ecologist who has now found two of the rarest shorebirds (the other being last year’s Purple Sandpiper) in Marin 10/18 (ML). This bird was chase-worthy and eventually seen by dozens of observers. As often happens, one rare bird turns up another, and a Laughing Gull was also seen there flying down the beach mixed in with the local gulls (LK).
DE: Daniel Edelstein, DM: Dominik Mosur, MD: Mark Dettling, LK: Lucas Kerling, ML: Matt Lau, MS: Mark Stephenson, NA: Noah Arthur, WL: William Legge
Monthly Birdlog: September 2016
By Josiah Clark
All good things must come to an end, and the epic days of fall birding in Marin are no exception. Though many species will be moving in earnest well into November, the bulk of the fall migrants have now passed with many species all but gone. This year the migration seemed to have begun a bit on the early side. The best conditions for eastern vagrant songbirds tend to be south winds and an extensive marine layer. These conditions were relatively fleeting, but that did not stop birders from finding many vagrants in Marin’s best-known trap, Outer Point Reyes.
All through September the more common vagrants seemed to be showing up and bopping around out there, namely American Redstart, Tennessee and Chestnut-sided Warblers. Blackpoll Warblers seemed in notably short supply this year, with just a few about. Warblers deserving special mention include a Canada Warbler on 9/13 at the Mendoza Ranch (MP). Similarly rare was a Yellow-green Vireo on 9/28 (NA). At the fish docks on 10/1 a Blackburnian Warbler was found with a Palm Warbler nearby (BT, EC). Green-tailed Towhee is a rare western migrant anywhere on the coast, so one on 9/13 at the lighthouse was of special note (PC, DF).
Elsewhere in Point Reyes, a Common Poorwill by the Limantour Youth Hostel on 9/27 is part of a continuing trend of the species that is rare at the coast (DA).
Toward the center of the county Nicasio Reservoir produced some interesting shorebirds including Lesser Yellowlegs, Baird’s Sandpiper, Pectoral Sandpiper and also uncommon for that spot, a Blue-winged Teal. But the rarest bird there was a Red-throated Pipit on 9/28 (MS) that was seen by dozens of birders in the end.
Probably the rarest bird for the period came from Bolinas, where members of the Pt. Blue Birdathon Team “The Lookers” found a Harris’s Sparrow near Poplar Street on the Bolinas Mesa on 10/5 (DH). Always very rare in Marin, this one was especially noteworthy because of the September date, which is early.
BT: Bob Toleno, DA: David Armstrong, DF: Dea Freid, DH: Diana Humple, EC: Everett Clark, JK: John Kendall, MS: Mark Stephenson, MP: Michael Parke, NA: Noah Arthur, PC: Peter Colasanti
Marin Birdlog: August – September 2016
By Josiah Clark
Though the calendar still marked summer, the birds and plants were clearly saying it is fall, and the early onset of cool weather brings hope for a cool wet winter. With breeding season long behind us the days are noticeably shorter triggering migrants to flow south in mass.
One major milestone of the fall migration that many of us can relate to is the return of the first Golden-crowned Sparrow. That has already happened this year, where on 9/9 one appeared with White-crowned Sparrows at a feeder in San Rafael. The observer noted this was the earliest return he could remember (RA). Not far away on 9/2 at Hawk Hill, raptor migrants included a Prairie Falcon and an early Ferruginous Hawk (GGRO).
At Outer Point Reyes vagrant seekers did not have to wait for September. They were right on the scene with the onset of the classic south winds and marine layer that carry their quarry by late August. Rare hummingbirds in our region are rare, and on 8/28 a bird eventually determined to be a Costa’s Hummingbird was probably the rarest bird in the county for the period (PC). Other more noteworthy vagrants to the Outer Point among the many so far have included a Blackburnian Warbler on 8/29 (RH) and more recently a Canada Warbler on 9/9 (MB,HC). More expected vagrants to the lighthouse and isolated trees at the ranches included one or more of these: American Redstart, Tennessee Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler.
Meanwhile nearby over the waters of Drakes Bay, a swarming biomass of anchovies, squid and other ocean forage fueled feeding frenzies of epic proportions as reported with the presence of over 1000 Brown Pelicans and an estimated 20,000 Sooty Shearwaters, some Pink-footed Shearwaters and at least one Common Tern. Good descriptions and humble reports of an apparent rare Manx Shearwater in the mix sounded promising (JW, NA).
Rock Wrens in Marin are an uncommon find anywhere away from the Outer Point, so one found at the Loch Lomond Jetty on 8/31 in San Rafael was quite noteworthy for that area (JW). Also noteworthy from eastern Marin, on 8/27 were 11 Wilson’s Phalaropes at the masterfully sculpted Hamilton restoration project (BN).
Central Marin is not known for its shore birding, but a Solitary Sandpiper found familiar company with the Wood Ducks and Muskrat at the pond on the San Geronimo Golf Course back on 8/26 (BB).
Shorebirds at Abbott’s Lagoon have been hit and miss this year, but on 8/22 a Lesser Yellowlegs and four Baird’s Sandpipers (ML) were a good consolation for the departed Pectoral Sandpiper that was present the day before. Alas the much-chased Bar-tailed Godwit in Bolinas appeared to have flown the coop, with the last report on 8/16 (MS). Thank you to the folks at Sea Drift for allowing access to so many visitors who came to see this rare bird.
Observers and Acronyms BB: Bigfoot Bob Battagin, BN: Bill Noble, GGRO: Golden Gate Raptor Observatory, HC: Heather Cameron, JW: Jim White, MB: Mark Butler, ML: Matt Lau, MS: Mark Stephenson, NA: Noah Arthur, RA: Richard Ackley, PC: Peter Colasanti, RH: Roger Harshaw
Marin Birdlog: June-August 2016
By Josiah Clark
August is an exciting time for birders in Marin County as many of the rarest birds are just starting to show up. Looking way back to June, vagrant conditions were poor and the late spring migration produced relatively few rare songbirds. The summer is the slack tide of the migration, with few birds on the move. The breeding season seemed to be productive for many species with decent rains and moisture late in the spring yielding abundant food as young were fledging. In a year of record heat elsewhere in the country, Marin has been actually been cooler and windier than average.
In local conservation news, a once widespread breeding species that apparently has experienced major declines in the county is Western Wood-Pewee. Several longstanding observers have reported the absence of this species in their usual haunts. On June 22 just one loner was observed singing along the bike path of Lagunitas Creek by Samuel P. Taylor State Park, a spot where there are usually several (IS).
Breeding Least Bitterns remained elusive at the Las Gallinas sewage ponds and were among the most chased birds in the county, present at least until July 10 (JTC). This is only the third breeding attempt in the county and the second attempt for this location. Birders are reminded not to play recordings for this locally rare and listed species.
Down in the southern part of the county, patch birders did not miss a beat even during the summer doldrums. On 8/7 they were rewarded with an Indigo Bunting at Rodeo Lagoon (DW, WL). This species appears to breed locally in very small numbers; one returning male individual at Loma Alta in the central county has been observed for years. This year it apparently bred with a female Lazuli Bunting again.
Up in the northwestern portion of the county a Sandhill Crane, very rare anytime of year in the county, was a surprise at the Teal Pond near Abbotts Lagoon (JW). Over by Limantour Estero on 8/11 a calling Golden Plover of some sort escaped positive certain identification as it flew overhead (PP).
With so many great birders and habitats all crammed together, its no wonder Bolinas often hosts some of the rarest birds of the period. A Least Tern on 8/7 hovering around the masses of arriving Elegant Terns was an exceptional sighting, for while they breed not far away, there are perhaps only a few observations in the entire county over the last decade (PP).
Also with the Elegant Terns on 8/2 were two Black Skimmers, which have become more regular visitors to the county in recent years as they appear to be moving north (SL). Rarest of all, however, is another bird that showed up this month on Bolinas Lagoon. A lone worn adult female Bar-tailed Godwit was discovered with hundreds of Marbled Godwits near the seal observation area. This bird has already been seen by dozens of birders and represents one of only a handful of records for nearby coastal counties.
Observers and Acronyms DW: David Wiechers, IS: Ivan Samuels, JTC: Josiah Clark, JW: Jim White, PP: Peter Pyle, SL: Sami LaRocca, WL: William Legge
Marin Birdlog: April-May 2016
By Josiah Clark
May showers have kept the hillsides green and prolonged spring processes for the first time in years. While the bayshore and mudflats are notably depleted of wintering water birds, the lush hills are alive with bird song. With wintering birds gone, land birds that are here now intend on breeding. As some birders anticipate the return of familiar north bound migrant songbirds in late April, so do vagrant-hunting birders anticipate the arrival the first vagrant songbirds in mid-May into mid-June. The fruiting of Red Elderberry near the coast in early to mid-June is another local birding phenomenon that should not be forgotten in the coming months.
None of our migrant songbirds is more tied to Red Elderberry than Swainson’s Thrush, and the first ones showed up “whitting” in our area around 4/19 (DE). Vaux’s Swifts numbers peaked at McNear Brickyard near San Rafael with 1366 on April 28. Not far away at Corte Madera Marsh, the presence of a Loggerhead Shrike in spring harkened back memories of another age when this species would have been a common breeder here.
In the county’s interior the Big Rock trailhead hosted not only returning Grasshopper Sparrows, but also a singing male Indigo Bunting for at least the 3rd year in a row on 5/12. This individual appears to fancy breeding with Lazuli Buntings (BA, LH).
Patch birders saw the Brown Booby from Rodeo Beach on 4/18, as almost all the other nearby ones appeared to have moved on (WL). On the continuing theme of unseasonal sightings from oceans to the south, was a preponderance of 111 Elegant Terns at Bolinas Lagoon on May 4. That’s an unprecedented and confounding number for this date; it’s presumed they are “prospecting” for new nest sites due to apparent food shortages on their Baja breeding grounds. Failed Brown Pelican breeders are returning early in numbers as well. Two Common Terns, uncommon migrants here, also showed up on the lagoon as well (PP).
The first outer Point Reyes vagrants for the year have included a Townsend’s Solitaire on 4/17 (EC), a Hooded Warbler 5/2 (MF) and a Yellow-breasted Chat on 5/6 (CA), with murmurs of other recent vagrants that didn’t get reported.
The most unbelievable sighting however was a wounded apparent Purple Sandpiper, photographed at Kehoe Beach on 4/25 (ML) and not seen again. This was not only a first Marin County record, but also a first NorCal record. Some believe this to be the same bird recently present at the Salton Sea, which was California’s first record for the species.
Observers and Acronyms BA: Bob Atwood, CA: Carlo Arreglo, DE: Daniel Edelstein, EC: Everett Clark, ES: Emily Strauss, LH: Lisa Hug, ME: Megan Elrod, MF: Mark Forney, ML: Matt Lau, PP: Peter Pyle, WL: William Legge
Marin Birdlog: March 2016
By Josiah Clark
With the arrival of March, so do arrive a handful of “First of Season” migrants. Coming from southern wintering grounds, these songbirds are the first to take advantage of all that spring has to offer. Longer days, tender foliage, the onset of blooming and the appearance of insects set the stage for the peak of the breeding season. Meanwhile winter residents here are also taking their cues from the landscape. As the days get warmer and the land gets drier those oh so common sparrows and kinglets will become only memories in just one month from now. With the best part of the wildflower season also upon us, March is definitely a month to keep your eyes open.
A distinctly winter associated sighting was a Glaucous Gull at Bolinas Lagoon on 2/17, likely taking a break from rough ocean conditions (PP). More recently at Bolinas Lagoon on 3/10, a Red-necked Grebe was another uncommon visitor (KH). Down south in Richardson Bay Bald Eagles continue to change the game for breeding herons and gulls amassing at herring runs 2/26 (KW).
The rarest bird in the county for the period was surely the Black Vulture at Abbotts Lagoon, which is most likely the same individual from last year (DH, SB).
Over in the eastern part of the county a Tufted Duck at Stafford Lake has been attracting birders since at least 2/26, who also observed Eurasian Wigeon and Cackling Geese there (MS, TP, RR). A field trip to Las Gallinas on 2/27 was treated to many noteworthy species including an unseasonal Barn Swallow (RROS).
First of season arrival dates include Warbling Vireo near Nicasio on March 1 (JY), Caspian Tern Richardson Bay on 3/10 (KW) and House Wren on Mt. Burdell on 3/15 (DE).
Observers and Acronyms DE: Daniel Edelstein, DH: David Herlocker, JY: Jim Yurchenco, KH: Keith Hansen, KW: Kerry Wilcox, MS: Mark Stevenson, PP: Peter Pyle, RR: Ruthie Rudesill, RROS: Redwood Regional Ornithological Society, SB: Shannon Burke, TP: Todd Plummer