Monthly Birdlog 2017

Marin Birdlog: December 2017      
By Noah Arthur   

December is Christmas Bird Count season, the beginning of deep winter when birders across Marin join forces to census our avifauna, and when many of our rarest birds are found.

The first rarity of the month was a Pacific Golden-plover at Limantour Beach on the 8th (DS).     

On the Cheep Thrills CBC on the 14th, two Swamp Sparrows showed themselves at Atherton Ave. (JC).     

The Pt. Reyes CBC on the 16th also turned up some good birds, including a Nelson’s Sparrow at Walker Creek (BT) and two Lapland Longspurs at Abbotts Lagoon (NA).  Many teams found good numbers of Red Crossbills, part of the continent-wide winter finch invasion that seemed to peter out early elsewhere but continue into midwinter on the West Coast.  However, overall this was a very unproductive year for rarities on this and other Christmas counts.  I can’t help but wonder if we are finally seeing the effects of overall bird population decline on the frequency of rarity occurrences.

Surely one of the oddest discoveries of the month was a Swainson’s Thrush captured by the Palomarin banding team at Pine Gulch near Bolinas on the 22nd (DH).

Winter Swainson’s Thrushes are often tentatively reported but rarely confirmed, and this furnished only the 3rd December capture of the species by the Palomarin banders.

A somewhat less unusual but still unseasonable find was a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher at Las Gallinas on the 24th (DM).

Another Nelson’s Sparrow was found at the Hamilton Bay Trail on the 24th (LC).  Continuing this season’s parade of Harris’s Sparrows on the California coast was an immature found on Mt. Tamalpais on Christmas morning (RA).    

Observers and Acronyms  BT:  Brian Turner, DH:  Diana Humple, DM:  Dominik Mosur, DS:  David Sexton, JC:  Josiah Clark, LC:  Lucas Corneliussen, NA:  Noah Arthur, RA:  R.J. Adams


Marin Birdlog:  November 2017   
By Noah Arthur    

November – the most beautiful month of the year on the California coast in my opinion – often produces an interesting mix of rare birds in Marin, with occasional late fall warblers or early winter gulls and waterfowl, as well as a few species that are late fall specialties, such as the Lapland Longspur found at Abbotts Lagoon on the 4th of this November (DH, JC).    

Another group of birds that seem to show up often in their largest numbers and diversity at this time of year is the murrelets, and on the 6th, many Marbled and a few Ancient Murrelets were spotted from a boat on Bolinas Bay (PP).   

An unusual inland sighting on the 10th was two Red Phalaropes at Las Gallinas (EN).      

A very nice bird, and another classic late fall/early winter rarity in coastal California, was a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker at Piper Park in Larkspur on the 14th (RC).

An even more unusual, though less pleasing, discovery was a mummified dead Dickcissel found lying in the parking lot at Stinson Beach on the 23rd (RD).  It is very possible that it was carried there from elsewhere on the grill of a car.

As usual for this time of year, a number of more common rarities showed up during the month, including a Golden Eagle over Larkspur on the 27th and a Lesser Yellowlegs at a small pond next to Gateway Shopping Center in Marin City, accompanied by several Greater Yellowlegs sidekicks (DE).  This is an interesting occurrence as it seems to suggest a pattern of Lesser Yellowlegs showing up in random little suburban ponds.  I had a similar sighting on the San Jose CBC last winter.

Observers and Acronyms  DH: Derek Heins, JC: Jim Chiropolos, PP: Peter Pyle, EN: Ed Nute, RC: Rich Cimino, RD: Ryan DiGaudio, DE: Daniel Edelstein


Marin Birdlog:  September  2017  
By Noah Arthur  

September is many Marin birders’ favorite month of the year, as it is eastern vagrant month. Point Reyes comes alive with colorful migrants from half a continent away, misoriented westwards on their flight to the tropics.   

As usual for September, there were far too many sightings of uncommon eastern migrants to comfortably fit into one birdlog.  Several eastern “rarities” are quite regular on the Outer Point and elsewhere along the coast – in fact, quite a bit more common than some of our western migrants – so I’m summarizing sightings of these species here:  Tennessee Warblers were seen on Outer Pt. Reyes on the 2nd (DS) and 17th (MS), and at Vision Rd. on the 24th (MS).  Chestnut-sided Warblers were seen on Outer Pt. Reyes on the 2nd (RO), 9th (ML; two together), 12th (JM) and 13th (MS), and at Rodeo Lagoon on the 5th (WL).  Blackpoll Warblers – a seemingly declining migrant that now seems as rare as Blackburnian and other rarer migrants – were found on Outer Pt. Reyes on the 12th (DS) and 23rd (JB).  American Redstarts were discovered at Rodeo Lagoon on the 2nd (WL), on Outer Pt. Reyes on the 6th (BB), 12th (JM) and 13th (MS), at China Camp State Park on the 11th (LH), and in Corte Madera on the 11th (NW).  Clay-colored Sparrows were found at Giacomini Marsh on the 12th (PP) and on Outer Pt. Reyes on the 17th (WA). 

In terms of birds rarer than those common rare warblers, a spectacular showing of 60 Black Swifts at Bolinas on the 1st got the month off to a good start (DH).

A much rarer eastern migrant, and one of the best birds of the month, was an immature male Baltimore Oriole at Mendoza Ranch on the Outer Point on the 3rd (JB).  

A superlative western migrant for the Outer Point was a Cassins Vireo spotted at the Lighthouse on the 6th (BB).  On the 8th, another exceedingly rare eastern vagrant visited the Outer Point, a young Painted Bunting (DS).

One of the best warblers of the month was a Mourning Warbler at the Fish Docks on Outer Pt. Reyes on the 11th (AL), which stayed around for quite a while and was seen by many.   

Much rarer than the Clay-colored sparrow it accompanied was a Brewer’s Sparrow at Giacomini Wetlands on the 12th(PP).   

September is not known for its gulls, but an unhealthy Sabine’s Gull at Rodeo Lagoon on the 13th was a surprise (WL).   

Only slightly less rare than the continuing Mourning Warbler was a Black-throated Green Warbler at the Fish Docks on the 13th (MS).  A different Mourning Warbler was at Drakes Beach on Outer Pt. Reyes on the 15th (KK).  Two more rare Interior West sparrows put in appearances at the Pt. Reyes Lighthouse, a Black-throated Sparrow on the 16th (AM), and a Green-tailed Towhee on the 17th (CA).              

A golden-plover found at Mendoza Ranch (DF) and identified as a Pacific was re-identified as an American Golden-plover on the 18th, after close scrutiny (SH, others). Another very unusual western migrant for the immediate coast was a Townsend’s Solitaire at Mendoza Ranch on the 23rd (JB). 

Meanwhile, another group on Pt. Reyes on the 23rd, led by WA, discovered some very nice eastern rarities including Bobolink, Gray-cheeked Thrush, and Northern Parula, which is one of Marin’s few eastern migrant warblers that is much rarer in fall than in spring.  Another Parula was accompanied by a Blackburnian Warbler and a Black-and-white Warbler at Vision Rd. on the 24th (MS).  By the 30th, two Parulas were at Vision Rd., along with a Red-eyed Vireo.   

On the 25th, a Marin Audubon field trip ventured to the Farallons, where highlights included Blue-footed and Brown Boobies (DW).  
The most spectacular influx of eastern warblers occurred late in the month.  Blackburnian Warblers seem to be increasing in frequency as a fall migrant on the Marin coast, and another was found at the Fish Docks on the 27th, along with an even rarer Cape May Warbler (MS).  At Nunes Ranch on the same day were Prairie and Magnolia Warblers (DK).  Conspicuously absent up to this point in the month, a Palm Warbler was at Las Gallinas on the 27th as well (DW), followed up by another Prairie Warbler in Inverness (DF) and an Ovenbird at Muir Beach (RC) on the 28th.  On subsequent days Prairie and Magnolia Warblers turned up at other cypress groves on the Outer Point, either representing newly-arriving birds or the same individuals doing a little sightseeing on their California vacation.    

Observers and Acronyms  AL: Albert Linkowski, AM: Alex Merritt, BB: Bob Battagin, CA: Carlo Arreglo, DF: Dea Freid, DH: Diana Humple, DK: Durrell Kapan, DS: Dan Singer, DW: David Wimpfheimer, JB: Jonah Benningfield, JM: Jean Myers, KK: Keith Kwan, LH: Lisa Hug, ML: Matt Lau, NW: Nick Whelan, PP: Peter Pyle, RC: Renee Cormier, RO: Rob O’Donnell, SH: Steve Howell, WA: Will Anderson   


Marin Birdlog:  August 2017      
By Noah Arthur       

August is shorebird month, with rare sandpipers and plovers popping up at marshes, creek mouths, and sewage ponds all along the California coast.  Other uncommon ‘summer’ waterbirds often make appearances, too, such as the juvenile Black Skimmer found on Rodeo Lagoon on the 5th (WL), likely dispersing from breeding colonies farther south in the Bay Area.   

A juvenile Semipalmated Sandpiper, one of the quintessential late summer rarities in our area, showed nicely at Pt. Reyes North Beach on the 8th (LK, NA), loafing on the sand with Least and Western Sandpiper flock-mates.  On the same day we saw the beginnings of fall songbird migration in the form of a Western Kingbird near Drakes Beach and a young female Black-throated Gray Warbler at the Pt. Reyes Fish Docks (LK, NA).  Additionally on the 8th, a Hermit Warbler was at the Fish Docks and a Bullock’s Oriole at Mendoza Ranch (DF).    

Another of the regular shorebird rarities of late summer, three juvenile Baird’s Sandpipers, put in an appearance at Abbotts Lagoon on the 15th (RS).  On the 17th another Baird’s Sandpiper was at Rodeo Lagoon (WL).  By the 19th there were at least six Baird’s Sandpipers in the vicinity of Abbotts Lagoon and another five at Kehoe Beach (ML).  This species is probably our most common ‘rare’ shorebird, with singletons and small flocks regularly stopping at our coastal lagoons and creek mouths during fall migration.  However, unlike the somewhat rarer Semipalmated, nearly all Baird’s Sandpipers on the California coast are juveniles, suggesting that this is not a “normal” migration route for the species and that they are vagrants in our area, despite their regular occurrence.    

A couple of early eastern migrants, a Least Flycatcher at the Fish Docks and a Rose-breasted Grosbeak along Sir Francis Drake Blvd., showed up at Pt. Reyes on the 18th (DS).     

Yet another great find on the Pt. Reyes shoreline was a Semipalmated Sandpiper at Limantour Beach on the 19th (ML), in addition to the flocks of Baird’s Sandpipers.  Seven more Baird’s Sandpipers were at Giacomini Wetlands (the south end of Tomales Bay) on the 20th, along with a Ruddy Turnstone (GS).    

As fall progressed further, the usual offshore parade of thousands of Sooty Shearwaters (300 passing per minute) was occurring at Muir Beach on the 29th (JW).    

Observers and Acronyms  DF: Dea Freid, DS: Dan Singer, GS: Graham Chisholm, JW: Jim White, LK: Logan Kahle, ML: Matt Lau, NA: Noah Arthur, RS: Rusty Scalf, WL: William Legge     


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