San Diego Natural History Museum--Your Nature Connection[San Diego County Bird Atlas Project]

Notable Observations
Spring 2000

Though I must write this column before receiving many of our participants' reports, there is still much to summarize, including the results of the Christmas Bird Counts (CBCs). Thanks very much to Mike Evans for forwarding a copy of his spreadsheet of sightings reported to the San Diego Field Ornithologists' rare bird phone line (619-NUT-BIRD).

The Fork-tailed Storm-Petrel very rarely gets as far south as San Diego County but has been seen from shore a few times at La Jolla. Stan Walens reported two off Los Peñasquitos Lagoon (N7) for the Rancho Santa Fe CBC, the first of the species on any San Diego County count.

The Reddish Egret at the San Dieguito River mouth (M7) stayed through the winter, as did the regular one around south San Diego Bay and Imperial Beach (U/V10). At least one Tricolored Heron wintered in the same area. The Wood Stork that has made its home in the Wild Animal Park survived for its 10th Escondido CBC.

The 17 White-fronted Geese seen on Sweetwater Reservoir (S12) by Pete Famolaro were a good number of this now rare visitor to San Diego County. Ross' Geese continue to be found in ever increasing numbers, with at least seven this winter, including two in Borrego Springs (G24) by Paulette Ache. The Black and White-winged Scoters barely make it as far south as San Diego County any more. On the San Diego CBC, Stan Walens had one Black at Border Field State Park (W10), Guy McCaskie one White-winged—and one Oldsquaw—at the Imperial Beach pier (V10). Yet there were two Harlequin Ducks, historically far rarer: one wintering at the Imperial Beach pier, another seen by Stan Walens flying by the mouth of the Los Peñasquitos Lagoon on the Rancho Santa Fe CBC.

Two Harris' Hawks, left over from the invasion of 1994, persist around Borrego Springs, seen usually on the south side of town in square G24 but with one report from the state park headquarters in F23. Zone-tailed Hawks wintered at their usual spots, being found for Escondido CBC at the Wild Animal Park (J12) by Ken Weaver and Oak Hill Cemetery (I12) by Christine Rideout. At Oak Hill, the gardener feeds the hawk the gophers he traps.

With the decline of agriculture in the Tijuana River valley, the Pacific Golden Plover has become ever less frequent as a winter visitor to San Diego County. On the San Diego CBC Royce Riggan found one at the Tijuana River mouth; later it moved east to Ream Field, where located by Gjon Hazard. Rarely does the Elegant Tern stay late enough in the fall to be found on the San Diego CBC, but on this year's count Robert Patton observed two at North Island (S8).

A few Selasphorus hummingbirds winter regularly around nectar-bearing flowers near the coast, but identifying them confidently as Rufous or Allen's is rarely possible. One of those rare opportunities arose with the fatal injury of an Allen's in La Jolla (P7), brought to the museum by hummingbird rehabilitator Leslie van Epps. This second winter specimen of the Allen's from San Diego County increases our confidence in the identification of apparent adult male Allen's wintering at the homes of Barbara Moore in Del Mar (N7) and of Leslie herself in Pacific Beach (Q7). Yet the Rufous is known in winter too, and Doris Yates reported an apparent male at an unusual place—De Anza Country Club, Borrego Springs (F24), for the Borrego CBC. Leslie Polinsky found spring migrants of both species on schedule in Pottery Canyon, La Jolla, on 5 February.

Lewis' Woodpeckers failed to show in their usual areas around Mesa Grande but made an appearance farther south and east than usual. The largest numbers—eight—were farthest east, east of Hot Springs Mt. in Los Coyotes Indian Reservation (E21), found during the Borrego Springs CBC by Mark Jorgensen, and in the upper end of McCain Valley (R26), found during our Campo/Boulevard blockbuster by Joe Barth.

The Least Flycatcher found by Guy McCaskie at the Dairy Mart Rd. pond in the Tijuana River valley (V11) returned for its second year. A wintering Eastern Phoebe at Fort Rosecrans Cemetery, Point Loma (S7), obliged the San Diego CBC by staying to be recorded by Joe Worley. But the most notable observation of a rare wintering flycatcher, by Robert Patton and David Stanton on the Rancho Santa Fe CBC, was of a Western Kingbird near San Elijo Lagoon (L7). Since there are very few good winter records of the Western for southern California, and it is so frequently confused on CBCs with the commonly wintering Cassin's Kingbird, it was fortunate that Robert and David could study it long and carefully, comparing it directly with nearby Cassin's.

Mountain Bluebirds seemed more widespread than usual on the coastal slope, if not in the desert, this winter, with a maximum of 100 near Lake Cuyamaca by Ann and Tom Keenan, and a few reaching the southwestern part of the county, where Sean Buchanan found one near Upper Otay Lake (T13) and I found one in Johnson Canyon, Otay Mesa (V13). The Gray Catbird at Cabrillo National Monument, Point Loma (S7) was only the eighth confirmed wintering anywhere in California. Sage Thrashers were found on the coastal slope on the Blankenship Ranch, Carlsbad (I7), by Dennis Wysong, in Pamo Valley (J15) by Bill Haas, and on the Lodge Ranch adjacent to the Agua Tibia Wilderness (C12) by Jim Determan; there were also many reports of this scarce winter visitor in the Anza-Borrego Desert.

[Winter Wren illustration by  Nicole Perretta

Winter Wren illustration
by Nicole Perretta

The Winter Wren discovered summering in Jeff Valley, Palomar Mountain (E15) by Clark Mahrdt and Ed Hall stayed to winter; others were found for the Lake Henshaw CBC in Matagual Valley (H19) by Royce Riggan and Bryan O'Leary and on Volcan Mountain (I20) by Robert Patton.

With at least nine seen this year, the Barn Swallow, once almost unknown in winter, is becoming ever more frequent. This winter sightings of the Barn are ahead of those of the Violet-green and Rough-winged and second only to the regularly wintering Tree Swallow.

A mild dry winter like this one seems unlikely to bring us birds of the far north, but David Stanton discovered a Tree Sparrow in Lopez Canyon (N7)—following another observed on Point Loma earlier in the fall. Don Adams found a Sharp-tailed Sparrow, a rare winter visitor to tidal salt marshes, in the Tijuana estuary (V10).

In addition to the more or less common Yellow-rumped, Orange-crowned, Townsend's, and Common Yellowthroat, several species of warblers winter rarely but regularly near the coast, and this year had more than normal, with at least three Nashvilles, eight Yellows, 13 Black-throated Grays, three Black-and-whites, two American Redstarts, three Northern Waterthrushes, and four Wilson's. Not only did the Black-throated Green Warblers at Guajome Lake (G7) and National City (T11) return for their third winters, a new one turned up in the Otay Valley, where I was lucky enough to find it for the San Diego CBC.

A scattering of wintering Summer Tanagers at low elevations is normal, but tour leader Barry Zimmer (finder of the Famosa Slough Tufted Duck) found two Hepatics along the fire road up Cuyamaca Peak (M20), a record with no precedent.

--Philip Unitt

Spring 2000 Wrenderings | Wrenderings Archive | Bird Atlas Introduction