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

Notable Observations
Spring 2001

Eastern Phoebe

Eastern Phoebe

Pinyon Jay

Pinyon Jay

drawing of Mountain Bluebird

Mountain Bluebird

Yellow-breasted Chat

Yellow-breasted Chat

Drawings from Elliot Coues' 1903 Key to North American Birds and Spencer Baird's, T. M. Brewer's, and Robert Ridgway's 1874 History of North American Birds: Land Birds.

The incursion of certain montane birds was a unifying pattern in many of this winter's notable observations, but many unusual species unrelated to this event reached us as well. For this article, I owe much to Mike Evans, who not only operates the San Diego rare-bird phone hotline but puts the reports on a spreadsheet available on the World Wide Web at Please note that the function of the hotline and spreadsheet is to get the reports out quickly so they can be followed up, not to be an authoritative final record. Assessing the accuracy of the reports must be part of the process of analyzing the data.

A Brown Pelican flying over the San Pasqual Valley (J12) on 30 December was the first ever seen on an Escondido Christmas Bird Count—and probably the same individual found by Ed Hall at Lake Hodges on 17 November. The two Reddish Egrets and one Tricolored Heron wintering at the Tijuana estuary (V10) and San Diego River flood-control channel (R8) were routine, though representing the northern tip of both species' normal ranges on the Pacific coast.

The winter's most notable waterfowl was the Eurasian Green-winged Teal found in the San Diego River flood-control channel by Paul Lehman on 13 January. It was only the 9th ever found in San Diego County and the first in 11 years. Blue-winged Teal were unusually numerous in the same area—Richard Webster reported a maximum of 60. Ross' Geese, very rare in San Diego County 20 years ago, continue to increase so that now it is impossible to list every report. The White-fronted Goose, though, remains rare. John McColm and Mike Klein found two on Lake Ramona (L12) for the Escondido CBC, and Shirley Grain found three at Guajome Lake (G7) on 4 January. During our Boulevard blockbuster Ginger Rebstock and I were surprised to see two in square R27 flying west out Carrizo Gorge toward McCain Valley on 11 February.

Well-supported winter identifications of Swainson's Hawk are increasing but still exceptional. Michael Patten saw one soaring over Interstate 15 in Murphy Canyon (Q10) on 19 December. As usual now, Zone-tailed Hawks wintered at Oak Hill Cemetery (I12) and the Wild Animal Park (J12); one that cruised over Margaret McIntosh and me along Mussey Grade (M14) on 3 January was less expected. The Harris' Hawks in San Diego County are the only ones known in California. Two continued to be seen at Borrego Springs (G24), up to seven in McCain Valley north of Boulevard (S26). Bald Eagles showed up at some atypical sites: Whalen Lake (G6), Sweetwater Reservoir (S12), Japatul Valley (Q19), and Thing Valley (Q24).

Contravening what I wrote in the last Wrenderings, Clark Mahrdt, Jim Zimmer, and Ed Hall found a Mountain Quail at the unusually low elevation of 800 in extreme southern San Diego County, in Marron Valley (V16). Our blockbuster weekends also yielded some interesting observations of Long-eared Owls: in Vallecito Valley (M24) by Phil Nelson and Jim Wilson, in Marron Valley by Jim Zimmer, Ed Hall, and Clark Mahrdt, and near Cottonwood Campground by Margaret & Bert McIntosh. The White-winged Dove strays to the coast regularly in the fall but very rarely in winter. Steve Cameron saw one at Santee Lakes (P12) on 7 January.

Vaux's Swift winters fairly regularly in the Oceanside area, so the 40 that Pete Ginsburg saw there on 14 December were part of a pattern. But other Vaux's Swift observations, of one at Point Loma (S7) on 6 January by Joe Worley, of nine at Santee Lakes (P12) on 15 January by Ed Wallace, and 20 in Vallecito Valley on 2 December by Jim Wilson and Phil Nelson were quite unexpected. John and Beverly Hargrove's discovery of Allen's Hummingbird nesting in January at San Onofre State Beach casts a new light on all observations of wintering Selasphorus hummingbirds, such as that of Joni Ciarletta in Leucadia on 5 December and of Leslie Polinsky in Pottery Canyon, La Jolla, on 16 December.

Lewis' Woodpeckers were more widespread than usual, ranging west to Lilac (F10), where John & Beverly Hargrove saw one on 3 February, and south to the border in Marron Valley (V15), where Mike Mathos and I saw one on 13 January.

Four Eastern Phoebes in one winter is a large number for San Diego County: Dan Bylin found one near Black Mountain (M10) on 7 December, Pete Ginsburg and Jerry Smith one at Whelan Lake (G6) 14-15 December, Lori Hargrove and I one at Roadrunner Tree Farm (E25) on 17 December, and Gary Grantham one at Kumeyaay Lake (P12) on 6 February. Two Tropical Kingbirds were even less expected, especially since both were in inland valleys: Royce Riggan found one in Moreno Valley north of Lakeside (O13) 18-23 January, Pete Ginsburg one in Bonsall (F8) on 8 February. Phil Nelson encountered a Cassin's Kingbird, very rare in the desert, for the Borrego CBC on 17 December. The Greater Pewee is an occasional winter visitor. Pete Ginsburg found one in Bonsall on 2 December

Because of its extreme irregularity the Pinyon Jay is one of birders' most coveted species for San Diego County. The flock of up to 30 discovered by Kathie Satterfield on 28 December at Stonewall Mine (M20) remained to delight many observers. Clark's Nutcrackers also turned up: Robert Patton found five on Volcan Mt. for the Lake Henshaw CBC on 18 December, and Brennan Mulrooney reported one at Paso Picacho Campground (M20) on 4 February.

The winter's invasion of Mountain Bluebirds was the greatest I have ever experienced. They occurred in many squares where not reported in the preivous three winters. The largest numbers were 160 west of Peg Leg Road (F25), where Lori Hargrove and I found them for the Borrego CBC, 200 along Rangeland Road (K13), reported by Leslie Polinsky, 240 west of Dulzura (T16), where Lori Hargrove and Bryan O'Leary found them during our Jamul blockbuster, and 270 in Marron Valley, where Ed Hall, Clark Mahrdt, and Jim Zimmer found them the same day. Townsend's Solitaires also participated in the montane invasion, cropping up in places as unexpected as the summit of Otay Mountain, where Joe Barth found four. Golden-crowned Kinglets were found in the mountains in numbers as high as 17 on Hot Springs Mountain (E20) by Ken Weaver and Clark Mahrdt. Some scattered as far the coast—Sue Smith found six in Del Mar Heights (N7)

Finches were also an important component of the montane invasion. Cassin's Finches scattered widely above 3000 feet elevation, in numbers as large as the 55 reported by Royce Riggan at Lake Cuyamaca (M20). Pine Siskins were less numerous than expected from reports during the fall but still occurred in numbers as large as the 75 encountered by Maryanne Bache and Carol Manning near the Los Coyotes Reservation headquarters (F20) on 12 December. Evening Grosbeaks occurred at Paso Picacho Campground: Gjon Hazard reported eight on 6 January, Brennan Mulrooney 10 on 4 February. A few Red Crossbills reached us too. People looking for the Pinyon Jays reported up to 6 near Stonewall Mine 6-7 January, Paul Jorgensen had 8 near the Baptist camp on Palomar Mountain (D14) on 22 December, and I heard two flying over near Live Oak Springs (S25) on 10 February.

Fifteen species of warblers were reported in the county this winter. Besides the more or less common Yellow-rumped, Orange-crowned, Townsend's, and Common Yellowthroat, there were three or four each of the Yellow, Black-throated Gray, Wilson's, and American Redstart, as usual. Less frequent as wintering species are the Nashville [Balboa Park (R9), 23 December, Gus Hollenbeck; San Onofre State Beach (C1), 20 January, John & Beverly Hargrove], Palm [Tijuana River valley (W11), 24 January, Rob Power], and Northern Waterthrush [Tijuana River valley (V11), 28 December, Dennis Parker). The Black-throated Green wintering in Doug Aguillard's yard in National City (T10) returned for a fourth year. Pete Ginsburg found a Hermit in Bonsall on 26 December. By far the most notable warbler was the Yellow-breasted Chat seen and heard in the Tijuana River valley (V10) by Bill Haas for the San Diego CBC on 16 December. The latest previous fall date for San Diego County was 2 December.

Birders now know to search the Tijuana estuary at high tide for Sharp-tailed Sparrows. Ed Wallace found two there on 9 January. The familiar Hooded Oriole is extremely rare in winter. Jim Wilson saw one at his home in Hillcrest (R9) on 1 December, Pete Ginsburg one between Fallbrook and Bonsall (E8) on 3 December. Totally unexpected was the Blue Grosbeak Mike Mathos and I encountered near Moretti's Junction (H18) on 12 December, only the 5th known for the county in winter. I had never before seen a male Blue Grosbeak in fresh plumage, when the blue is muted by exquisite chestnut feather edges and the undertail coverts are boldly outlined in silvery white.

Surely the least expected exotic reported this winter was the Darter Rich Breisch and Jim Hannan encountered at Barrett Lake (S18). The Darter is the Old World representative of the Anhinga, and one had been seen at the Salton Sea last summer.

--Philip Unitt