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

Notable Observations
Summer 2001

Drawing of pair of Lark Buntings

Lark Buntings

Thanks as always to Mike Evans for maintaining the spreadsheet of calls to the San Diego Field Ornithologists' rare bird hotline, essential to this column.

Boobies, virtually unknown in the ocean off San Diego 10 years ago, now crop up occasionally. Richard Webster reports an adult Brown off Point Loma (S7) 8 April, Joe Worley an adult white-phase Red-footed there 20 April.

The Yellow-crowned Night Heron at Scripps Institution of Oceanography (O7) hung out with the Black-crowned Night Heron colony there again this spring--this bird is now thought to be 20 years old. Another old-timer, the Wood Stork at the Wild Animal Park, still survives too, reported by Brennan Mulrooney on 1 April. White-faced Ibises are colonizing a third site in San Diego County this year: Linda Holt saw one carrying a stick at Calaveras Lake (H7), Carlsbad, on 3 April.

Black Brant can be seen migrating northwest up the corridor of San Felipe Valley (H21) even in fine weather: Margaret McIntosh and I saw a flock of 40 there on 26 April.

San Diego County's two nesting pairs of Ospreys both enjoyed success this year, at North Island (S9) and Scripps Ranch High School (N10). Randy West reported the pair of Harris' Hawks nesting near the McCain Valley prison camp, then on 6 May Frank Unmack and Mike Evans saw them carrying nest material to last year's site (S26). Migrating Swainson's Hawks were seen in pretty good numbers this year, especially in north Borrego Springs (F24), where Ann & Tom Keenan saw 40 on 6 April, Paulette Ache 50 on 15 April.

Mountain Quail appeared at unusually low elevations along the east base of the mountains this year, down to 950 feet at Whitaker Horse Camp (D24), where Ken Weaver, Susan & Rich Breisch, and Ed Hall and Jim Zimmer all encountered them independently, with a high count of 4 on 4 April.

Barbara Anderson encountered a Solitary Sandpiper, far scarcer in spring than in fall, at the mouth of Aliso Creek (F4) on 31 March. Similarly, the White-winged Dove reaches the coast very rarely in spring, but Tony Mercieca had one at his home in Chula Vista (U11) on 4 May.

During our Lake Henshaw blockbuster on 12 May Geoff Rogers found a pair of Burrowing Owls carrying food items near the junction of highways 79 and S2 (G18). The species was resident here formerly, and this pair may be the last remnant.

New locations for pairs of Vermilion Flycatchers this year are in western Vallecito Valley (M25), where Phil Nelson found them nesting at a ranch pond on 21 March, and Monkey "Island" at Lake Henshaw (G17) , where Susan & Rich Breisch found them during our blockbuster on 12 May. The Breisches also found a pair at Whitaker Horse Camp on 13 April, but the birds had disappeared by their follow-up visit on 13 May. Paul Jorgensen found that the pair of Brown-crested Flycatchers had returned to the Roadrunner Club in Borrego Springs (F24) by 16 May. Brennan Mulrooney discovered a Tropical Kingbird, unprecedented in San Diego County in spring, at Border Field State Park (W10) 26-28 April.

The Pinyon Jays near Lake Cuyamaca remained far into the spring--Jim Burke reported 7 at Los Caballos Campground (M20) on 2 May. The Black-throated Magpie Jays, native of western mainland Mexico, popular cagebirds in Baja California, and long-persisting escapees around San Diego, nested near Border Field for a second consecutive year.

As might be expected after an invasion winter, Townsend's Solitaires, Evening Grosbeaks, and Cassin's Finches were seen unusually late into the spring. John and Beverly Hargrove had a solitaire near Crosley Saddle in the Agua Tibia Wilderness (C13) on 18 April. Bob Thériault and Mark Jorgensen had an Evening Grosbeak at Paso Picacho Campground (M20) on 26 April. Most interesting among the Cassin's Finch reports was John Hargrove's of 9 near the Los Coyotes campground (F21) on 5 May--suggesting the best spot to search for the possible first nesting of this species in San Diego County.

Dave Seals and Shannon Peters encountered a male Lark Bunting, a rare and irregular visitor to San Diego County, in northern Clark Valley (C25) in the Anza-Borrego Desert on 7 May. Pete Ginsburg found a Clay-colored Sparrow, regular in fall but very rare in spring, at Cabrillo National Monument (S7) on 1 May.

Unusual numbers of Brewer's Sparrows near the coast suggested this species might be doing something unusual this year. The species nested formerly in the inland valleys of southern California, like the San Fernando, now urbanized, but its breeding range has now retracted largely into the Great Basin. In some years it can still be migrating through the Anza-Borrego Desert late in May, but on 29 April Paul Jorgensen had six in a stand of Great Basin sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata) in Ranchita (H22) suitable for Brewer's Sparrow's breeding. Then on 6 May Ginger Rebstock and Jim Determan found a very agitated Brewer's Sparrow in the Manzanita Indian Reservation (R25), and on 13 May Barbara Bell, Ginger Rebstock, and I found another just west of Paul's Ranchita location in H21. We heard the male singing nearby, and finally I found the nest, first of this species known in San Diego County. Joe Barth found a Brewer's Sparrow carrying white fluff in the northern end of McCain Valley (R26) on 17 May, suggesting there are two regions where the species is nesting in San Diego County.

Rare warblers seen in early spring that probably spent the winter locally were a Virginia's in La Jolla (P7) on 16 March (Phil Nelson), a Chestnut-sided at the Self-Realization Fellowship in Encinitas (K6) on 20 March (Gjon Hazard), and a Yellow-throated in Mira Mesa (N9) 9-15 March (Therese Clawson). Notable vagrants later in the spring, not counting the annually occurring Parula and Black-and-white, were a Golden-winged, only the fourth for San Diego County, found by Richard Webster at Cabrillo National Monument 15-19 May, and a Hooded found by Brennan Mulrooney at Border Field 26 April.

Several Summer Tanagers were reported, some likely vagrants of the eastern subspecies rubra, others likely summer residents of the western subspecies cooperi. Among the latter we have one at last year's nesting location near Scissors Crossing, where Paul Jorgensen found one on 28 April, and two other desert locations, along Coyote Creek above Lower Willows (C23), where Dave Seals found one on 1 May, and Vallecito Creek at the east end of Mason Valley (M23), where Bob Thériault found one on 11 May.

--Philip Unitt

Summer 2001 Wrenderings | Wrenderings Archive | Bird Atlas Introduction