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

Notable Observations
Winter 2001

It was a lively fall for rare birds in San Diego County or, I should say, at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery on Point Loma, where intense scrutiny by many birders probably let few birds slip through unnoticed. Nevertheless, the reappearance of multiple individuals of species like the Blackpoll Warbler and Bobolink, which were far more frequent 25 or 30 years ago, suggested it really was a good year for eastern vagrants. With the Curlew Sandpiper, Red-throated Pipit, and above all Northern Wheatear, we got a little taste of Asia too. Thanks very much as always to Mike Evans for maintaining the spreadsheet of reports to the San Diego Field Ornithologists' rare bird hotline (619-688-2473).

A Harris' Hawk reappeared in Borrego Springs (G24), where Bob Thériault, Paul Jorgensen, and Mark Jorgensen encountered it on three occasions between 1 and 25 October. One of the Harris' Hawks in McCain Valley (S26), though, was found dead and largely decomposed in late August. It was brought to Randy West, who passed it on to me; we will preserve the skeleton in the museum's research collection.

Evidence is mounting that Swainson's Hawks use the Borrego Valley as a migration corridor in fall as well as in spring. Paul Jorgensen checked out a report of a flock of hawks and found at least 50 Swainson's at Riviera Farms on 27 October.

The fall's prize shorebird was the Curlew Sandpiper at San Elijo Lagoon on 9 August, discovered independently by Andy Mauro, Brennan Mulrooney, and David Blue. It is only the third recorded in San Diego County. Other notable sandpipers were a Semipalmated at San Elijo Lagoon on 8 August (Guy McCaskie), and Stilt in northeastern Mission Bay on 31 October (Joe Worley), and good numbers of Baird's, up to 6 at the Tijuana River valley's sod fields on 13 September (Brian Foster).

Lee and Claudia Taylor found an Inca Dove at the unexpected location of the Home Depot store in Encinitas on 24 July. We can expect ever more frequent sightings of this expanding species preadapted to suburbia. Another species originating from the same direction is the Broad-billed Hummingbird; Richard Webster found one at Fort Rosecrans cemetery on 22 October.

Vagrant flycatchers were two Leasts, at Fort Rosecrans 21-22 September (Gjon Hazard) and in the Tijuana River valley 15-16 October (Robert Patton), a Great Crested--only the third for San Diego County--at Fort Rosecrans 10-13 October (Richard Webster), and an Eastern Phoebe there 2 November (Joe Worley). Another vagrant formerly more frequent that cropped up this year was the Red-eyed Vireo, at Fort Rosecrans 19-20 September (Guy McCaskie).

Sketch by Louise Fuertes of Brown Thrasher

The Brown Thrasher that spent the summer at Cabrillo National Monument, staying through its molt until 13 September, was unprecedented--but recalled a parallel occurrence of a Gray Catbird at the same location in 1988. Guy McCaskie located a Red-throated Pipit at the sod farm in the Tijuana River valley 13-19 October.

I can estimate the numbers of eastern vagrants of the more frequent species only approximately, some being seen at Fort Rosecrans almost continuously for weeks. For the county as a whole, it looks like we had about six Clay-colored Sparrows, four Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, three Tennessee Warblers, two Virginia's, four Chestnut-sideds, four Black-throated Blues, six Blackburnians, six Palms, five Blackpolls, six Black-and-whites, eight American Redstarts, and possibly as many at ten Magnolias. Less frequent warblers were the Black-throated Green (one at Fort Rosecrans 13-14 October), Pine (one there 4-6 October), Bay-breasted (one there 20-21 September), Prothonotary (one there 16 September), Painted Redstart (up to two there 18-24 September), Ovenbird (one at Cabrillo National Monument 11 October), Hooded (one at Point Loma Nazarene University 7 October), Canada (one in the Tijuana River valley 18 September and one at Fort Rosecrans 27-28 October), and Yellow-throated (one at San Elijo Lagoon 24 October). The Grace's Warbler that showed up at Fort Rosecrans on 30 September was still there on 3 November, suggesting it may be intending to stay the winter. The eastern subspecies of the Summer Tanager is a regular visitor to southern California, so four individuals of that were routine, but three Scarlet Tanagers in one fall is exceptional for this species that does not show up every year.

Richard Webster found a Dickcissel at Sunset Cliffs Park on 13 October. Notable orioles were Gjon Hazard's Baltimore in Cardiff on 20 September and Guy McCaskie's Orchard at Fort Rosecrans 20-21 September. A neglected tomato field in the Tijuana River valley attracted several rare birds, especially three Bobolinks, 15-22 October.

Might we have back-to-back invasion winters for mountain birds? A few reports so far suggest this may be possible. Mary Beth Stowe found two Townsend's Solitaires on Middle Peak in the Cuyamaca Mountains on 22 September, Mike Evans found one at Fort Rosecrans on 12 October, and Richard Webster found a Varied Thrush there 22-24 October. And Sean Buchanan reported one of the least frequent montane invaders, a Williamson's Sapsucker along the Azalea Glen trail in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park on 23 September.

--Philip Unitt

Winter 2001 Wrenderings | Wrenderings Archive | Bird Atlas Introduction