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

Notable Observations
Winter 1998

Whenever you make a notable observation, please don't neglect to report it to Guy McCaskie (954 Grove St., Imperial Beach 91932; for possible inclusion in his quarterly column on southern California birds in Field Notes (formerly American Birds) as well as to me for inclusion in our Bird Atlas database. It should go without saying that you need to include enough details about the sighting (detailed description of the bird, date, exact location, duration) to convince Guy (and so the broader community) of the accuracy of your identification. Caution and a critical attitude are fundamental if our observations are to have scientific value and stand the test of time. And if you discover something other birders are likely to want to see, please call the rare bird tape at (619) 479-3400. Thanks to Guy for help with this issue's list of fall vagrants.

Since the last issue of Wrenderings, many more breeding records arrived, some demonstrating that many species nested far later in the year than is typical. A prime example is Dave Povey's fledgling Barn Owl still in its nest cavity at Oakzanita Campground (O20) on 2 September.

Clark's Grebe may have colonized another new locality: the upper end of Loveland Reservoir (Q17). On 22 June, Pete Famolaro found one on a nest but no mate, so there may have been just a single bird with no more outlet for its hormones.

Though Eared Grebes summered in several places this year, Bill Haas' observation of two fledglings with their parent along the San Diego River in Santee on 30 April was the only confirmation of nesting -- the first for our atlas period of this irregular breeder in San Diego County.

Important colonies of the Brown Pelican nest on Los Coronados Islands, but the species has never been confirmed to nest on San Diego County's coast. So Cliff Oliver's photographing a pair copulating and carrying a stick at La Jolla (P7) in May was quite a surprise. No more observations of an actual nest followed, so it seems the birds didn't follow through, but clearly the cliffs of La Jolla merit close inspection for possible pelican nests next year.

The new Double-crested Cormorant colony at the upper end of Sweetwater Reservoir grew appreciably in 1998, its third year, to 28 active nests, counted by Pete Famolaro on 8 May. The species may be colonizing Lake Jennings (O14), too: Mary Beth Stowe suspected four of nest building there on 19 June.

Guy McCaskie found an immature Tricolored Heron at the Tijuana River mouth (V10) on 25 July, an immature Reddish Egret there 2 August. Both seem to be staying the winter, and Barbara Moore and her class found an adult Reddish Egret with the immature on 4 October.

The Yellow-crowned Night Heron returned to the Black-crowned Night Heron colony at Scripps Institution of Oceanography for its 17th year, as confirmed by Marjorie Hastings on 7 May. It foraged as far afield as the mouth of Rose Canyon at the NE corner of Mission Bay (Q8), where Bryan O'Leary saw it on 22 June.

Besides the sea ducks summering on San Diego Bay mentioned in the last Wrenderings, several puddle ducks irregular at that season stayed for the summer. Ann and Tom Keenan and Paul Jorgensen found pairs of Pintails summering on Cuyamaca Lake (M20 and 21), and Pete Famolaro and Rich and Susan Breisch found individuals on Sweetwater Reservoir (S12) and Lake Morena (S22), respectively. The Pintail nests only occasionally in San Diego County and hasn't yet been confirmed nesting during our atlas period.

The Shoveler is even less frequent in summer, with only one nesting known in the county, in 1978. C. C. Gorman noted two at Whelan Lake (G6) on 17 June, Bill Haas one along the San Diego River in Santee (P13) on 19 June.

The Blue-winged Teal has never nested in San Diego County, though it did at Bolsa Chica in Orange County in 1993 and 1995. So its addition to San Diego County's list of breeding species remains possible, especially in light of C. C. Gorman's observation of one at Whelan Lake (G6) on 17 June.

Is there a square in San Diego County where all three species of quail occur? Mel Gabel found it: G23, Hellhole Canyon. The Mountain as well as the California Quail occurs in the southwestern corner of the square around Culp Valley and Pea Spring, while the Gambel's occurs near the northeastern corner, at the foot of the Montezuma Grade.

Two juvenile American Golden Plovers showed up on the sod farms in the Tijuana River valley (W11) in October, on the 9th (Elizabeth Copper) and the 18th (Guy McCaskie).

Solitary Sandpipers were unusually numerous in the early fall, with Pete Ginsburg estimating a maximum of 10 along the Tijuana River (W11) on 4 September. He found four Baird's at the Santa Margarita River mouth (G4) on 25 August and two Stilt Sandpipers there 21-23 August; perhaps one of the same birds was seen a short distance upstream at the Stuart Mesa ponds (G5) on the 30th by Robbie Fischer.

After two breeding seasons, the decline of the Burrowing Owl in San Diego County becomes ever clearer and more alarming. In the Borrego Valley, only two pairs have been found, one at the Borrego Valley Airport (F25) by Paul Jorgensen, the other, apparently unsuccessful, at the Borrego Air Ranch (H26) by Mel Gabel.

Two notable records of nesting Say's Phoebes come to us through Meryl Faulkner of Project Wildlife. Nestlings were recovered from nests destroyed in the Morley Field area of Balboa Park (R9) and Mar Vista High School in Imperial Beach (V10), the last when it was hosed off a building during routine maintenance. These extend Say's Phoebe's breeding range about as close to the coast as it can goİİand show it to be far broader on the coastal slope than I anticipated when we began the atlas project.

Ken Weaver confirmed the first nesting of the Warbling Vireo during our atlas period with a fledgling as well as three singing males along the Santa Margarita River north of Fallbrook (C7) on 4 July. Will the widespread trapping of cowbirds being done on behalf of the Bell's Vireo also bring the Warbling back from the brink of extirpation as a breeding species in San Diego County?

Please report exotics as well as native species. For better or worse, foreign birds are becoming more and more a part of our environment. Several species that seem to be establishing themselves in metropolitan Los Angeles are beginning to show up in San Diego County. Ginger Johnson has identified three species of parakeets of the neotropical genus Aratinga around Ocean Beach and Point Loma (R7, S7), the Blue-crowned, the Mitred, and the Red-masked. Most notably, she observed two fledglings of the Red-masked with their parent, the first reported nesting of this native of Ecuador in San Diego County. The Red-crowned Parrot of the genus Amazona may be the most widespread and numerous parrot in San Diego, as it is in Los Angeles. Ed Wallace (Q8) has identified them in Pacific Beach, Luis Santaella and Ginger Johnson in Ocean Beach (R7), and I in Hillcrest (R9). Dave Seals has noted an apparently separate flock in El Cajon (Q13).

Ed Hall reported a Nutmeg Mannikin, a small brown finchlike native of southeast Asia now numerous in Los Angeles, on 1 June near the east end of Lake Hodges (K11). Freeman Hall had two pairs of Cockatiels near his home in Solana Beach (L7). This popular cagebird, native to Australia, has established itself in Florida. Marj Freda had a Painted Bunting come to her feeder in Fallbrook (D8) for three days in May. The Painted Bunting is a popular cagebird in Mexico, though some immatures are thought to reach California as natural vagrants in fall. Black-throated Magpie Jays continue to be seen in Bonita (T11) and the Tijuana River valley; Jack Schlotte and I had a pair along Hollister Road (W10/11) on 25 October.

Fall migration in San Diego County in 1998 was comparatively uneventful, with fewer vagrant land birds than in other areas along the California coast. Still, several showed up on Point Loma (S7) in October, such as the Red-eyed Vireo found by Therese Clawson on the 1st, the Yellow-green Vireo by Guy McCaskie on the 17th, the Gray Catbird by Joe Worley on the 27th and 28th, and the Brown Thrasher by Jim and Donna Sams on the 21st. Joe Worley found some notable warblers there, a Prairie on the 4th and a Chestnut-sided Warbler on the 12th, plus a Baltimore Oriole on the 14th.

Richard Webster found a Black-throated Green Warbler on Point Loma 3-4 November, and Doug Aguillard had one return to his yard in National City (T11) to spend its third winter.

A male Black-throated Blue Warbler struck a window at Chris Finner's home near Iron Mountain north of Lakeside (M13) about 4 October, supplying only the second specimen of this eastern warbler for San Diego County.

At the historic "Myers' Ranch" in the Tijuana River Valley (W10), Elizabeth Copper found another Black-throated Blue 16-18 October, and I found an immature Broad-winged Hawk on 18 October. At the nearby sod fields (W11), Elizabeth found a Lapland Longspur on 23 October.

Mary Beth Stowe's Bendire's Thrasher in Blair Valley (L24) was the first found in the Anza-Borrego Desert in fall.

A scattering of northern mountain birds seen this fall presages some interesting birding this winter, even if the numbers are far fewer than in the invasion of 1996/97. Species reported so far are the Varied Thrush, Red-breasted Nuthatch [found at Lake O'Neill (E6) as early as 27 August by Pete Ginsburg], Brown Creeper, Winter Wren [at William Heise County Park (K20) by Mary Beth Stowe], Golden-crowned Kinglet, and Pine Siskin.

--Philip Unitt

Winter 1998 Wrenderings | Wrenderings Archive | Bird Atlas Introduction