Even though, as I write this, the winter season is not yet complete and we await the results of many observers, so many notable observations have been made only a severely abbreviated summary is possible. Last year we soaked up the offerings of El Niño; this year we were lashed by the Santa Ana winds of La Niña. Still, this winter afforded more days of birding, and more birds likely survived the winter. But the lack of rain forebodes a breeding season shorter than the last.
Just one Reddish Egret visited San Diego County this year, recorded on the San Diego Christmas Bird Count (CBC) in the salt works (U10) by Dave Seals and John Walters. But there were at least two Tricolored Herons, one found at the south end of San Diego Bay (U10) by Phil Pryde, the other at the unusual freshwater site of the Dairy Mart Road pond in the Tijuana R. valley (V11) by Guy McCaskie. One of the birds later moved to NE Mission Bay (Q8), where noted by Joe Worley. As more of us learn the "wack, wack, wack, wack" call of the Least Bittern this species, formerly thought rare in winter, is reported more and more oftenin 8 squares so far this winter. The Wood Stork that has taken up permanent residence at Heart of Africa in the Wild Animal Park lived to be recorded on its ninth Escondido CBC.
A flock of 50 White-fronted Geese flying west high over the intersection of highways 79 and S2 (G18) was a big surprise to Geoff Rogers and me. Ross' Geese seem to be getting more and more frequent in San Diego County with 6 reports this winter, from E of Bonsall (E9) by Ed Hall and Jane Evans, E Buena Vista Lagoon (H6) by Peter Willman, the Wild Animal Park (J12) by Ken Weaver, Santee Lakes (P12) by Ed Post, the SE corner of Lake Morena (T22) by Sue Smith, and Campo (U23) by Dave Seals. Eurasian Wigeons were also reported from 5 squares: Pala Mesa (D9, Ed Hall), Lake Henshaw (G17, Jim Zimmer), E Batiquitos Lagoon (J7, Ralph Stone), Questhaven (J8, Pete Ginsburg) and the Sweetwater River, National City (T10, Doug Aguillard).
It was a better winter than last for northern ducks: Ed Wallace compared 6 Greater Scaups with the many Lessers in NE Mission Bay (Q8) on 18 Jan. Jim Morris found an Oldsquaw at an unprecedented inland site, Lake Murray (Q11), while Ed Hall counted a high of 5 from Harbor Island in N San Diego Bay (S8). Richard and Susan Breisch and Pete Ginsburg found Common Goldeneyes in E3 and G4 in Camp Pendleton, Joe Worley had one in NE Mission Bay (Q8), Tim Burr, Orval Carter, and Deborah Bieber had one on Lake Hodges (K10) for the Rancho Santa Fe CBC, and Dave Seals and John Walters found 6 in the salt works (V10) for the San Diego CBC. Hooded Mergansers appeared in at least 9 squares, with a maximum of 6 near La Posta (S23) by Lori Hargrove. Black and White-winged Scoters, though, barely made an appearance: Dave Povey had one Black offshore on the Oceanside CBC, one White-winged offshore on the San Diego CBC. Stan Walens and Kathy Aldern noted another White-winged fly by Border Field (W10) on the San Diego CBC.
Besides their usual site of Lake Henshaw (G17, where Paul Jorgensen counted a maximum of 8 on 26 Jan), Bald Eagles appeared at Santa Ysabel (J18, Sue Smith), Pine Hills (K19, Chris Cornett), Corte Madera Lake (R20, Dale Clark), and Lake Morena (S21, 22, and T22, Richard and Susan Breisch). Two Zone-tailed Hawks were seen regularly at the Wild Animal Park (J12), wandering over to Oak Hill Cemetery (I13, Christine Rideout) and Dixon Lake (I12, Laura Hunter) in Escondido. Ken Weaver found the only Rough-legged Hawk reported in Dameron Valley (C15).
The Common Gallinule or Moorhen found by Phil Pryde and Howie Wier at a ranch pond in the northern Anza-Borrego Desert (E24) was a species new not only to the Borrego Springs CBC but to the entire Anza-Borrego Desert. Up to 3 Pacific Golden Plovers showed up at the Tijuana R. mouth (V10) for the San Diego Bay Bird Festival. The Snowy Plover found at Lake Henshaw for the CBC by Steve Montgomery was unprecedented for winter but not a total surprise to me since I had seen 5 there in November. Stan Walens noted the remarkably high number of 17 Parasitic Jaegers from shore at Oceanside (H5) for the Oceanside CBC. The Glaucous Gull discovered by Susan and Richard Breisch at the G St. marina in downtown San Diego (S9) was one of the most notable discoveries on the San Diego CBC. Guy McCaskie's Sabine's Gull at La Jolla (P7) on 6 Dec was the latest ever for San Diego County, if not all of California; the species does not winter north of Costa Rica.
Lewis' Woodpeckers seemed scarcer than usual this winter but still showed up a few places outside their usual sites around Warner Springs and Mesa Grande: Eagle Peak Road (L19, Frank Unmack and Jim Wilson), NE of Lake Cuyamaca (L21, Jim Wilson), and NE of Lake Morena (S22, Richard and Susan Breisch). The (eastern) Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is found more and more frequently as more observers learn how to distinguish it from the similar Red-naped; this year, Yellow-bellieds were reported from NE Oceanside (F7, Herb and Arnold Young), Warner Springs (F19, Mike Klein), and the Santa Ysabel Mission (I18, Geoff Rogers).
The Scissor-tailed Flycatcher discovered by Robert Patton and David Stanton at the E end of Lake Hodges (K11) on 23 Dec was presumably the same one seen 3-4 miles to the east in K12 by Claude Edwards and Mike Klein for the Escondido CBC on 2 Jan. The Eastern Phoebe found by Phil Pryde and Howie Wier at a ranch pond in the northern Borrego Valley (E24) was perhaps the biggest surprise of the Anza-Borrego CBC. Guy McCaskie found a Tropical Kingbird and a Least Flycatcher wintering at the Dairy Mart ponds (V11), only the second winter record for San Diego County of the latter. He revealed a great variety of rare wintering vireos and warblers here: 2 Cassin's Vireos, 3 Plumbeous Vireos, 8 Yellow Warblers, 2 Black-throated Grays, a Hermit, 2 Black-and-whites, 2 American Redstarts, a Northern Waterthrush, and a Wilson's Warbler. Joe Barth found another Cassin's Vireo in Mission Valley (Q10), Pete Ginsburg a Plumbeous at Guajome Lake (G7). The Plumbeous Vireo I found for the Escondido CBC in the San Pasqual Valley came back for a second year. More notable was only the second wintering Plumbeous Vireo in the Anza-Borrego Desert, found in pines at the Roadrunner Club (F24) by Paul Jorgensen. Pete Ginsburg's Warbling Vireo at MCRD (R8) on 15 Dec was less expected than a Cassin's or Plumbeous, but mid-December Warbling Vireos seem never to stay or survive the whole winter.
Black-throated Magpie Jays, native to western Mexico, continue to thrive in Bonita (T11); Lori Hargrove saw 4 for the San Diego CBC. I was startled by the unfamiliar call of two Beechey's or Purplish-backed Jays in the Tijuana R. valley (W11).
After several were seen during the fall only two Varied Thrushes have been reported this winter, near Felicita Park (K10) by Clark Mahrdt and at Cibbets Flat (Q23) by Lori Hargrove. Quite a few Townsend's Solitaires showed up this winter, being reported from at least 10 squares. High counts were 4 along Nate Harrison Grade (E13) by Conrad Sankpill on 13 Dec and 5 on Hot Springs Mt. (1 in E20, 4 in E21) by Ken Weaver. Among several unexpected reports of Mockingbirds at high elevations the most remarkable was one by Ken Weaver and Clark Mahrdt in a storm on Hot Springs Mountain (E21), the highest peak in the county. Two unprecedented winter observations of Bendire's Thrasher in the desert this winter parallel Mary Beth Stowe's observation of one in Blair Valley (L24) during the fall: I had one during the Lake Henshaw CBC in San Felipe Valley (H21), then Ed Hall found another at Agua Caliente County Park (M26).
The Golden-crowned Kinglet, a rare visitor from the north, appeared in at least 10 squares, south to Lake Morena (T21, Rich and Susan Breisch), with a maximum of 12 on Hot Springs Mt (E21, Ken Weaver). Except in rare invasion years such as 1996-97, Cassin's Finch is a rare winter visitor to San Diego County's mountains; this winter's only report was Jim Wilson's along Highway 79 north of Cuyamaca Lake (L21).
Rare sparrows included one Harris' in Dameron Valley (C15, Ken Weaver) and four White-throated, near Sandia Canyon (C7, Ken Weaver), near Moosa Canyon (F9, Jane Evans), at Lake Hodges (K10, Robert Patton and David Stanton), and near Jamacha (R14, Nicole Perretta and Patricia Nance). Totally unexpected was the Black-chinned Sparrow Lori Hargrove and I found on the steep south-facing slope overlooking Devil's Punchbowl on Boulder Creek (M18) during our Pine Hills blockbuster; Steve Kingswood had another near El Capitan Reservoir (O16). Our getting into some spots not often visited by birders is showing this species may not be the extreme rarity in winter previously thought.
Warblers that winter annually in small numbers, besides those in the Tijuana R. valley, included at least 6 Yellows, at least 5 Black-throated Grays (including one at an unusually high elevation along the Merrigan Fire Road in O20 by Mary Beth Stowe), and at least 7 Wilson's. Pete Ginsburg found a Nashville at the San Diego Zoo (R9), Marilyn Dudley another unusually far inland in upper Carney Canyon (H15) for the Escondido CBC. Last winter's two Black-throated Greens returned to Guajome Lake (G7, Pete Ginsburg) and in Doug Aguillard's yard in National City (T11). Sue Smith found a Palm Warbler at an unusual far-inland location near the Morena Conservation Camp, where it flew from square S22 into S21. Black-and-white Warblers were at Guajome Lake (G7, Pete Ginsburg) and Kit Carson Park (K11), where Ed Hall called it to our attention to culminate the compilation of the Escondido CBC. A remarkable number of American Redstarts surfaced: 1 at O'Neill Lake (E6, Pete Ginsburg), 3 at Guajome Lake (G7, Laurie Gammie), 1 on San Marcos Creek along Questhaven Rd. (J8, Kathy Aldern and Maryanne Bache), and 2 at Del Dios (K10, Claude Edwards).
Pete Ginsburg recorded the winter's only Rose-breasted Grosbeak (more frequent at this season than the Black-headed) at June Ginger's feeder in Fallbrook (E7). Richard Webster found the only Baltimore Oriole in Coronado (T9) for the San Diego CBC. Bullock's Orioles scattered among 4 squares in metropolitan San Diego are rare but expected, but Mary Beth Stowe's observation of one on the east slope of the mountains at Banner (K21) is unprecedented for winter. Scott's Orioles have revealed themselves as regular if scarce winter visitors in the Anza-Borrego Desert, but my finding a pair in chaparral along the La Posta Truck Trail (R24) was unexpected. Fred Sproul's group of 15 Yellow-headed Blackbirds in SW Ramona (L14) was exceptionally large. Jennifer Turnbull and Jeff Wells trapped a Bronzed Cowbird in the Tijuana R. valley (V11) on 1 Dec, providing the first winter and first coastal specimen of this gradually invading species for San Diego County.
Redhead chick sketch by Nicole Perretta