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

Notable Observations
Winter 1999

Guy's response to his discovery of the Upland Sandpiper—heading immediately to the nearest phone—exemplifies a general principle that anyone searching for vagrant birds should understand: the rarer the bird, the more critical that its identification be supported by the field notes of multiple observers and by photographs, if not by a specimen, if the observation is to be of lasting scientific value. Therefore, all of us should have ready access to information that will put such discoveries in their proper context. I hope my 1984 Birds of San Diego County still serves this purpose adequately for most species. The San Diego Field Ornithologists just put out a list of the county's birds with a four-level rating system that should facilitate quick evaluation of how to respond to discovering a rare bird.

Fortunately, our local bird-alert tape system is much improved now, thanks to the new coordinator Mike Evans. Please note the new hotline phone number: 619-688-2473 (NUT-BIRD). Thanks to Mike for assembling the spreadsheet of reports that made writing this article so easy.

Point Loma yielded more eastern vagrants this fall than in the past few years, featuring, among the warblers, two Tennessees, three Chestnut-sideds, eight Magnolias, two Black-throated Blues, one Blackburnian, two Palms, one Blackpoll, four Black-and-whites, around a dozen American Redstarts, two Ovenbirds, one Canada, and one Painted Redstart. A Blue-winged, way out of the league of those other more or less regular species, was reported by Joe Worley and Tim Plunkett on 30 September; the California Bird Records Committee has accepted only one previous record from San Diego County. Away from Point Loma, the most notable warbler was a Kentucky in Carlsbad, found 24 Oct by Ron Ramswick.

Other vagrants found on Point Loma included four Tropical Kingbirds, one Acorn Woodpecker, two Yellow-green Vireos, one Philadelphia Vireo, one Townsend's Solitaire, one Gray Catbird, two Sage Thrashers, one Swamp Sparrow, two Summer Tanagers, three Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, and three Baltimore Orioles. Unfortunately, the show began about three days after our Fall WingDing at Point Loma Nazarene University.

Lindo Lake (P14/O14) emerged as a birding hot spot when Ed Wallace found a Plumbeous Vireo there on 29 Oct, Brennan Mulrooney found a Palm Warbler on the 31st, I found a Parula the same day, and Guy McCaskie found a Philadelphia Vireo on 3 Nov.

A couple of Reddish Egrets around San Diego have become routine, but the species remains rare in the north county. One at the mouth of the Santa Margarita River in Camp Pendleton (G4), 28 August-2 September (Brian Foster) apparently moved to Los Peñasquitos Lagoon (Gary Grantham) 25 Sep-3 Oct.

The rare Broad-winged Hawk typically shows up in only a narrow window of time around the first of October. Sue Smith saw one, being chased by a Peregrine Falcon, along the cliff north of La Jolla (O7) on 6 Oct.

With rangewide population decline and local loss of habitat, the Mountain Plover has ceased to winter in San Diego County. So now any observation is notable: Pete Ginsburg found one on Stuart Mesa (G4) on 19 Oct. He also reported the only Semipalmated Sandpiper, a very rare fall migrant, from San Elijo Lagoon (L7) on 26 August.

The pale migratory subspecies of the Sage Sparrow almost never stray out of their desert habitat. Pete Ginsburg's discovery of one on Point Loma from 4 to 7 September yielded a bird new to the most intensely scrutinized spot in San Diego County. Longspurs showed up at the sod farm in the Tijuana River valley (W11) for the first time in several years with up to three Chestnut-collared between 16 and 20 Oct and one Lapland on the 20th.

--Philip Unitt

Redhead chick sketch by Nicole Perretta

Winter 1999 Wrenderings | Wrenderings Archive | Bird Atlas Introduction