[All photographs copyright, Gary Nunn 2016] – Thick fog smothered Point Loma this morning and after two hours of, literally, birding by ear, I decided I had had enough and went to sit in my car for a few minutes. Glancing through the fog at my favorite Chinese Elm, in the southeast section, I noticed the silhouette of a large vireo clambering around in the lower hanging branches. I made a quick exit and ran over to the elm tree camera in hand! In spite of the thick white fog a strikingly colorful Solitary type vireo literally jumped off the branch it was so bright. I’ve seen a lot of Cassin’s Vireos around Point Loma and this bird looked far and away more colorful than that species. Most noticeable was the solid dark blue-gray crown and cheeks, gleaming white cleanly demarcated throat, green back, and bright yellow chest sides and flanks extending generously onto the undertail coverts. In addition the very bright bold edges to the tertials jumped out. The tapered and slightly abraded tail feathers, and tapered primary coverts, indicates this is an immature. So far as I can determine this appears to be a hatch year Blue-headed Vireo Vireo solitarius. Close examination of photographs of the underside of the tail also show a white edge extending all the way around the outer tail feathers characteristic of this species.
[All photographs copyright, Gary Nunn 2016] – Today Sep 17, 2016 Matt Sadowski and I had just finished walking down to the southeast section of Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery when a moving shadow on the ground caught our attention. Sure enough, from behind the Norfolk Island Pine we were standing under, came a low-flying juvenile Broad-winged Hawk Buteo platypterus moving north along the Point Loma peninsula. This made all the tramping around in search of non-existent passerine migrants feel a little better! We had just watched a handful of migrating Sharp-shinned Hawks going south, so a nice addition to the raptors! It veered leeward and flew north up the east side of the peninsula disappearing from view. Then, less than an hour later, I was in the northeast section of the cemetery when a small flock of close Bushtits exploded in their harsh purring alarm calls. Back came the Broad-winged Hawk flying east-to-west across the cemetery affording some nice views of the upperside.
Broad-winged Hawks are about annual in San Diego and fall migration is the best time to try and see this species in the county. The Point Loma peninsula is a favored spot but sightings are somewhat random and fast moving birds can be easily missed. Broad-winged Hawks here tend to rocket south down the peninsula on the west side of the cemetery, presumably circle the far point, and then cut back north, against the crosswind, usually following the east or leeward side of the peninsula. Chances are also good that on this return northward up the peninsula they will cross the cemetery in low flight, and sometimes openly perch in a large tree, near to the administration buildings. If you see one going south wait around to see if it returns. The best time period for sightings seems to be around noon, 11am-1pm is a good window if you are waiting and watching.
[All photographs copyright, Gary Nunn 2016] – Today Sep 11, 2016 I guided out-of-town birders Howard Einspahr and Temple Douglas around the south end of the Salton Sea. At 7:45am the first stop, at north terminus of Garst Road, started with a bang when I spotted nine distant frigatebirds sitting together on a derelict wooden structure! I could hardly believe my eyes and even one adult male among them shaking its baggy red gular sac! I quickly assembled the 1000mm lens rig on the Canon 1Dx and tried as best I could to get some shots across the distance and through the weird temperature distortions. A few acceptable documentation images show all the birds. After sending out some email and text messages we waited around, I hoped the frigatebirds might lift off, but they stayed firmly planted on the poles. Then about 8:25am they started to sun outstretched inverted wings and flap around a bit, but no lift off. We decided to leave and head south hoping they might come by later. So far as I could see, and photographs later showed, eight juvenile or white-headed immatures and a single adult male. Through the field scope at high magnification the perched adult male appeared to have no pale alar bar visible on the upper wing. The plumages and equal sized birds seem to indicate a wandering band of nine Magnificent Frigatebird Fregata magnificens.
Tom Benson made good time to Garst Road but unfortunately found no frigatebirds there about 9:30am. Evidently they had lifted off shortly after we left. I had moved my position to south of Obsidian Butte by this time finding some Yellow-footed Gulls. Tom skipped around my position even further south along the shore presumably to cover more ground. Then right at 10:15am I scoped north and spotted four frigatebirds flapping like crazy very low around Obsidian Butte as if they had just lifted off together. Two adult males and two juveniles! I alerted Tom by text and raced back north along the sea wall and intercepted the birds coming south. They then moved remarkably fast southeast across land about half a mile and shot up in elevation quickly around Severe and Lindsey Road where Tom intercepted them too. It was then only a couple of minutes before they disappeared southeast lost in the sun glare and increasing elevation.
The two adult males in this group, and I believe the lift off from a position near Obsidian Butte, seems to indicate perhaps a different group from the first nine perched at Garst Road which contained only a single adult male. So together a minimum of ten birds involved and possibly as many as thirteen in total.
[All photographs copyright, Gary Nunn 2016] – News broke mid afternoon 17 August 2016 of a reported Broad-tailed Hummingbird Selasphorus platycercus coming to feeders at a private residence near Lake Henshaw in northeast San Diego County. Calendar schedule and location seemed good for a wandering migrant and the observer noted the characteristic wing whistle of the male of this species. After discussions with the resident, Debbie Dobson, a plan was made to check out the feeders at dawn the next day. Sure enough, within minutes of our arrival at 6am on 18 August 2016, the wing whistle of a male Broad-tailed Hummingbird could be heard. It soon flew in very close to us and perched on the feeder not more than a few feet away. We watched the hummingbird for a few minutes as it made a couple of visits to a favored nectar feeder. A huge thank you to Debbie Dobson for her kind invitation to check out the hummingbird feeders at her home and observe her very rare discovery! It has been almost ten years since the last report of this species in San Diego County when one was seen in Ramona, September 2006.
[All photographs copyright, Gary Nunn 2016] – An urgent telephone call from Tom Blackman this morning with news of a Magnificent Frigatebird sailing over his head while photographing birds at Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve! He said it moved south down towards Scripps Pier in La Jolla Shores. In a bit of a scramble I quickly took off to La Jolla in the hope of crossing paths with this difficult to see species in San Diego County!
Parking was a disaster at La Jolla Cove and I ended up some ways south. This was not so bad as it turned out the frigatebird had gone about a mile offshore, over a fishing boat, and was in fact now located due west of my position. A text message from Jim Pawlicki alerted me from where he was searching at Scripps Pier that he could see it far offshore. As luck would have it the bird then came on a beeline obliquely towards me and eventually circled low over La Valencia Hotel in downtown La Jolla getting a ripping by the local Western Gulls.
This individual appears to be a juvenile with a white head and chest joined to a small white diamond-shaped belly patch. The paler bars on the upperwings are also noticeable. Other than the unique flock which came through La Jolla in 2012, hustled up here by a hurricane off Baja, seeing a Magnificent Frigatebird in San Diego County is a rather lucky affair. Odd singles seem to turn up a couple of times a year but are remarkably difficult to chase due to the mobility of this species.
[All photographs copyright, Gary Nunn 2016] – I made a late morning venture down to Point La Jolla to do some seawatching today 09 January 2016 but found it very quiet with offshore winds. I was about to leave when an interesting looking second-cycle “white-winged” gull caught my eye flying out of the cove towards a small fishing vessel. Looking at surrounding gulls it was smaller than a Western Gull, maybe about the same size as a California Gull with a gentle looking relatively small rounded head. Photographs show a bicolored pink-black bill and overall pallid looking upperparts without strong contrasting markings. The mantle is a nice frosty gray color. In particular the primaries and secondaries seem to be quite pale and without strong contrasting markings. I don’t see any sign of a dark secondary bar or very dark edging pattern to the primaries which would be expected in second-cycle Thayer’s Gull. In fact I think this bird might show characters better aligned with Kumlien’s Gull L. glaucoides kumlieni looking at the only slight dark outer webs to the primaries and more even looking paler secondaries. It certainly looked much whiter overall than a first-cycle Thayer’s Gull also hanging around the fishing vessel. Perhaps closer more definitive photographs could be obtained if it is seen again. I waited around for some time hoping it would come closer but it took off further offshore following fishing boats. Comments welcome!
[All photographs copyright, Gary Nunn 2015] – This first cycle Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus was discovered by Jim Pawlicki at the J Street mudflats viewed from Bayfront Park, Chula Vista this morning 06 December 2015. By coincidence I had just arrived there and was busy scanning the assembled gulls from the west side. Jim had spotted the gull scanning from the east side of the mudflats! It was sitting out in the glare and eventually I relocated back to the west viewpoint and took some very distant photographs with the 1000mm lens setup on the Canon 1Dx. The lighting at least allowed the long black bill and plumage coloration to be seen better.
This appears to be the same bird first discovered by Matt Sadowski at the Tijuana River mouth, Imperial Beach back on November 24, 2015. On several occasions we watched it limping and unable to walk on its left leg matching Matt’s observations of the bird seen at the river mouth.
A slim profiled gull in between Ring-billed Gull and California Gull in size. The dusky blackish brown remiges project a long way accentuating the long slim looking profile. The sloped whitish head and prominent black quite long bill are characteristic. Viewed through a field scope the pale upper tail coverts were dark peppered and the tail and upperwings darkly colored.
[All photographs copyright, Gary Nunn 2015] – I was shocked this morning when an adult male Hooded Oriole Icterus cucullatus flew overhead between tall Mexican Fan Palms near the west terminus of North Mission Bay Drive in Pacific Beach. Really? A Hooded Oriole in late November?! I don’t think I have seen one here since early October and they are downright rare wintering in Southern California. Checking eBird reports the last sighting seems to be around October 13th in San Diego County this year. The oriole weirdness continued when a few minutes later I noticed movement in some tall weeds beside the road and an immature male Orchard Oriole Icterus spurius popped out right in front of me! It took off flying behind some small trees but I played some “chack” calls of this species and sure enough it came flying right back making the same call. I tracked after this oriole as it flew to a superb looking Cape Honeysuckle that was just smothered in flowers. Playing some more “chack” calls I pulled out a second small oriole, this time a female, which seemed to be loosely traveling with the first bird. The tail seems a bit on the short side for Hooded Oriole and the bill a bit straighter and weaker looking to my eye. I only heard “chack” calls coming out of the bush so it seems likely this is a second Orchard Oriole. The pack of orioles continued to grow bigger when I then noticed a slightly larger bird moving around and a brightly colored immature male Bullock’s Oriole Icterus bullockii came into view in the same bush. I will be keeping my eye on this spot, who knows what other orioles could be in the neighborhood!
[All photographs copyright, Gary Nunn 2015] – Light westerly winds this Thanksgiving Day 26 Nov 2015 so I popped down to Point La Jolla in the morning to check for bird movement on the ocean. Large groups of Pacific Loon were moving south along with a few small flocks of Surf Scoter so I stuck around. About 9:41AM Matt Sadowski spotted a small dark-colored shearwater with snappy flight manner and quite dusky feathering on the underwing. That’s interesting! I watched and photographed it through the 1000mm lens setup capturing some distant photographs. It certainly looked to my eye to have more lightweight snappy flight action than a Sooty Shearwater, making some nice fast quick arcs, and also a more uniformly dusky looking underwing compared to this species. In addition the pale chin and throat area was noticeable, it also had a more dark capped appearance, and the secondaries looked paler on the upperwing sort of forming a panel (reflection of light off fresh feathers?). For a moment initially I thought it might be a dark Pterodroma gadfly petrel because the wings were held crooked much of the flight action, again unlike Sooty Shearwater in my experience. Putting together the field marks both Matt and I feel confident this is a Short-tailed Shearwater Ardenna tenuirostris which is rarely seen from shore here in San Diego County. In fact, checking eBird, there are no validated sightings of this species anywhere in Southern California this year. Nearest reports come from the currently active seawatching program at Point Pinos, Monterey, with a small number of sightings recently. Comparable photographs to the Point La Jolla bird can be found in Brian Sullivan’s eBird checklist.