[All photographs copyright, Gary Nunn 2014] – I found this male “Myrtle” Yellow-rumped Warbler Setophaga (coronata) coronata on 05 April 2014 hiding out in a large flowering eucalyptus tree in Westminster Park, Point Loma. This is a well wooded park and was loaded with birds during my visit just after lunch. The large sycamores, leafing out nicely, and many flowering exotic trees were pulling in lots of birds. I picked through many common migrants and winter residents before suddenly spotting this nice looking male Myrtle Warbler. It appears to be almost in full alternate plumage which made it stand out from the dozens of accompanying “Audubon’s” Yellow-rumped Warbler. Features which distinguish this male Myrtle Warbler from the Audubon’s Warbler include the white throat (yellow in Audubon’s), blackish colored auricular (gray in Audubon’s), white supercilium (concolorous gray in Audubon’s), white tipped greater and median secondary coverts (a more extensively white “panel” look here in male Audubon’s), and the more extensive white underside to the outer tail feathers which extends to the tail tip on the inner feather vane (there are more extensive black tips in Audubon’s). It was a nice surprise although it proved difficult to photograph in the thickly foliaged eucalyptus! While trying to attract the warbler into view I also had close approaches by a couple of inquisitive male Rufous Hummingbird Selasphorus rufus that were very interested in the commotion of warblers darting around me.
[All photographs copyright, Gary Nunn 2013] – The exciting news of a Blackpoll Warbler Setophaga striata, found by Paul Lehman and Barbara Carlson in Coronado, San Diego, lifted me out of a dull early-morning blur checking through endless Yellow-rumps at Mission Bay. I jumped in the car and soon made it over there to check it out. While I was picking over warblers shooting in and out of several favored Melaleuca trees, Paul and Barbara came back over and helped me look for the Blackpoll. Sure enough, two minutes later Paul pointed to the left side of the tree and there was the bird! Harassed severely by Yellow-rumps, the Blackpoll was very flighty and only settled for a moment in view, disappearing around the back of the tree into more quiet tangles. It then hopped trees and showed itself atop the opposite Melaleuca tree where I obtained a nice series of photographs.
This appears to be a diffusely marked first fall individual with a nice yellow coloration and indistinct streaks. The golden-yellow lower legs and particularly the feet, characteristic of Blackpoll Warbler, can be easily picked out in many of the photographs below, especially the final image. A very nice wood-warbler find and a new San Diego County bird for me that I had hoped to come across this fall.
[All photographs copyright, Gary Nunn 2013] – It is always nice when you set off birding and quickly run into a bird species you’ve always hankered after finding yourself. I’m the first to run after other people’s good birds but I think self-found birds are so much more satisfying! I was only talking about this exact species the other day, and there it is, a Yellow-green Vireo Vireo flavoviridis at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery! I first located it around 7:30 am and it was seen on-and-off until at least 12:30 pm allowing many people, including a large birding tour group from England, to obtain looks as it fed in the Ficus tree. This bird is almost a year to the day since Sue Smith discovered one here at the cemetery on 26 Sep 2012. I could hardly believe my good luck!
In spite of the muted early morning light, thanks to coastal marine layer clouds, you can still see nice bright yellow-green coloration on the undertail coverts and breast sides. It also shows off the paler grey crown coloration and darker penciled eyebrow above the indistinct supercilium. The bill is classic pinkish for this species with a few small greyish dark marks near the cutting edges. It seemed to like gulping down some of the berries on the Ficus tree and then retiring into the canopy for a while!
I have been following this Tennessee Warbler around at the cemetery for a while now so was very happy to finally get some photographs. This is a nice brightly colored first fall individual with bright yellow suffused on the breast. It was traveling with a couple Orange-crowned Warblers and a Warbling Vireo. Viewed from below it shows a very short tail and long white undertail coverts giving the bird a compact appearance overhead. Should you be lucky enough to see the back it is a lovely rich green color!
The haul of eastern warblers continued when Jim Roberts reported a very spic-and-span looking Chestnut-sided Warbler also at the cemetery. Luckily I ran into it picking over low open boughs of a big Ficus tree where I got some nice photographs. The yellow patches on the rear flank behind and above the leg can be clearly seen in this photograph.
Finally after watching over flocks of endless Chipping Sparrows out jumped this bright buffy colored Clay-colored Sparrow. I think in this plumage they are quite easily told from Chipping Sparrows showing off its buffy-suffused breast sides and dark malar stripes which create a well defined white throat.
[All photographs copyright, Gary Nunn 2013] – After hearing reports of abundant Lucy’s Warbler returning this spring to the deserts of Arizona, I decided to search through the Borrego Valley “Sink” mesquite bosque for this species. Although more common further east, this is the only known breeding locale for Lucy’s Warbler in San Diego County and a tenuous one at that. With usually only a handful of pairs in a 2500 acre habitat the search could be lengthy! Looking at previous year’s arrival dates into the Borrego Sink it seemed reasonable they could be around by this time although I had heard no reports thus far this spring. I set off at 6:45 am, just before dawn, from the north terminus of Yaqui Pass Road and headed northeast into the pitiful looking mesquite bosque. There were some early morning clouds and I thought it might stay cool for a while. About 0.5 miles in, at exactly 7:00 am, a singing Crissal Thrasher Toxostoma crissale was a nice find, another specialty species of the area.
The only other birds to materialize from the mesquite bosque were Black-tailed Gnatcatchers, Black-throated Sparrows, Verdin, and Bewick’s Wrens, the last species seemed to be following me everywhere. Also a few flyover species including Lawrence’s Goldfinches making their twinkly flight call. Unfortunately the clouds cleared quickly and it started warming up. After continuing northeast, and zig-zagging around all over the place, I decided to pack it in and turned south to walk to the perimeter dirt road. Just then I happened on a male Lucy’s Warbler Oreothlypis luciae singing loudly from a mesquite tree.
The mesquites everywhere were leafless and this was one of only a handful that I found that was getting into leaf. I estimate it was about a mile in from the parked car, time was 8:39 am. Moving around a small territory, the Lucy’s Warbler continued singing for about five minutes before taking a longer flight north over the mesquites and out of sight. The mercury was rising fast so I headed back to the car via the south perimeter dirt road. An example of the song, identical to the bird seen and heard, can be listened to at the Xeno-Canto link below.
[All photographs copyright, Gary Nunn 2013] – I made a circuit birding at some favorite spots around Point Loma after a stormy night with rain and gusty winds. There did not seem to be much bird activity anywhere, but finally, once the sun had come out along Silvergate Ave, there at last seemed to be some birds to look at! The best find was this dapper looking male Black-and-white Warbler Mniotilta varia which was busy feeding, nuthatch like, in pepper trees at the junction of Warner and Silvergate Avenue. This would appear to be a first spring male, the retained dusky brown remiges and rectrices contrast quite strongly with the bold black centers of the greater coverts. This bird was quite noisy and sounded the alarm, a repeated harsh “chip” call, at a nearby cat moving underneath the fir tree.
[All photographs copyright, Gary Nunn 2012] – This warbler was first found by Barbara Carlson and Christine Harvey at the junction of San Fernando and Lawrence Streets in the La Playa neighborhood of Point Loma, San Diego on 18 Nov 2012. Shortly after it was found I went over to the location and obtained some close photographs as it preened and then foraged in small pepper trees. The bird had a structure much like Townsend’s Warbler but looked a bit “off” for that species in my opinion. One immediate difference, apart from the obvious absence (mostly) of yellow in the plumage, was the well defined grey auricular coloration merging without interruption to the nape. It was not separated from the nape by a lighter colored posterior auricular frame, forming a dark auricular patch, like that of Townsend’s Warbler. Also the white throat had below it a dusky gray bib, sort of like a faded “Myrtle” (Yellow-rumped) Warbler. It does seem to have a faint yellow patch on the breast side too – weird. Perhaps the most noticeable difference though came from its call – a low and syrupy churp quite unlike the emphatic sharp chit call of Townsend’s Warbler. In my opinion it sounded very similar to the call of a “Myrtle” (Yellow-rumped) Warbler.
The flight photograph below shows what appears to be three colors to the body upper parts with the rump (yellow-green) contrasting with both the back (olive-green to brownish) and upper tail coverts (bluish-grey). I was concerned the back color was an artifact of the light, but it does also contrast with the bluish-grey scapulars that kind of muddle in to the back color if you look carefully. To my eye also the lower back looks green where it borders the rump – that’s four colors on the body upper parts! Many of the feathers of the upper parts appear to have small dark centers. Also visible on the left wing in the flight photograph are the freshly molted greater and median coverts, with just a few retained and more faded looking greater coverts.
The photographs below of the closed left wing show quite well a couple of the freshly molted median coverts poking out from under the fluffy scapulars. The median coverts have wide black bases but the black tapers quickly to a fine central streak. Based on Pyle 1997 this would seem to indicate this is a hatch year (HY) female, or possibly a second year female Townsend’s Warbler.
Perhaps the bright greenish-yellow rump and yellow feathers on the flank sides point to some type of Yellow-rumped Warbler parentage. If this were the case I think the white throat and white supercilium most strongly suggests “Myrtle” Yellow-rumped Warbler as one parental species. Other features clearly resemble Townsend’s Warbler although the face pattern is different from that species in my opinion. The almost complete absence of yellow coloration would also need to be explained.
Could this be a hybrid “Myrtle” Yellow-rumped Warbler X Townsend’s Warbler? Many features of the bird fit one or other of this species pair. In some of my photographs it looks like a Myrtle and in others a Townsend’s Warbler! On several occasions it sat around upright on long legs and preened its chest feathers and I thought it looked just like a Yellow-rumped Warbler. The posture in the photograph above looks just like that species and the stoutness of the bill is striking too. Quite unlike the perched horizontal posture and finer more delicate bill of a Townsend’s Warbler. Very baffling!
I would be interested in hearing what other people think about this warbler. Perhaps someone even encountered a similar looking bird before. So far, my searches on the internet have not yielded anything that looks quite like this bird!
[All photographs copyright, Gary Nunn 2012] – While searching near Mission Bay Golf Course, San Diego for yesterday’s Prairie Warbler, I came across this brightly colored basic plumaged Chestnut-sided Warbler Setophaga pensylvanica. It was feeding in another lerp infested eucalyptus close to the golf course but proved difficult to photograph as it hung right over the highway! This bird is in quite freshly molted basic plumage which really shows off the stunning green color on the upper parts. Not a bad consolation prize as it worked out!
The vivid green coloration on the upper parts, indistinct dark centers to upper tail coverts (barely visible on the last photograph below), and extensive white coloration on the three outer rectrices (r4-r6) indicates this is most likely a hatch year male Chestnut-sided Warbler. One neat field character to help identify this bird in the tree canopy above you, looking essentially white from below, are the clearly visible pale yellow patches on the rear flanks behind the legs.
So far in Fall 2012 Chestnut-sided Warbler has only been found at Lake O’Neill, Camp Pendleton in North County where perhaps two different individuals were seen in September. It is one of the more frequently recorded eastern warblers in California and can usually be banked on to be found here in the county each fall. This happens to be the first one I found myself here in San Diego County, my “self-found” list is climbing!
[All photographs copyright, Gary Nunn 2012] – The day after my original sighting of Ovenbird Seiurus aurocapilla on 15 Sep 2012 a second report came in from the other side of Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery by Rich Norgaard on 16 Sep 2012. It seems most likely it is the same individual and it was nice that many people got to see this quirky ground-dwelling warbler after it was refound. I ventured over to the location late in the afternoon, at “The Dip” on the west side fence line. I found the Ovenbird walking around feeding busily on the open grass and it allowed very close approach. I obtained these photographs as it walked in the long shadows from the setting sun. As I soon realized, this species has a built in light meter and hates open full sunlight!
[All photographs copyright, Gary Nunn 2012] – I was out at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery again before dawn in search of nighthawks but with no luck. It was just getting faintly light when the warm Santa Ana winds picked up again from the east around 5:45 AM. I could tell this was going to be another scorching hot day here in San Diego and in fact temperatures did exceed 100°F later on. After searching favored spots in the south and east sides of the cemetery I started walking over to the northeast section. As I got near to the small road loop a small warbler flew up onto a low branch of the first large Torrey Pine, letting out a loud strong “chip” call. As I got it lined up in my binoculars I could see that it did not hop, but walked slowly along the branch! Sure enough it was boldly streaked underneath and had a large pale eye-ring – Ovenbird Seiurus aurocapilla!
The Ovenbird paced carefully along the branch looking down at me allowing a few more photographs. In some respects it almost looked like an Olive-backed Pipit from Asia walking along the branch, and for a split second the thought crossed my mind it might be that species, until I saw the very bold black streaks – a bit too strong! After just a few seconds of presenting itself the Ovenbird flew off over the east perimeter wall and away.
Ovenbird is a rare visitor to San Diego County with about one record per year. Some individuals have stayed for long periods at favored localities. The species is considered a Category B rarity by San Diego Field Ornithologists which denotes about one record annually.
The call of this species is quite distinctive, a loud sharp “chip”. Looking through online resource Xeno-Canto there are several good recordings of the call. The recording below is of two birds calling together. The louder voiced individual in this recording is a good match to the bird I saw today.
[All photographs copyright, Gary Nunn 2012] – After a long and hot circuit of the San Diego desert environs on 08 September 2012 I ended up in the borderlands settlement of Jacumba. The riparian area at the west end of town is so lush I thought I would take a look there first. I walked under the large fallen down willows, shading the emerging water sources and old pump, and startled a Red-shouldered Hawk. Birds came in from all over the place scolding the hawk. Then I distinctly heard the repeated “spik” call of a waterthrush from behind the largest willow trunk – loud and strident! A few seconds later I caught just a glimpse of it strutting along pumping its tail. After what seemed like an eternity of waiting it appeared again and I managed to obtain some reasonable photographs as it picked its way over the watery mud surface and hopped up to look at me.
The small finely shaped bill, narrow unflared buffy supercilium, and complete heavy streaking of the yellowish toned underparts all distinguish this Northern Waterthrush Parkesia noveboracensis from its similar looking congener Louisiana Waterthrush Parkesia motacilla. A nice discussion of the differences between these two species, with some great photographs emphasizing bill morphology and throat coloration and markings, can be found here.
I got some extended binocular views as it fed at some distance away. Through the dead branches and willow twigs it was difficult to see the bird let alone photograph it. The light was slipping quickly around 5:30 pm and I managed one last photograph as it walked a bit closer.
Just as I was leaving the thicker willows, and emerged out onto the path, I literally stumbled upon a large California King Snake. It was not too bothered by my presence and continued catching some final rays of sunshine!
Here is an excellent recording of the typical call of the Northern Waterthrush matched well to the Jacumba bird.