La Jolla seabirds and unusual clifftop visitor

[All photographs copyright, Gary Nunn 2014] – Today the weather cleared, after some local dawn rain showers, which made seabird photography easier from Pt. La Jolla compared to yesterday. The undesirable wind, however, continued from the eastern sector, at least until the early afternoon when it finally went around to the west! Some high quality bird sightings were made today by the assembled crowd of birders. “Booby mania” got off to an exciting early morning start with a Blue-footed Booby Sula nebouxii, called out by Paul Lehman, cutting it’s way diagonally in flight across the kelp bed and headed away from the point. Wow! Some time later I was lucky enough to catch sight of a smaller sized white bellied alcid careening out of the cove and I quickly swung my super-telephoto camera lens combo onto it. All those practice shots on fast moving birds, with 1000 mm lens focal length, paid off and I quickly locked onto a fast moving Ancient Murrelet Synthliboramphus antiquus!

Looking over photographs later of some scoters which had passed by very close, right in front of us in fact, I realized there was a first winter male Black Scoter Melanitta americana tucked away among the immature Surf Scoters! A nice surprise and a lesson to look over the scoter flocks more carefully next time. Adding to the waterfowl collection, I followed up on reports of a Ross’s Goose Chen rossii seen on the La Jolla clifftop path earlier in the morning. Bizarre but true, not far along the popular footpath, there was a hatch year Ross’s Goose grazing on fresh green grass right beside the path and just feet from the precipitous cliff edge. A nice bird and so confidingly close I had problems backing up to get it all in the camera frame!

Blue-footed Booby – Pt. La Jolla, La Jolla, San Diego County, California 13 Dec 2014

Blue-footed Booby – Pt. La Jolla, La Jolla, San Diego County, California 13 Dec 2014

Blue-footed Booby – Pt. La Jolla, La Jolla, San Diego County, California 13 Dec 2014

Blue-footed Booby – Pt. La Jolla, La Jolla, San Diego County, California 13 Dec 2014

Ancient Murrelet – Pt. La Jolla, La Jolla, San Diego County, California 13 Dec 2014

Ancient Murrelet – Pt. La Jolla, La Jolla, San Diego County, California 13 Dec 2014

Black Scoter first winter male with Surf Scoters – Pt. La Jolla, La Jolla, San Diego County, California 13 Dec 2014

Black Scoter first winter male with Surf Scoters – Pt. La Jolla, La Jolla, San Diego County, California 13 Dec 2014

Ross’s Goose – La Jolla Cove, La Jolla, San Diego County, California 13 Dec 2014

Ross’s Goose – La Jolla Cove, La Jolla, San Diego County, California 13 Dec 2014

Ross’s Goose – La Jolla Cove, La Jolla, San Diego County, California 13 Dec 2014

Ross’s Goose – La Jolla Cove, La Jolla, San Diego County, California 13 Dec 2014

Overcast weather – Black Scoter at Pt. La Jolla

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[All photographs copyright, Gary Nunn 2014] – I decided to test out my camera rig’s new ThinkTank rain gear today and was rewarded with a nice male Black Scoter Melanitta americana passing south with Surf Scoters. I photographed this scoter flock in very overcast conditions, practically dark out there under thick cloud and steady rain! I am happy to report no leaks with the rain gear and a nice dry camera when I got home!

Black Scoter male – Pt. La Jolla, La Jolla, San Diego County, California 12 Dec 2014

Black Scoter male – Pt. La Jolla, La Jolla, San Diego County, California 12 Dec 2014

Black Scoter male – Pt. La Jolla, La Jolla, San Diego County, California 12 Dec 2014

Alcid visitor – Marbled Murrelet in Mission Bay

[All photographs copyright, Gary Nunn 2014] – Following a confiding Ancient Murrelet discovery a few weeks ago, bird surveyor Lesley Handa delighted many local San Diego County birders again with news she had found a Marbled Murrelet Brachyramphus marmoratus in Mission Bay on 01 December 2014! This discovery certainly caused a stir with local birders as well as the long lens “flaparazzi”. Diving among boat lanes in Quivira Basin marina, the small alcid intially played hide-and-seek with observers as it moved quickly around on long submerged forays. Luckily for the assembled observers it eventually swam calmly into a close boat channel in the marina where it provided fabulous close views. It has been some considerable time since this species was last “easily” seen in San Diego County. According to the San Diego County Bird Atlas (Unitt 2004) one or two birds appeared in November-December 1979. These birds were seen at the entrance to Mission Bay and at Imperial Beach pier. A long interval occurred until the next record when David Povey found one bird off Coronado on 15 December 2001. It appears the 2014 alcid incursion, down the California coast, is continuing this winter and unusual alcid species should be watched for carefully throughout the region.

Marbled Murrelet – Mission Bay, San Diego County, California 01 Dec 2014

Marbled Murrelet – Mission Bay, San Diego County, California 01 Dec 2014

Marbled Murrelet – Mission Bay, San Diego County, California 01 Dec 2014

Marbled Murrelet – Mission Bay, San Diego County, California 01 Dec 2014

Marbled Murrelet – Mission Bay, San Diego County, California 01 Dec 2014

Marbled Murrelet – Mission Bay, San Diego County, California 01 Dec 2014

Marbled Murrelet – Mission Bay, San Diego County, California 01 Dec 2014

On the border – Brown Thrasher in Jacumba

[All photographs copyright, Gary Nunn 2014] – I am a big fan of thrashers so when Eric Kallen reported a Brown Thrasher Toxostoma rufum in Jacumba, on 30 October 2014, I quickly made my way over there to check it out. I rolled in to Jacumba’s Community Park, literally a stone’s throw away from the ominous looking international border fence, and there was Eric sitting patiently on a picnic bench. Eric’s outstretched finger, pointed at the distant fence line, clearly indicated this was not going to be a nail-biting wait around! I quickly jumped out of the car to see my first county Brown Thrasher scratching around among dead leaves under a cottonwood tree. We watched it searching for invertebrates in the bone dry ground beneath the cottonwoods before it hopped off deeper into some fence-line vine tangles. That was easy! Eric and I wandered off together to get some lunch and celebrate his continuing great rare bird finds in Jacumba. Certainly a rare species to encounter here, Brown Thrasher occurs about once every couple of years in San Diego County. It is currently considered a Category B rarity in the county by San Diego Field Ornithologists.

Brown Thrasher – Jacumba, San Diego County, California 30 Oct 2014 (© Gary Nunn)

Brown Thrasher – Jacumba, San Diego County, California 30 Oct 2014 (© Gary Nunn)

Brown Thrasher – Jacumba, San Diego County, California 30 Oct 2014 (© Gary Nunn)

Brown Thrasher – Jacumba, San Diego County, California 30 Oct 2014 (© Gary Nunn)

Brown Thrasher – Jacumba, San Diego County, California 30 Oct 2014 (© Gary Nunn)

Brown Thrasher – Jacumba, San Diego County, California 30 Oct 2014 (© Gary Nunn)

Brown Thrasher – Jacumba, San Diego County, California 30 Oct 2014 (© Gary Nunn)

Fast moving Canada Warbler in Point Loma

[All photographs copyright, Gary Nunn 2014] – This Canada Warbler Cardellina canadensis, most likely a first winter female, was first encountered by John Bruin in the southeast corner of Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery around 7:30 a.m. on 29 Oct 2014. Later, around 8:00 a.m., I spotted an “interesting” completely bright yellow bellied warbler moving rapidly between trees heading for the Committal Shelter. I ran ahead and managed to catch a few fleeting glimpses, and photographs, for the few moments it was stationary. It disappeared ahead of me, into the small palms around the Committal Shelter, and could not be relocated.

It appears to be a first winter female Canada warbler with just faint dusky markings about the necklace area of the bright yellow underparts and weaker facial markings. The face is distinctive though showing the typical black lores and a small amount of yellow supraloral coloration of this species. The large whitish eyering and bicolored bill are also quite distinctive. This bird behaved quite similar to a Wilson’s Warbler, but appeared larger in size. The complete upperparts and tail are a characteristic dark grayish, perhaps a little olive toned, although difficult to discern under the tree canopy. Although a bit wet and forlorn looking, the undertail coverts are characteristically white in coloration.

Canada Warbler – Point Loma, San Diego County, California 29 Oct 2014 (© Gary Nunn)

Canada Warbler – Point Loma, San Diego County, California 29 Oct 2014 (© Gary Nunn)

Canada Warbler – Point Loma, San Diego County, California 29 Oct 2014 (© Gary Nunn)

Canada Warbler – Point Loma, San Diego County, California 29 Oct 2014 (© Gary Nunn)

Canada Warbler – Point Loma, San Diego County, California 29 Oct 2014 (© Gary Nunn)

San Diego Field Ornithologists considers Canada Warbler a Category B rarity in the county. The last sighting, I believe, was from September 2012 at Lake O’Neill, Camp Pendleton.

Unusual alcid sighting – Ancient Murrelet in Mission bay

[All photographs copyright, Gary Nunn 2014] – Not more than five minutes down the road from me, so I jumped in the car and went to take a look at a reported Ancient Murrelet Synthliboramphus antiquus on Mission Bay. Originally found by Lesley Handa, and subsequently confirmed from Lesley’s photographs by Phil Unitt, the murrelet was still around at about 12 noon today when several of us collected at the original sighting location on Vacation Isle East. It had continued swimming southwards along the shore of Vacation Isle and was at the southeast corner around the large public boat ramp. I thought it looked pretty healthy all things considered, and it was actively hunting small prey items around the perimeter of Mission Bay as we watched it. An unusual sighting for sure here in Mission Bay although this species has made some famous extreme vagrancy travels. Back in 1990 I saw one in England on a little island called Lundy!

Ancient Murrelet – Mission Bay, San Diego County, California 20 Oct 2014

Ancient Murrelet – Mission Bay, San Diego County, California 20 Oct 2014

Ancient Murrelet – Mission Bay, San Diego County, California 20 Oct 2014

Ancient Murrelet – Mission Bay, San Diego County, California 20 Oct 2014

Ancient Murrelet – Mission Bay, San Diego County, California 20 Oct 2014

Painted Redstart in Point Loma

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[All photographs copyright, Gary Nunn 2014] – I discovered this Painted Redstart Myioborus pictus at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery on 11 Oct 2014 while trying to attract a couple of orioles out of a Ficus tree with a screech owl call. The redstart suddenly appeared flying in from behind me and was very agitated by the owl call. I went back to my car to fetch the big telephoto lens and by the time I returned it had disappeared. Unfortunately it was not relocated despite much searching!

Painted Redstart – Point Loma, San Diego County, California 11 Oct 2014 (© Gary Nunn)

Painted Redstart – Point Loma, San Diego County, California 11 Oct 2014 (© Gary Nunn)

Painted Redstart – Point Loma, San Diego County, California 11 Oct 2014 (© Gary Nunn)

Painted Redstart – Point Loma, San Diego County, California 11 Oct 2014 (© Gary Nunn)

“Siberian” Pipit in the Tijuana River Valley

[All photographs copyright, Gary Nunn 2014] – While searching for Red-throated Pipits today on the Western Field Ornithologists “Rarity Chase” Field Trip we had the good fortune to discover this striking looking “Siberian” Pipit Anthus rubescens japonicus (currently considered an Asian form of American Pipit by the AOU but there is increasing evidence it deserves species status). This bird could be distinguished from the nominate rubescens American Pipits it accompanied by a number of features including the much paler legs (pinkish golden colored?), darker colored upperparts, contrasty darker wings with standout large pale wing bars on the greater and median coverts, pale straw colored underparts with extensive dark streaking extending down the belly, and the impressively large triangular dark malar patch. This bird looks to be in fresh richly colorful plumage with darker penciled lines down the back which will increase in prominence as the lighter feather edges wear away. Similarly the fresh wing coverts are tipped with very pale brown which will fade more whitish as they age. I think the heavily streaked upper breast is particularly distinctive forming a “necklace” on this bird which outlines the pale throat. I noticed in a few of the photographs the very black centered median coverts can be seen poking out from under the fluffy scapular feathers, another good field mark of the japonicus form of American Pipit.

American Pipit (japonicus form) – Tijuana River Valley, San Diego County, California 09 Oct 2014

American Pipit (japonicus form) – Tijuana River Valley, San Diego County, California 09 Oct 2014

American Pipit (japonicus form) – Tijuana River Valley, San Diego County, California 09 Oct 2014

American Pipit (japonicus form) – Tijuana River Valley, San Diego County, California 09 Oct 2014

American Pipit (japonicus form) – Tijuana River Valley, San Diego County, California 09 Oct 2014

American Pipit (japonicus form) – Tijuana River Valley, San Diego County, California 09 Oct 2014

American Pipit (japonicus form) – Tijuana River Valley, San Diego County, California 09 Oct 2014

American Pipit (japonicus form) – Tijuana River Valley, San Diego County, California 09 Oct 2014

American Pipit (japonicus form) – Tijuana River Valley, San Diego County, California 09 Oct 2014

American Pipit (japonicus form) – Tijuana River Valley, San Diego County, California 09 Oct 2014

American Pipit (japonicus form) – Tijuana River Valley, San Diego County, California 09 Oct 2014

Crisply marked Clay-colored Sparrow

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[All photographs copyright, Gary Nunn 2014] – The sparrow list seen in the “hot” Chinese Elm at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery keeps on growing with this crisp and colorful Clay-colored Sparrow Spizella pallida seen on 05 October 2014. This is about as nice an example as I have seen here in San Diego County with rich buffy tones about the plumage and clean head and throat markings.

Clay-colored Sparrow – Point Loma, San Diego County, California 05 Sep 2014

Clay-colored Sparrow – Point Loma, San Diego County, California 05 Sep 2014

Clay-colored Sparrow – Point Loma, San Diego County, California 05 Sep 2014

Clay-colored Sparrow – Point Loma, San Diego County, California 05 Sep 2014

“Hot” Chinese Elm – eastern vagrants in Point Loma

[All photographs copyright, Gary Nunn 2014] – Early morning birding at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, Point Loma can be a lot of fun when tired well traveled migrants seem to be around every corner. Most of the best birds this morning I found within a fifty yard radius of my favorite “hot” Chinese Elm in the southeast section of the cemetery. There is just something irresistible to birds about this tree! I think it is the cacophony of squabbling House Finches that attracts other birds, and the proximity to some nice weed patches in the manicured lawns. Good finds this morning included a female Scarlet Tanager Piranga olivacea seen just after dawn. At first glance I thought it was a Western Tanager over my head and, after quickly moving out from under the tree, was pleasantly surprised to see it had no wing bars. The photographs show clearly the “tomial tooth” on the cutting edge of the upper mandible, a morphological feature not found in the Summer Tanager. Next was a well behaved Brewer’s Sparrow Spizella breweri making its distinctive warbler-like “tisip” call. And while watching the Brewer’s Sparrow a male Dickcissel Spiza americana settled in the tree right in camera frame! This bird was missing its tail for some reason and when it flew into the tree I thought for a moment it was a giant Ammodramus sparrow! Later on in the northwest section of the cemetery, on the west side, the “whit” call of an Empid got my attention and I soon had great looks at a Dusky Flycatcher Empidonax oberholseri actively feeding and calling frequently from the fence-line, grave markers, and low hanging tree branches. This bird showed off classic tail flicking motion upwards only, a short primary projection, worn looking plumage, the overhanging hooked nail of the upper mandible, and plenty of “whit” calls as it actively moved around. My first day field testing my new Nikon EDG 7×42 binoculars worked out pretty well!

Scarlet Tanager female – Point Loma, San Diego County, California 02 Oct 2014 (© Gary Nunn)

Scarlet Tanager female – Point Loma, San Diego County, California 02 Oct 2014 (© Gary Nunn)

Scarlet Tanager female – Point Loma, San Diego County, California 02 Oct 2014 (© Gary Nunn)

Dickcissel – Point Loma, San Diego County, California 02 Oct 2014 (© Gary Nunn)

Dickcissel – Point Loma, San Diego County, California 02 Oct 2014 (© Gary Nunn)

Brewer’s Sparrow – Point Loma, San Diego County, California 02 Oct 2014 (© Gary Nunn)

Brewer’s Sparrow – Point Loma, San Diego County, California 02 Oct 2014 (© Gary Nunn)

Dusky Flycatcher – Point Loma, San Diego County, California 02 Oct 2014 (© Gary Nunn)

Dusky Flycatcher – Point Loma, San Diego County, California 02 Oct 2014 (© Gary Nunn)

Dusky Flycatcher – Point Loma, San Diego County, California 02 Oct 2014 (© Gary Nunn)

Dusky Flycatcher – Point Loma, San Diego County, California 02 Oct 2014 (© Gary Nunn)