[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!
[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!
[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.
[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.
[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!
[All photographs copyright, Gary Nunn 2014] – I found a couple of “Thick-billed” Fox Sparrow Passerella [iliaca] megarhyncha at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery today 26 September 2014. This one popped up and started singing in response to my pishing along the fence line! Rich rufous wings and tail and “grayish” head and back. The very large bill, particularly swollen looking at the base of the lower mandible, looks almost grosbeak-like.
[All photographs copyright, Gary Nunn 2014] – This first winter male Rose-breasted Grosbeak Pheucticus ludovicianus flew across the path in front of me at the Bird and Butterfly Garden in the Tijuana River Valley on 25 September 2014. In the late afternoon sunlight the red underwing coloration was unmistakable. Quickly relocating it in a nearby tree I trained the camera on the stationary bird and inched closer until it flushed off the branch. A quick burst on the camera shutter button and I captured a few easy photographs of the underwing! In addition to the red underwing the rich buffy underparts are noticeable on this bird. I was surprised by the extent of buff coloration extending down the flanks which I guess you would not notice if the wings were closed. It was exceptionally dry in the garden and this bird was taking a drink from a running irrigation line sprinkler, underneath a pomegranate bush, when I happened to walk up on it.
[All photographs copyright, Gary Nunn 2014] – This first fall female Blackburnian Warbler Setophaga fusca was found by Mark Billings on 21 September 2014 in Friendship Park, Chula Vista. I made a quick visit the next day and connected with the warbler after a tip-off from Curtis Marantz and Matt Sadowski. I arrived to find them watching the warbler but as soon as I got out of my car it bolted into the interior of the tree! It was lost for some time in the dense pine tree needles but eventually reemerged working along lower branches of the tree.
In several of the photographs the tidily streaked brown back can be seen along with the distinguishing paler tram lines also running down the back. It appears to be a first fall female, not heavily marked about the head, with wishy-washy yellowish-buff coloration suffusing the throat and upper chest, and dull brown coloration about the crown, nape, auricular, and shoulder. On a couple occasions we heard its buzzy flight call as it flitted around the pine tree harassed by an intolerant male Townsend’s Warbler.
[All photographs copyright, Gary Nunn 2014] – I always thought the southwest corner of Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery looked nice for a good Empidonax find and sure enough today it delivered with a vocal, and occasionally showy, Least Flycatcher Empidonax minimus! I first heard this bird from some distance away making a repeated “pwit” call 5-10 times but then it fell silent. I hung around catching glimpses of a small Empidonax with very contrasty black-and-white wings. It started up calling again every few minutes and made some brief appearances on the cemetery fence line. I managed to get some nice photos with the Canon 400 DO lens before quickly returning to my car to fetch the big glass as well as a shotgun microphone. Patience waiting around eventually paid off and I got a nice recording of the repeated “pwit” calling and some super close photos on the fence line with the Canon 500 f4 lens.
The repeated bouts of “pwit” vocalizations, quite sharp sounding, are distinctive for this species which differs from Dusky and Gray Flycatcher both of which make a single softer “whit” call usually well spaced. I obtained a recording in which the bird calls a few times, it can be listened to below. The sound of Point Loma Water Treatment Plant is in the background!
An almost identical calling bird, recorded by Andrew Spencer in New Hampshire, can be listened to at Xeno-Canto here:
This small Empidonax fits well the classic field marks for Least Flycatcher with very contrasty black-and-white wings, brownish gray (and olive?) upperparts, whitish throat, some gray on the chest sides, pale underparts with a faint yellow wash on the lower belly and undertail coverts, and a narrow but prominent looking equal width white eye ring. The lower mandible has patchy dusky markings on the distal sides and tip but is otherwise a rich orange-yellow color all around the base. I think the narrow “skinny” tail and black legs are also quite distinctive looking!
[All photographs copyright, Gary Nunn 2014] – My golden rule at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery paid off today – stick around until mid morning to see what unusual birds suddenly appear! For some reason mid morning seems particularly “hot” for rarities at this peninsular migrant trap. I had just been walking south along the west side with Pete Ginsberg when we came across a nice Sage Thrasher moving across the cemetery. A little while later Pete, who had walked over to the east side, waved me over in the southeast section where he had just found an Eastern Kingbird Tyrannus tyrannus loosely associating with a mobile band of Cassin’s Kingbird. Nice! Many birders had already walked over this area earlier in the morning, so clearly it had appeared in the last hour.
This appears to be a hatch year bird with a more smoothly rounded outer primary (P10), tapered outer tail feathers, mixed, sort of brownish, feathers about the back, and I believe some slight orange gape coloration still visible at the base of the bill. The primary feathers also look glossy and in particularly fine condition without any visible wear. Whether or not it is the same Eastern Kingbird found one week ago a little ways north, in the wooded neighborhood of Point Loma, is anyone’s guess. I know I was very happy to cross paths with this one – a difficult bird to see in San Diego County! There seems to have been very few reports of this species in recent years. The San Diego County Bird Atlas (Unitt 2004) already noted that reports seemed to be on the decline. This trend seems to have continued unfortunately. San Diego Field Ornithologists considers this a Category B rarity in the county.