Nazca Booby in San Diego waters?

[All photographs copyright, Scottie Schmidt 2015] Local marine mammal observer Scottie Schmidt snapped these incredible photographs of a Masked/Nazca Booby on board the Hornblower whale watching tour out of San Diego on 01 September 2015. The Hornblower, performing a four hour tourist nature tour, stays in US waters just outside of Point Loma where it looks for whales and dolphin. Scottie noted that he has been on hundreds of these trips aboard the Hornblower but this was the first time a booby had actually landed on the vessel!

I think characters of this 2nd-cycle booby lean towards identification as a Nazca Booby rather than a Masked Booby. The bill color, pale lavender at the base changing to pinkish throughout the length and then yellow-orange at the tip, is basically a duller version of adult Nazca Booby. Masked Booby should be yellowish-green changing to yellow at this age. Also the bill shape, more concave and finely shaped, seems to fit Nazca better compared to the swollen more massive bill shape characteristic of Masked. Other plumage characters might be supportive also, the white basal coloration of the central rectrices appears to extend quite far down those feathers, and the dark plumage looks more chocolate-brown than blackish-brown. Both characteristics better for Nazca compared to Masked.

Scottie Schmidt first sent these photographs over to Stan Walens who distributed them to local San Diego seabird enthusiasts for further discussion. The photographs were also examined by Alvaro Jaramillo.

Masked/Nazca Booby – San Diego County waters, California 01 Sep 2015 (© Scottie Schmidt)

Masked/Nazca Booby – San Diego County waters, California 01 Sep 2015 (© Scottie Schmidt)

Masked/Nazca Booby – San Diego County waters, California 01 Sep 2015 (© Scottie Schmidt)

Masked/Nazca Booby – San Diego County waters, California 01 Sep 2015 (© Scottie Schmidt)

Masked/Nazca Booby – San Diego County waters, California 01 Sep 2015 (© Scottie Schmidt)

Masked/Nazca Booby – San Diego County waters, California 01 Sep 2015 (© Scottie Schmidt)

Visual migration – Purple Martin in Point Loma

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Purple Martin – Point Loma, San Diego County, California 29 Aug 2015 (© Gary Nunn)

Purple Martin – Point Loma, San Diego County, California 29 Aug 2015 (© Gary Nunn)

Orange-crowned Warbler form sordida – Point Loma, San Diego County, California 29 Aug 2015 (© Gary Nunn)

Orange-crowned Warbler form sordida – Point Loma, San Diego County, California 29 Aug 2015 (© Gary Nunn)

Southern California speciality –Townsend’s Storm-Petrel

[All photographs copyright, Gary Nunn 2015] – On pelagic trips here in San Diego, California, any storm-petrels that we come across with an extensive white rump are investigated carefully. Particularly if they look small sized and shorter tailed. On 23 August 2015 we found this one just inside San Diego County waters along the east escarpment of the Thirty Mile Bank. The location was about 26 miles distant from the nearest landpoint at La Jolla. This bird fits well the known field marks of Townsend’s Storm-Petrel Oceanodroma (leucorhoa) socorroensis, currently recognized by the AOU as a form of Leach’s Storm-Petrel. This enigmatic small storm-petrel is only known to breed at islets surrounding Isla Guadalupe, which is about 200 miles southwest of San Diego, far off the coast of Baja, Mexico, and from where it ventures to Southern California waters.

In the photographs below the dark blackish coloration of this bird is quite evident and, in direct comparison with the browner colored Chapman’s Storm-Petrel O.(l). chapmani with which it simultaneously appeared, it looked almost snappily black and white. I think the more rounded shorter wings and the very shrunken look of the tail, compared to other forms of Leach’s Storm-Petrel, are also very noticeable. The bright white rump patch is sort of pointed in shape with perhaps a faint median dark mark when seen from behind. The white rump patch looks about equal length to the black tail. The white coloration of the rump patch does wrap a little way onto the undertail coverts which is characteristic of this form. The primaries and remiges do look quite worn away at the tips, but, even accounting for this wear, it presented a more bat like impression in flight than the other forms of Leach’s Storm-Petrel and looked more like a Least Storm-Petrel flying. I think the rear of the bird sort of hangs down a little bit in flight while the front is hunched up with the highest point at the shoulders leading to the squat neck and head. In several photographs this “rear down” flight profile is evident. You can also see in the photographs that the legs do not extend past the tail and look relatively short.

Townsend’s Storm-Petrel (left) and Chapman’s Storm-Petrel (right) – San Diego County waters, California 23 August 2015 (© Gary Nunn)

Townsend’s Storm-Petrel (left) and Chapman’s Storm-Petrel (right) – San Diego County waters, California 23 August 2015 (© Gary Nunn)

Townsend’s Storm-Petrel – San Diego County waters, California 23 August 2015 (© Gary Nunn)

Townsend’s Storm-Petrel – San Diego County waters, California 23 August 2015 (© Gary Nunn)

Townsend’s Storm-Petrel – San Diego County waters, California 23 August 2015 (© Gary Nunn)

Townsend’s Storm-Petrel – San Diego County waters, California 23 August 2015 (© Gary Nunn)

Townsend’s Storm-Petrel – San Diego County waters, California 23 August 2015 (© Gary Nunn)

Townsend’s Storm-Petrel – San Diego County waters, California 23 August 2015 (© Gary Nunn)

Townsend’s Storm-Petrel – San Diego County waters, California 23 August 2015 (© Gary Nunn)

Townsend’s Storm-Petrel – San Diego County waters, California 23 August 2015 (© Gary Nunn)

Townsend’s Storm-Petrel – San Diego County waters, California 23 August 2015 (© Gary Nunn)

Townsend’s Storm-Petrel – San Diego County waters, California 23 August 2015 (© Gary Nunn)

Baird’s Sandpiper at Lake Henshaw

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Baird’s Sandpiper juvenile – Lake Henshaw, San Diego County, California 08 August 2015

Baird’s Sandpiper juvenile – Lake Henshaw, San Diego County, California 08 August 2015

Baird’s Sandpiper juvenile – Lake Henshaw, San Diego County, California 08 August 2015

Baird’s Sandpiper juvenile – Lake Henshaw, San Diego County, California 08 August 2015

Point La Jolla – American Oystercatcher form frazari

[All photographs copyright, Gary Nunn 2015] – Flying in from the north, low over the ocean, a large shorebird quickly got my attention at Point La Jolla early this morning since a Western Gull was chasing right behind it. Weird! Things made more sense however as it approached closer and the large body and shallow stiff wingbeats soon added up to an incoming oystercatcher! As it came flying in I started to see the white belly which lifted my interest level much higher! I was hoping for a circle flight around below my viewpoint, for photography, but instead it bee-lined to a rocky perch right in front of me. Luckily it then decided to move a few yards, in a short flight, allowing a few upper and under wing photographs.

Referencing information given in Pyle (1997) and additional material at the website of the American Oystercatcher Working Group this individual seems, so far as I can tell, to match the description of a frazari form of American Oystercatcher Haematopus palliatus. It has a well demarcated black bib with a little black mottling at the sides, white underparts, white undertail coverts, almost complete white underwing, and a white greater secondary coverts wingbar on the upperwing. The uppertail coverts are mottled black and white, but this also seems consistent with descriptions in the reference literature.

I did make a preliminary score using the system described in the publication by Jehl (1985) on hybridization in oystercatchers in Baja California. The scoring instructions from Table 1 of this publication can be found, rather usefully, at the Western Field Ornithologists Rare Birds of California entry for American Oystercatcher. This individual scores high in the range, about a 33, and would be attributed to American Oystercatcher using this system. I had to make a guesstimate on the white wingbar width, I conservatively put it in the middle of the range but it does look pretty wide to me!

American Oystercatcher form frazari – La Jolla, San Diego County, California 07 August 2015 (© Gary Nunn)

American Oystercatcher form frazari – La Jolla, San Diego County, California 07 August 2015 (© Gary Nunn)

American Oystercatcher form frazari – La Jolla, San Diego County, California 07 August 2015 (© Gary Nunn)

American Oystercatcher form frazari – La Jolla, San Diego County, California 07 August 2015 (© Gary Nunn)

American Oystercatcher form frazari – La Jolla, San Diego County, California 07 August 2015 (© Gary Nunn)

American Oystercatcher form frazari – La Jolla, San Diego County, California 07 August 2015 (© Gary Nunn)

American Oystercatcher form frazari – La Jolla, San Diego County, California 07 August 2015 (© Gary Nunn)

American Oystercatcher form frazari – La Jolla, San Diego County, California 07 August 2015 (© Gary Nunn)

American Oystercatcher form frazari – La Jolla, San Diego County, California 07 August 2015 (© Gary Nunn)

American Oystercatcher form frazari – La Jolla, San Diego County, California 07 August 2015 (© Gary Nunn)

American Oystercatcher form frazari – La Jolla, San Diego County, California 07 August 2015 (© Gary Nunn)

Baja wanderer – Gray Thrasher in Point Loma

[All photographs copyright, Gary Nunn 2015] – After receiving a somewhat blurry cell phone picture from John Bruin of his camera back this morning, showing a dark spotted thrasher that had been found by Lisa Ruby, I raced over to Famosa Slough to see if I could refind it. Whatever the dark spotted blur was it was bound to be of great local interest! Just as I arrived at Famosa Slough John emailed me over a much more detailed photo of a pale bellied thrasher with blackish chevrons smothering the underparts! I thought “there’s no way!” but following John’s detailed directions I soon refound the bird feeding by the pathway and it does indeed appear to be a Gray Thrasher Toxostoma cinereum! A detailed series of photos below show the field marks well of this species. The bird was happily feeding (“thrashing”) on the bank side under a willow tree over the path. In the photos you can see it probing deeply in the leaf litter and tossing leaves over its shoulder every now and then. It flew a little away along the path revealing pale corners to the tail. The bird is an overall dull biscuit brown color, a little warmer colored on the rump perhaps, with pale buffy white underparts boldly marked with blackish chevrons throughout. The median and greater coverts are tipped with fine pale edges. The eye is a mid yellow-orange color. The tail, concolorous with the upperparts, shows some evidence of mud sticking to it, but since we have had a recent deluge of rain a couple weeks ago it seems reasonable the bird might have ventured into muddy conditions in its normally dry desert habitat. Various reference texts state the bird can be found as far north as 31°N on the west coast of Baja California, Mexico. Reports in eBird show the presence of this species southeast of Ensenada along Mexico Highway 3 in Baja California. I mapped it out in GoogleMaps and it is 128 miles between this bird and the nearest reports, “as the thrasher flies”. So they are not so far away from San Diego! To me it appeared to be feeding very much like a wild thrasher would, excavating deep among leaf litter and tossing debris everywhere in search of invertebrates. In my opinion the plumage looks a little evenly worn throughout and there do not appear to be any particular broken feathers or signs of captivity.

Gray Thrasher – Famosa Slough, Point Loma, San Diego County, California 02 August 2015

Gray Thrasher – Famosa Slough, Point Loma, San Diego County, California 02 August 2015

Gray Thrasher – Famosa Slough, Point Loma, San Diego County, California 02 August 2015

Gray Thrasher – Famosa Slough, Point Loma, San Diego County, California 02 August 2015

Gray Thrasher – Famosa Slough, Point Loma, San Diego County, California 02 August 2015

Gray Thrasher – Famosa Slough, Point Loma, San Diego County, California 02 August 2015

Gray Thrasher – Famosa Slough, Point Loma, San Diego County, California 02 August 2015

Gray Thrasher – Famosa Slough, Point Loma, San Diego County, California 02 August 2015

Gray Thrasher – Famosa Slough, Point Loma, San Diego County, California 02 August 2015

Gray Thrasher – Famosa Slough, Point Loma, San Diego County, California 02 August 2015

Gray Thrasher – Famosa Slough, Point Loma, San Diego County, California 02 August 2015

Gray Thrasher – Famosa Slough, Point Loma, San Diego County, California 02 August 2015

Gray Thrasher – Famosa Slough, Point Loma, San Diego County, California 02 August 2015

Gray Thrasher – Famosa Slough, Point Loma, San Diego County, California 02 August 2015

Gray Thrasher – Famosa Slough, Point Loma, San Diego County, California 02 August 2015

Gray Thrasher – Famosa Slough, Point Loma, San Diego County, California 02 August 2015

Gray Thrasher – Famosa Slough, Point Loma, San Diego County, California 02 August 2015

Gray Thrasher – Famosa Slough, Point Loma, San Diego County, California 02 August 2015

Gray Thrasher – Famosa Slough, Point Loma, San Diego County, California 02 August 2015

Gray Thrasher – Famosa Slough, Point Loma, San Diego County, California 02 August 2015

Red-footed Booby in Point Loma marina, San Diego

[All photographs copyright, Gary Nunn 2015] – First spotted about 4 pm on 05 July 2015 by James McDaniel, the owner of the sport-fishing vessel the Grande, this subadult brown morph Red-footed Booby Sula sula proved elusive until I managed to relocate it sitting, almost out of sight, on the front of another fishing vessel, the Dominator, several hundred yards from the original location. I had already been down this dock and stood just a few feet from the booby without spotting it! Only when I walked over to the next more distant dock, extending further south, and looked back could I just see it tucked away on the front of this boat. Easily missed!

The last time a Red-footed Booby was discovered here in Point Loma, also at the sport fishing marina, was back on September 29, 2008! There was one photographed offshore here in September 2012. These are the only recent records from the county that I am aware of. Clearly this bird may have made its way into the marina on board a fishing vessel returning to the marina although it now seems mobile enough to move some distance between boats moored at the docks. I couldn’t help myself and snapped a photo of Stan Walens with his nemesis booby in San Diego County! I know that Stan narrowly missed seeing one sitting on a bush at La Jolla Cove almost twenty years ago!

Red-footed Booby – Point Loma, San Diego County, California 05 July 2015

Red-footed Booby – Point Loma, San Diego County, California 05 July 2015

Red-footed Booby – Point Loma, San Diego County, California 05 July 2015

Red-footed Booby – Point Loma, San Diego County, California 05 July 2015

Red-footed Booby – Point Loma, San Diego County, California 05 July 2015

Far migrant – Wilson’s Storm-Petrel in San Diego County

[All photographs copyright, Gary Nunn 2015] – The potential diversity of storm-petrels to be found in San Diego County waters is a bit dizzying so this small boldly white-rumped individual certainly grabbed our attention on a pelagic trip here on 14 June 2015. Just when the bird looked like it was going to make a close pass by our boat the Grande, nope, it would turn away again flying some distance ahead! Watching it from the bow however the views were very good, and, with a long lens, the photographs documentation worthy.

We could see the extensive white rump that wrapped underneath the tail and the dangly legs looked very long indeed as it pitter-pattered frequently along the water surface with its feet. No real sign of a notched tail, quite fan like in appearance really, and the bird seemed to be in active molt of secondaries and inner primaries, with a molt gap in the right wing. This was indeed what we had hoped for, a very rare migrant to San Diego County waters Wilson’s Storm-Petrel Oceanites oceanicus all the way from the southern hemisphere.

We carefully eliminated one other species from consideration, the Townsend’s Storm-Petrel Oceanodroma (leucorhoa) socorroensis (currently considered a form of Leach’s Storm-Petrel by the AOU) from nearby Guadalupe Island, Mexico, but this species has a smaller tail with minimal white wrapping underneath, and lacks the characteristic extreme leg length which causes the feet to project clearly past the end of the tail as in Wilson’s Storm-Petrel. Close examination of the many photographs taken show the trailing feet poking out beyond the tail, super long legs, extensive white rump which wraps under the tail, and the active wing molt typical of Wilson’s Storm-Petrel at this date in the northern hemisphere.

Wilson’s Storm-Petrel – San Diego County waters, California 14 June 2015

Wilson’s Storm-Petrel – San Diego County waters, California 14 June 2015

Wilson’s Storm-Petrel – San Diego County waters, California 14 June 2015

Wilson’s Storm-Petrel – San Diego County waters, California 14 June 2015

Wilson’s Storm-Petrel – San Diego County waters, California 14 June 2015

Wilson’s Storm-Petrel – San Diego County waters, California 14 June 2015

Wilson’s Storm-Petrel – San Diego County waters, California 14 June 2015

Wilson’s Storm-Petrel – San Diego County waters, California 14 June 2015

Wilson’s Storm-Petrel – San Diego County waters, California 14 June 2015

In song – Northern Parula in Point Loma

[All photographs copyright, Gary Nunn 2015] – Today 02 June 2015 I decided to go and look for the singing Northern Parula Setophaga americana reported by Matt Sadowski yesterday in the wooded neighborhood of far Point Loma. Following the directions Matt gave, searching just east of Catalina Blvd. in the unpaved alley south of Dudley St., I soon heard the distinctive song, a buzzy trill, high up in a large eucalyptus tree. I attracted it down a little closer with some low volume playback and managed to get a few photographs before it shot off behind me at high speed. A nice addition to the assortment of eastern vagrant birds in Point Loma over the past few days! The alleyways of the wooded neighborhood in Point Loma can be productive for birders to investigate and numerous vagrants have surfaced here in both spring and fall migration seasons. If you have time it is definitely worth the effort to walk these back alleys and listen out for unusual birdsong!

Northern Parula – Point Loma, San Diego County, California 02 June 2015 (© Gary Nunn)

Northern Parula – Point Loma, San Diego County, California 02 June 2015 (© Gary Nunn)

Northern Parula – Point Loma, San Diego County, California 02 June 2015 (© Gary Nunn)

Northern Parula – Point Loma, San Diego County, California 02 June 2015 (© Gary Nunn)

Northern Parula – Point Loma, San Diego County, California 02 June 2015 (© Gary Nunn)

Springtime eastern vagrant collection in Point Loma

[All photographs copyright, Gary Nunn 2015] – Things were going pretty slow at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery this morning until I reached the southeast corner. This part of the cemetery has delivered many rare birds and my ears pricked up when I heard a Chestnut-sided Warbler Setophaga pensylvanica singing from the far corner! I quickly located it as it moved around inside a twiggy Myoporum bush. I only managed a few photographs as it peered out and, after returning with my 500 mm lens, could not refind it. I continued working around the large evergreen Ficus type trees when suddenly out hopped a Yellow-throated Vireo Vireo flavifrons right in front of me! There was no missing this colorful vireo which traveled below the canopy through a few trees before being lost northwards. I’ve been searching for this vireo species for a long time here in San Diego and these days nothing beats a self-found new county bird!

While photographing the vireo my attention was drawn to a loud “bip” or “kip” call in the same tree as the Yellow-throated Vireo. It basically sounded like a louder and faster repeated version of a Hammond’s Flycatcher. I was shocked to see the call coming from a “Traill’s” type flycatcher flitting around madly under the canopy of the Ficus tree! Other birders came over and listened to the flycatcher above our heads. The analysis of recordings of the calls will be the subject of a follow up blog post.

I did make a late afternoon return visit but could only add an Indigo Bunting Passerina cyanea to the eastern vagrant mix! Not a bad haul for one day in spring migration at the cemetery!

Yellow-throated Vireo – Point Loma, San Diego County, California 30 May 2015 (© Gary Nunn)

Yellow-throated Vireo – Point Loma, San Diego County, California 30 May 2015 (© Gary Nunn)

Yellow-throated Vireo – Point Loma, San Diego County, California 30 May 2015 (© Gary Nunn)

Yellow-throated Vireo – Point Loma, San Diego County, California 30 May 2015 (© Gary Nunn)

Chestnut-sided Warbler – Point Loma, San Diego County, California 30 May 2015 (© Gary Nunn)

Chestnut-sided Warbler – Point Loma, San Diego County, California 30 May 2015 (© Gary Nunn)

Indigo Bunting – Point Loma, San Diego County, California 30 May 2015 (© Gary Nunn)

Indigo Bunting – Point Loma, San Diego County, California 30 May 2015 (© Gary Nunn)

Indigo Bunting – Point Loma, San Diego County, California 30 May 2015 (© Gary Nunn)

Indigo Bunting – Point Loma, San Diego County, California 30 May 2015 (© Gary Nunn)