[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.
[All photographs copyright, Gary Nunn 2015] – A new arrival at Fiesta Island, Mission Bay, San Diego County this morning was a single Lapland Longspur Calcarius lapponicus in among the Horned Larks and American Pipits. It moved off with the mixed flock giving a typical rattle call in flight. Not very approachable in the very open habitat conditions in the southeast section of the dog park.
[All photographs copyright, Gary Nunn 2015] – Seawatching got underway at Point La Jolla over the last few days with a cold front coming down from the north and strong onshore winds pushing birds on to the coast. Loon and seaduck migration underwent a definite uptick with some nice finds picked out in the Surf Scoter flocks passing by southbound. A few highlights below from Point La Jolla on 03-04 November 2015. All photography done with the 1000mm setup on the Canon 1Dx camera as birds pass the point. Best highlight was an adult female Long-tailed Duck Clangula hyemalis tucked in with a band of Surf Scoter.
[All photographs copyright, Gary Nunn 2015]
[All photographs copyright, Gary Nunn 2015] – I decided to try my luck again in the late afternoon at Fiesta Island dog park in Mission Bay and, in spite of arriving late at about 4:45pm, was not disappointed with the birds. I returned to where I had seen a mystery pipit flush yesterday afternoon and quickly located two Red-throated Pipit Anthus cervinus traveling together giving their loud “speeee” flight calls. They did not move far but remained well hidden in thicker vegetation and I only managed some brief looks.
I decided to keep on slowly walking around and at about 5:30 pm I flushed a Chestnut-collared Longspur Calcarius ornatus close to the location of the pipits. It called frequently, the pleasant sounding “kidedel” flight call, and did not move too far in short flights showing off much white in the tail. Unfortunately the light was failing pretty quickly and it remained well hidden among taller vegetation clumps. After several walk up flushes I finally got lucky and it made a short shift in position sideways, on a wind gust, and alighted on the open ground right in front of me! This appears to be a male with fine black underparts visible although with much pale brownish veiling of the feather edges. Similarly the chestnut collar is visible but muted by pale feather edges and the poor lighting. Also visible is the white lesser secondary coverts patch and, in a rather poor flight shot, the black-white tail pattern can be noted. This species has a quite small and darker horn colored bill also distinguishing it from McCown’s Longspur. It finally took off and disappeared east towards the wide open southeast section of the dog run.
[All photographs copyright, Gary Nunn 2015] – After being out of town for the last week, while many great birds were being found in San Diego, I decided after getting home I had to at least take a late afternoon walk with my dog at Fiesta Island, Mission Bay. Good decision! I had hardly walked fifty yards in the very birdy southeast section when I spied a large pale plover ahead. Just within a couple of minutes being here and there was a Mountain Plover Charadrius montanus standing right in front of me! I could hardly believe my luck! I put my dog on the leash and carefully approached the plover which was not too skittish. It did take off in flight and make a big circuit before dropping back into the open southeast section of the dog run. In flight it could be heard calling, a sort of harsh croaking “krrrrt”, as it flew by overhead.
Mountain Plover is now a very rare visitor to San Diego County, last seen in 2010 also here at the dog park on Fiesta Island, Mission Bay. In 2009 a group of six were found by Robert Patton in the Tijuana Slough National Wildlife Refuge. None since! I’ve been hoping to find my own here in Mission Bay so this was a lot of fun to discover and put on my county list!