“Yellow-shafted” Northern Flicker – Tijuana River Valley

[All photographs copyright, Gary Nunn 2015] – This female “Yellow-shafted” Northern Flicker came late to the party, so to speak, as it alighted in a dead tree at the Bird & Butterfly Garden only to see four “Red-shafted” Northern Flicker, already in the tree, all take flight immediately and fly away. The red nuchal patch on the lower nape can be seen as well as the yellow colored remiges. The absence of a black “whisker” on the face indicates it is a female.

“Yellow-shafted” Northern Flicker – Bird & Butterfly Garden, Tijuana River Valley Regional Park, San Diego County, California 03 Jan 2015

“Yellow-shafted” Northern Flicker – Bird & Butterfly Garden, Tijuana River Valley Regional Park, San Diego County, California 03 Jan 2015

“Yellow-shafted” Northern Flicker – Bird & Butterfly Garden, Tijuana River Valley Regional Park, San Diego County, California 03 Jan 2015

“Yellow-shafted” Northern Flicker – Bird & Butterfly Garden, Tijuana River Valley Regional Park, San Diego County, California 03 Jan 2015

Large-billed Sparrow in Mission Beach

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[All photographs copyright, Gary Nunn 2015] – I think the Large-billed Sparrow Passerculus (sandwichensis) rostratus is perhaps one of my favorite North American sparrows. Personally I would like to see a more progressive taxonomy of the genus Passerculus which elevates this distinct form to species status, or at least “allied” with Belding’s Savannah Sparrow in a larger billed “species”. It is currently treated as a form of Savannah Sparrow by the AOU. As for a common name? Why not call it the “San Diego Sparrow” since the type specimen came from “Sea shore at San Diego, California”.

Large-billed Sparrow – Mission Beach North Jetty, Mission Beach, San Diego County, California 30 Dec 2014

Large-billed Sparrow – Mission Beach North Jetty, Mission Beach, San Diego County, California 30 Dec 2014

Large-billed Sparrow – Mission Beach North Jetty, Mission Beach, San Diego County, California 30 Dec 2014

Large-billed Sparrow – Mission Beach North Jetty, Mission Beach, San Diego County, California 30 Dec 2014

Large-billed Sparrow – Mission Beach North Jetty, Mission Beach, San Diego County, California 30 Dec 2014

Ancient Murrelets exiting La Jolla Cove

[All photographs copyright, Gary Nunn 2014] – With almost windless calm conditions at Point La Jolla this morning the outlook did not look promising for seabirds. But around 7:45 a.m. I suddenly caught sight of a very close Ancient Murrelet Synthliboramphus antiquus passing south around the point. I almost missed it looking farther away out on the ocean! With barely a north breeze blowing the Ancient Murrelet flew by relatively slowly and I managed to train the camera on it quite quickly. The cloudy light conditions were not fantastic but the gray back and darker upper wing can be seen nicely as well as the black and white bicolored face and under parts. The pale bill tip is clearly visible. A short while later, at 8:30 a.m., a second individual came flying out from the cove on an almost identical track to the first, going west. The second individual looked more clean white plumaged on the underparts than the first individual and lacked the spotty dark under part feathers like the initial bird. Both of these Ancient Murrelets were much closer to the point than others I have seen here this winter. It appeared to me they were exiting La Jolla Cove and they passed only 30-40 yards from the rocky point. Clearly the incursion of this species into southern California is continuing and there appears to be good chances of close views from headlands along the coast if one has patience!

Ancient Murrelet – Point La Jolla, La Jolla, San Diego County, California 28 Dec 2014

Ancient Murrelet – Point La Jolla, La Jolla, San Diego County, California 28 Dec 2014

Ancient Murrelet – Point La Jolla, La Jolla, San Diego County, California 28 Dec 2014

Ancient Murrelet – Point La Jolla, La Jolla, San Diego County, California 28 Dec 2014

Ancient Murrelet – Point La Jolla, La Jolla, San Diego County, California 28 Dec 2014

Ancient Murrelet – Point La Jolla, La Jolla, San Diego County, California 28 Dec 2014

Ancient Murrelet – Point La Jolla, La Jolla, San Diego County, California 28 Dec 2014

Pacific Golden-Plover at the Tijuana River mouth

[All photographs copyright, Gary Nunn 2014] – I discovered this Pacific Golden-Plover Pluvialis fulva accompanying a small band of Black-bellied Plover near the Tijuana River mouth in Imperial Beach on 26 Dec 2014. In the warmly colored afternoon sunshine the yellowish-gold feathering about the face, and “gold” spangles on the back, show very well in the photographs. This species was last reported at this location a few months ago in the first week of October. So this would appear to be a new bird in the area.

The abundant large gold spots on the back, golden-yellow washed face with a noticeable “ear-spot”, absence of a prominent white supercilium and not having really a capped look, and the long tertials with only three primary feather tips clearly emerged beyond, all point to this bird being a Pacific Golden-Plover rather than a much rarer American Golden-Plover. It was noticeably smaller than nearby Black-bellied Plovers and looked relatively “lanky” on its long legs compared to this species.

Pacific Golden-Plover – Tijuana Estuary, Imperial Beach, San Diego County, California 26 Dec 2014

Pacific Golden-Plover – Tijuana Estuary, Imperial Beach, San Diego County, California 26 Dec 2014

Pacific Golden-Plover – Tijuana Estuary, Imperial Beach, San Diego County, California 26 Dec 2014

Pacific Golden-Plover – Tijuana Estuary, Imperial Beach, San Diego County, California 26 Dec 2014

Pacific Golden-Plover – Tijuana Estuary, Imperial Beach, San Diego County, California 26 Dec 2014

Pacific Golden-Plover – Tijuana Estuary, Imperial Beach, San Diego County, California 26 Dec 2014

Dark pool – Tufted Duck on Upper Otay Lake

[All photographs copyright, Gary Nunn 2014] – This superb male Tufted Duck Aythya fuligula was found by Matt Sadowski and Lea Squires on 24 Dec 2014 at Upper Otay Lake in San Diego County. By the time I arrived there, around 11:30 a.m., it was drifting around, and on-off sleeping, in the middle of the small lake with many other diving ducks. I photographed it at some distance using the Canon 1Dx with 500 mm/f4 IS II lens and Extender EF 2X III combo. This combined 1000 mm focal length, on the full frame camera sensor, leads to some image quality loss but the results at least allow you to pull in birds from a great distance away. Tufted Duck is particularly attracted to semi-wooded, dark freshwater pools and this small lake seems an ideal location you could at least wish to encounter this very rare duck species here in southern California! The San Diego County Bird Atlas describes three previous records from San Diego County, the last seen in 1998 at Famosa Slough (Unitt 2004). An early Christmas present for avid county listers here in San Diego County!

Tufted Duck – Upper Otay Lake, San Diego County, California 24 Dec 2014

Tufted Duck – Upper Otay Lake, San Diego County, California 24 Dec 2014

Tufted Duck – Upper Otay Lake, San Diego County, California 24 Dec 2014

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.