Borrego “Sink” – songster Lucy’s Warbler

[All photographs copyright, Gary Nunn 2013] – After hearing reports of abundant Lucy’s Warbler returning this spring to the deserts of Arizona, I decided to search through the Borrego Valley “Sink” mesquite bosque for this species. Although more common further east, this is the only known breeding locale for Lucy’s Warbler in San Diego County and a tenuous one at that. With usually only a handful of pairs in a 2500 acre habitat the search could be lengthy! Looking at previous year’s arrival dates into the Borrego Sink it seemed reasonable they could be around by this time although I had heard no reports thus far this spring. I set off at 6:45 am, just before dawn, from the north terminus of Yaqui Pass Road and headed northeast into the pitiful looking mesquite bosque. There were some early morning clouds and I thought it might stay cool for a while. About 0.5 miles in, at exactly 7:00 am, a singing Crissal Thrasher Toxostoma crissale was a nice find, another specialty species of the area.

Crissal Thrasher – Borrego Valley “Sink”, 16 March 2013

The only other birds to materialize from the mesquite bosque were Black-tailed Gnatcatchers, Black-throated Sparrows, Verdin, and Bewick’s Wrens, the last species seemed to be following me everywhere. Also a few flyover species including Lawrence’s Goldfinches making their twinkly flight call. Unfortunately the clouds cleared quickly and it started warming up. After continuing northeast, and zig-zagging around all over the place, I decided to pack it in and turned south to walk to the perimeter dirt road. Just then I happened on a male Lucy’s Warbler Oreothlypis luciae singing loudly from a mesquite tree.

Lucy’s Warbler – Borrego Valley “Sink”, 16 March 2013

Lucy’s Warbler – Borrego Valley “Sink”, 16 March 2013

Lucy’s Warbler – Borrego Valley “Sink”, 16 March 2013

Lucy’s Warbler – Borrego Valley “Sink”, 16 March 2013

The mesquites everywhere were leafless and this was one of only a handful that I found that was getting into leaf. I estimate it was about a mile in from the parked car, time was 8:39 am. Moving around a small territory, the Lucy’s Warbler continued singing for about five minutes before taking a longer flight north over the mesquites and out of sight. The mercury was rising fast so I headed back to the car via the south perimeter dirt road. An example of the song, identical to the bird seen and heard, can be listened to at the Xeno-Canto link below.

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Black-and-white Warbler in Point Loma

[All photographs copyright, Gary Nunn 2013] – I made a circuit birding at some favorite spots around Point Loma after a stormy night with rain and gusty winds. There did not seem to be much bird activity anywhere, but finally, once the sun had come out along Silvergate Ave, there at last seemed to be some birds to look at! The best find was this dapper looking male Black-and-white Warbler Mniotilta varia which was busy feeding, nuthatch like, in pepper trees at the junction of Warner and Silvergate Avenue. This would appear to be a first spring male, the retained dusky brown remiges and rectrices contrast quite strongly with the bold black centers of the greater coverts. This bird was quite noisy and sounded the alarm, a repeated harsh “chip” call, at a nearby cat moving underneath the fir tree.

Black-and-white Warbler – Silvergate Ave., Point Loma 09 March 2013

Black-and-white Warbler – Silvergate Ave., Point Loma 09 March 2013

Black-and-white Warbler – Silvergate Ave., Point Loma 09 March 2013

Black-and-white Warbler – Silvergate Ave., Point Loma 09 March 2013

Black-and-white Warbler – Silvergate Ave., Point Loma 09 March 2013

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At last a Glaucous-winged Gull – Mission Bay

[All photographs copyright, Gary Nunn 2013] – There seems to be a deficiency of interesting gulls this winter along the coast of San Diego County. So when I spotted a large pale gull near the entry causeway to Fiesta Island, Mission Bay I quickly investigated! The gull was quite difficult to approach until a jetski passed nearby and happened to kill a fish just beneath the water surface. The floating fish body parts came alongside the shoreline and soon attracted this large-in-size second-cycle Glaucous-winged Gull Larus glaucescens into photographic range. It aggressively chased off nearby Western Gulls and soon had the fish remains to itself while dominantly guarding the area near the shore.

Glaucous-winged Gull second-cycle, Mission Bay, San Diego 17 Feb 2013

Glaucous-winged Gull second-cycle, Mission Bay, San Diego 17 Feb 2013

Glaucous-winged Gull second-cycle, Mission Bay, San Diego 17 Feb 2013

Glaucous-winged Gull second-cycle, Mission Bay, San Diego 17 Feb 2013

This gull is chesty and short bodied looking, typical for this species, with wings at rest hardly much longer than the tail by only a few primary feather tips. The off-center, forward-weighted look is quite prominent when it swims and even quite odd looking when seen from the side alighting. Several views also show well the broad width of the wings, in particular the secondaries, that help create the skirted looking effect known well in this species. Although the legs are quite dark looking there is an underlying pink color becoming evident.

Glaucous-winged Gull second-cycle, Mission Bay, San Diego 17 Feb 2013

Glaucous-winged Gull second-cycle, Mission Bay, San Diego 17 Feb 2013

Glaucous-winged Gull second-cycle, Mission Bay, San Diego 17 Feb 2013

Glaucous-winged Gull second-cycle, Mission Bay, San Diego 17 Feb 2013

This gull has a nice looking dark cappucino-brown colored iris, but the dark greyish eyering appears to have no other notable coloration developed so far as I could discern from the photographs. The strong looking dark bill has quite a pronounced gonydeal angle with some pale coloration at the base of both the upper and lower mandible (patchy). It also has a fine light-colored tip to the upper mandible.

Glaucous-winged Gull second-cycle, Mission Bay, San Diego 17 Feb 2013

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Weekend highlights – 03 Feb 2013

[All photographs copyright, Gary Nunn 2013] – I spent the morning birding around San Diego with out of town visitors Lisa and Joel Swanstrom from Minneapolis, Minnesota. An early start found us at Point La Jolla, where the impressively large 6+ feet surf was crashing right on to the headland. The only seabirds of note were a continuous stream of Black-vented Shearwaters offshore, and one group of Rhinoceros Auklet, about a dozen strong, flying together south. We made a lucky check of the algae covered beach boulders in front of the point which yielded very close views of a basic plumaged Wandering Tattler Tringa incana. This was a new species for Lisa and Joel and afforded excellent views and saved us creeping out on the exposed seawall at The Children’s Pool, where this species is customarily seen. Nearby there was also a small flock of Black Turnstone, some Least Sandpipers, and a Sanderling rounded out the littoral waders that could be seen boulder hopping in the surf.

Wandering Tattler – Point La Jolla, 03 Feb 2013

Wandering Tattler – Point La Jolla, 03 Feb 2013

Wandering Tattler – Point La Jolla, 03 Feb 2013

Black Turnstone – Point La Jolla, 03 Feb 2013

Least Sandpiper – Point La Jolla, 03 Feb 2013

A late morning check of the Sweetwater River in Chula Vista, between Highland Ave and N 2nd Ave, found us a bright male Eurasian Wigeon Anas penelope in among the more numerous American Wigeon. After some close views it made a short flight upstream, where it quickly slid away to remain hidden from view underneath the bank of the tidal channel.

Eurasian Wigeon – Sweetwater River, 03 Feb 2013

Eurasian Wigeon – Sweetwater River, 03 Feb 2013

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Leading male Black Scoter – Point La Jolla

[All photographs copyright, Gary Nunn 2013] – This wonderful looking seaduck was close to the top of my wishlist to spot flying by Point La Jolla! This morning the winds from the southwest had southbound bands of Surf Scoter, ten to fifteen at a time, pushed quite close to Point La Jolla. About the third flock going south had this fine looking adult male Black Scoter Melanitta americana leading the way. Easily picked out by the rich yellow colored swollen bill, it also flagged against the headwind occasionally revealing the paler underwing coloration of the flight feathers.

Black Scoter male with Surf Scoters – Point La Jolla, 27 Jan 2013

Black Scoter male with Surf Scoters – Point La Jolla, 27 Jan 2013

Black Scoter male with Surf Scoters – Point La Jolla, 27 Jan 2013

Black Scoter male – Point La Jolla, 27 Jan 2013

Black Scoter male – Point La Jolla, 27 Jan 2013

This is the second Black Scoter that I have seen at Point La Jolla this winter. An adult female, first spotted by Jay Keller, also passed south with Surf Scoters on 18 Dec 2012. In both cases the individual Black Scoter generally seemed well placed at the front leading the flock of Surf Scoters. It makes me wonder if there is some subtle difference in flying speed or a behavioral preference of some kind which keeps this species at the front – interesting!

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Bird bounty of La Jolla Muirlands

[All photographs copyright, Gary Nunn 2013] – The Muirlands neighborhood of La Jolla has many impressively well wooded gardens providing food and cover for myriad good birds. Streets such as El Camino Del Teatro, La Cumbre Drive, Solymar Drive, and Inspiration Drive can all be productive turning up good finds. I made several visits over the last couple weekends discovering Western Tanagers, Summer Tanager, Hermit Warbler, Mountain Chickadees, Red-breasted Sapsuckers, White-breasted Nuthatch, and what seems to be endless inquisitive Red-breasted Nuthatches. Another good find was a shy “Slate-colored” Fox Sparrow buried in deep cover under a hedgerow. This area is definitely worth a visit if you are in the area, for example after a dawn seawatch from Point La Jolla is a good plan, by 9 am the temperatures are rising and insect activity picks up drawing out activity in the birds.

Western Tanager – La Jolla Muirlands 13 Jan 2013

Western Tanager – La Jolla Muirlands 13 Jan 2013

Summer Tanager – La Jolla Muirlands 13 Jan 2013

Summer Tanager – La Jolla Muirlands 13 Jan 2013

Summer Tanager – La Jolla Muirlands 13 Jan 2013

Summer Tanager – La Jolla Muirlands 13 Jan 2013

Red-breasted Sapsucker – La Jolla Muirlands 06 Jan 2013

Mountain Chickadee – La Jolla Muirlands 06 Jan 2013

White-breasted Nuthatch – La Jolla Muirlands 13 Jan 2013

Hermit Warbler – La Jolla Muirlands 13 Jan 2013

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The classy Canvasback – Rose Creek, Mission Bay

[All photographs copyright, Gary Nunn 2013] – In the last couple of years of looking at wintering ducks on Mission Bay I do not recall seeing a Canvasback Aythya valisineria before so this was quite a nice local patch find! There are many ritzy looking Redhead on the bay right now but the shape and deep chestnut head of the Canvasback is just so classy looking in my opinion. The negative tide, about minus 1.4 feet, had drawn down the water in Rose Creek substantially, and many diving and dabbling ducks had collected there milling around feeding in the shallows. I spotted this splendid male Canvasback paddling toward the bikepath bridge over Rose Creek (west terminus of North Mission Bay Drive). It looked quite edgy by itself and suddenly took off flying strongly toward the bay, but then veered directly around and flew back right over me on the bridge! I last saw it cupping its wings as it settled in to Rose Creek, just north of Grand Avenue in Pacific Beach. A tiny area of open water so it should not be difficult to relocate!

Canvasback – Rose Creek, Mission Bay 09 Jan 2013

Canvasback – Rose Creek, Mission Bay 09 Jan 2013

Canvasback – Rose Creek, Mission Bay 09 Jan 2013

Canvasback – Rose Creek, Mission Bay 09 Jan 2013

Canvasback – Rose Creek, Mission Bay 09 Jan 2013

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Warbler madness at Lower Otay Lake

[All photographs copyright, Gary Nunn 2012] – I almost went early this morning to Lower Otay Lake, Chula Vista, to look for the Blackpoll Warbler reported yesterday, but decided to go birding later once the temperature warmed up. As several very experienced California birders pointed out, this is a very unusual winter date for a Blackpoll Warbler and worth investigating. So when word came out that the identification had been revised to a much rarer Bay-breasted Warbler, along with the discovery of a Prairie Warbler no less, I jumped in the car and headed down to the lake! By the sound of things a posse of local birders had been picking over the rare warbler finds!

This adult male Praire Warbler was discovered by local birder BJ Stacy in the small willows along the edge of Lower Otay Lake just on the north side of the boat ramp. It was very mobile while I watched it move among willow trees dotted along several hundred yards of shoreline both north and south of the boat ramp. It even flew out to the submerged willow islands near the end of the jetty at one point! It did occasionally come very close and, since it was feeding low in the bushes, provided excellent photographic opportunities.

Prairie Warbler – Lower Otay Lake, Chula Vista 31 Dec 2012

Prairie Warbler – Lower Otay Lake, Chula Vista 31 Dec 2012

Prairie Warbler – Lower Otay Lake, Chula Vista 31 Dec 2012

Prairie Warbler – Lower Otay Lake, Chula Vista 31 Dec 2012

Prairie Warbler – Lower Otay Lake, Chula Vista 31 Dec 2012

Prairie Warbler – Lower Otay Lake, Chula Vista 31 Dec 2012

Originally reported on 30 Dec 2012 as a Blackpoll Warbler, this bird is perhaps the most difficult identification challenge among the Parulidae Wood-Warblers. The next day local birders Jay Keller and BJ Stacy relocated the warbler, joined later by Paul Lehman and Guy McCaskie, and revised its identification as a much rarer Bay-breasted Warbler! There are several key diagnostic features that contribute to its identification including most importantly the evenly blue-grey colored legs and feet (including soles of the feet) which can be seen in the photographs below. I also think the undertail coverts have a slight buffy coloration, at least at the sides where they meet the flanks, which is another feature of Bay-breasted Warbler. Looking at details of the plumage from the photographs this appears to be an adult female. Only the outer two rectrices have white markings, and the white mark on r5 is small. In addition the rump has a noticeable lead grey coloration that contrasts with the yellowish-green upperparts.

Bay-breasted Warbler – Lower Otay Lake, Chula Vista 31 Dec 2012

Bay-breasted Warbler – Lower Otay Lake, Chula Vista 31 Dec 2012

Bay-breasted Warbler – Lower Otay Lake, Chula Vista 31 Dec 2012

Bay-breasted Warbler – Lower Otay Lake, Chula Vista 31 Dec 2012

Bay-breasted Warbler – Lower Otay Lake, Chula Vista 31 Dec 2012

Bay-breasted Warbler – Lower Otay Lake, Chula Vista 31 Dec 2012

Bay-breasted Warbler – Lower Otay Lake, Chula Vista 31 Dec 2012

Bay-breasted Warbler – Lower Otay Lake, Chula Vista 31 Dec 2012

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Leading the pack – adult female Black Scoter

[All photographs copyright, Gary Nunn 2012] – Amid the excitement of finding and photographing San Diego County’s first Great-winged Petrel I had forgotten about this nice adult female Black Scoter Melanitta americana that was spotted by local birder Jay Keller. Jay arrived just twenty minutes after the petrel came by the point and he immediately picked out the Black Scoter among a pack of fast-moving Surf Scoter while waiting patiently to see if the petrel would return. The buffy cheek, throat and neck, clearly demarcated from the completely dark brown upper and underparts indicates this is an adult female Black Scoter. This bird shows off some interesting paler edges to the primaries as well as whitish “dots” on the tips of the secondaries, the latter particularly visible from beneath. Adults undergo definitive prebasic molt by November so perhaps this is a feature of the new plumage.

Black Scoter adult female – Point La Jolla, La Jolla, California 18 Dec 2012

Black Scoter adult female – Point La Jolla, La Jolla, California 18 Dec 2012

Black Scoter adult female – Point La Jolla, La Jolla, California 18 Dec 2012

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Magic moment – Great-winged Petrel at La Jolla Cove

[All photographs copyright, Gary Nunn 2012] – Sometimes there are just magic moments birding. Today I was thinking it was all so ho-hum when along came this beautiful sooty-brown tubenosed seabird making agile sweeping arcs in flight over the kelp beds of La Jolla Cove. I took one look at this bird making switchbacks in front of me and new immediately it had to be photographed!! Close examination of the photographs reveals this is a Great-winged Petrel Pterodroma macroptera. It can be distinguished from the closely similar Providence Petrel P. solandri (also known as Solander’s Petrel) by the fully dark underwing including completely dark underside to the primaries and underwing primary coverts. Other distinguishing features include the saber like wing shape, bulky “fat” medium length wedge-shaped tail, and the overall dark brown concolorous plumage except for the pale peppering around the bill base. The strong black bill is also noticeable. This bird flew in agile, graceful high arcs interspersed with slower wingtip touching the water style flights. It circled several times among other birds collected over the near shore kelp bed before disappearing to the south. Based on time stamps from my 118 images it was in view for less than two minutes! All photographs below are shown without adjustments to original color or contrast.

Great-winged Petrel – La Jolla Cove, 18 Dec 2012

Great-winged Petrel – La Jolla Cove, 18 Dec 2012

Great-winged Petrel – La Jolla Cove, 18 Dec 2012

Great-winged Petrel – La Jolla Cove, 18 Dec 2012

Great-winged Petrel – La Jolla Cove, 18 Dec 2012

Great-winged Petrel – La Jolla Cove, 18 Dec 2012

Great-winged Petrel – La Jolla Cove, 18 Dec 2012

Great-winged Petrel – La Jolla Cove, 18 Dec 2012

Great-winged Petrel – La Jolla Cove, 18 Dec 2012

Great-winged Petrel – La Jolla Cove, 18 Dec 2012

Great-winged Petrel – La Jolla Cove, 18 Dec 2012

Great-winged Petrel – La Jolla Cove, 18 Dec 2012

Great-winged Petrel – La Jolla Cove, 18 Dec 2012

There are currently five accepted records of Great-winged Petrel in California with another one under consideration, the nearest to San Diego coming from Monterey County in 1998. Great-winged Petrel was seen as recently as September 2011, pending acceptance by the California Bird Records Committee, from a Half Moon Bay, San Mateo County pelagic run by Debi Shearwater. This bird would seem to be somewhat later than previous California records which occurred during July through October. The pale peppering around the bill base, in particular the chin, may indicate this is a form of Great-winged Petrel known as “Grey-faced” Petrel P. m. gouldi although juveniles of the nominate macroptera are noted as having pale feathering of the face also. Certainly the gouldi form has been positively identified in California previously and this bird could well be that form also. It seems most likely this is an adult bird because juveniles are only leaving their nests in the Southern Hemisphere in early December.

In the ABA area Great-winged Petrel has only been recorded from California and is currently categorized as a Code-5: Accidental which means there are five or less records in the ABA area. This record would constitute the 6th or 7th record dependent on the acceptance of the September 2011 record. It is the first Great-winged Petrel to be seen from shore anywhere in the ABA area.

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