Crested Caracara lazing around in the Tijuana River Valley

[All photographs, movies copyright, Gary Nunn 2013] – I was making a quick circuit of the Sod Farm, down on Dairy Mart Road, when I noticed the Tijuana River was actually flowing with water! Evidently the entire river bed had recently been closely mowed of all tall herbaceous vegetation and now the river itself could be easily seen. In fact, it looked as if the recent rain storm had flooded the river bed which was now a patchwork of muddy pools. The smell was not great but there were shorebirds and raptors all over the place. While scanning for shorebirds I was quite shocked to find this fantastic looking adult Crested Caracara Caracara cheriway sitting like a big chicken in a pile of dried brush! It actually looked pretty comfortable! Caracaras are just weird whatever way you look at it!

This is the third occasion I have found a Crested Caracara frequenting this area over the last couple of years. One was last seen here just over a year ago in early September 2012. When the bird is around it seems hit-and-miss to locate it, but it can be seen anywhere from the Dairy Mart Ponds all the way east, along the river bed, as far as the back lot of the Las Americas Premium Outlets Mall at the west end of San Ysidro.

First storm moves in – Great Crested Flycatcher and more!

[All photographs copyright, Gary Nunn 2013] – I have been anxiously monitoring the first “winter” storm to move in down here in Southern California with the hope it might steer some wayward vagrants our way. But after getting to Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery at dawn this morning for a quick walk around it seemed like the high winds and rain might, literally, put a damper on everything. Add to that the virtual darkness under the thick, damp cloud cover and I was not hopeful!

Then one of those “uh-oh” moments! Here sat a perfect candidate – on the ground at the base of the fence in front of me was a very exhausted looking Myiarchus flycatcher! A bird that is tired looking, semi-moribund, tells me one thing – it probably came a long way! This needed checking out very carefully! I approached a bit closer but the flycatcher came to life and flew off low through the fence. I played cat-and-mouse getting looks at a bright yellow blob moving ahead of me with a shocking dark red-rufous tail. The bill did appear pinkish at the base and bright white markings stood out edging the tertials. Then it just flew out and flopped down on the grass in front of me about twenty yards away! I managed to get a nice series of photographs at this point, phew. I really thought the bird would just continue to hop around on the ground in front of me, but no, it flew up a small height and was whipped away by the strong winds! Aaarghh! I ran over to the pine tree, where it was blown to, but there was no sign of it in the noisy rustling canopy. That was it – the last view I got!

Great Crested Flycatcher – Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, Point Loma, San Diego, California 09 Oct 2013

My gut feeling, looking at the bill size and color, yellow underparts up to the lower chest, dark gray throat and face, and dark (olive) brown back and crown, was that this was probably a Great Crested Flycatcher Myiarchus crinitus. On my way home I called Paul Lehman for some advice on the flycatcher. In addition to the olive-brown upperparts, he also reminded me that this species shows off a large crisp white outer edge to the innermost tertial on the wing. At home, scrutinizing the photographs, this bird does indeed show off all the credentials of a Great Crested Flycatcher.

Great Crested Flycatcher – Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, Point Loma, San Diego, California 09 Oct 2013

Great Crested Flycatcher – Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, Point Loma, San Diego, California 09 Oct 2013

Looking to refind the flycatcher on the east side of the cemetery I then also found a Yellow-green Vireo Vireo flavoviridis actively moving along just behind the fence line in the southeast section. In fact from a distance I saw a yellowish-green bird perched on the fence top and thought it might be a small oriole! But a quick look through binoculars and I was soon running towards the vireo! It was hard to see in the gnarly Myoporum bush tops but I finally managed to obtain some reasonably good photographs of my second Yellow-green Vireo of Fall 2013!

Yellow-green Vireo – Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, Point Loma, San Diego, California 09 Oct 2013

Yellow-green Vireo – Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, Point Loma, San Diego, California 09 Oct 2013

Yellow-green Vireo – Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, Point Loma, San Diego, California 09 Oct 2013

Dolphins deliver – Flesh-footed Shearwater in San Diego County waters

[All photographs copyright, Gary Nunn 2013] – Pelagic trips are always so unpredictable off of San Diego. After a “here-one-minute, gone-the-next” experience earlier in the day (what was that dark blur on the camera back?), everyone finally connected with a superb Flesh-footed Shearwater Puffinus carneipes that was tracking a large pod of Common Dolphin over the Nine Mile Bank. Careening around at high speed after the dolphins, along with twenty or so Pink-footed Shearwater, the Flesh-footed played a wild game with us before settling down on the water a couple of times. Snappily reversing course, the captain of the sport-fishing vessel Grande had managed to catch back up with the rapidly passing dolphins that were heading “uphill” into the wind and small swell. The pack of large shearwaters were excitedly staying with the wide swath of active dolphins and the Flesh-footed was soon picked out again as we caught up. Amid some chaos, and hollering out where the bird was located, it showed off very well to the 56 birders crowded near the bow. At least twice it settled down on the water for a few minutes and allowed a close approach by the boat and the birding paparazzi got to work! Everyone on board, birders and bird photographers alike, came away satisfied with the fantastic experience of seeing this very sought after tubenose seabird. The beaming smiles and cheers all around ended a classic day at sea for the SoCalBirding 12-hour pelagic out of San Diego, California.

Flesh-footed Shearwater – Nine Mile Bank, San Diego County waters, California 05 October 2013

Flesh-footed Shearwater – Nine Mile Bank, San Diego County waters, California 05 October 2013

Flesh-footed Shearwater – Nine Mile Bank, San Diego County waters, California 05 October 2013

Flesh-footed Shearwater – Nine Mile Bank, San Diego County waters, California 05 October 2013

Flesh-footed Shearwater – Nine Mile Bank, San Diego County waters, California 05 October 2013

Flesh-footed Shearwater – Nine Mile Bank, San Diego County waters, California 05 October 2013

San Diego Field Ornithologists (SDFO) considers Flesh-footed Shearwater a Category B rarity occurring here in the county perhaps one or two times a year. The species was high on the wanted list following several reports from further north in California this year. Earlier in the day another Flesh-footed Shearwater had been spotted by keen observers at the back rail of the Grande. That bird moved away quickly and was only seen by two lucky observers, keeping us all on tenterhooks until we found our much wanted quarry later in the day!

Fall plumage – the ghostly Gray Flycatcher

[All photographs copyright, Gary Nunn 2013] – I spotted this ghostly looking Gray Flycatcher Empidonax wrightii in the early morning at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, Point Loma, San Diego. The flycatcher was working along the chain-link fence on the east side of the cemetery, occasionally flying down to the ground on the lawn to pick up insects. It called just once while I watched it, a quiet, almost muffled “whit” as it startled and flew to a new perch. This individual appears to be an adult with white wing bars on the greater and median coverts. In fact the entire plumage is well faded, hence the ghostly gray look! This is expected in the fall since this species molts on its wintering grounds further south of here in Mexico. When you look closely at the plumage of this bird the worn edges can be seen on many of the feathers. I am also always impressed with the intense orange color of the lower mandible of this species. Hard to see, but it does have a small dark tip to the lower mandible which can just be seen in these photographs.

Gray Flycatcher – Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, Point Loma, San Diego 02 Oct 2013

Gray Flycatcher – Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, Point Loma, San Diego 02 Oct 2013

As seemingly all Gray Flycatchers do, this one showed off that characteristic tail-dipping behavior which can be seen in these last two photographs. The dipping motion is slow, almost pendulum like. The bird makes no other movement except the tail dipping – almost clockwork!

Gray Flycatcher with tail straight – Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, Point Loma, San Diego 02 Oct 2013

Gray Flycatcher with tail dipped – Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, Point Loma, San Diego 02 Oct 2013

Maybe there is a reason so few small birds are around the cemetery – hawks everywhere! I have seen many migrating Sharp-shinned Hawks lately around the cemetery as well as what seems to me like an increase in Cooper’s Hawks. This juvenile Cooper’s Hawk, perhaps from one of the nesting pairs nearby, watched me approach and acted quite tame!

Cooper’s Hawk juvenile – Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, Point Loma, San Diego 02 Oct 2013

Point Loma bird haul – Yellow-green Vireo and more

[All photographs copyright, Gary Nunn 2013] – It is always nice when you set off birding and quickly run into a bird species you’ve always hankered after finding yourself. I’m the first to run after other people’s good birds but I think self-found birds are so much more satisfying! I was only talking about this exact species the other day, and there it is, a Yellow-green Vireo Vireo flavoviridis at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery! I first located it around 7:30 am and it was seen on-and-off until at least 12:30 pm allowing many people, including a large birding tour group from England, to obtain looks as it fed in the Ficus tree. This bird is almost a year to the day since Sue Smith discovered one here at the cemetery on 26 Sep 2012. I could hardly believe my good luck!

Yellow-green Vireo – Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, Point Loma, San Diego 21 Sep 2013

Yellow-green Vireo – Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, Point Loma, San Diego 21 Sep 2013

In spite of the muted early morning light, thanks to coastal marine layer clouds, you can still see nice bright yellow-green coloration on the undertail coverts and breast sides. It also shows off the paler grey crown coloration and darker penciled eyebrow above the indistinct supercilium. The bill is classic pinkish for this species with a few small greyish dark marks near the cutting edges. It seemed to like gulping down some of the berries on the Ficus tree and then retiring into the canopy for a while!

Yellow-green Vireo – Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, Point Loma, San Diego 21 Sep 2013

Yellow-green Vireo – Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, Point Loma, San Diego 21 Sep 2013

I have been following this Tennessee Warbler around at the cemetery for a while now so was very happy to finally get some photographs. This is a nice brightly colored first fall individual with bright yellow suffused on the breast. It was traveling with a couple Orange-crowned Warblers and a Warbling Vireo. Viewed from below it shows a very short tail and long white undertail coverts giving the bird a compact appearance overhead. Should you be lucky enough to see the back it is a lovely rich green color!

Tennessee Warbler – Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, Point Loma, San Diego 21 Sep 2013

Tennessee Warbler – Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, Point Loma, San Diego 21 Sep 2013

The haul of eastern warblers continued when Jim Roberts reported a very spic-and-span looking Chestnut-sided Warbler also at the cemetery. Luckily I ran into it picking over low open boughs of a big Ficus tree where I got some nice photographs. The yellow patches on the rear flank behind and above the leg can be clearly seen in this photograph.

Chestnut-sided Warbler – Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, Point Loma, San Diego 21 Sep 2013

Finally after watching over flocks of endless Chipping Sparrows out jumped this bright buffy colored Clay-colored Sparrow. I think in this plumage they are quite easily told from Chipping Sparrows showing off its buffy-suffused breast sides and dark malar stripes which create a well defined white throat.

Clay-colored Sparrow – Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, Point Loma, San Diego 21 Sep 2013

Clay-colored Sparrow – Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, Point Loma, San Diego 21 Sep 2013

Clay-colored Sparrow – Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, Point Loma, San Diego 21 Sep 2013

Expect the unexpected – Wedge-tailed Shearwater at Pt. La Jolla

[All photographs copyright, Gary Nunn 2013] – As it now turns out, Blue-footed Booby was not the only rare bird making a visit to Pt. La Jolla, La Jolla on Friday 13 Sep 2013. Looking west off the promontory a little before noon on that day I was single-mindedly searching out potential boobies among the milling bird flocks and did not pay too much attention to other birds. At 11:55 a.m., however, a large shearwater with dark upperparts and white underparts did make me jump as it flew around the outer edge of the kelp beds. In hindsight I understand now why this bird triggered some questions in my mind, but at the time I simply dismissed it as a Pink-footed Shearwater flying kind of strangely and looking too thin. As it flew away I raised my Canon 7D with 400mm lens and took just nine photographs all at a considerable distance and in light hazy fog. Just twenty minutes later I was into a first Blue-footed Booby sighting, followed shortly by a second one, and more-or-less forgot about the shearwater images in the excitement. Then at 1:20 p.m. I received an email from Stan Walens asking about the booby sighting since he had been there earlier but left around 9 a.m. Stan signed off his email to me with this amazing statement “And keep your eyes open: I had a probable light morph Wedge-tailed Shearwater this morning, working the area just outside the kelp.”

Gone all weekend, on Saturday a pelagic offshore and then Sunday earnestly looking for any rare birds around Point Loma, I only looked at my nine images of the shearwater more carefully late Sunday evening. Certainly I wish I had paid more attention to that strange shearwater now! I believe these nine images show a light morph Wedge-tailed Shearwater Puffinus pacificus flying away from the kelp bed and these confirm Stan’s observation earlier in the morning. Some late night to-and-fro emails and he confirmed this was indeed the same bird he had observed intermittently from 7:15–8:15 a.m. before he saw it fly off to the south and thought it was gone for good. Much of that hour he saw it flying over towards the Scripps Pier, but twice it came inside the kelp bed just off the Point, as close as 200 yards from his vantage point.

Shown below are 800 x 600 pixel size crops taken directly from my nine images and all centered on the bird. There are no color, contrast, sharpening, or other adjustments made to these cropped images which come directly from RAW format files taken off the camera. Images are shown below in the order taken by the camera and span the time from 11:54:56 a.m. to 11:55:05 a.m. (in other words, a mere 10 seconds!).

Image 1 – IMG_7565.CR2 – 11:54:56 a.m. In this image note the small thin body, relatively long looking wings, and wings bent at the carpal (wrist) joint causing the manus (hand, or primary hand) of the wing to face down towards the water. Wing tips appear long and attenuated.

1. Wedge-tailed Shearwater – Pt. La Jolla, La Jolla 13 Sep 2013

Image 2 – IMG_7566.CR2 – 11:54:56 a.m. In this image again the small thin body is noticeable, the narrow pointed tail, upswept wings are slightly crooked at the carpal joint leading to a “jaeger-like” look from this angle.

2. Wedge-tailed Shearwater – Pt. La Jolla, La Jolla 13 Sep 2013

Image 3 – IMG_7567.CR2 – 11:54:59 a.m. In this image, taken three seconds after those above, the bird has turned slightly to the left. The small head outstretched is noticeable as well as the long dark pointed tail. The right wing crosses below behind the tail obscuring the tail shape. The wings are held forward of the body, at or below the body plane, and are crooked at the carpal joint.

3. Wedge-tailed Shearwater – Pt. La Jolla, La Jolla 13 Sep 2013

Image 4 – IMG_7568.CR2 – 11:54:59 a.m. This very striking image shows the high reaching angle of the upstretched wings which are again still held slightly crooked at the carpal joint. The wings appear long and rakish in profile with a narrow, almost sharp looking, primary hand shape. The quite long narrow pointed tail can be clearly seen in this image. Overall the bird looks very buoyant in this flight view and again has a decidedly “jaeger-like” feel to it. The overall effect could perhaps be compared to a large, long-winged Pterodroma petrel flying in windless conditions.

4. Wedge-tailed Shearwater – Pt. La Jolla, La Jolla 13 Sep 2013

Image 5 – IMG_7569.CR2 – 11:54:59 a.m. In this image the tail can be seen more clearly showing the narrow dark colored and pointed profile, in fact this can be seen in all the photographs but particularly apparent here. The wings are held slightly forward of the body with carpal joint held crooked showing off the narrow trailing long primary hand.

5. Wedge-tailed Shearwater – Pt. La Jolla, La Jolla 13 Sep 2013

Image 6 – IMG_7570.CR2 – 11:55:01 a.m. In this image the bird turned away and the light colored underparts can be seen. Again the wings are held bowed or slightly cupped downwards and show off the small quite thin body that tapers noticeably at the rear. The narrow pointed tail is again clearly shown as a continuous taper from the rear attenuated body shape .

6. Wedge-tailed Shearwater – Pt. La Jolla, La Jolla 13 Sep 2013

Image 7 – IMG_7571.CR2 – 11:55:01 a.m. No notes.

7. Wedge-tailed Shearwater – Pt. La Jolla, La Jolla 13 Sep 2013

Image 8 – IMG_7572.CR2 – 11:55:05 a.m. Taken four seconds after those above, this image shows off the very characteristic buoyant flight pattern, a deep down flap of cupped wings, of Wedge-tailed Shearwater. The deep wing flap lifts the body almost above the plane of the wings. The wings appear deeply arched downwards like they are about to wrap around something. The pale coloration can be clearly seen on the underparts and underwing coverts. Again, the tail looks narrow, long and dark being clearly seen in this image. I think the powerful down flap here and look of the bird has a certain “frigatebird” feel to it almost.

8. Wedge-tailed Shearwater – Pt. La Jolla, La Jolla 13 Sep 2013

Image 9 – IMG_7573.CR2 – 11:55:05 a.m. In flat level glide the small body is noticeable.

9. Wedge-tailed Shearwater – Pt. La Jolla, La Jolla 13 Sep 2013

Stan Walens sent me the notes from his observations earlier in the day and I concur with all of the points in his description below:

(1) unusual buoyant flight, with leisurely wing beats, but snappier, like a Buller’s, not heavy and lumbering like a Pink-footed. As noted in your email, wings pushed forward and then back at the wrists, and arched down. Wings looked narrower and longer than a Pink-footed.

(2) very white underneath; as I said to you before, when I first saw it, it was turned with its ventral side to me, and I thought it was a Buller’s. Only when I saw the all-dark back did I come alert. Realized it couldn’t be a Buller’s, but it took me a little while to move from Buller’s to what this bird might be. The underwings were outlined in black, unlike the clean white of a Buller’s. There was some smudginess to the ventral side, especially on the upper breast/sides of the neck, but not as extensive as a Pink-footed usually shows. On this bird, there was little or no dark in the axillaries.

(3) head looked small, not the big throat and crown of a Pink-footed, and was not as extensively dark as a Pink-footed; had a more “capped” appearance. Slender-bodied, like a Buller’s.

(4) long thin tail, held together in a point; never got a good look at it open. The tail looked to me just too long and narrow to be a Pink-footed.

(5) here’s the big thing: a thin, all dark bill. I saw this bird’s bill clearly from the side when it was closest to shore and it was all dark.

Although certainly taken from a great distance in poor hazy light, these nine photographs are all consistent with flight images of (light morph) Wedge-tailed Shearwater available on the internet and shown in Howell (2012) Petrels, Albatrosses, & Storm-Petrels of North America. We think the only real confusion species here of course is Pink-footed Shearwater, a species that both Stan and I are extremely familiar with in California and abroad. We think the images here are inconsistent with Pink-footed Shearwater and do not think the bird we saw on 13 Sep 2013 is this species. Put together the elements of head shape, bill color observed, wing shape and attitude, body size and shape, tail size, shape and length, as well as the buoyant flight behavior (noted most similar in style to a Buller’s Shearwater) really all points to Wedge-tailed Shearwater. Overall I would say now in hindsight I can understand why this bird’s appearance and behavior elicited interest somewhere in my mind above it being just a strange looking “Pink-footed Shearwater”. It is really another lesson learned seawatching – expect the unexpected, take some photographs, and then take a whole lot more!

One year to the day – Ovenbird in Point Loma

[All photographs copyright, Gary Nunn 2013] – Yes, exactly one year apart on the same day – 15 Sep 2012 to 15 Sep 2013 – I find another Ovenbird Seiurus aurocapillus in Point Loma! What are the chances of that happening? This one was foraging under a densely-canopied thicket at the south end of Point Loma Nazarene University (PLNU) just north of Rohr Hall by the east PLNU fence-line. I was actually walking around the thicket looking for a mystery Empidonax flycatcher seen by Sue Smith when I happened upon the Ovenbird. I only got a brief view as it flitted into thicker cover only to be seen as a silhouette walking chicken like under the bushes. I managed to catch a hurried photograph but the foreground twigs caught the camera autofocus leaving me with an artistic looking “blurred” Ovenbird! And then it was gone. I waited some considerable time for a reappearance but it seemed to have vanished and I eventually gave up. I was happy to hear that just an hour or so later Barbara Carlson and Matt Sadowski had come over to search for it and found it right back in the original location walking in the open among dead leaves. Matt obtained some great photographs that he kindly shared with me and which are shown below.

Ovenbird – Point Loma Nazarene University, Point Loma 15 Sep 2013

Ovenbird – Point Loma Nazarene University, Point Loma 15 Sep 2013. Photograph by Matt Sadowski.

Ovenbird – Point Loma Nazarene University, Point Loma 15 Sep 2013. Photograph by Matt Sadowski.

Ovenbird – Point Loma Nazarene University, Point Loma 15 Sep 2013. Photograph by Matt Sadowski.

Blue-footed Booby at La Jolla Cove – maybe two!

[All photographs copyright, Gary Nunn 2013] – With all the chatter about Blue-footed Booby being seen in Marin, Los Angeles and Orange Counties I thought I would make a quick check of La Jolla Cove at lunch time “just in case”. What seems like endless efforts searching for boobys here had left me somewhat skeptical I might ever have the good fortune to spot one. So I was somewhat amazed just minutes after arriving to spot a distant Blue-footed Booby Sula nebouxii circling with pelicans a good distance off to the south. Too far away for photography, but well observed with my field scope, the booby unfortunately flew “the wrong way” off strongly to the south and disappeared. Then just twenty minutes later another Blue-footed Booby came flying out from La Jolla Cove, north of my observation position. I really think there must have been two birds, it seems unlikely to me that the first bird could have returned so quickly and escaped my attention making it back into the cove. The second bird, this time a lot closer, circled actively with Brown Pelicans and Western Gulls pursuing fish corralled into the cove by a small pod of dolphins. After some plunge diving it settled down and sat on the water for an extended period of time. Other birders then arrived and enjoyed views of the booby before it flew off to the north.

Blue-footed Booby – Pt. La Jolla, La Jolla, California 13 Sep 2013

Blue-footed Booby – Pt. La Jolla, La Jolla, California 13 Sep 2013

Blue-footed Booby – Pt. La Jolla, La Jolla, California 13 Sep 2013

Blue-footed Booby – Pt. La Jolla, La Jolla, California 13 Sep 2013

Blue-footed Booby – Pt. La Jolla, La Jolla, California 13 Sep 2013

Blue-footed Booby – Pt. La Jolla, La Jolla, California 13 Sep 2013

Blue-footed Booby – Pt. La Jolla, La Jolla, California 13 Sep 2013

Blue-footed Booby is considered a Category A rarity by San Diego Field Ornithologists and is a California Bird Records Committee review species. Looking at the SDBIRDS listserv archive there appears to be few well documented records of this species from San Diego County with perhaps one every couple of years on average. With the recent incursion of Blue-footed Booby into southern California waters, perhaps presaged by records too in Arizona and New Mexico, this species should be looked for right now off the coast.

Prize alcid – Craveri’s Murrelet in San Diego County waters

[All photographs copyright, Gary Nunn 2013] – In recent years finding Craveri’s Murrelet Synthliboramphus craveri off the California coast has noticeably climbed the difficulty scale. Once found regularly as far north as Monterey Bay, where I first saw the species in September 1998, this species just about vanished from Southern California pelagic reports. Now some very promising, and perhaps more regular, sightings are again coming from Southern California. Earnest pelagic birders in San Diego County waters have now found this elusive prize alcid species at well known offshore banks several years running. In years past the recognized calendar window to search for this species was late summer to early fall. Recent sightings align with this pattern. Following up on a positive report just one week before I ventured offshore San Diego on 25 Aug 2013 with Dave Povey and Jim Pea to see if Craveri’s Murrelets could be refound. We discovered and positively identified three pairs, all well photographed, about 15-25 NM from shore. In addition we found another three pairs of unidentified Synthliboramphus murrelets, quickly flying off while still at some distance from the boat, that remained just silhouettes in the bright glare on the ocean.

Craveri’s Murrelet – San Diego County waters, 25 Aug 2013

Craveri’s Murrelet – San Diego County waters, 25 Aug 2013

Craveri’s Murrelet – San Diego County waters, 25 Aug 2013

Craveri’s Murrelet – San Diego County waters, 25 Aug 2013

Under ideal viewing conditions, or “optimal” photographic opportunities, the more black colored underwing (variable in this species, in fact) and greater extent of black on the face, almost conjoining the chin, are good field characters to identify Craveri’s Murrelet, along with the longer and more thinly tipped bill than Scripps’s or Guadalupe Murrelets. However this species is not easily approached and these field characters can be difficult to almost impossible to document on birds flying away from you. The best opportunity exists on the first approach by boat as Synthliboramphus murrelets often raise their wings with rapid flapping, a sort of nervous response, to the closer approach. This usually signals the birds are uncomfortable and about to hit the launch button and take off! So having your finger ready, firmly planted on the camera shutter, can be very important on the first approach if you want to capture images of the underwing coloration and face. However I think another very good field character for Craveri’s Murrelet can actually be seen on birds as they fly away from you. As the murrelets often turn their heads side-to-side to look back at the boat the small black collar extension on the lower neck side can be clearly seen since the neck is outstretched in flight. This field character is shown below on one of the third pair of Craveri’s Murrelets that we encountered and I photographed – really only in flight this time!

Craveri’s Murrelet – San Diego County waters, 25 Aug 2013

Best options to find Craveri’s Murrelet would be to get on board any pelagic trips offered in Southern California in the late August to early October time frame. Currently trips offshore departing from San Diego, Dana Landing (Orange County), and Santa Barbara, can be found offered through the website SoCalBirding.com. The Craveri’s Murrelet is a key species highly sought after at this time of year on these pelagic trips. The species will be high on the search list by all leaders to help keen participants obtain good looks, and hopefully good quality photographs, of these charming but tricky prize alcids!

Crabs for dinner – Yellow-crowned Night-Heron

[All photographs copyright, Gary Nunn 2013] – The Yellow-crowned Night-Heron Nyctanassa violacea occurs in very small numbers in San Diego County at only a few favored locations near the coast. Breeding does occur but the species remains a rare waterbird in the county. I was lucky enough to bump into this fine looking adult feeding on crabs along the San Diego River flood control channel immediately south of Seaworld. As is usual for this species, this individual was tame and sauntered right by me. In a matter of a few minutes it had captured numerous crabs and deftly swallowed them. I was quite shocked at the size of crabs it could handily gulp down! The bird then flew off directly to the east end of Seaworld where it disappeared behind larger trees. I think there is a good chance it was returning to a nest site in Seaworld to feed offspring. Always a good find and a fun species to watch in action!

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron – San Diego River flood control channel, Mission Bay, San Diego 23 July 2013

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron – San Diego River flood control channel, Mission Bay, San Diego 23 July 2013

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron – San Diego River flood control channel, Mission Bay, San Diego 23 July 2013

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron – San Diego River flood control channel, Mission Bay, San Diego 23 July 2013

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron – San Diego River flood control channel, Mission Bay, San Diego 23 July 2013

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron – San Diego River flood control channel, Mission Bay, San Diego 23 July 2013

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron – San Diego River flood control channel, Mission Bay, San Diego 23 July 2013

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron – San Diego River flood control channel, Mission Bay, San Diego 23 July 2013