Tijuana River Valley expanding exotic – White-collared Seedeater

[All photographs copyright, Gary Nunn 2013] – Finding the introduced exotic West Mexico “Cinnamon-rumped” form of White-collared Seedeater Sporophila t. torqueloa is now quite easy to do at the Dairy Mart Ponds, Tijuana River Valley Regional Park in San Diego County. This location, right on the Mexico border with the hillside slopes of Tijuana looking down in the distance, has harbored small numbers of this species for a number of years. The birds are assumed to have originated from escaped cagebirds brought to Tijuana since the nearest location they occur is Sinaloa, Mexico. This species is not on the California bird list. On a recent visit I found at least six males singing on territories around the ponds, as well as east across Dairy Mart Road following the riparian corridor towards San Ysidro. No doubt more birds exist further afield in the expanding willow scrub edging the drier areas. In this area the species can be found most often singing from quite well hidden perches between 15-25 feet up in willow trees. Look 5-10 feet below the top of the tree for the preferred hidden perch. They can be remarkably hard to see even when closely approached. Early spring, when the trees have not leafed out too much, is a good time to locate the singing males like the one below.

“Cinnamon-rumped” form of White-collared Seedeater – Dairy Mart Ponds, TRV, San Diego County 22 March 2013

“Cinnamon-rumped” form of White-collared Seedeater – Dairy Mart Ponds, TRV, San Diego County 22 March 2013

“Cinnamon-rumped” form of White-collared Seedeater – Dairy Mart Ponds, TRV, San Diego County 22 March 2013

“Cinnamon-rumped” form of White-collared Seedeater – Dairy Mart Ponds, TRV, San Diego County 22 March 2013

“Cinnamon-rumped” form of White-collared Seedeater – Dairy Mart Ponds, TRV, San Diego County 22 March 2013

“Cinnamon-rumped” form of White-collared Seedeater – Dairy Mart Ponds, TRV, San Diego County 22 March 2013

The song of the “Cinnamon-rumped” form of White-collared Seedeater is fairly easy to pick out among the usual Southern California riparian bird species. Listen particularly for the beginning “sweee-sweee-sweee” phrase, which then goes into a fast tumble of varied notes, and ends with a couple more, less hearty, “tuweee-tuweee” calls. Parts of the song, particularly the middle portion, sound quite similar to Lesser Goldfinch, which is also commonly present around the Tijuana River Valley. A nice recording by Mexican birder Manual Grosselet, well matched to the Tijuana River Valley birds, can be listened to below.

Surfbirds living up to their name – in the surf!

[All photographs copyright, Gary Nunn 2013] – After not finding too many new migrants around Point Loma this morning I decided to switch gears and take a look along the Mission Bay Jetty. The north side can be good for shorebirds so I decided to start there. Hopping rocks along the jetty is quite dangerous, so I was glad to find most birds right on the north side close to, or on, the beach. In addition to one Wandering Tattler and four Black Turnstone, a good find was a group of fifteen Surfbird together, excitedly milling around, yes, in the surf! They appeared to be searching for invertebrates as the waves receded, oddly keeping their distance from one another. This species does winter in small numbers on the jetty, with eight being found there on the SDFO 2013 New Year Pelagic. This group seemed a bit larger however, possibly including early migrants stopped off here on their journey north. Most of the group were advancing into alternate plumage, but one or two birds were still in basic plumage. As is usual for this species, they were very tame, allowing me to approach closely and obtain these photographs.

Surfbirds – Mission Beach Jetty and shore, 23 March 2013

Surfbirds – Mission Beach Jetty and shore, 23 March 2013

Surfbirds – Mission Beach Jetty and shore, 23 March 2013

Surfbirds – Mission Beach Jetty and shore, 23 March 2013

Surfbirds – Mission Beach Jetty and shore, 23 March 2013

Surfbirds – Mission Beach Jetty and shore, 23 March 2013

Surfbirds – Mission Beach Jetty and shore, 23 March 2013

Surfbirds – Mission Beach Jetty and shore, 23 March 2013

Surfbirds – Mission Beach Jetty and shore, 23 March 2013

Surfbirds – Mission Beach Jetty and shore, 23 March 2013

Double take – Golden-crowned Sparrow in molt

[All photographs copyright, Gary Nunn 2013] – I spotted this interesting looking Golden-crowned Sparrow at the south end of Famosa Slough, Point Loma on 13 March, 2013. It appears to be in prealternate molt showing off plenty of black feathering in the cap. Nice dark colored feathers are growing in about the head, and new, darker, central rectrices appear to be growing in also. In addition the tertials and inner greater secondary coverts, at least four, look very fresh and richly colored, particularly compared to the worn and faded primaries visible in the folded wing.

The mix-and-match feathering of the head really creates a striking looking pattern – I had to take a second look just to convince myself what was going on here! In the lateral crown stripes the mixture of brown and black colored feathers looks pretty unusual. Maybe there is only a short time-frame here in Southern California when we would see such a head pattern in this species but an appearance worth keeping in mind. Golden-crowned Sparrows seem to be thinning out in numbers right now at my favorite spots in Point Loma. At places where I had seen 4 or 5 individuals before, now there are just odd ones and twos present.

Golden-crowned Sparrow in molt – Famosa Slough, Point Loma 13 March 2013

Golden-crowned Sparrow in molt – Famosa Slough, Point Loma 13 March 2013

Golden-crowned Sparrow in molt – Famosa Slough, Point Loma 13 March 2013

Golden-crowned Sparrow in molt – Famosa Slough, Point Loma 13 March 2013

Golden-crowned Sparrow in molt – Famosa Slough, Point Loma 13 March 2013

Golden-crowned Sparrow in molt – Famosa Slough, Point Loma 13 March 2013

Golden-crowned Sparrow in molt – Famosa Slough, Point Loma 13 March 2013

Golden-crowned Sparrow in molt – Famosa Slough, Point Loma 13 March 2013

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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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