[All photographs copyright, Gary Nunn 2015] – This nice looking Virginia’s Warbler was found today 07 Sep 2015 by Max and Jill Leibowitz at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery. It appeared quite suddenly, just after 10 am, in the southeast section of the cemetery where it frequented some small dense pine canopies. Unfortunately many birders had already departed the immediate area, which had been combed up-and-down all morning for any sign of the previous day’s Dickcissel. No sighting of the latter bird.
[All photographs copyright, Gary Nunn 2015] – The 2015 fall bird migration has started off pretty slow in Point Loma and the past few days only a handful of regular western migrants could be found at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery. Things picked up today though with a few good birds putting in an appearance. I was lucky to catch up with a confiding female or immature male Dickcissel Spiza americana that was found earlier in the morning by Sue Smith just east of the Committal Shelter at the fence line. After a very brief glimpse, when first found, later on I found it perched on the fence line in the southeast section allowing some more detailed photography of this colorful sparrow-like bird.
Other good sightings this morning included a bathing Clay-colored Sparrow Spizella pallida, a nice buffy chested individual and the first of this species I have seen here in Point Loma this fall. Also two wandering White-winged Dove Zenaida asiatica flying around the cemetery favoring the area of the eucalyptus grove and “wall”. Other expected western migrants were in small numbers and included a MacGillivray’s Warbler along the west fence line near the administration building.
[All photographs copyright, Scottie Schmidt 2015] Local marine mammal observer Scottie Schmidt snapped these incredible photographs of a Masked/Nazca Booby on board the Hornblower whale watching tour out of San Diego on 01 September 2015. The Hornblower, performing a four hour tourist nature tour, stays in US waters just outside of Point Loma where it looks for whales and dolphin. Scottie noted that he has been on hundreds of these trips aboard the Hornblower but this was the first time a booby had actually landed on the vessel!
I think characters of this 2nd-cycle booby lean towards identification as a Nazca Booby rather than a Masked Booby. The bill color, pale lavender at the base changing to pinkish throughout the length and then yellow-orange at the tip, is basically a duller version of adult Nazca Booby. Masked Booby should be yellowish-green changing to yellow at this age. Also the bill shape, more concave and finely shaped, seems to fit Nazca better compared to the swollen more massive bill shape characteristic of Masked. Other plumage characters might be supportive also, the white basal coloration of the central rectrices appears to extend quite far down those feathers, and the dark plumage looks more chocolate-brown than blackish-brown. Both characteristics better for Nazca compared to Masked.
Scottie Schmidt first sent these photographs over to Stan Walens who distributed them to local San Diego seabird enthusiasts for further discussion. The photographs were also examined by Alvaro Jaramillo.
[All photographs copyright, Gary Nunn 2015] – On pelagic trips here in San Diego, California, any storm-petrels that we come across with an extensive white rump are investigated carefully. Particularly if they look small sized and shorter tailed. On 23 August 2015 we found this one just inside San Diego County waters along the east escarpment of the Thirty Mile Bank. The location was about 26 miles distant from the nearest landpoint at La Jolla. This bird fits well the known field marks of Townsend’s Storm-Petrel Oceanodroma (leucorhoa) socorroensis, currently recognized by the AOU as a form of Leach’s Storm-Petrel. This enigmatic small storm-petrel is only known to breed at islets surrounding Isla Guadalupe, which is about 200 miles southwest of San Diego, far off the coast of Baja, Mexico, and from where it ventures to Southern California waters.
In the photographs below the dark blackish coloration of this bird is quite evident and, in direct comparison with the browner colored Chapman’s Storm-Petrel O.(l). chapmani with which it simultaneously appeared, it looked almost snappily black and white. I think the more rounded shorter wings and the very shrunken look of the tail, compared to other forms of Leach’s Storm-Petrel, are also very noticeable. The bright white rump patch is sort of pointed in shape with perhaps a faint median dark mark when seen from behind. The white rump patch looks about equal length to the black tail. The white coloration of the rump patch does wrap a little way onto the undertail coverts which is characteristic of this form. The primaries and remiges do look quite worn away at the tips, but, even accounting for this wear, it presented a more bat like impression in flight than the other forms of Leach’s Storm-Petrel and looked more like a Least Storm-Petrel flying. I think the rear of the bird sort of hangs down a little bit in flight while the front is hunched up with the highest point at the shoulders leading to the squat neck and head. In several photographs this “rear down” flight profile is evident. You can also see in the photographs that the legs do not extend past the tail and look relatively short.
[All photographs copyright, Gary Nunn 2015] – Flying in from the north, low over the ocean, a large shorebird quickly got my attention at Point La Jolla early this morning since a Western Gull was chasing right behind it. Weird! Things made more sense however as it approached closer and the large body and shallow stiff wingbeats soon added up to an incoming oystercatcher! As it came flying in I started to see the white belly which lifted my interest level much higher! I was hoping for a circle flight around below my viewpoint, for photography, but instead it bee-lined to a rocky perch right in front of me. Luckily it then decided to move a few yards, in a short flight, allowing a few upper and under wing photographs.
Referencing information given in Pyle (1997) and additional material at the website of the American Oystercatcher Working Group this individual seems, so far as I can tell, to match the description of a frazari form of American Oystercatcher Haematopus palliatus. It has a well demarcated black bib with a little black mottling at the sides, white underparts, white undertail coverts, almost complete white underwing, and a white greater secondary coverts wingbar on the upperwing. The uppertail coverts are mottled black and white, but this also seems consistent with descriptions in the reference literature.
I did make a preliminary score using the system described in the publication by Jehl (1985) on hybridization in oystercatchers in Baja California. The scoring instructions from Table 1 of this publication can be found, rather usefully, at the Western Field Ornithologists Rare Birds of California entry for American Oystercatcher. This individual scores high in the range, about a 33, and would be attributed to American Oystercatcher using this system. I had to make a guesstimate on the white wingbar width, I conservatively put it in the middle of the range but it does look pretty wide to me!
[All photographs copyright, Gary Nunn 2015] – After receiving a somewhat blurry cell phone picture from John Bruin of his camera back this morning, showing a dark spotted thrasher that had been found by Lisa Ruby, I raced over to Famosa Slough to see if I could refind it. Whatever the dark spotted blur was it was bound to be of great local interest! Just as I arrived at Famosa Slough John emailed me over a much more detailed photo of a pale bellied thrasher with blackish chevrons smothering the underparts! I thought “there’s no way!” but following John’s detailed directions I soon refound the bird feeding by the pathway and it does indeed appear to be a Gray Thrasher Toxostoma cinereum! A detailed series of photos below show the field marks well of this species. The bird was happily feeding (“thrashing”) on the bank side under a willow tree over the path. In the photos you can see it probing deeply in the leaf litter and tossing leaves over its shoulder every now and then. It flew a little away along the path revealing pale corners to the tail. The bird is an overall dull biscuit brown color, a little warmer colored on the rump perhaps, with pale buffy white underparts boldly marked with blackish chevrons throughout. The median and greater coverts are tipped with fine pale edges. The eye is a mid yellow-orange color. The tail, concolorous with the upperparts, shows some evidence of mud sticking to it, but since we have had a recent deluge of rain a couple weeks ago it seems reasonable the bird might have ventured into muddy conditions in its normally dry desert habitat. Various reference texts state the bird can be found as far north as 31°N on the west coast of Baja California, Mexico. Reports in eBird show the presence of this species southeast of Ensenada along Mexico Highway 3 in Baja California. I mapped it out in GoogleMaps and it is 128 miles between this bird and the nearest reports, “as the thrasher flies”. So they are not so far away from San Diego! To me it appeared to be feeding very much like a wild thrasher would, excavating deep among leaf litter and tossing debris everywhere in search of invertebrates. In my opinion the plumage looks a little evenly worn throughout and there do not appear to be any particular broken feathers or signs of captivity.
[All photographs copyright, Gary Nunn 2015] – First spotted about 4 pm on 05 July 2015 by James McDaniel, the owner of the sport-fishing vessel the Grande, this subadult brown morph Red-footed Booby Sula sula proved elusive until I managed to relocate it sitting, almost out of sight, on the front of another fishing vessel, the Dominator, several hundred yards from the original location. I had already been down this dock and stood just a few feet from the booby without spotting it! Only when I walked over to the next more distant dock, extending further south, and looked back could I just see it tucked away on the front of this boat. Easily missed!
The last time a Red-footed Booby was discovered here in Point Loma, also at the sport fishing marina, was back on September 29, 2008! There was one photographed offshore here in September 2012. These are the only recent records from the county that I am aware of. Clearly this bird may have made its way into the marina on board a fishing vessel returning to the marina although it now seems mobile enough to move some distance between boats moored at the docks. I couldn’t help myself and snapped a photo of Stan Walens with his nemesis booby in San Diego County! I know that Stan narrowly missed seeing one sitting on a bush at La Jolla Cove almost twenty years ago!