It's now official: Monterey County is "America's Birdiest County" by winning the 2003 competition among dozen of counties across the United States and Canada. Here are the final top ten finishers:

Monterey County (CA) 248
Los Angeles County (CA) ** 239
San Diego County (CA) 227
Cochise County (AZ) 226
Inyo County (CA) 218
Orange County (CA) 208
Riverside County (CA) 200
Cook County (IL) 191
Kern County (CA) 189
Jackson County (OR) 176
Kings County (NY) 169
** L.A. participated but failed to send in its entry to compiler, thus not technically an "official" count
The story of Monterey's entry in this first annual event follows:
A different twist highlighted this year's 10th annual Big Sur Ornithology Lab (BSOL) birdathon. In past years, competing Big Day teams have scoured the county to rack up totals of bird species located in a single day (and teams have three times broken 200 species!). This year, however, instead of competing teams, we organized cooperative teams and entered Monterey County in the “America's Birdiest County” event. Our event artwork (right; by local artist Carole Rose) highlighted both the BSOL birdathon and the birdiest county event.

This new event, growing out of the ABA’s two-year-old “America's Birdiest City” contest, encourages as many observers as desire to count birds over a 24-hour period within a county. The rules even permit teams or individual observers to adjust their personal 24 hour period slightly, depending on personal circumstances. About the only odd rule is the fact that birding from boats is outlawed: this did affect us directly as we had birders on whale-watching trips and on the Elkhorn Slough pontoon boat observing birds we could not count! (but see below).

Organized by the Ventana Wilderness Society (which operates BSOL), the Wild Bird Center of Monterey, and the Monterey Peninsula Audubon Society, we chose the 24-hour period from Friday, May 2, at 4 p.m. to Saturday, May 3, at 4 p.m. As luck would have it, this nicely coincided with a record-setting May storm that dumped up to 3 inches of rain on the higher Santa Lucia peaks (much of it on this reporter at Cone Peak). The lowlands were not spared; the Pajaro Valley got a record-setting 0.44 inches and most coastal spots had a half-inch of rain, much of it in short outbursts. Given these conditions, some of our teams pushed forward their starting time to “beat the rain” that started Friday afternoon, and worked noon to noon over the Friday-Saturday event. One late-arriving team of out-of-towners ran their routes from 6 p.m. to 6 p.m. 

Besides the teams, we widely invited the public to participate: we offered five field trips as part of the event; we encouraged anyone to go birding and come to the countdown at the Wild Bird Center in Del Monte shopping center Saturday night; and we signed up feeder-watchers widely. All participants contributed not only birds but funds for BSOL ($35 to participate, $50 for couples and families), and all were treated to a fabulous meal by Whole Foods Market with wines contributed by Scheid Vineyards. A silent auction of items ranging from Monterey Bay Whale Watch trips to a night at Big Sur Lodge to a Kowa scope raised a lot more money, and many donated raffle items added to the festivities. All participants will also receive a beautiful T-shirt (in their choice of size and color), designed by local artist Carole Rose, that features a Downy and a Nuttall’s Woodpecker (above). At least 98 people participated, and although some only came to the countdown event and others were sedentary feeder-watchers, at least 45 observers were scattered among the 14 teams and put in a full (and wet) day's effort. We raised about $4,100 for BSOL. The sponsors passed out flyers (below) and we got good publicity with an article in the local newspaper (below).

So now to the results:
We had 15 teams planning to work territories in all corners of Monterey County, but the rain basically wiped out our montane efforts. This caused one team to cancel entirely, but others struggled in the drizzling clouds to find that birds like Dusky Flycatcher, Purple Martin, and Western Tanager had not yet reached their breeding locales (indeed, it has been a late spring throughout). But the weather system than drenched the highlands precipitated migrants throughout the lowlands where keen-eyed birders made many unexpected finds.  This probably resulted in a net gain: some mountain specialties were missed (Flam Owl, Mt. Chickadee) but most others turned up in the lowlands. Every participating team was crucial, and each added one or more birds found by no one else. Freelance observers also added species not found by the hardcore teams (nicely documented when necessary), and feeders added a few lingering sparrows that would have been otherwise missed. Rita Carratello, whose thespian turn precluded hiking in the rain far from home, juggled 3 phone lines in the afternoon and coordinated the teams, sending seawatchers to the coast where we still had many gaps. That was a big help. Various teams scoped both Friday and Saturday, and recorded most of our regular seabirds (e.g., N. Fulmar, Pink-foot & Sooty & Black-vented Shearwaters, Red & Red-necked Phalaropes, Cassin’s & Rhino Auklets). Indeed, we saw all the seabirds from shore that Monterey Bay Whale Watch saw that day offshore [their Dark-rumped (likely Hawaiian) Petrel would come the next day!].
Our group total was 248 species of birds in Monterey County, not including condors and boat birds and others (see below). This proved to be the winning total: we are "America's Birdiest County." The "top ten" finishers in the County competition are listed above.

There was also a City competition (now in its 3rd year), and Corpus Christi (TX) emerged as "America's Birdiest City" for 2003 with 228 species. Runners-up in the City category were New York City (NY) with 207 and San Diego (CA) with 194. Other category winners were: Chicago IL ["large city, inland" 148]; Boston MA ["small city (based on land area), coastal" 132]; Duluth MN ["small city, inland" 143]; Cochise County AZ ["inland county" 226].

In Monterey County, a remarkable number of highlight birds were found in this event. We can segregate these into three groups:

1.  Unexpected bonuses (the very best are in bold):
BLACK-FOOTED ALBATROSS (5 birds scoped by 3 shore parties at Garrapata, Pt. Joe, and Pt. Pinos, so the fact we can't count the birds Richard Ternullo saw while whale-watching doesn't hurt so much....)
FLESH-FOOTED SHEARWATER (scoped from Pt. Pinos 3 May by Scott Terrill, and seen by Linda Terrill, John Luther, and Steve Rovell)
EURASIAN WIGEON (a male on pond #3 at Moonglow Dairy by Rick & Cheryl Fournier; this sets the late date for the spring in MTY by a week; it was still there on 4 May)
HARLEQUIN DUCK (two still present in Monterey harbor after our amazing winter influx of six; Brian Weed & Jan Scott)
BLACK SCOTER (a fly-by male at Garrapata on 3 May by John Luther & Steve Rovell)
MERLIN (one seen by Dan LaBeaune on the Packard Ranch on Elkhorn Slough was a week short of the MTY late date, but another was at Moonglow the next day 4 May)
PACIFIC GOLDEN-PLOVER (two birds, perhaps both lingering winterers, near Hudson Landing by Mark Paxton, Todd Newberry, Lois Goldfrank, and near Moro Cojo Slough by Rick Fournier)
SOLITARY SANDPIPER (one in alternate plumage at the mouth of El Toro Creek was found independently by Bruce Gerow, and then by David & Jane Styer; alas, it was gone the next day)
LEAST TERN (birds were seen at Jetty Road the evening of 2 May [Matt Brady, David VanderPluym] and the morning of 3 May [Rick & Cheryl Fournier])
BLACK SKIMMER (this scarce migrant was a Pajaro R. mouth and upper Elkhorn Slough, thus 3 were found by Rick Fournier and his team of 9)
MARBLED MURRELET (after a good winter, one in alternate plumage was still off Seaside 3 May; Rob Fowler)
BLACK SWIFT (5-6 were watching in good comparison among a migrant flock of Vaux’s Swift over San Jose Creek mouth, near Pt. Lobos, on 3 May, and , and were nicely described by Theo and Chris Maehr. This sets a new early date for migrant Black Swift by 2 days. Our nesting birds don't arrive until late May but migrants do appear earlier)
LEWIS’S WOODPECKER (we almost never get these on birdathons, but Jim & Helen Banks had a lingering bird in Peachtree Valley)
WILLOW FLYCATCHER (one along the Carmel River at Quail Lodge on 3 May was digiscoped very nicely by David VanderPluym, Ryan Terrill and Matt Brady (right; © David VanderPluym). We were able to review the photos at the countdown. This sets an early spring migrant date in MTY by 6 days!)
GRAY FLYCATCHER (a migrant was found by David & Jane Styer, and very nicely described [call, plumage, behavior] on 2 May in the grasslands of eastern Ft. Ord. This is just the 15th MTY record, and thus this was likely the rarest bird on the event)
BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLER (singing male 3 May in the campground at Andrew Molera SP by Jason Scott, Jessica Griffiths and other BSOL interns, and later by Rob Fowler and group)
PALM WARBLER (one was near the Harlequin Ducks at Monterey harbor 3 May; Brian Weed & Jan Scott)
YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRD (these are quite scarce in MTY but they usually appear in late April/early May -- it was not a surprise that there were flocks of 20 or more at Zmudowski and Moonglow Dairy; Rick Fournier et al.)

2.  Late winterers -- Although waterfowl numbers were down and we missed some ducks that are often recorded in early May (e.g., Redhead, Lesser Scaup, White-winged Scoter), there were a good number of lingering winter birds, including a good selection of gulls (e.g., Mew, Thayer’s, Herring; thanks mostly to Brian Weed) and these:
BRANT (one still on Elkhorn Slough by Rick & Cheryl Fournier, but no coastal migrants were seen)
BUFFLEHEAD (at least 5 different female-plumaged birds still lingering)
COMMON GOLDENEYE (a long staying female still at Big Sur R. mouth by Jason Scott & crew)
WILSON’S SNIPE (one still on the Packard Ranch; Dan LaBeaune)
AMERICAN PIPIT (one still on the Packard Ranch; Dan LaBeaune)
HERMIT WARBLER (on Jacks Peak 2 May by Larry Rose & Judy West); also a far smattering of NASHVILLE and TOWNSEND’S WARBLER were encountered by various groups (including a Nashville in June Buntin’s yard).
RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET (late birds in the were at Pt. Pinos on 2 May [David VanderPluym & Matt Brady], singing in Pebble Beach 2 May [Don Roberson]. and on 3 May at Big Sur R. mouth [BSOL interns])
LINCOLN’S SPARROW (a late migrant at Pt. Pinos 2 May by John Luther & Steve Rovell, and another was near Elkhorn Slough 3 May by Mark Paxton)
WHITE-THROATED SPARROW (lingering birds were at feeders in Del Rey Oaks and in Pine Canyon near King City)

3.  Scarce residents -- there are always a set of very tough residents or very local breeding species that are crucial for a big count. We missed Prairie Falcon and Costa’s Hummingbird, but among those that were located were these:
AMERICAN BITTERN (one flew it for McCluskey Slough at dusk 2 May; Rick & Cheryl Fournier, Caroline Rodgers, Judy Donaldson)
OSPREY (in the category of very scarce migrant and potential breeding, singles were on Lake San Antonio [Jim & Helen Banks] and along the Salinas River near Ft. Ord [Bruce Gerow, David & Jane Styer])
BALD EAGLE (an imm. bird flew by Jim & Helen Banks at Lake San Antonio on 2 May)
SHARP-SHINNED HAWK (a very scarce breeder and elusive migrant on big days, but several were encountered, including near Moonglow Dairy and in upper Robinson Canyon)
COMMON MOORHEN (one found just before the event by Jim Banks was still there; another seen near Parkfield by Chris Tenney)
GREATER ROADRUNNER (several teams rounded up this difficult species, including Bob Tintle, Blake Matheson, and Bruce Gerow)
OWLS -- all our resident species were found, including LONG-EARED & SPOTTED in Robinson Canyon (Steve Rovell, Scott Terrill, John Luther, Linda Terrill,  Matt Brady, David VanderPluym, Ryan Terrill) and the ever-decreasing BURROWING out Lonoak Road (Jim & Helen Banks, Don Roberson)
LESSER NIGHTHAWK (Chris Tenney in Cholame Valley and, independently, Jim & Helen Banks and Don Roberson along San Lorenzo Creek)
COMMON POORWILL (on a night when efforts in the rain for this species in south county failed miserably, David & Jane Styer saved our bacon by hearing two on Fort Ord)
BLACK-CHINNED HUMMINGBIRD (one in the Arroyo Seco watershed by Craig Hohenberger, Bill Hill, Dave Warner & Mike Yough)
DUSKY FLYCATCHER (none were found up in the cloud forest by the montane groups, but Scott & Linda Terrill found a migrant at Mission Trail Park, Carmel)
SAY’S PHOEBE (local breeding in southeast MTY found by Jim & Helen Banks)
BANK SWALLOW (the known colony on Bitterwater Road had none -- starlings had evicted some swallows and all species were down here. Attempts at the old colonies on Metz Road and River Road also failed. But Scott, Linda, and Ryan Terrill had a migrant at Zmudowski late on May 2. Whew! But there is now grave concern that we may have lost this species as a breeding bird in Monterey County)
RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH (nests regularly only on Cone Peak, and they were calling despite the rain; D. Roberson)
ROCK WREN (several teams picked up this local bird, including Vitaly Volmensky in Shirttail Canyon and Bob Tintle & Blake Matheson on Bitterwater Road)
CANYON WREN (very local and most are hard to get to -- recorded on the event only at Big Creek [Steve Bailey] and Cone Peak [Don Roberson])
AMERICAN DIPPER (several groups had them around Big Sur, plus Steve Bailey at Big Creek Reserve)
GOLDEN-CROWNED KINGLET (this very scarce and local breeding bird was missed at the two known spots [one spot could not be reached because the road was impassable] but unexpected birds were in upper Robinson Canyon [Steve Rovell & John Luther] and elsewhere in Big Sur [Jason Scott]. Perhaps they breed more widely than known? Or were these just very late migrants?)
HERMIT THRUSH (this scarce local breeder can be tough on big days, but Steve Bailey saw one at Big Creek Reserve -- where it does nest -- while Scott & Linda Terrill had a late migrant in Carmel).
MacGILLIVRAY’S WARBLER (likely breeders found at several spots by several teams on Big Sur coast/Garrapata SP, and Vitaly Volmensky had a migrant near the west Pinnacles)
YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT (now very local as breeders, but migrants singing widely at Big Sur R. mouth [Jason Scott, Rob Fowler, Larry & Carole Rose, Judy West, and BSOL interns), another at Carmel R. mouth [Steve Rovell, John Luther], and an unexpected migrant at Castroville [Rick & Cheryl Fournier])
BLUE GROSBEAK (one male arrived just in team for the event on its traditional territory near San Lucas; Jim & Helen Banks)
GREAT-TAILED GRACKLE (R.J. Adams and team had the resident birds in Seaside, while Jim & Helen Banks had an unexpected male on a vineyard pond near San Lucas)

NOT COUNTED were the following:
California Condor (several seen by VWS researchers during the count period; these are all zoo-hatched reintroduced birds and are not considered ‘countable’ by local birders. However, very few other American counties have free-flying condors!)
Black Tern (seen only from Yohn Gideon’s Elkhorn Slough Safari pontoon boat on 2 May; apparently, birds seen from boats don't count, but this rule seems very silly when applied to tidal sloughs that can be accessed only by canoe or pontoon)
Eurasian Collared-Dove (the colony of 30+ in Pine Canyon near King City seems to be negatively impacting native Mourning Doves, according to Jim & Helen Banks; there are also a few in Pacific Grove and recorded by Brian Weed. Not an established species yet but there are concerns it may become one).

Feeder stake-outs that left just too soon were Green-tailed Towhee (left 22 Apr), Indigo Bunting (28 Apr), and Harris’s Sparrow (29 Apr). Richard Ternullo’s Hawaiian Petrel was the next day (4 May), as was a White-faced Ibis at Moonglow Dairy.

Don Roberson rescued 4 California Newts crossing Nacimiento-Fergusson Road on the rainy morning, but the real highlight was Craig Hohenberger's quick but good views of a MOUNTAIN LION along the Arroyo Seco River on 3 May.....

Many thanks go to Jill Himonas at the Wild Bird Center for hosting the entire event, and to all the contributors, sponsors, and team leaders. And to all those birders willing to brave the elements for a good cause!

This has been Don Roberson, reporting. Our complete bird list from the event follows:

1 Red-throated Loon
2 Pacific Loon
3 Common Loon
4 Pied-billed Grebe
5 Horned Grebe
6 Red-necked Grebe
7 Eared Grebe
8 Western Grebe
9 Clark's Grebe
10 Black-footed Albatross
11 Northern Fulmar
12 Pink-footed Shearwater
13 Flesh-footed Shearwater
14 Sooty Shearwater
15 Black-vented Shearwater
16 American White Pelican
17 Brown Pelican
18 Brandt's Cormorant
19 Double-crested Cormorant
20 Pelagic Cormorant
21 American Bittern
22 Great Blue Heron
23 Great Egret
24 Snowy Egret
25 Green Heron
26 Black-crown'd Night-Heron
27 Turkey Vulture
 California Condor (not counted)
28 Canada Goose
29 Brant
30 Wood Duck
31 Gadwall
32 Eurasian Wigeon
33 American Wigeon
34 Mallard
35 Blue-winged Teal
36 Cinnamon Teal
37 Northern Shoveler
38 Northern Pintail
39 Green-winged Teal
40 Ring-necked Duck
41 Greater Scaup
42 Harlequin Duck
43 Surf Scoter
44 Black Scoter
45 Bufflehead
46 Common Goldeneye
47 Common Merganser
48 Red-breasted Merganser
49 Ruddy Duck
50 Osprey
51 White-tailed Kite
52 Bald Eagle
53 Northern Harrier
54 Sharp-shinned Hawk
55 Cooper's Hawk
56 Red-shouldered Hawk
57 Red-tailed Hawk
58 Golden Eagle
59 American Kestrel
60 Merlin
61 Peregrine Falcon
62 Prairie Falcon
63 Wild Turkey
64 Mountain Quail
65 California Quail
66 Virginia Rail
67 Sora
68 Common Moorhen
69 American Coot
70 Black-bellied Plover
71 Pacific Golden-Plover
72 Snowy Plover
73 Semipalmated Plover
74 Killdeer
75 Black Oystercatcher
76 Black-necked Stilt
77 American Avocet
78 Greater Yellowlegs
79 Solitary Sandpiper
80 Willet
81 Wandering Tattler
82 Spotted Sandpiper
83 Whimbrel
84 Long-billed Curlew
85 Marbled Godwit
86 Ruddy Turnstone
87 Black Turnstone
88 Surfbird
89 Red Knot
90 Sanderling
91 Western Sandpiper
92 Least Sandpiper
93 Dunlin
94 Short-billed Dowitcher
95 Long-billed Dowitcher
96 Wilson's Snipe
97 Red-necked Phalarope
98 Red Phalarope
99 Bonaparte's Gull
100 Heermann's Gull
101 Mew Gull
102 Ring-billed Gull
103 California Gull
104 Herring Gull
105 Thayer's Gull
106 Western Gull
107 Glaucous-winged Gull
108 Caspian Tern
109 Elegant Tern
110 Common Tern
111 Forster's Tern
112 Least Tern
 Black Tern (not counted; seen from boat; this rule may be modified next year to permit counting from boats on estuaries and inland waters)
113 Black Skimmer
114 Common Murre
115 Pigeon Guillemot
116 Marbled Murrelet
117 Cassin's Auklet
118 Rhinoceros Auklet
119 Rock Dove
120 Band-tailed Pigeon
 Eurasian Collared-Dove (not counted)
121 Mourning Dove
122 Greater Roadrunner
123 Barn Owl
124 Western Screech-Owl
125 Great Horned Owl
126 Northern Pygmy-Owl
127 Burrowing Owl
128 Spotted Owl
129 Long-eared Owl
130 Northern Saw-whet Owl
131 Lesser Nighthawk
132 Common Poorwill
133 Black Swift
134 Vaux's Swift
135 White-throated Swift
136 Black-chinned Hummingbird
137 Anna's Hummingbird
138 Allen's Hummingbird
139 Belted Kingfisher
140 Lewis's Woodpecker
141 Acorn Woodpecker
142 Nuttall's Woodpecker
143 Downy Woodpecker
144 Hairy Woodpecker
145 Northern Flicker
146 Olive-sided Flycatcher
147 Western Wood-Pewee
148 Willow Flycatcher
149 Gray Flycatcher
150 Dusky Flycatcher
151 Pacific-slope Flycatcher
152 Black Phoebe
153 Say's Phoebe
154 Ash-throated Flycatcher
155 Cassin's Kingbird
156 Western Kingbird
157 Loggerhead Shrike
158 Cassin's Vireo
159 Hutton's Vireo
160 Warbling Vireo
161 Steller's Jay
162 Western Scrub-Jay
163 Yellow-billed Magpie
164 American Crow
165 Common Raven
166 Horned Lark
167 Purple Martin
168 Tree Swallow
169 Violet-green Swallow
170 N. Rough-winged Swallow
171 Bank Swallow
172 Cliff Swallow
173 Barn Swallow
174 Chestnut-backed Chickadee
175 Oak Titmouse
176 Bushtit
177 Red-breasted Nuthatch
178 White-breasted Nuthatch
179 Pygmy Nuthatch
180 Brown Creeper
181 Rock Wren
182 Canyon Wren
183 Bewick's Wren
184 House Wren
185 Winter Wren
186 Marsh Wren
187 American Dipper
188 Golden-crowned Kinglet
189 Ruby-crowned Kinglet
190 Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
191 Western Bluebird
192 Swainson's Thrush
193 Hermit Thrush
194 American Robin
195 Wrentit
196 Northern Mockingbird
197 California Thrasher
198 European Starling
199 American Pipit
200 Cedar Waxwing
201 Phainopepla
202 Orange-crowned Warbler
203 Nashville Warbler
204 Yellow Warbler
205 Yellow-rumped Warbler
206 Black-thr'd Gray Warbler
207 Townsend's Warbler
208 Hermit Warbler
209 Palm Warbler
210 Black-and-white Warbler
211 MacGillivray's Warbler
212 Common Yellowthroat
213 Wilson's Warbler
214 Yellow-breasted Chat
215 Western Tanager
216 Spotted Towhee
217 California Towhee
218 Rufous-crowned Sparrow
219 Chipping Sparrow
220 Lark Sparrow
221 Sage Sparrow
222 Savannah Sparrow
223 Grasshopper Sparrow
224 Song Sparrow
225 Lincoln's Sparrow
226 White-throated Sparrow
227 White-crowned Sparrow
228 Golden-crowned Sparrow
229 Dark-eyed Junco
230 Black-headed Grosbeak
231 Blue Grosbeak
232 Lazuli Bunting
233 Red-winged Blackbird
234 Tricolored Blackbird
235 Western Meadowlark
236 Yellow-headed Blackbird
237 Brewer's Blackbird
238 Great-tailed Grackle
239 Brown-headed Cowbird
240 Hooded Oriole
241 Bullock's Oriole
242 Purple Finch
243 House Finch
244 Pine Siskin
245 Lesser Goldfinch
246 Lawrence's Goldfinch
247 American Goldfinch
248 House Sparrow





Page created 11 May 2003, revised 12 June 2003