Monterey County appears to have retaken its title as America's Birdiest County with 250 species tallied between 4pm on Friday, April 29, and 4 pm on Sunday, May 1.

Monterey County was awarded this crown for its 248 species in 2003, but the 248 species found last year (2004) were good enough for only second place. While counts from other California counties are still preliminary most of the competitors ran their events the weekend before ours none appears to have been higher than "somewhere in the 240s." The competition remains open through May to counties in eastern and northern North America, but in previous years none of these has approached the 250 figure. Barring some totally unexpected total, Monterey will again wear the "America's Birdiest County" crown. The event served as the 12th annual birdathon to benefit Ventana Wilderness Society's Big Sur Ornithology Lab (BSOL), and all proceeds from the weekend's entry fees, raffles, silent auction and pledges will provide the core of Monterey Peninsula Audubon's Society grant to BSOL. About 90 people attended our countdown event on Saturday evening (more below), and there were over 110 participants overall, including feeder-watchers.

Feeder-watchers proved to be crucial. Observers had found 247 species by the time of the "Countdown" on Saturday night. Three more birds were added the next day: Cattle Egret, Nashville Warbler, and Rose-breasted Grosbeak; the latter two from birders' back yards [there are good stories about each of these three additions; watch for those below]. In addition, two sparrow (Fox, White-throated) were only recorded from feeders, so four species were attributed to efforts of those watching their yards. Los Angeles, for example, had 246 birds, so these four species were important.

Text © Don Roberson
All photos were taken during the Birdathon period
or are of specific birds actually seen during the count
All photos © Don Roberson unless otherwise indicated
[photo above by Rita Carratello]

This remarkable achievement was reached through the collective efforts of some of California's best birders. Some of them come for Santa Cruz and the S.F. Bay Area to help. The county is divided into 16 territories for complete coverage, but critical to success is the time spent scoping for seabirds. Shown here at the scopes on Friday evening are (L to R) David Vander Pluym, Scott Terrill, Linda Terrill, and Steve Rovell. Behind them is Dan Singer who would do his scoping on Sunday morning. [Matt Brady, Ryan Terrill, and Don Roberson would also do extensive scoping]. Between them all, we recorded an amazing 7 species of alcids, including the "bird of the count," a Tufted Puffin. The adult breeding-plumaged puffin flew south past Pt. Pinos at 2:57 on Saturday as Roberson watched, and then ~3 minutes later it flew past Vander Pluym & Brady (and a British tourist who had stopped to see what "the lads" were seeing) at Cypress Point! A dozen Black-footed Albatross were also scoped from shore.
The ABC event takes place over a chosen 48-hour period but individual birders may be "counters" only during their own chosen 24 consecutive hours within that period. Most participants counted from 4pm on Friday until 4pm on Saturday, and then all attended the countdown dinner and entertainment on Saturday night. But a few birders were held back to be the counters on Sunday for species that were still missing.

Much serendipity highlighted this year's event. For example, this was designated the "year of the grosbeak" as Carole Rose's birdathon T-shirt will picture a Black-headed Grosbeak (left) and a vagrant Rose-breasted Grosbeak. [Carole and Larry Rose are shown in the inset, right]. No one had a Rose-breasted Grosbeak in the first 24 hours but a singing male did appear in a birders' front yard on Sunday. And as luck would it, those birders were you guessed it Carole & Larry Rose!

Another good story involves Rita Carratello. She had been "on the bench" during the Saturday marathon and therefore didn't feel very useful while birding that day. We had designated her as a counter for Sunday in case anything had been missed. Well, Nashville Warbler was missed but one had been photographed (right) in her yard that very week. So as a good sport she watched the feeder and backyard fountain all morning and at noon what should arrive? Indeed, a Nashville Warbler. Our final bird for the count: #250.

Of course, a key to Monterey's success is to get every breeding bird in the county. We were extremely successful at this. The means birding in the dark, getting Lesser Nighthawk (Jim & Helen Banks), Poorwill (David & Jane Styer), and all nine of our regularly-breeding owls, including the tough ones like Flammulated (Craig Hohenberger et al.) and Long-eared (R.J. Adams, also Rovell team members). During the day, it means getting the scarce residents from Roadrunner (photo below by Chris Hartzell) and Golden Eagle (Tim Amaral, Todd Love) to American Dipper (Bob Tintle) and Mountain Chickadee (top of Junipero Serra Peak; Chris Tenney). In fact, the only breeders missed were those that are irregular (e.g., Lewis's Woodpecker, Golden-crowned Kinglet) and those that usually arrive later in May (Black Swift, Black-chinned Sparrow).

Territory leaders/participants (partial list at right). The numbers are linked to the territories shown on the map. Boundaries are approximate; several key spots were covered by multiple teams at different times & tides, including all major coastal river mouths. There were also several special small areas covered at specific times, such as Jacks Peak on Friday evening (Carole Rose, Judy West) and Pajaro R. mouth on Sunday (Steve Rovell, Dan Singer, Roger Wolfe), plus a set of backyard feeder watchers from Pacific Grove (Rita Carratello) to Del Rey Oaks (Nan Citron) to Royal Oaks (Laura Rodriguez, Betty Cost).
The general structure of this year's effort is shown on the map above. We had 16 territories covered by over 40 observers, not counting a variety of bird feeders watched throughout the county. Public walks were offered on Saturday morning in two of the territories. In addition, Elkhorn Slough Safari pontoon boat trips were operating, as was Monterey Bay Whale Watch trips. Alas, due to a rule that birds seen from oceanic boat trips are not countable, those seen only from the whale-watching boat trip  were not counted. To offset this rule, numerous observers spent hours sea-watching from land (e.g., Pt. Pinos, Pt. Joe, Cypress Pt., and Pt. Lobos) during the event.
1: Rick Fournier; Mark Paxton, Inga & Dan LaBeaune, Caroline Rodgers, Judy Donaldson, Todd Newberry, Jennifer Rycenga, Cheryl Fournier
2: Don Roberson; Rita Carratello, Dan Singer
3: Brian Weed; Jan Scott, Bob & Eileen DeWeese
4: Steve Rovell; Ryan Terrill, Matt Brady, David VanderPluym
5: Bob Tintle
6: Jessica Griffiths, Mike Tyner; BSOL interns
7: vacant this year
8: Scott & Linda Terrill
9: Jim & Helen Banks
10: Todd Love
11: Chris Tenney
12: Craig Hohenberger; Bill Hill, Dave Werner
13: Chris Hartzell; Anne Wells
14: Tim Amaral; Larry Rose, Judy West, et al.
15: David & Jane Styer (Ft. Ord)
16: R.J. Adams led a public "mini Big Day" for Jill & Jim Himonas, Eric & Kerstin Jones, Sharon Wasson, David Gibson & a dozen more.
After a week of showers and wind, the birdathon weekend was gorgeous. R.J. Adams (with the Sibley Field Guide) led a "mini Big Day" for the public from Robinson Canyon to Carmel, the Monterey-Seaside area, and then Moss Landing (where Mark Paxton took over leadership duties). Michael Gibson's shot (above) features Jill Himonas (owner of Wild Bird Center and event organizer) at the scope. It was this public walk that first confirmed the presence of the long-staying Snow Goose (below; another Michael Gibson photo) at Roberts Lake for the count total.
Once again, Monterey County's birdathon highlights were exceedingly well documented. The rarest bird was this first-cycle Glaucous Gull (right) at the Salinas R. mouth, found 28 Apr by Matt Brady, and remaining through at least 1 May. There are only 3 prior records as late as May. Also photographed (below) were Cattle Egret at Moonglow Dairy (photo 1 May, D. Roberson); breeding-plumaged Black Tern (30 Apr; photo © Chris Hartzell); and Merlin at Salinas wastewater ponds (30 Apr; D. Roberson). The Merlin was pretty late but there is a record as late as 11 May.

The Cattle Egret has a nice story. It was missed during our 'main event' on Saturday, but David & Jane Styer went looking at Moonglow Dairy on Sunday. They ran into Louis Calcagno, the dairy owner, and explained their quest. Louis was sure there was a Cattle Egret somewhere among the cattle pens, so he went driving around his property until he turned up the egret just as David & Jane has spotted it themselves. So Louis was a key to finding one of our final (and winning) species!

Finding the scarce migrants and late lingering winterers are all critical to success. Many are rare enough locally to be routinely reported to the BirdBox. In that category is White-faced Ibis: there was one on 30 Apr in Moro Cojo Slough (Rick Fournier, Jennifer Rycenga), and then a flock of five near Soledad on 1 May (Dan Singer, photo of 4 of them [above] Don Roberson). Some of the other birds in this category include:
  • Greater White-fronted Goose 4 at Zmudowski (Caroline Rodgers, Judy Donaldson)
  • Brant several northbound flocks spotted by sea-watchers (Ryan Terrill, Don Roberson); others at Elkhorn Slough & Salinas R. mouth
  • Blue-winged Teal Elkhorn Slough (almost the entire Fournier team)
  • Greater Scaup Elkhorn Slough (Todd Newberry, Rick & Cheryl Fournier)
  • Lesser Scaup Salinas ponds (Don Roberson, Dan Singer)
  • Redhead McCluskey Slough (Rick Fournier and group)
  • Harlequin Duck male & female in Monterey harbor (Brian Weed)
  • Black Scoter female flying north past Pt. Lobos (Ryan Terrill)
  • Common Goldeneye female at Carmel R. mouth lagoon (Steve Rovell, R.J. Adams and many others)
  • Bufflehead female at Carmel R. mouth lagoon (Matt Brady)
  • American Bittern Zmudowski pond (Caroline Rodgers, Judy Donaldson & Fournier team)
  • Pacific Golden-Plover old Carr Lake wetlands, Salinas (Tim Amaral & team)
  • Solitary Sandpiper two at Moonglow Dairy, where they had been for ~a week (Rick & Cheryl Fournier)
  • Osprey Elkhorn Slough (Mark Paxton)
  • Bald Eagle Lake San Antonio (Jim & Helen Banks; they are nesting here again this year)
  • Parasitic Jaeger two pairs off Pt. Pinos (Scott & Linda Terrill, sea-watching)
  • Elegant Tern one early arrival off Pt. Pinos (Don Roberson, sea-watching)
  • Marbled Murrelet one in basic plumage in Carmel Bay (Matt Brady); pair in breeding plumage off Seaside (Don Roberson)
  • Ancient Murrelet off Otter Pt., Pacific Grove (Don Roberson, Dan Singer)
  • Rufous Hummingbird reported from at least 4 locales; very impressive
  • Bank Swallow besides the King City colony, three rare migrants were at Salinas R. mouth 29 Apr (Don Roberson)
  • Ruby-crowned Kinglet Packard Ranch on Elkhorn Slough (Dan & Inga LaBeaune)
  • Hermit Thrush near Elkhorn Slough (Mark Paxton)
  • Hermit Warbler two on Jacks Peak 29 Apr (Carole Rose, Judy West)
  • Yellow-headed Blackbird 40 or more at Moonglow Dairy (Fournier team et al.)
There are so many highlights and so many people to credit that one almost runs out of words. Everyone's efforts were important to the group success. So many of our species are marginal at this date they are just arriving or just departing that each is critical. A complete list follows below.

As many who stopped by Roberts Lake in Seaside discovered, the Heermann's Gull colony there is expanding. A pair is now on a nest incubating eggs right next to the parking lot at the southwest corner of the lake (left). This colony started with a couple pairs on islets in the lake on 1999, and it has fledged young in 4 out of the last 6 years. But all prior nests have been on the islets this is the first one on the lakeshore. We wish them well, although they face many more predators at this spot, not to mention potential disturbance by people.

1 Gr. White-fronted Goose
2 Snow Goose
3 Canada Goose
4 Brant
5 Wood Duck
6 Gadwall
7 American Wigeon
8 Mallard
9 Blue-winged Teal
10 Cinnamon Teal
11 Northern Shoveler
12 Northern Pintail
13 Green-winged Teal
14 Redhead
15 Ring-necked Duck
16 Greater Scaup
17 Lesser Scaup
18 Harlequin Duck
19 Surf Scoter
20 White-winged Scoter
21 Black Scoter
22 Bufflehead
23 Common Goldeneye
24 Common Merganser
25 Red-breasted Merganser
26 Ruddy Duck
27 Wild Turkey
28 Mountain Quail
29 California Quail
30 Red-throated Loon
31 Pacific Loon
32 Common Loon
33 Pied-billed Grebe
34 Horned Grebe
35 Red-necked Grebe
36 Eared Grebe
37 Western Grebe
38 Clark's Grebe
39 Black-footed Albatross
40 Pink-footed Shearwater
41 Sooty Shearwater
42 American White Pelican
43 Brown Pelican
44 Brandt's Cormorant
45 Double-crested Cormorant
46 Pelagic Cormorant
47 American Bittern
48 Great Blue Heron
49 Great Egret
50 Snowy Egret
51 Cattle Egret
52 Green Heron
53 Black-crowned Night-Heron
54 White-faced Ibis
55 Turkey Vulture
      California Condor (not counted)
56 Osprey
57 White-tailed Kite
58 Bald Eagle
59 Northern Harrier
60 Sharp-shinned Hawk
61 Cooper's Hawk
62 Red-shouldered Hawk
63 Red-tailed Hawk
64 Golden Eagle
65 American Kestrel
66 Merlin
67 Peregrine Falcon
68 Prairie Falcon
69 Virginia Rail
70 Sora
71 Common Moorhen
72 American Coot
73 Black-bellied Plover
74 Pacific Golden-Plover
75 Snowy Plover
76 Semipalmated Plover
77 Killdeer
78 Black Oystercatcher
79 Black-necked Stilt
80 American Avocet
81 Greater Yellowlegs
82 Solitary Sandpiper
83 Willet
84 Wandering Tattler
85 Spotted Sandpiper
86 Whimbrel
87 Long-billed Curlew
88 Marbled Godwit
89 Ruddy Turnstone
90 Black Turnstone
91 Surfbird
92 Red Knot
93 Sanderling
94 Western Sandpiper
95 Least Sandpiper
96 Dunlin
97 Short-billed Dowitcher
98 Long-billed Dowitcher
99 Wilson's Snipe
100 Red-necked Phalarope
101 Parasitic Jaeger
102 Bonaparte's Gull
103 Heermann's Gull
104 Ring-billed Gull
105 California Gull
106 Herring Gull
107 Western Gull
108 Glaucous-winged Gull
109 Glaucous Gull
110 Caspian Tern
111 Elegant Tern
112 Common Tern
113 Forster's Tern
114 Black Tern
115 Common Murre
116 Pigeon Guillemot
117 Marbled Murrelet
118 Ancient Murrelet
119 Cassin's Auklet
120 Rhinoceros Auklet
121 Tufted Puffin
122 Rock Pigeon
123 Band-tailed Pigeon
124 Mourning Dove
125 Eurasian Collared-Dove
126 Greater Roadrunner
127 Barn Owl
128 Flammulated Owl
129 Western Screech-Owl
130 Great Horned Owl
131 Northern Pygmy-Owl
132 Burrowing Owl
133 Spotted Owl
134 Long-eared Owl
135 Northern Saw-whet Owl
136 Lesser Nighthawk
137 Common Poorwill
138 Vaux's Swift
139 White-throated Swift
140 Black-chinned Hummingbird
141 Anna's Hummingbird
142 Costa's Hummingbird
143 Rufous Hummingbird
144 Allen's Hummingbird
145 Belted Kingfisher
146 Acorn Woodpecker
147 Nuttall's Woodpecker
148 Downy Woodpecker
149 Hairy Woodpecker
150 Northern Flicker
151 Olive-sided Flycatcher
152 Western Wood-Pewee
153 Dusky Flycatcher
154 Pacific-slope Flycatcher
155 Black Phoebe
156 Say's Phoebe
157 Ash-throated Flycatcher
158 Cassin's Kingbird
159 Western Kingbird
160 Loggerhead Shrike
161 Cassin's Vireo
162 Hutton's Vireo
163 Warbling Vireo
164 Steller's Jay
165 Western Scrub-Jay
166 Yellow-billed Magpie
167 American Crow
168 Common Raven
169 Horned Lark
170 Purple Martin
171 Tree Swallow
172 Violet-green Swallow
173 N. Rough-winged Swallow
174 Bank Swallow
175 Cliff Swallow
176 Barn Swallow
177 Mountain Chickadee
178 Chestnut-backed Chickadee
179 Oak Titmouse
180 Bushtit
181 Red-breasted Nuthatch
182 White-breasted Nuthatch
183 Pygmy Nuthatch
184 Brown Creeper
185 Rock Wren
186 Canyon Wren
187 Bewick's Wren
188 House Wren
189 Winter Wren
190 Marsh Wren
191 American Dipper
192 Ruby-crowned Kinglet
193 Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
194 Western Bluebird
195 Swainson's Thrush
196 Hermit Thrush
197 American Robin
198 Wrentit
199 Northern Mockingbird
200 California Thrasher
201 European Starling
202 Cedar Waxwing
203 Phainopepla
204 Orange-crowned Warbler
205 Nashville Warbler
206 Yellow Warbler
207 Yellow-rumped Warbler
208 Black-throated Gray Warbler
209 Townsend's Warbler
210 Hermit 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 Fox Sparrow
225 Song Sparrow
226 Lincoln's Sparrow
227 White-throated Sparrow
228 White-crowned Sparrow
229 Golden-crowned Sparrow
230 Dark-eyed Junco
231 Rose-breasted Grosbeak
232 Black-headed Grosbeak
233 Blue Grosbeak
234 Lazuli Bunting
235 Red-winged Blackbird
236 Tricolored Blackbird
237 Western Meadowlark
238 Yellow-headed Blackbird
239 Brewer's Blackbird
240 Great-tailed Grackle
241 Brown-headed Cowbird
242 Hooded Oriole
243 Bullock's Oriole
244 Purple Finch
245 House Finch
246 Pine Siskin
247 Lesser Goldfinch
248 Lawrence's Goldfinch
249 American Goldfinch
250 House Sparrow
The countdown on Saturday night, in and outside the Wild Bird Center in Del Monte Shopping Center, was also another wonderful success. Dinner was cooked and donated by Whole Foods Market; wine was donated by Heller Estates and Ventana Vineyards; numerous local merchants provided items and gift certificates for the raffle and silent auction; the Wild Bird Center and Monterey Peninsula Audubon Society provided birder prizes; there was an art show by local artists and photographers; and a rousing "countdown" of the birds seen. Michael Gibson captured some of the atmosphere in his photo (below):
CREDITS: Many thanks to all the team leaders, observers, and feeder-watchers for the successful effort. Thanks to Michael Gibson and Chris Hartzell for providing photos. Jill Himonas and the Wild Bird Center are a major key to this event exceptionally well done!  The birdathon planning committee was chaired by Bette Mayer, and included Jill Himonas, Kelly Sorenson, Cathy Keeran, Jessica Griffiths, Nellie Thorngate, and Carole Rose; Carole also designed our T-shirt. Kristina Westphal and Pete Scrivani were the primary cooks for the great dinner. Kristina Thompson at Del Monte Shopping Center helped with many logistics.

We are very grateful to the many businesses who sponsored prizes and auction items: Bahama Billy's, California Pizza Kitchen (Monterey), Carole Rose Design, Deetjens, Del Monte Shopping Center, El Indio Restaurant, Energia Body Centre, Fleet Feet, Green's Camera World, Heller Estate, Kowa Optimed, Inc., Monterey Bay Kayaks, Monterey Bay Whale Watching, Monterey Symphony, Nepenthe, Pizza My Heart (Monterey), Regis Hairstyles, Rio Grill, Rite Aid (Del Monte Center), Sal & Ada Lucido, Spa on the Plaza, The Bird Feeder (Santa Cruz), The Body Shop, The Hearth Shop, The River Inn, UPS Store (Del Monte Center), Wellness Center at Kirby Chiropractic, Theirry Thompson, Uncommon Grounds, Ventana Inn & Spa, Ventana Vineyards, Welcome Back, Whole Food Market, and Wild Bird Center (Monterey). The Ventana Wilderness Society and the Monterey Peninsula Audubon Society were the overall sponsors of the this event, all proceeds of which will benefit the Big Sur Ornithology Lab.

CODA: Word comes that birdathoner Todd Newberry, who had come down from Santa Cruz to help in our event, fell on the railroad tracks at Kirby Park and tore his left rotator cuff. We all wish him a very speedy recovery. I note that he had already found the critical Greater Scaup for our count. What a trooper! Many thanks for your efforts, Todd.

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