Text © Don Roberson
All photos were taken during the Birdathon
All photos © Don Roberson except as otherwise indicated
Monterey County won the title of "America's Birdiest County" two out of the last three years. Since the  ABC changed its rules to a 3-day event this year,* we chose to return to our basic 24-hour birdathon to help the Monterey Peninsula Audubon Society raise funds for the Big Sur Ornithology Lab, operated by Ventana Wilderness Society. Could we better our high count of 250 species, set in last year's effort?

Yellow-billed Magpie headlined the T-shirt (left), designed by Carole Rose, for the 13th annual Monterey County "Birdiest County" birdathon during the 24 hours between 4 pm on Friday, 28 April, and 4 pm on Saturday, 29 April 2006. Note the wonderful blue gloss to the secondaries on both the photo and Carole's art! [The photographed magpie is carrying acorns, which it buried.]

Those birders high in the Santa Lucias on Friday evening witnessed a spectacular sunset (first shot below) and a glorious morning on Saturday, but found that fog enveloped the lowlands (second shot below). It was supposed to be a bright sunny day. Would the fog affect results?
As luck would have it, the fog would linger in the lowlands throughout Saturday's birdathon period, affecting birding from King City to the Monterey Peninsula (below; observers watch a cruise ship leave Monterey Bay and pass Pt. Pinos in the fog).
Despite the unexpected adverse weather, birdathoners did it again . . .
We set a new birdathon record
with 252 species.
Highlights and a complete listing are below.
The birdathon event concluded with a fabulous countdown dinner at the Wild Bird Center (above). Heroes of the countdown include Kristina Westphal of Whole Foods Market — who prepared another great dinner for 100+ participants — and Jill Himonas of the Wild Bird Center. And let's focus on a couple of birdathon heroes. Every territory had unique species that were invaluable, but two birders deserve special mention. First, Steve Bailey came down from Arcata to participate in Rollo Beck days at the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History last weekend, and stayed for the birdathon (that's Steve in the gray sweater at the head of the buffet line, below). He staked out the Ancient Murrelet off Pacific Grove that was seen by several, and then had 5 unique sightings of birdathon day: Northern Fulmar & Fork-tailed Storm-Petrel (scoped from Pt. Joe), Red Phalarope (Forest Lake in Pebble Beach), Thayer's Gull (Marina dump) & Yellow-breasted Chat (a migrant at Laguna Grande).
The second hero is Tim Amaral (above left, working on his list). Tim and his group saved our bacon Friday night by finding several Lesser Nighthawks over the Greenfield Road crossing of the Salinas River (they were missed at all their 'usual' spots). Then, on Saturday, Tim and his team, birding just 'above the clouds' on Fremont Peak (Carole Rose photo'd that evocative scene, above right), had a 'fall-out' of migrants that included many prized species — Hermit Thrush, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Nashville Warbler, Hermit Warbler — and they found the bird voted "Best Bird" of the birdathon: a Gray Flycatcher that straddled the MTY/SBT county line.
The heart of any birdathon effort is to locate all the breeding species within the county. We did well in that respect, including difficult-to-see residents such as Mountain Quail (above left) and California Thrasher (above right), both photographed on 29 April at Chews Ridge. Much more difficult local breeders included Lesser Nighthawk (mentioned above) and these:
  • American Bittern on the Packard Ranch on Elkhorn Slough (Dan & Inga Labeauane)
  • at least 5 Greater Roadrunners (Chris Hartzell & Ame Wells, Jim Banks, Dave Werner, Scott & Linda Terrill, and others)
  • at least 2-3 each of Bald Eagle, Golden Eagle, and Prairie Falcon (various parties)
  • Burrowing Owl (at least 4 at two different sites; several parties)
  • Spotted Owl (one calling in Robinson Canyon; Steve Rovell)
  • Northern Saw-whet Owl at White Oak Camp (keeping the listener awake half of the night; Don Roberson)
  • Costa's Hummingbird at Arroyo Seco (Scott & Linda Terrill)
  • Dusky Flycatcher on Junipero Serra (Chris Tenney) and Cone Peak (Blake Matheson); birders hiked miles to these remote sites
  • Canyon Wren on Fremont Peak and upper Pine Canyon Road (the Terrills)
  • Bank Swallow at colony on Bitterwater Road (only two at a colony being overrun by starlings)
  • Blue Grosbeak on Paris Valley Road, south of King City (Jim Banks who said it "just arrived that day;" Scott & Linda Terrill)
We missed only a few breeders, and these had probably not yet arrived because of the weather related 'late' spring (Flammulated Owl, Black-chinned Sparrow) or had moved locations (Long-eared Owl)

The next important set of species are wintering species that linger late enough in April for the count, or are represented by late migrants. Two landbirds in that category are Ruby-crowned Kinglet (above left) and Fox Sparrow (above right; both photos from Chews Ridge on 29 Apr). Rarely are such late migrants so well documented as these. There were actually 5 different Ruby-crowned Kinglets found (3 at Chews Ridge, 2 at Fremont Peak) and two Fox Sparrows (singles at Chews Ridge & Junipero Serra; D. Roberson, Chris Tenney). It seems probable that our very rainy March and our mostly cool & cloudy April made for a "late" spring this year, with more of these lingering winter species present than usual. The 5 American Pipits found scattered in the county support this theory. Other late winter birds or late migrants included:

  • a couple Horned & Red-necked Grebes still left off Monterey harbor (Brian Weed)
  • Snow Goose: one lingering at the Salinas R. mouth (Rick Fournier, Todd Newberry)
  • 'Aleutian' Cackling Goose: one still lingering in the Moro Cojo watershed (Rick Fournier, Todd Newberry)
  • good smattering of late ducks, including Green-winged Teal, both scaup, Ring-necked Duck, Bufflehead & Common Goldeneye
  • several late Merlin
  • several late migrant male Rufous Hummingbirds
  • five different White-throated Sparrows, including 2 at a single Pacific Grove feeder 28 Apr (Rita Carratello)
Those scoping for pelagics from Pt. Pinos, Pt. Joe, and elsewhere on Friday and Saturday afternoons (Steve Bailey, Matt Brady, Don Roberson, Brian Sullivan, Ryan Terrill, David Vander Pluym & others) did very well, with over two dozen Black-footed Albatross seen, plus Northern Fulmar, Pink-footed Shearwater, flocks of Brant, Red-necked Phalarope, Ancient & Marbled Murrelet, and Cassin's & Rhinoceros Auklets. Offshore, Richard Ternullo had an Ashy Storm-Petrel (under the old "America's Birdiest County" rules such species from a boat on the ocean aren't counted, but since we aren't playing their game any more, we can trash that silly rule).

Finally, unexpected rarities — either rare anytime in Monterey County or rare because of the late April date —create the most excitement and add the frosting to the list. Chipping Sparrow nests in the interior, but 3 at Carmel River mouth were vagrants and the first spring records for this site (photo above left © Bill Hill). Franklin's Gull is a very rare spring migrant through our county, so two at the Pajaro River mouth on Friday night (Matt Brady) and another there Saturday morning (above right, photo © Roger Wolfe) were both unexpected and a delight. Other unexpected bonus birds were:

  • Harlequin Duck: the 3 birds (2 male, 1 female), two of which frequented Monterey harbor all winter (Brian Weed et al.)
  • Redhead: 4 at Zmudowski SB (Rick Fournier, Todd Newberry) and another at Salinas wtp (Scott & Linda Terrill)
  • Cattle Egret: 4 at Moonglow Dairy (Rick Fournier, Todd Newberry)
  • White-faced Ibis: 1 at Salinas wtp (John Sorensen, Bob Tintle) and 3 at Zmudowski SB (Rick Fournier, Todd Newberry, et al.)
  • Solitary Sandpiper on the Pajaro River, in both MTY & SCZ (Roger Wolfe)
  • Laughing Gull on Elkhorn Slough (Rick Fournier, Todd Newberry, Yohn Gideon: this adult may be the same individual recorded on last year's birdathon — it has been seen off-and-on around Elkhorn Slough and into Santa Cruz Co. for the past year, going through a complete molt in summer/fall 2005
  • Glaucous Gull at Salinas River mouth: one first-cycle bird (Rick Fournier, Todd Newberry, David Styer) — we had such a late bird last birdathon, and it lingered throughout May
  • Herring Gull: at least 4 different late migrants — Marina dump and one each at the Big Sur, Salinas, and Pajaro river mouths
  • Thayer's Gull at Marina dump (Steve Bailey)
  • Least Tern on Elkhorn Slough (Yohn Gideon); this and the next two species pass through each spring in very small numbers
  • Black Tern at Moro Cojo Slough (Rick Fournier, Todd Newberry)
  • Black Skimmer: 2 on Elkhorn Slough (Yohn Gideon, Rick Fournier, Todd Newberry)
  • Red-breasted Sapsucker in a 'Coastlands' yard, south of Big Sur (Nadine Clark): this sapsucker had wintered on a favored oak and was still present 29 April, nearly setting a new 'late date' record for the county (previously latest date is 30 April)
  • Gray Flycatcher at Fremont Peak (Tim Amaral and group), mentioned above; it was still present the next morning (Ryan Terrill)
  • Hermit Thrush: late migrants at Fremont Peak (Tim Amaral et al.) and Big Sur R. mouth (Ryan Terrill); another in a Big Sur yard (Nadine Clark) could be from the small local breeding population
  • Yellow-headed Blackbird: 2 at Moonglow Dairy (Rick Fournier, Todd Newberry)
Finally, let's mention a couple of species seen on the birdathon we don't count. California Condors were seen, but all the current birds in Monterey County were zoo-raised birds released in hopes of re-establishing the population. The great news this year is that Big Sur condors appear to be nesting! [see my MTY highlights page for photo]. We don't 'count' in our total birds released from zoos. However, since it is a native species, any young 'born in the wild' would be countable — so maybe we will have baby condors that are 'countable' next year!  Also, we don't include in our total the free-flying parrots around Monterey Peninsula, even the Red-crowned Parrots that some count in southern California. The few parrots here locally are not an "established" population for a non-native species (Red-crowned Parrots were seen on the birdathon, though).
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 backyard feeder watchers from Prunedale to Big Sur.
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. Yohn Gideon, captain of the Elkhorn Slough Safari pontoon boat trips, added species to our total. In addition, Monterey Bay Whale Watch trips were operating, and Richard Ternullo reported Saturday's species. As usual, numerous observers spent hours sea-watching from land during the event, and all but one of the pelagic species were seen from shore.
1: Rick Fournier; Inga & Dan Labeauane, Todd Newberry
2: Steve Rovell
3: Brian Weed and team
4: Bill Hill; Craig Hohenberger, Steve Rovell (owling)
5: Rita Carratello; Bill & Mary Rydell
6: Jessica Griffiths, Ryan Terrill; also BSOL interns plus Karen Ritchie led a public walk
7: Matt Brady
8: Blake Matheson
9: Jim Banks [mostly eastern section]; Bob Tintle & John Sorensen [mostly western section]
10: Dave Werner
11: Chris Tenney
12: Don Roberson
13: Chris Hartzell; Ame Wells
14: Tim Amaral; Larry & Carole Rose, Rich Trissel, Judy West
15: Roger Wolfe [Pajaro R. m.]; David & Jane Styer (Ft. Ord)
16: R.J. Adams led two public walks — owlers and non-owlers; Steve Bailey had selected targets in Pebble Beach, scoping from Pt. Joe, at Laguna Grande & Marina dump
Here's our complete list for the Birdathon 2006:
1 Snow Goose
2 Canada Goose
3 Cackling 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 Bufflehead
21 Common Goldeneye
22 Common Merganser
23 Red-breasted Merganser
24 Ruddy Duck
25 Wild Turkey
26 Mountain Quail
27 California Quail
28 Red-throated Loon
29 Pacific Loon
30 Common Loon
31 Pied-billed Grebe
32 Horned Grebe
33 Red-necked Grebe
34 Eared Grebe
35 Western Grebe
36 Clark's Grebe
37 Black-footed Albatross
38 Northern Fulmar
39 Pink-footed Shearwater
40 Sooty Shearwater
41 Fork-tailed Storm-Petrel
42 Ashy Storm-Petrel
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 Snowy Plover
75 Semipalmated Plover
76 Killdeer
77 Black Oystercatcher
78 Black-necked Stilt
79 American Avocet
80 Greater Yellowlegs
81 Solitary Sandpiper
82 Willet
83 Wandering Tattler
84 Spotted Sandpiper
85 Whimbrel
86 Long-billed Curlew
87 Marbled Godwit
88 Ruddy Turnstone
89 Black Turnstone
90 Surfbird
91 Sanderling
92 Western Sandpiper
93 Least Sandpiper
94 Dunlin
95 Short-billed Dowitcher
96 Long-billed Dowitcher
97 Wilson's Snipe
98 Wilson's Phalarope
99 Red-necked Phalarope
100 Red Phalarope
101 Franklin's Gull
102 Laughing Gull
103 Bonaparte's Gull
104 Heermann's Gull
105 Ring-billed Gull
106 California Gull
107 Herring Gull
108 Thayer's Gull
109 Western Gull
110 Glaucous-winged Gull
111 Glaucous Gull
112 Caspian Tern
113 Elegant Tern
114 Common Tern
115 Forster's Tern
116 Least Tern
117 Black Tern
118 Black Skimmer
119 Common Murre
120 Pigeon Guillemot
121 Marbled Murrelet
122 Ancient Murrelet
123 Cassin's Auklet
124 Rhinoceros Auklet
125 Rock Pigeon
126 Band-tailed Pigeon
127 Mourning Dove
128 Eurasian Collared-Dove
        Red-crowned Parrot [not counted]
129 Greater Roadrunner
130 Barn Owl
131 Western Screech-Owl
132 Great Horned Owl
133 Northern Pygmy-Owl
134 Burrowing Owl
135 Spotted Owl
136 Northern Saw-whet Owl
137 Lesser Nighthawk
138 Common Poorwill
139 Vaux's Swift
140 White-throated Swift
141 Black-chinned Hummingbird
142 Anna's Hummingbird
143 Costa's Hummingbird
144 Rufous Hummingbird
145 Allen's Hummingbird
146 Belted Kingfisher
147 Acorn Woodpecker
148 Red-breasted Sapsucker
149 Nuttall's Woodpecker
150 Downy Woodpecker
151 Hairy Woodpecker
152 Northern Flicker
153 Olive-sided Flycatcher
154 Western Wood-Pewee
155 Gray Flycatcher
156 Dusky Flycatcher
157 Pacific-slope Flycatcher
158 Black Phoebe
159 Say's Phoebe
160 Ash-throated Flycatcher
161 Cassin's Kingbird
162 Western Kingbird
163 Loggerhead Shrike
164 Cassin's Vireo
165 Hutton's Vireo
166 Warbling Vireo
167 Steller's Jay
168 Western Scrub-Jay
169 Yellow-billed Magpie
170 American Crow
171 Common Raven
172 Horned Lark
173 Purple Martin
174 Tree Swallow
175 Violet-green Swallow
176 N. Rough-winged Swallow
177 Bank Swallow
178 Cliff Swallow
179 Barn Swallow
180 Chestnut-backed Chickadee
181 Oak Titmouse
182 Bushtit
183 Red-breasted Nuthatch
184 White-breasted Nuthatch
185 Pygmy Nuthatch
186 Brown Creeper
187 Rock Wren
188 Canyon Wren
189 Bewick's Wren
190 House Wren
191 Winter Wren
192 Marsh Wren
193 American Dipper
194 Ruby-crowned Kinglet
195 Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
196 Western Bluebird
197 Swainson's Thrush
198 Hermit Thrush
199 American Robin
200 Wrentit
201 Northern Mockingbird
202 California Thrasher
203 European Starling
204 American Pipit
205 Cedar Waxwing
206 Phainopepla
207 Orange-crowned Warbler
208 Nashville Warbler
209 Yellow Warbler
210 Yellow-rumped Warbler
211 Black-throated Gray Warbler
212 Townsend's Warbler
213 Hermit Warbler
214 MacGillivray's Warbler
215 Common Yellowthroat
216 Wilson's Warbler
217 Yellow-breasted Chat
218 Western Tanager
219 Spotted Towhee
220 California Towhee
221 Rufous-crowned Sparrow
222 Chipping Sparrow
223 Lark Sparrow
224 Sage Sparrow
225 Savannah Sparrow
226 Grasshopper Sparrow
227 Fox Sparrow
228 Song Sparrow
229 Lincoln's Sparrow
230 White-throated Sparrow
231 White-crowned Sparrow
232 Golden-crowned Sparrow
233 Dark-eyed Junco
234 Black-headed Grosbeak
235 Blue Grosbeak
236 Lazuli Bunting
237 Red-winged Blackbird
238 Tricolored Blackbird
239 Western Meadowlark
240 Yellow-headed Blackbird
241 Brewer's Blackbird
242 Great-tailed Grackle
243 Brown-headed Cowbird
244 Hooded Oriole
245 Bullock's Oriole
246 Purple Finch
247 House Finch
248 Pine Siskin
249 Lesser Goldfinch
250 Lawrence's Goldfinch
251 American Goldfinch
252 House Sparrow
So we'll leave the happy group at the Birdathon dinner. Kelly Sorenson, below left with our youngest birdathoner, Elsie, is pleased about the thousands of dollars raised to support Ventana Wildlife Society's Big Sur Ornithology Lab (he's the VWS executive director). And Carole Rose (below right) gets the last laugh . . . 
CREDITS: Many thanks to all the team leaders, observers, and feeder-watchers for the successful effort. Thanks to Bill Hill, Carole Rose, and Roger Wolfe for providing photos. The birdathon planning committee was chaired by Bette Mayer, and included Audries Blake, Jessica Griffiths, Jill Himonas, Cathy Keeran, Karen Ritchie, Carole Rose, Kelly Sorenson, and Nellie Thorngate; Carole Rose created the artwork for our T-shirt. Kristina Westphal was the primary cook for the great dinner. Kristina Thompson at Del Monte Shopping Center helped with many logistics. The art show at the Salud! Room, curated by Naomi Pollack, featured the art of Kathryn Hannay, Karen Ritchie, Carole Rose, and Nellie Thorngate, and the photography of Bill Hill.

We are very grateful to the many businesses who sponsored prizes and auction items: Bahama Billy's, Carole Rose Design, Corporate Kids Events, Inc., Crabtree & Evelyn, Deetjens, Del Monte Shopping Center, E&R Designs, The Fishwife, Fleet Feet Sport, Garden Health & Fitness, Green's Camera World, KAZU (90.3), Kristina Scrivini, Kowa Optimed, Inc., Michael Keeran Golf Instruction, Monterey Bay Kayaks, Monterey Bay Whale Watching, Nikon, Pentax, Rancho Canada Golf Ranch, Rite Aid, Sal & Ada Lucido, Swarovski Optics, The Bird Feeder (Santa Cruz), Theirry Thompson, Uncommon Grounds, Ventana Inn & Spa, Whole Food Market, and Wild Bird Center (Monterey). The Ventana Wildlife 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.

* = footnote:
     Most birdathons, and the original "America's Birdiest County" (ABC) event, arose out of Big Day concepts. This is an effort to see as many species as possible within one day. Formal American Birding Association Big Day rules require the effort to be within a single calendar day, but ABC initially chose a single 24-hour period that could cover parts of two days (for example, 4 pm on Friday to 4 pm on Saturday). This was fine because the Big Day concept still prevailed but shifting the 24-hour period permitted a nice "countdown" event the evening of the second day. Monterey County has fewer breeding birds that some other big counties in California (e.g., San Diego, Los Angeles, Kern) but has been able to win these "David vs Goliath" contest in head-to-head 24-hour competition due to good organization, good birders, and good luck.
   In recent years, the ABC event has evolved to a two-day effort and then, this year, a 3-day effort. There is talk of a ten-day affair in the future. This guarantees that the Goliath counties with the most breeding species and the most birders will always "win".... it is no longer a fair contest that depends on skill, organization, and luck with the weather. Big counties can send out waves of birders day-after-day and give everyone results by email each night. This is exactly what happened this year. According to web reports, Los Angeles County had a total list in the 190s after their first 24 hours, a list in the high 240s after their second 24 hours, and finally passed our one-day total on their third day, reaching the 260s.
    There is very little point in a "contest" that is stacked entirely in favor of the big boys. We're happy to take any of them on head-to-head for 24 hours, but by adding days it becomes inevitable that they'll round up all their breeding species from deserts to mountain tops. By eliminating the vagaries related to luck with weather, skill of observers in a short period, and organizational efforts, there is no contest left.  We might as well forget about doing the event at all, and just compare lists of known breeding species from Breeding Bird Atlases done years before. So we've 'retired' from ABC competition as the winner and still champion of 24-hour ABC contests.







Page created 30 Apr-1 May 2006