The annual "Birdiest County Birdathon" in support of Big Sur Ornithology Lab took place under (mostly) sunny skies from 4 pm, Friday, 27 April to 4 pm, Saturday, 28 April 2007. The chosen icon for this year's effort — as so beautifully drawn by Carole Rose for our T-shirt (left) — was Harlequin Duck. Fortunately, there was still a male Harlequin Duck in the Monterey harbor (above), adding that rare species to the count!

Dense fog over the Monterey Peninsula on Saturday wiped out sea-watching. Had the fog not interfered, we would likely have a new record. Still, birdathoners found 250 species within 24 hours — our second highest count ever — while raising thousands of dollars for BSOL.

photo © D. Roberson

Big Sur Ornithology Lab (BSOL) is one of the important projects supported by Ventana Wildlife Society (VWS). Another huge VWS project is the effort to reintroduce native California Condors into our local mountains. The last wild condor was captured in 1987 in hopes of captive breeding, The program succeeded and ten years later VWS released the first captive-bred condors back into the Ventana Wilderness. There are now 28 flying free there. This spring, for the first time ever, a pair laid a wild fertile egg in a cave up a 300 foot cliff (photo below left). After amazing feats of climbing by biologists, that egg was retrieved for safety and replaced with another fertile zoo-laid eggs. Both eggs have hatched and the chicks are growing.

Our free-flying condors never knew the difference [an incredible photo of the wild mother, taken by climber Joseph Brandt, is above right; © Joseph Brandt, used with permission of VWS]. The MTY pair laid and hatched an egg in their wild nest. Long ago birders decided that although the zoo-bred condors don't "count" for life lists and birdathons, a chick hatched from a wild nest would be "countable." This is consistent with the handling of the rescue efforts for Peregrine Falcons several decades ago; it would be pedantic churlishness to strain at gnats here. The chick is now the first "countable" California Condor in Monterey County since 1980. It was recorded by VWS biologists on the Birdathon day and, for the first time ever, condors were part of our local count.
A successful birdathon requires good birders, good coverage, good weather, and good luck. We had at least 40 good observers in 18 teams in territories around the entire county, plus more at backyard feeders. Others participated in other important ways. Sunrise on 28 April [left, a shot from Fremont Peak © Carole Rose] brought a fine sunny day inland. This permitted counters to search for all our breeding species, look for late lingering winterers and migrants, and hope for a vagrant or two. Together we would find all the regularly nesting birds of Monterey County, except four [two of which have likely not yet arrived by this date]. These would range from the common — represented by the Killdeer chick below — to the elusive [e.g., Flammulated Owl calling on Chews Ridge or a wayward Long-eared Owl found at a day roost near Pt. Sur; Don Roberson & Ryan Terrill, respectively]. Tim Amaral's team heard another Long-eared and Steve Rovell rounding up 5 more species in Robinson Canyon; we had 9 owls in all.
Among the breeding birds were some that had just arrived this weekend, including Blue Grosbeak [Paris Valley Road; Jim Banks & Kim Bonino] and Yellow-breasted Chat [Mission Fields by Bill Hill, Cachagua Creek by Roberson]. Costa's Hummingbird has been missed before but Craig Hohenberger had a male while mountain-biking far above Arroyo Seco Camp. Difficult residents, like Prairie Falcon & Bald Eagle, were also found [Dave Werner in se MTY, Banks & Bonino in south county], and Robert Horn had an Osprey at Carmel R. mouth. Even the Bank Swallows were at their colony near King City.

Waterbird migrants and winterers added many species, including:

  • over 20 American White Pelican over Elkhorn Slough [photo left ©Steve Rovell]
  • ~15 White-faced Ibis from Moonglow Dairy to Salinas River mouth [Scott & Linda Terrill, Rovell, et al.]
  • Solitary Sandpiper at Carmel R. mouth [Matt Brady]
  • two Lesser Yellowlegs and a Wilson's Snipe at Moonglow [Rovell, Terrills]
  • two Wandering Tattler at Garrapata SP [Paul Donahue] plus a couple more at Pt. Pinos [Brian Weed, Terrills]
  • a Surfbird at Coast Guard jetty [Weed]
  • Red Knot at Jetty Road [Scott & Linda Terrill]
  • two rare Glaucous Gull still present at Salinas R. mouth [Oscar Johnson, Matt Brady]
  • both Herring & Thayer's Gulls at Salinas R. mouth & at Marina dump

Late lingering waterfowl are a major key to success:

  • 2 Ross Goose in Carmel Valley [photo right © Bill Hill]
  • Cackling Goose at El Estero [Brian Weed & team]
  • over a dozen scattered Blue-winged Teal [Rovell, Weed]
  • Canvasback in San Lucas vineyards [Banks & Bonino]
  • Redhead at Pajaro River mouth [Roger Wolfe]
  • both scaup at Pajaro R. mouth, a Greater at Jetty Road
  • 2 White-winged Scoter flying past Pt. Pinos [Roberson]
  • Long-tailed Duck on Elkhorn Slough [Bruce Elliott, Yohn Gideon]
  • surprising numbers of Bufflehead, including 7 at Pajaro R. mouth

And in alcids, an Ancient Murrelet off Molera Head [Ryan Terrill] and Rhinoceros Auklets from Richard Ternullo's whale-watch boat (the only pelagic not seen by shore-based observers)

Landbird migrants are also very important. At left (photo © D. Roberson), Steve Johnston stands amid the stately oaks and Ponderosa Pines atop Chews Ridge, a spot that had migrant Ruby-crowned Kinglet & Hermit Warbler. More Hermits were on Cone Peak (R.J. Adams) and Fremont Peak (Tim Amaral & team). Unexpected montane migrants included a male Calliope Hummingbird next to the bridge over the Little Sur River (Ryan Terrill) and a Hammond's Flycatcher near Salinas (Tim Amaral & team). On the coast, a migrant Palm Warbler briefly appeared and promptly disappeared at Pt. Joe in Pebble Beach [Oscar Johnson, Matt Brady].
It was a fine spring for Lawrence's Goldfinch, with widespread birds inland and numbers even to the coast (Moonglow Dairy, right © Steve Rovell). Moonglow also had five Yellow-headed Blackbirds. Perhaps the best migrants, though, were raptors: a Swainson's Hawk east of Salinas [Tim Amaral, Rich Trissel] and a very late Ferruginous Hawk east of King City [Jim Banks, Kim Bonino].
Certainly the rarest bird of the count was Crested Caracara (left; a photo from earlier in April). This vagrant adult — which has moved between Ft. Ord, the Monterey Peninsula, and Big Sur during its year-long stay — was located along the Salinas River during the Birdathon [Rich Trissel, Larry & Carole Rose].
The day was not without its unexpected adventures. Chris Hartzell was at Moonglow Dairy, photographing Lawrence's Goldfinch, when Ame found a bee in their car. Chris shooed it out and rolled up the windows . . .  just moments before their car was engulfed in a giant swarm of moving bees [below © Chris Hartzell]!
But they survived. They and 100+ other birdathoners enjoyed a great enchilada meal provided by Whole Foods Market during a countdown evening (below) that included free wine, a silent auction, raffle prizes, and the countdown commentary.

Many people help in undertaking an event like this. There are all the birdathon participants, including hard-working territory leaders. There is the VWS staff (including Kelly Sorenson & Cathy Keeran) and Board, and the BSOL staff (Karen Shihadeh, Jessica Griffiths, Nellie Thorngate) and interns. Bette Mayer once again chaired the Birdathon Committee. Jill Himonas (far right) and her staff at the Wild Bird Center (in green aprons, L to R: Leann Adler, Alida Melson, Ashley Garrison) were the hub of the countdown event. Naomi Pollack cooked the countdown dinner at Whole Food Market's Salud!

Carole Rose created the Harlequin Duck artwork for this year's T-shirt, which was sponsored by PG&E. Our major sponsor is the Monterey Peninsula Audubon Society.

We are very grateful to the many businesses who sponsored prizes and auction items, including Bahama Billy's, Carole Rose Design, Del Monte Shopping Center, Fashion Streaks, Green's Camera World, Heller Estates, Kowa Optimed, Inc., Michael Keeran Golf Instruction, Kayak Connection, Monterey Bay Whale Watching, Monterey Bay Kayaks, Portobello's, Sal & Ada Lucido, The Bird Feeder (Santa Cruz), Uncommon Grounds, San Francisco Zen Center, 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, and the proceeds will benefit the Big Sur Ornithology Lab.

Our local event is often called the "Birdiest County Birdathon." This is because in years past our Birdathon entered the "America's Birdiest County" competition, and we won two out of the three times we entered. We suspect that our 250 species for a 24-hour period this year will beat any other county's 24-hour count, but the ABC organizers have changed the rules. Rather than a completion between various 24-hour birdathons, the ABC has gone to a three-day event. This allows first-day participants to post their results on the Internet that night, permitting others to look for different species the next day, post again, and then a third wave goes out after the still-missing birds. Such an event can be interesting but it favors counties and cities with large numbers of participants. We prefer the challenge presented by a single day with its unpredictable weather and migrant waves (or lack thereof), with a nice countdown dinner and raising lots of money for the environment, rather than the current ABC type of regimen. So, again, we are not an ABC participant in 2007, but we had a great time competing against our past efforts.


Birdathon 2007 list: Ross's Goose, Cackling Goose, Canada Goose, Brant, Gadwall, Mallard, Blue-winged Teal, Cinnamon Teal, Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail, Green-winged Teal, Canvasback, Redhead, Ring-necked Duck, Greater Scaup, Lesser Scaup, Harlequin Duck, Surf Scoter, White-winged Scoter, Long-tailed Duck, Bufflehead, Common Merganser, Red-breasted Merganser, Ruddy Duck, Wild Turkey, Mountain Quail, California Quail, Red-throated Loon, Pacific Loon, Common Loon, Pied-billed Grebe, Horned Grebe, Red-necked Grebe, Eared Grebe, Western Grebe, Clark's Grebe, Black-footed Albatross, Pink-footed Shearwater, Sooty Shearwater, American White Pelican, Brown Pelican, Brandt's Cormorant, Double-crested Cormorant, Pelagic Cormorant, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Cattle Egret, Green Heron, Black-crowned Night-Heron , White-faced Ibis, Turkey Vulture, California Condor, Osprey, White-tailed Kite, Bald Eagle, Northern Harrier, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Cooper's Hawk, Red-shouldered Hawk, Swainson's Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Ferruginous Hawk, Golden Eagle, Crested Caracara, American Kestrel, Merlin, Peregrine Falcon, Prairie Falcon, Virginia Rail, Sora, Common Moorhen, American Coot, Black-bellied Plover, Snowy Plover, Semipalmated Plover, Killdeer, Black Oystercatcher, Black-necked Stilt, American Avocet, Spotted Sandpiper, Solitary Sandpiper, Wandering Tattler, Greater Yellowlegs, Willet, Lesser Yellowlegs, Whimbrel, Long-billed Curlew, Marbled Godwit, Ruddy Turnstone, Black Turnstone, Surfbird, Red Knot, Sanderling, Western Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper, Dunlin, Short-billed Dowitcher, Long-billed Dowitcher, Wilson's Snipe, Wilson's Phalarope, Red-necked Phalarope, Bonaparte's Gull, Heermann's Gull, Ring-billed Gull, California Gull, Herring Gull, Thayer's Gull, Western Gull, Glaucous-winged Gull, Glaucous Gull, Caspian Tern, Common Tern, Forster's Tern, Elegant Tern, Common Murre, Pigeon Guillemot, Ancient Murrelet, Rhinoceros Auklet, Rock Pigeon, Band-tailed Pigeon, Eurasian Collared-Dove, Mourning Dove, Greater Roadrunner, Barn Owl, Flammulated Owl, Western Screech-Owl, Great Horned Owl, Northern Pygmy-Owl, Burrowing Owl, Spotted Owl, Long-eared Owl, Northern Saw-whet Owl, Lesser Nighthawk, Common Poorwill, Vaux's Swift, White-throated Swift, Black-chinned Hummingbird, Anna's Hummingbird, Costa's Hummingbird, Calliope Hummingbird, Rufous Hummingbird, Allen's Hummingbird, Belted Kingfisher, Acorn Woodpecker, Nuttall's Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Western Wood-Pewee, Hammond's Flycatcher, Pacific-slope Flycatcher, Black Phoebe, Say's Phoebe, Ash-throated Flycatcher, Cassin's Kingbird, Western Kingbird, Loggerhead Shrike, Cassin's Vireo, Hutton's Vireo, Warbling Vireo, Steller's Jay, Western Scrub-Jay, Yellow-billed Magpie, American Crow, Common Raven, Horned Lark, Purple Martin, Tree Swallow, Violet-green Swallow, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Bank Swallow, Cliff Swallow, Barn Swallow, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Oak Titmouse, Bushtit, Red-breasted Nuthatch, White-breasted Nuthatch, Pygmy Nuthatch, Brown Creeper, Rock Wren, Canyon Wren, Bewick's Wren, House Wren, Winter Wren, Marsh Wren, American Dipper, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Western Bluebird, Swainson's Thrush, Hermit Thrush, American Robin, Wrentit, Northern Mockingbird, California Thrasher, European Starling,American Pipit, Cedar Waxwing, Phainopepla, Orange-crowned Warbler, Nashville Warbler, Yellow Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Black-throated Gray Warbler, Townsend's Warbler, Hermit Warbler, Palm Warbler, MacGillivray's Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Wilson's Warbler, Yellow-breasted Chat, Western Tanager, Spotted Towhee, California Towhee, Rufous-crowned Sparrow, Chipping Sparrow, Lark Sparrow, Sage Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, Grasshopper Sparrow, Fox Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Lincoln's Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow, Golden-crowned Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, Black-headed Grosbeak, Blue Grosbeak, Lazuli Bunting, Red-winged Blackbird, Tricolored Blackbird, Western Meadowlark, Yellow-headed Blackbird, Brewer's Blackbird, Great-tailed Grackle, Brown-headed Cowbird, Hooded Oriole, Bullock's Oriole, Purple Finch, House Finch, Pine Siskin, Lesser Goldfinch, Lawrence's Goldfinch, American Goldfinch, House Sparrow.

photos & text © Don Roberson, except for photos copyrighted as listed above, all right reserved