DISCOVERIES — My TOP TEN personal finds
a web page by Don Roberson

When I fell into the clutches of the hardcore California birding world, I learned that chasing rarities — an essential element of the subculture — could be incredibly exhilarating or exceedingly depressing. The highest pinnacle, however, was to discover, correctly identify, and spread the word of your "own find." Finding rarities, getting them right, documenting them, and getting others to see them were the means to establish one's reputation, for better or worse. Misidentifying a rarity, poorly documented it with field notes (or not documenting it at all!), or failing to quickly get out the word to others — these were (and remain) negatives. The time that I began chasing California vagrant birds was a great time to do so — the tumultuous 1970s, when there were still lots of migrant birds, there were still many 'vagrant trap' locations to be discovered, and there was an unmatched camaraderie among the participants.

Things are different now. With the perspective of 40 years, there are many things I miss about those times, and one of those is just how many birds there were around [there are also many other things I don't miss]. Before I begin to forget, I thought it would be fun to put together a self-ranked "top ten" set of stories and documentation of my "personal best finds."

Half of the picks for "best finds" are from the 1970s. Not only does it feel like there were more birds then, but I birded all of California much more actively when I was in college and law school. I did "serious" state Big Years in 1975 and 1977; the latter published in my first book Birders' California (1978). Now my birding tends to be restricted to Monterey County, where I have a job, a house, a wife and a cat. Three of the "top ten" picks are from Monterey County, where I have lived since 1979 (photo left shows my Moonglow Dairy hat at Moonglow Dairy © Rita Carratello).Now, the local birding community is much larger and much more active. And where we once communicated by phone trees, pay phones or the BirdBox, word of vagrants now typically arrives via cell phones, texts, or eBird alerts.

In presenting each of my "top ten" choices below — and a few more — I've added visuals. When there are photos, I have posted them here. Before 2005, all my photos were on slide film, except for some efforts at digiscoping in 2004. The old slides have been digitized below. In the 1970s, however, I didn't take photos, so I documented my rarities with full written descriptions of both the bird and the surrounding circumstances. For these I've created a few collages that combine a photo of the site with pictures of the species in question (or my quick field sketch), but the art or photo of birds in these collages do not document the specific 'find' discussed. Occasionally I've used a photo taken by another birder (with permission).


# 1
Connecticut Warbler on 22 Sep 1974 at Stovepipe Wells, INY

At a road sign that reads "sea level" in the most barren stretch of Death Valley is a gas station, general store, and motel called Stovepipe Wells (right). There are a few scrubby tamarisks but a stop here — even in migration — rarely exceeds a list of 10 species. And yet the most unexpected birds appear here. I was here here on 1 June 1974 when the gas station attendant told us a "bird from Australia" that was out back — it proved to be an exhausted Least Bittern standing in the desert, pointing its bill to the sky (thus "Australian" and no, I don't know why). Van Remsen picked it up to release at a better spot, and in this collage you can see the bittern sitting on his arm, with Guy McCaskie, Jon Dun, John Luther, and Steve Summers looking on [Lee Jones hidden behind].

By 22 Sep 1974, I'd been exposed to hardcore California birding for barely a year. Yet, at 22 years old, I was already an addict — more interested in searching for vagrant birds in California than doing anything else. Death Valley was more than 8 hour away from my Berkeley apartment but I drove there multiple times a year. On this particular trip in Sep 1974 I was with Steve Bailey, Joe Morlan, and Charlie Turner. It was very hot when we stopped at Stovepipe Wells. I looked out back, where the Least Bittern had been in June, and discovered a Connecticut Warbler walking on a cement sidewalk. To quote from my notes: It "spent 95% of time walking on ground, occasionally hopping briefly to lower branches of tamarisks. It searched the edge of the building ... [and] walked within 10 feet of me, appeared tame, disoriented, and confused. I observed it leisurely .... [Later, when I'd found my companions], it was refound a half-hour later across the road [by the motel] at some dripping water." I wrote full field notes on the spot — including details of the brownish hood, yellow belly and long undertail coverts, complete eye-right, and dusky-flesh colored legs. All of us were just overwhelmed to see a bird this unexpected, this rare, at this place.

I think that this still has to be my best personal find in California. It was the 10th State record [CBRC accepted #1974-079] but the first one away from the coast [six of the first 10 were caught and banded on the Farallones, the other three in coastal San Diego Co.]. By the time of the CBRC's publication of Rare Birds of California (2007) there were 103 State records but only 7 from the interior. Because of its secrecy, "Connecticut Warblers are notoriously difficult to find" in California, says that book. I have never been so lucky again. It remains the only Connecticut Warbler that I've ever seen in the State.

[the collage combines my 1979 shot of Stovepipe Wells, the June 1974 Least Bittern event there, and
Thomas Schultz's painting of a Connecticut Warbler from Dunn & Garret (1997) Field Guide to Warblers]

# 2
White-eyed Vireo on 7 June 1977 at Pt. Reyes NS, MRN

In 1977 I was living in Alameda while going to law school. The nearest major "vagrant traps" were patches of isolated cypresses on outer Pt. Reyes, many of them serving as wind-breaks on ranches. This one (photo at left) is what was then called Mendoza Ranch, with its planted row of Monterey cypresses. On 7 June 1977, I was chasing a Brown Thrasher seen the day before by Joe Morlan elsewhere on Pt. Reyes, and that I needed for a year bird. I stopped at Mendoza at 10:30 a.m. and ran into Bob Richmond. Suddenly from the canopy of a wind-bent cypress came an explosive song that I described in my notes as "chick-a-cheedle-eedle-chick!" with emphasis on first and last note. We didn't know what it was but the song came every minute of so. Suddenly the little songster popped out and I said "[expletive deleted], it's a White-eyed Vireo!" I mention that because I almost never swear so the adrenalin rush was very intense. I wrote this in my book Birders' California (1978) about the 1997 year list: "Those of you who are into very rare birds will understand the adrenalin, the unsteady hands, the frantic rush to the nearest phone. The rest think that we're crazy anyway. However, it was a relief when the first Bay Area birders reached Pt. Reyes two hours later and I could quit following the bird and let others view it."
    This was California's second record. The first had been netted on SE Farallon I. on 4 June 1969, 8 years and 3 days before. Henry Robert photographed the Farallon White-eyed Vireo in-hand, and some of that photo is pasted into this collage [a picture of me from 1977 is also pasted here]. Van Remsen, Joe Morlan, the Luthers, and more arrived that first day. I was there at 8:30 the next morning and, fortunately, so was the singing vireo. It was a State bird for everyone — even Guy McCaskie who had driven up from San Diego — the Godfather of California birding and the State's top field ornithologist.
    Thankfully this was a singing adult male and not an i.d. challenge. The bird was very active and in those days of film cameras, no one got photos. I wrote full details [CBRC accepted 1977-065]. It stayed two days: 7-8 June 1977. Since then, however, over 50 others have occurred, and there have been years (1992) when a dozen records were accepted. Still, finding a second State record and a new species for everyone's list was truly exciting.

[the collage has my photo of Mendoza Ranch with Henry Robert's June 1969 photo of the Farallon bird
[not 'my bird'] overlain above, and Brad Schram's photo of me from back then]

# 3
Mottled Petrel seen 12 Dec 1984 from Pt. Pinos MTY

On this very windy day — the news later said the gusting westerlies were up to 40 mph — I went to the Point on my lunch hour because it was so windy. I often scoped while sitting inside my car. The winds were so strong that the car was shaking too much at the Point, so I went to a sheltered spot behind a huge boulder a couple turn-outs to the east, which today we call "Petrel Pt." Looking north with the sun behind me, there were great views of Pink-foots, Black-vents, and Fulmars, many of which were being pushed back while trying to fly west past the vantage point, providing excellent close range views.

After a half-hour, a procellarid soared up at kelp line, judged as between a Black-vent and Fulmar in size, showing me its underparts ["clean white throat & breast, a sharply demarcated and extensive charcoal belly, sharply cut off from white undertail coverts, and gleaming white underwings with a broad black ulnar bar across the inner half of the underwing," to quote my notes]. I knew immediately it was a Mottled Petrel, and saw both sides well. "I do not know how long this was in real life — time seemed to stand still — but I did have time to talk to myself and remind myself to look at the tail and look at the head pattern and recheck the undertail tails coverts," to quote again. When it passed to the west, I drew a sketch of what I'd seen on an envelope, long before books were checked (the quick sketch is inset in this collage).

[the collage has my photo of heavy seas at Pt. Pinos, my sketch,
and artwork from Peter Harrison's Seabirds book]

# 4
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher on 21 Sep 2004 at Pt. Pinos MTY

As I was completing my loop around Crespi Pond at Pt. Pinos before work this date, I found an Empidonax flycatcher that looked 'tiny,' short-tailed, short-billed, with a big round eyering, on a bird that was green above and very bright yellow below. It had black wings ... [and] white wingbars and tertial edgings [that] contrasted strongly," to quote notes [full details on-line]. It gave a call I did not recognize: a sharp spweek! It was already after 9 a.m. and I needed to get to work. So I tried a few digiscope pics (one of them at left) and posted to local BirdBox. I and others spent another 1.5 hour with it after work that day, but it was not there the next morning. It took a couple days to confirm i.d. from the literature, expert review, and comparison to on-line calls (see link above).
    This was the first record of Yellow-bellied Flycatcher for MTY; the 18th for California. It is probably the most "difficult-to-identify" rarity I've found, so that is nice, but more personally it was a big "catch-up" bird for me. Every other State lister birding in 1989 had seen one at Galileo Hill, Kern Co. That Yellow-belly stayed for 5 days [almost all other have been "one day wonders"]. I was at sea on a NOAA cruise in fall 1989. When I returned I use to say that "I'd have to find my own" to catch up on this rarity. It is quite amazing for that to actually happen.

[digiscoped photo 21 Sep 2004 © D. Roberson]

# 5
Mississippi Kite on 25 May 1976 at Furnace Creek, INY

By the middle of the 1970s, the (mostly) college-aged hardcore birders actively worked a route for vagrants from Oasis in Mono Co. to Death Valley in Inyo Co. for a week or more around Memorial Day weekend, camping at one of the ends of this route every day. For me, 25 May was day 5 of 11 days in 1976. It was tiring business in the heat. We'd slightly altered the stops on 25 May (to visit Indian Wells) and arrived at Furnace Creek Ranch in the heat of late afternoon. I took a nap under a palm tree on the golf course. At 6:30 p.m., I awoke, and still groggy, "flushed an adult Mississippi Kite from a row of tamarisks" lining the golf course (to quote my notes). "Upon flushing, it flew over the date palms and then proceeded to acrobatically catch dragonflies with its feet and devour them in mid-air."
    I went running to find others (Paul Lehman, Jon Dunn, Van Remsen et al.) and we refound it 15 minutes later. It was even still present the next morning, when many others also saw it; Van Remsen got this photo (right). This was only the 6th California record but 3 prior ones had also been at Furnace Creek. During the 30 years thereafter, 7 more were found there. Still, it remains a major rarity in the State. It took no talent to find — just being at the right spot at the right time was all that was required... oh, and yes, being awake.

[photo from 26 May 1976 © J. Van Remsen]

# 6
Black-headed Gull on 20 Mar 1979 at Stockton WTP, S.J. (top left)
same Black-headed Gull at same spot on 25 Oct 1982 (lower left)

The "Patagonia Rest Stop effect" occurs when an influx of birders chasing a rare bird at a site results in the discovery of more rare birds there, with the end result being that the locality becomes known for rare birds, even though in itself it may be little or no better than other similar sites. The extra rarities found when chasing an earlier rarity produce this effect. This is one of those examples.
    In the morning of 20 Mar 1979, Dick Erickson found a Little Gull with a flock of 200 Bonaparte's Gulls at the Stockton wastewater ponds. It was the 9th State record. I chased it that afternoon. While driving down the main dike, I stopped at the first flock of Bonaparte's and noted the larger, longer-legged gull that was beginning to had a hood (see photo top left). The was an adult Black-headed Gull in spring molt — and a 7th State record. [I also refound the Little Gull.] This particular Black-headed Gull would return for 8 consecutive winters [my photo of it in its 5th winter is bottom left]. Up to 4 Little Gulls also returned here for 11 straight winters!
    Since "my" Black-headed Gull returned for 8 years and stayed months at a time between Oct–April, it was seen by hundreds, maybe thousands of birders. Certainly more folks saw "my" Black-headed Gull than any other bird I've ever found.         [both photos © D. Roberson]

# 7
Grace's Warbler on 6 Sep 2014 in Pacific Grove, MTY

In 1979 I moved to Pacific Grove because it was my favorite birding spot in California. I bought a house in 1983 in a pine forest within walking distance of Pt. Pinos. Years later my friend Van Remsen visited and said we needed a fountain; ergo, in spring 2005, the "Van Remsen memorial fountain and birdbath" was installed. It has a circulating pump and bubbler, and the water attracts migrant passerines.
    I'd been out birding with Rita and friends on 6 Sep 2014 but went home early to watch end of Giants' game [they would beat Tigers 5-4; the Giants would win their 3rd World Championship in 5 years later that autumn]. In bottom of 8th inning this male Grace's Warbler appeared at the birdbath. All my plans changed. I took photos of bird, called Rita (she was at the Frog Pond) and while talking to her a vagrant American Redstart flew in; then emailed all the local birders. Eventually more than a dozen observers arrived. The Redstart reappeared for a late afternoon bath but the Grace's was only found again in mid-afternoon by a lucky handful in the neighbor's yard [sadly, Rita never saw it... she does, however, have several 'yard birds' on me, including a Black-throated Green Warbler].
    This was only the second Grace's Warbler for MTY (one wintered at Jacks Peak from Dec 1998–Feb 1999), and just the 4th in northern California.

[photo 6 Sep 2014 © D. Roberson]

two different Blue-winged Warbler
singing male on 9 June 2001 at Big Sur R. mouth MTY [no photo]
adult on 24 & 26 May 2017 in my Pacific Grove MTY birdbath [left]

In an initial draft of this page, I left out this species from the "top 10" because I had not been carrying my camera when I found a singing male Blue-winged Warbler in Andrew Molera SP [sketch & details accepted by CBRC]. Yet, from my first year as a hardcore California birders in 1973, I have yearned to see four eastern warblers for their rarity and beauty: Cerulean, Prothonotary, Golden-winged and Blue-winged. I've since seen them all in the State, and have had the pleasure of personally discovering at least one of each except for Golden-winged. But only in 2017 did I manage to get a photo of a personally-found example. And even that almost didn't happen.
    On Wednesday, 24 May 2017, at 2:45 p.m., I turned on the fountain to see what would come in. Within 5 minutes the Blue-winged Warbler flew in for a quite view. I ran to the car to get my camera but it was gone by the time I got back, and neither I nor the many locals who showed up to chase could find it the rest of that day. Two days later, at 6:33 p.m. on Friday, Rita noticed it had re-appeared. We took photos for 5 minutes while it bathed, and then it was gone. Again, no luck for those chasing it. But at least there are now images.

[photo 26 May 2017 © D. Roberson]

# 9
male Pyrrhuloxia on 18 July 1974 at Westmorland IMP [no photo]
3 males + female 29 May 1995 at Chemehuevi Wash SBE [these photos]

The really exciting Pyrrhuloxia for me was a singing male that I found near Westmorland on 18 July 1974. I'd only just met the wider birding community during the Death Valley route over Memorial Day weekend in 1974, so nobody outside the Bay Area knew my name. I was using a Lane Guide to try to find a Crissal Thrasher for a lifer when I spotted the male Pyrrhuloxia sitting on a power line. This was the first rarity I wrote up for Guy McCaskie; he published it in Audubon Field Notes and told me to send to the CBRC, which I did [accepted #1974-070]. It proved to be 5th State record, and the first major rarity that I had personally discovered.
    Twenty-one years later, Rita Carratello and I heard about a male in eastern SBE. I think we must have been in Death Valley because we chased it for her State list. There we ran into Bruce Barrett. Not only did we find a singing male (top right) but two more males and a female (lower right). We watched the female carrying nesting materials, documented breeding behavior. The was just the second nesting effort for the State, so was exciting in its own way.

[both photos 29 May 1995 © D. Roberson]

# 10
pair of Trumpeter Swan on 30 Nov 1991 at Lower Klamath NWR, SIS

It can be very cold in northeastern California at Thanksgiving. Rita and I were there in 1991, chasing a Whooper Swan found a week earlier by Ray Ekstrom. So were many others. We spent all day on 29 Nov seeing lots of swans but no Whooper. At breakfast in Dorris the next morning, locals told us of a back road to Whites Lake; after unsuccessful searches elsewhere, Rita and I tried it at 10 a.m. On the ice at this spot, close to the Oregon border, were about 20 swans. One drew my attention by its size. We studied it with a scope, noting bill details that looked good for Trumpeter Swan, as was the case with the swan next to it. These two swans then began synchronous head-bobbing and vocalizing with deep guttural horn-like honks, becoming more frenzied and vigorous. I passed to the scope to Rita and got my camera. Suddenly Rita said "Whoa, Nelly! Here's one with lots of yellow" — an adjacent swan had awoken and Rita had rediscovered the Whooper! I hardly knew what to do: look at the Whooper? photograph the Whooper? photo the Trumpeters? The latter took off together, loudly honking, leaving the Whooper and the Tundra swans behind. And there were birders to be alerted to these discoveries! We looked left and were shocked to see other birders watching the same swans, but we still had to dash off to find others (including Guy McCaskie). All were able to see the Whooper.
    The pair of Trumpeters, though, were new discoveries. They were accepted by CBRC as the state's 30th record. Since then re-introduced Trumpeters in Oregon have 'muddied' the California situation but finding our own wild Trumpeters was a fine and enduring memory.

[photo 30 Nov 1991 © D. Roberson]

... and from pelagic trips ....
Pelagic trips offshore are usually packed with many birders, and it is often impossible to determine who "found" a pelagic rarity when many birds are seen by many observers at the same time. On Monterey Bay, it was often the boat's skipper, the late Richard Ternullo, who spotted the rarities first. I guess one could pick out who first put a name to the bird but, even then, when observers are looking from the bow, and the stern, and the sides, and perhaps an upper deck, multiple observers might be shouting about the bird without them hearing each other. Absent some sharp-eyed expert like Steve Howell or Todd Easterla picking out a Hawaiian Petrel on the horizon, most pelagic species are group efforts. This is particularly true when sorting out the identification of an unexpected species takes some time. Here are those that I feel I had a part in the discovery and/or identification:

Streaked Shearwater
on 9 Oct 1977 on Monterey Bay MTY

Monterey Bay was famed for pelagic birds back to the late 1800s. I came on many boat trips in the 1970s before moving here in 1979. This was one of the best trips. In the autumn storm-petrel flock we refound the stake-out Wedge-rumped Storm-Petrel. Then, as related in our published paper [Roberson et al. 1977] about "6-7 miles west of Moss Landing and above the south rim of the Monterey submarine canyon," we flushed this white-faced shearwater off the sea, but it "landed on the water several times and cautious approach allowed several diagnostic photographs to be obtained." The article relates that Joe Morlan and I were the first to suggest it was a Streaked Shearwater, but really the skipper and all the leaders "found" it at the same time. So I was a "co-finder" of this vagrant from the western Pacific.
    It was just the second record for North America. Victor Morejohn collected this first on Monterey Bay on 3 Oct 1975, just two years before. Because of that, Joe and I had studied Streaked Shearwater and were prepared when this one was encountered. As of this writing (2017) there are 18 California records, but a dozen are from Monterey Bay. Although I've been on hundreds of Monterey Bay pelagic trips since 1977, I've not yet encountered another one.

[photo 9 Oct 1977 © D. Roberson]

Short-tailed Albatross on 15 Jan 2000 at San Lucia Bank, SLO (top left)
and, years later,
another young one on 22 Apr 2007 Monterey Bay MTY (lower left)

Short-tailed Albatross is one of only three albatross in the North Pacific. It almost went extinct in the 20th century. As a huge, very impressive, and endangered seabird, it has long been on my list of the "50 best birds" on earth since I first compiled that concept in the 1970s. Obviously, to "personally find" a Short-tailed Albatross would be quite wonderful.
    I've been fortunate to see 4 Short-tailed Albatross so far. The first was during a "chase boat" on 5 Nov 1985 out of Bodega Bay to the Cordell Bank where one had been the day before. It was just about the roughest pelagic trip I've done — most of us got sick — but it was a successful chase!
    On 15 Jan 2000, I was co-leader of a Morro Bay Bird Festival boat trip from Port San Luis with Tom Edell and Curtis Marantz. I was often on the top deck in the back while the other leaders were in the front. We had exactly 3 albatross that day: 1 Black-footed, 1 Laysan, and 1 juv Short-tailed (top left). I had the good fortune to "find" all three albatrosses as they each came up the wake, but the acoustics were so bad that my shouting only alerted those at the back. Tom and Curtis likely spotted them passing the bow without hearing me.
    I did not have my camera on the SLO boat, so it was great to take close photos of another Short-tailed on Monterey Bay in April 2007 (lower left).

[top left 15 Jan 2000 © Norward Hazard; bottom left 22 Ap 2007 © D. Roberson]

juv Red-tailed Tropicbird
on 19 Aug 1992 about 87 nmi wsw of Pt. Piedras Blancas SLO

Between 1989–1992, skipper Richard (Dick) Spight offered his private motor yacht Blitzen for several ornithological expeditions far offshore the California coast. The 52-foot sailboat could take 6 birders and a crew of 3. I was very lucky to be invited to sail from San Diego to San Francisco Bay in August 1992. We had a full boat from San Diego to Santa Barbara, but during the next leg that left Santa Barbara on 18 Aug, the only bird observers were Steve Bailey, Dick Erickson and me. 1t was a moderate, overcast, Beaufort 4 day on 19 Aug. At 9:20 a.m. Dick and I spotted a tropicbird sitting on the sea ahead of us at the same time. It took off as we approached, circled us for photos, and proved to be juv Red-tailed Tropicbird — only the 8th for California. Water temps were warm: 63.4°F [=17.4°C]. We also had 7 Cook's Petrels this day.
    Red-tailed Tropicbird is now thought to be a semi-regular part of the avifauna in the warmer North Pacific gyre this far offshore, beyond the influence of the cold California current, but still very few birders in this State have seen one.

[photo 19 Aug 1992 © D. Roberson]

adult Nazca Booby
on 16 July 2016 in Monterey Bay MTY

For most of 2016 a significant El Niño event dominated the flora and fauna of Monterey Bay. Sea surface temperatures were unusually warm. Several Brown Boobies were around the Bay. On 1 Feb 2016, a subadult Nazca Booby was photographed at Pt. Pinos [I chased but dipped] and on 3 Sep an adult was photographed far offshore of Pt. Sur. These were amazing as the first State records of this species from the Galapagos had occurred only recently.
    Nazca Booby Sula granti was split from the worldwide pan-tropical Masked Booby S. dactylatra based on genetics, assortative mating where ranges meet, and plumage and structural differences. Adult Nazca differs from Masked primarily by a bright orange bill in adult males, rosy-orange to coral red in adult females. For Masked, adult bill color ranges from bright yellow to yellow-green. I wrote on this i.d. topic in Roberson (1998).
    But getting to see one in California is problematic. It was simply luck that I was on this particular boat trip in mid-July when Cooper Scollan spotted a large booby in flight. I got on it and focused on trying to get photos, as did others. It continued past us, heading south. Only after looking at photos in the back of the digital camera did I opine that it was a Nazca on its bill color (rather bright orange). So my part was just taking photos and adding to the i.d. discussion on the boat.

[photo 16 July 2016 © D. Roberson]

juv Little Gull
on 9 Sep 2012 in Monterey Bay MTY

Yet another enigmatic bird was this juv Little Gull briefly following our boat about 8 nmi NW of Pt. Pinos, and then briefly returning 5 minutes later for another pass. None of us were familiar with this plumage of Little Gull, engendering much excitement and confusion as we considered Red-legged Kittiwake and Sabine's Gull. Fortunately good photos were obtained by several, including Martjin Verdoes, Dan Singer, Matthew Dodder, and Blake Matheson. This (right) is my only shot. We talked it out amongst photographers, looking at the back of the digital cameras, along with trip leader Roger Wolfe, chummer Alex Rinkert, and Bill Bousman, and we did get the i.d. correct while on the boat. This occurrence was a big surprise to us.
   Little Gull is a very fine rarity in California, with most of the 90 or so records occurring in the 1980s & 1990s. Occurrences have tailed off significantly in the 21st century. Before this observation there were only two prior records of fresh juvenal-plumaged Little Gulls for California (CBRC 2007). It is a very dashing little gull.

[photo 19 Aug 1992 © D. Roberson]


... and a few other finds, including a couple of 'nearly' co-found birds of interest ....

# 11
HY male Cerulean Warbler on 25 Oct 1979 at Carmel R. mouth MTY
[no photo, just a full description, accepted by CBRC]

# 12
juv Bar-tailed Godwit on 5 Sep 1994 on Elkhorn Slough, MTY
[my photo at right]

Finding my own Cerulean Warbler was truly thrilling but the godwit has a photo, so I show that here (right). Rita Carratello and I were birding the dike that separates the freshwater ponds at Moonglow Dairy from tidal Elkhorn Slough when I saw this young Bar-tailed Godwit on the mudflats on the slough side of the dike. This might have engendered a lot of interest, except that Bill Hill and Dave Haupt independently discovered a Little Curlew at Carmel SB the next day (6 Sep 1994) which quickly eclipsed our godwit, and became the event of the season in 1994! [see my top 20 chases for more on it]

[photo 5 Sep 1994 © D. Roberson]

# 13
Rock Sandpiper on 21 Oct 1979 at Pt. Pinos, MTY [no photo]
Rock Sandpiper on 6 Mar 1996 at Pebble Beach, MTY [my photo at left]

The preceding dozen "best finds" were really good birds at the California state level. All were CBRC-review species at the time of discovery. Almost all were shown to others, or chased and seen by other observers [all but Mottled Petrel, the first Blue-winged Warbler, and the first Pyrrhuloxia.] But I have happy memories of finding birds that were vagrants at the County level. Rock Sandpiper is quite rare in central or southern California. The two I found — one a fall migrant and the other a spring migrant, 17 years apart — represent the 3rd and 4th MTY records.
    I remember the 1979 bird because that was the year I moved to Pacific Grove and rented an apartment just 2 blocks from Pt. Pinos. I went birding there a lot. But this day I decided to walk to the Point, and watch the waves — without binoculars — as a 'normal' person might do. As luck would have it, a flock of turnstones landed just below me, with a smaller bird among them. I knew what it was — and had to run-hustle home to get the bins and scope and drive back to confirm it. [I don't think I've been to Pt. Pinos without bins since.]
    The 1996 bird (top bird at left) was discovered because I decided quite late in 1996 to do a county "year list" to compete with Jim Booker, who had started one. I needed a couple of rocky shorebirds: the high tide roost near Bird Rock had 30 turnstones, 8 Surfbirds, a tattler, and this Rock Sandpiper. I rushed home to telephone Rita and others and get my camera. This bird stayed 10 days and was seem by many locals. [I ended up with 355 species in MTY in 1996, which is still the all-time record.]         [photo 6 Mar 1996 © D. Roberson]

# 14
Townsend's Solitaire on 15 May 1999 in my Pacific Grove yard, MTY

There are a number of other "personal finds" that were good for CA, including

  • Sharp-tailed & Buff-breasted Sandpipers, various Ruffs;
  • Dusky-capped, Great Crested, and Least Flycatchers;
  • Yellow-throated Vireo, several Red-eyed Vireos; Red-throated Pipit;
  • Gray Catbird; multiple Northern Parulas (including county firsts for Lake & Butte); and
  • Prothonotary, Mourning & Virginia's Warblers

Yet perhaps the most fun and unexpected were those that landed in my yard. It is just a quarter-acre of Monterey pines, live oaks, and a "money-tree" eucalypt, but we've added a circulating bubbling bird-bath and feeders, and Rita has planted some bird-attracting flowers and shrubs. We are 3 blocks from the coast but any waders or waterbirds have to fly overhead to get on the "yard list."
    The "yard list" is just 155 or so, but includes Grace's Warbler and Blue-winged Warbler (#7 and #8, above); four different Hooded Warblers (!); a Canada Warbler; two female Painted Buntings; several Broad-winged Hawks; a Dusky-capped Flycatcher; multiple Summer Tanagers; and a wintering Green-tailed Towhee. Some were quite shocking to discover but nothing was more unexpected than this Townsend's Solitaire in mid-May (right). It appeared at a little Pyracantha bush in the back yard at 6:30 p.m. while I was watching a San Francisco Giants baseball game. It remained off & through 16 May, by which time it had consumed almost all of the little red berries.

[photo 15 May 1999 © D. Roberson]

and an "almost" co-found bird
Varied Bunting

on 18 Nov 1977 at Mesquite Springs, Death Valley NP, INY

Donna Dittmann and I were the only ones birding Mesquite Springs on this cool November morning. We'd driven all night from Berkeley to Furnace Creek and had spent all day on 17 Nov in search of the Streak-backed Oriole found a week earlier. We missed it that day and again the morning of 18 Nov. We decided to check Mesquite Springs on the way back the the Bay Area. Donna discovered the male Varied Bunting in a huge mesquite. She called to me to come over — and I was able to take photos (one of them here). We knew that there were a couple prior specimens from Blythe on the State's border with Arizona from 1914, but some considered those questionable. Donna thus wrote in her description that this was the "first truly acceptable state record." I'm not even the co-finder of this, but am the co-documentor. [Back in those days there were well recognized but unwritten "rules" on what constituted "finding" a specific bird. Such things seem less strict in today's birding fraternity.]
    We did spread word of this great discovery from the nearest pay phone, and a fair number of hardcore birders chased and saw it over the next 4 days. There would not be another one in California until Oct 2012 — 35 years later. [And as to that oriole — it took two more long-distance all-night chase trips from the Bay Area to Furnace Creek until we refound the oriole on 11 Dec 1977.]

[photo 18 Nov 1977 © D. Roberson]

and another not-found by me but I'm somewhere in the credits
Smith's Longspur
14 Sep 1990 at Moonglow Dairy, Moss Landing, MTY

At the conclusion of every commercial film is a list of credits of actors, director, producer, and a long list of those helping to make the film, down to "best boy" and "key grip." Hold that thought.
    At Moonglow Dairy, there is a dike that separates a large freshwater pond (e.g., the run-off from dairy operations) from tidal Elkhorn Slough — that pond is shown in the background of this collage, and we'd be standing on the dike. On 13 Sep 1990, Doug George found an unusual longspur on this dike, on a bare patch between the pond and the slough. Doug showed it to John Mariani, who left a message on the BirdBox about a mystery longspur, either Lapland or Smith's. Another call on the BirdBox said a "Vesper Sparrow" was at the same spot. I heard these calls on the BirdBox at 9 p.m. that night, and so I was at Moonglow early the next morning — and found the bird! I heard its dry rattle, drew a sketch, and decided it was Smith's Longspur — a first California record. I borrowed the phone of dairy owners Louis & Carol Calcagno to call locals and Joe Morlan. I took photos over two hours before others arrived. Brian Weed arrived and eventually so did Joe, who liked it for Smith's. We got out the word and by day's end many had seen the bird. It remained to 18 Sep.
    So this is officially Doug George's find. Yet, had I not relocated it, 'confirmed' a tentative i.d., and taken photos, it might have remained uncertain. Who can say? Call me "best boy" but I'm happy to be among the list of credits.

[longspur photo 14 Sep 1990 © D. Roberson, dairy photo in Nov 2008]




  page created 26 June-30 July 2016, 20 June-4 July 2017  
all text & photos © Don Roberson, except as otherwise indicated; all rights reserved