Luke Cole Memorial Challenge Weekend — 26-27 Sep 2009
a web page by Don Roberson

Luke Cole, shown here holding a Crested Auklet in Alaska (photo © David W. Nelson) was an amazing guy. He was a top birder, a incomparable wit, a good friend, a connoisseur of the weird and unusual, and a world traveler. We treasure his last postcard to us from Madagascar, telling of yet another search for the Red Owl (inset).

Luke was tragically killed in an auto accident in Uganda in June 2009. The web page and the event described is in his honor.

Luke was also a brilliant lawyer and founder of the Center for Race, Poverty, and the Environment, an organization that strives for environmental justice by, among other things, taking legal action against polluters. His organization has suffered a severe loss with his death.

To celebrate Luke's life and contributions, a group of his closest birding friends organized a statewide birding event over the weekend of 26-27 September. The idea was to send birders to all corners of the State and try to find as many species as possible that weekend. It was organized county by county. Those wishing to pledge support can do so at this web site. This sort of Statewide 'birdathon' has not been done before.

Luke would have gotten a kick out of it; he was a fan of Big Days (left; Luke on a Kings County big day in 1999).

He may even have smiled at this shot of a Bullfrog watching me chase down a Canyon Wren for the count.

"Jeremiah was a bullfrog ... was a good friend of mine. Never understood a single thing he said, but I helped him drink his wine. And he always had some mighty fine wine. "

Or in Luke's case, root beer.


What follows is the story of the Luke Cole Memorial effort in Monterey County. We had great weather over the weekend and a clear night on Saturday night that brought a change-over in migrants the next day. We were fortunate to have four different pelagic trips over the weekend (one each day from Monterey Seabirds and from Shearwater Journeys), so we got excellent seabird coverage, and the dates coincided with the Monterey Bay Bird Festival.

Thanks to organizer Clay Kempf and the field trip leaders (Tim Amaral, Kumaran Arul, Rita Carratello, Bill Hill, Yohn Gideon, Bob & Bernadette Ramer), we were able to obtain their observations within the county over the weekend, including an owling trip (Steve Rovell). Birders who signed up to do portions of the county were R.J. Adams, Robert Horn, Scott & Linda Terrill, Chris Tenney, Mike Tyner, Brian Weed, and Don Roberson. We also benefited from the independent weekend birding efforts of Chuck Bancroft, Pat & Phil Gordon, Chris Hartzell, Oscar Johnson, Brian Sullivan, Kent Van Vuren, and those who contributed sightings to eBird.

The total for Monterey County over the Luke Cole Weekend was 232 species.

We understand that the effort went well throughout California, with 48 of 58 counties participating, and with a Statewide group total will be approximately 380. The Statewide organizers were Steve Glover, Mark Eaton, Alan Hopkins, and Brent Plater; many thanks for their efforts.

For the past 7 years, Monterey Audubon has organized a spring birdathon to support various causes, and we chose the weekend closest to the April/May divide as the “best” date for such a countywide effort. Results have ranged from 230 to 252 species. I find it remarkable that we got 232 species during a fall weekend. The Luke Cole Event was not nearly as highly organized as the spring efforts, and depended much more on a good migration day and many more pelagics than we do in spring, but it did have the advantage of being a two-day effort, rather than one-day events in the spring. Still, 232 species is impressive.

We did well in a variety categories. Raptors, for example, were strong: best was a Broad-winged Hawk at Big Sur R. mouth on Sunday (S&L Terrill) but also impressive were at least 4 Osprey, 4 Peregrine (above, one scatters gulls at the Salinas River mouth on 26 Sep), 3 Merlin, 2 Prairie Falcon, 2 Golden Eagle, and a Bald Eagle. Mike Tyner, who works for Ventana Wildlife Society, got to see two wild-fledged California Condor.

Pelagics. It was a good weekend for offshore seabirds. Highlights included Manx Shearwater, numbers of Black-vented Shearwater, a Wilson’s Storm-Petrel, South Polar Skuas and Sabine’s Gulls, plus jaegers (Pomarine Jaeger, right, 27 Sep © Tom Grey) and Xantus’s Murrelet (reports from Roger Wolfe, Debi Shearwater, the Terrills et al.).

Alas, a couple Tufted Puffin and a Flesh-footed Shearwater were at the SCZ side of Monterey Bay [but they help in the Santa Cruz County effort ! ]

Vagrant landbirds. Big Sur R. mouth had vagrant Black-and-white Warbler (left), Prairie Warbler (right), and Clay-colored Sparrow on Sunday (photos © Scott & Linda Terrill); another Black-and-white Warbler was near Anderson Canyon (M. Tyner). Carmel R. mouth had two Northern Waterthrush (R. Carratello, B. Hill). A feeder in Carmel Highlands had a lingering White-winged Dove (C. Hartzell) and a birdbath in Pacific Grove attracted a male American Redstart (R. Carratello).

Western landbird migrants. We did very well in this category. Particularly unexpected were Red-breasted Sapsucker (M. Tyner) and Vesper Sparrow (D. Roberson) at Big Sur R. mouth; another early Vesper Sparrow was near Parkfield on Sunday (C. Tenney). There were single Black-chinned Hummingbirds near Salinas (D. Roberson) and in Pacific Grove (O. Johnson), and a female-type Purple Martin near Salinas (B. Sullivan). More expected but scarce species included Vaux’s Swift (K. Van Vuren) and a late Cliff Swallow near Salinas (B. Sullivan, 1-2 migrant Western Kingbird (B. Sullivan, the Terrills), an Ash-throated Flycatcher (D. Roberson at Wagon Caves), Bank Swallow and Yellow-headed Blackbird (K. Arul at Salinas R. mouth), Cassin’s Vireo on south side Pajaro River (the Gordons), Hermit Warbler and Lawrence’s Goldfinch in Pacific Grove (O. Johnson), Western Tanagers near Parkfield (C. Tenney) and at Moonglow (B & B Ramer); there was also a Hooded Oriole there (D. Weidemann). A young male Lazuli Bunting (left) was at a Pacific Grove feeder (R. Carratello, ph D. Roberson).



Waterfowl and waders. A flock of 43 Gr. White-fronted Geese flew over a site near Salinas (O. Johnson), which also hosted at least 52 (!) Pectoral Sandpiper, 5 Baird’s Sandpiper, a Solitary Sandpiper, and a Pacific Golden-Plover (ad adult in molt; right © D. Roberson). There were Brant at Big Sur & Salinas R. mouths. Unexpected Wood Ducks were over Monterey harbor (D. Shearwater) and near Bradley (C. Tenney). The summering Bufflehead at Jetty Road remained (m.ob.). R.J. Adams had a flock of 4 Greater Scaup on L. San Antonio; an imm. male was photographed at Pt. Lobos (Chuck Bancroft). A White-faced Ibis was seen from the Elkhorn Slough Safari pontoon boat (m.ob.). A major surprise inland was a Brown Pelican among the many Am. White Pelicans on L. San Antonio (R.J. Adams).

Winter arrivals. A summering Red-throated Loon was still at Moss Landing, but the weekend saw arriving loons of all three regular species. Gulls were also arriving, with a small smattering of Glaucous-winged, an adult Herring offshore (R. Wolfe), and single Mews at Big Sur R. mouth & Pt. Pinos (D. Roberson). The weekend also saw the first arriving Ruby-crowned Kinglets, American Pipits, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Lincoln’s & Golden-crowned Sparrows, and one Fox Sparrow (R. Carratello at Carmel R. mouth).

Residents. Finally, local birders made efforts to search out and locate – sometimes at the cost of long journeys in 101 degree weather in south county — for such scarce residents as Burrowing Owl, Phainopepla, Rock & Canyon Wren, and Rufous-crowned & Sage Sparrow. On the Big Sur coast, an American Dipper was rounded up (M. Tyner). Red Crossbill bred in Pebble Beach this summer, and one was recorded on the count (B. Sullivan). A nice combination of all these categories of birds accounts for a successful event.

Of course, we always have unexpected misses. Those in that category were Wandering Tattler, Lesser Yellowlegs, White-throated Swift, and Nashville Warbler (the swift is resident; the rest are regular migrants in small numbers). The full list for Monterey County during 26-27 Sep 2009 follows:
Greater White-fronted Goose
Canada Goose
Wood Duck
American Wigeon
Blue-winged Teal
Cinnamon Teal
Northern Shoveler
Northern Pintail
Green-winged Teal
Ring-necked Duck
Greater Scaup
Surf Scoter
Common Merganser
Red-breasted Merganser
Ruddy Duck
Wild Turkey
Mountain Quail
California Quail
Red-throated Loon
Pacific Loon
Common Loon
Pied-billed Grebe
Eared Grebe
Western Grebe
Clark's Grebe
Black-footed Albatross
Northern Fulmar
Pink-footed Shearwater
Buller's Shearwater
Sooty Shearwater
Manx Shearwater
Black-vented Shearwater
Wilson's Storm-Petrel
Ashy Storm-Petrel
American White Pelican
Brown Pelican
Brandt's Cormorant
Double-crested Cormorant
Pelagic Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Green Heron
Black-crowned Night-Heron
White-faced Ibis
Turkey Vulture
California Condor
White-tailed Kite
Bald Eagle
Northern Harrier
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Cooper's Hawk
Red-shouldered Hawk

Broad-winged Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Golden Eagle
American Kestrel
Peregrine Falcon
Prairie Falcon
American Coot
Black-bellied Plover
Pacific Golden-Plover
Snowy Plover
Semipalmated Plover
Black Oystercatcher
Black-necked Stilt
American Avocet
Greater Yellowlegs
Solitary Sandpiper
Spotted Sandpiper
Long-billed Curlew
Marbled Godwit
Ruddy Turnstone
Black Turnstone
Red Knot
Western Sandpiper
Least Sandpiper
Baird's Sandpiper
Pectoral Sandpiper
Short-billed Dowitcher
Long-billed Dowitcher
Common Snipe
Red-necked Phalarope
Red Phalarope
South Polar Skua
Pomarine Jaeger
Parasitic Jaeger
Bonaparte's Gull
Heermann's Gull
Mew Gull
Ring-billed Gull
California Gull
Herring Gull
Western Gull
Glaucous-winged Gull
Sabine's Gull
Caspian Tern
Elegant Tern
Common Tern
Forster's Tern
Common Murre
Pigeon Guillemot
Xantus’s Murrelet

Cassin's Auklet
Rhinoceros Auklet
Rock Pigeon
Eurasian Collared-Dove
Band-tailed Pigeon
White-winged Dove
Mourning Dove
Barn Owl
Western Screech-Owl
Great Horned Owl
Northern Pygmy-Owl
Burrowing Owl
Spotted Owl
N. Saw-whet Owl
Vaux's Swift
Black-chinned Hummingbird
Anna's Hummingbird
Belted Kingfisher
Acorn Woodpecker
Red-breasted Sapsucker
Nuttall's Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Pacific-slope Flycatcher
Black Phoebe
Say's Phoebe
Ash-throated Flycatcher
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
Bank Swallow
Cliff Swallow
Barn Swallow
Chestnut-backed Chickadee
Oak Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
Pygmy Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
Rock Wren
Canyon Wren
Bewick's Wren
House Wren
Winter Wren
Marsh Wren
American Dipper
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Western Bluebird
Swainson's Thrush
Hermit Thrush
American Robin
WrentitNorthern Mockingbird
California Thrasher
European Starling
American Pipit
Cedar Waxwing
Orange-crowned Warbler
Yellow Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Black-throated Gray Warbler
Townsend's Warbler
Hermit Warbler
Prairie Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
American Redstart
Northern Waterthrush
Common Yellowthroat
Wilson's Warbler
Western Tanager
Spotted Towhee
California Towhee
Rufous-crowned Sparrow
Chipping Sparrow
Clay-colored Sparrow
Vesper Sparrow
Lark Sparrow
Sage Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow
Fox Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Lincoln's Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Golden-crowned Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Lazuli Bunting
Red-winged Blackbird
Tricolored Blackbird
Western Meadowlark
Yellow-headed Blackbird
Brewer's Blackbird
Great-tailed Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
Hooded Oriole
Purple Finch
House Finch
Red Crossbill
Pine Siskin
Lesser Goldfinch
Lawrence's Goldfinch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow



  page created 30 Sep 2009  
all text & photos © Don Roberson, except as otherwise indicated; all rights reserved