MONTEREY COUNTY HIGHLIGHTS: 2004
by Don Roberson
These highlights chronicle the second half of year 2004 (August-December).
Created incrementally as new photos were available, the year runs generally
"backwards" on this page. The abbreviation "MTY" means
"Monterey County" in the text below. Text by Don Roberson. Photos
on this page are copyrighted by the photographers to whom they are
attributed, and may not be reproduced in any form (including
other web sites) without the express consent of the photographer.
For the second year in a row, the major Monterey area Christmas Bird
Counts (CBC) were hampered by storms and bad weather. The Big Sur CBC on
19 Dec has gorgeous conditions but just an average species total ,
but highlights included several pelagics from Pt. Sur (Manx Shearwater,
at this link). The Monterey Peninsula CBC on 27 Dec, and the Moss Landing
CBC on 1 Jan, had rain. The worst weather was on the Monterey Peninsula
CBC; this photo (right) shows a storm and rainbow off Pt. Pinos before
the real deluge hit a few minutes later. The species total (170) was low;
best birds were a Prairie Falcon at Ft. Ord (Bill Reese) and a different
Sapsucker in Del Monte Forest (Mary Rydell). The Moss Landing CBC had
a solid total (~195), and highlights in the MTY portion of the count circle
included one of the lingering Vermilion Flycatchers at Moonglow
and a Fork-tailed Storm-Petrel offshore (Josh Adams et al.).
In December, an interesting white goose appeared on Crespi
Pond 4 Dec (below left); was it a small Snow Goose or, perhaps,
a hybrid Snow X Ross's? A discussion of this problem is on a
separate page. On 11 Dec, Brian Weed found a first-winter female Red-naped
Sapsucker next to the Monterey library in downtown Monterey. This excellent
photo (below right) was obtained by John Sorensen. Alas,
both the goose and this sapsucker would disappear before the Monterey Peninsula
Goose photo 7 Dec 2004 © D. Roberson
Sapsucker photo 11 Dec 2004 © John Sorensen
||The return of wintering Harlequin Ducks highlight November 2004.
A male (left) and a female both returned to the Monterey harbor. Meanwhile,
a juv Long-tailed Duck in adjacent San Benito County (below; Hollister
wtp) represented a first record there.
HADU 16 Nov 2004 & LTDU 11 Nov 2004 © D. Roberson
|In late autumn each year, flocks of larks in the Salinas Valley east
of Gonzales should be searched for longspurs. Three species have been recorded
since 1995, when observers first made searches in fields along Gloria-Camphora
Road (top). This can be hard and frustrating work, and photographing is
even worse. On 28 Oct, Don Roberson found a Chestnut-collared Longspur
there and managed these three truly awful photos (just above) which are
the first photos for this species in the county. But perhaps you can see
the outlined cheek patch, the finely streaked breast, the short primary
projection and a bit of the tail pattern. Others working the fields over
the following weekend had up to 6 Chestnut-collared and one Lapland
Longspur (David Vander Pluym, Matt Brady). At least one Chestnut-collared
remained into January 2005 (Blake Matheson).
|Flycatchers from more southern climes made news in October. As we have
come to expect each fall, a few Tropical Kingbirds appeared along the coast.
This Tropical Kingbird (below left) was beautifully photographed
in the afternoon sun at Carmel River State Beach 1 Oct [© John
Sorensen]. Even rarer was a young male Vermilion Flycatcher
discovered at Moonglow Dairy, Moss Landing, by Michael Getty 10 Oct and
refound later that day by Rick Fournier (below right; photo © D. Roberson).
This is only the 6th MTY record but is now the 4th from mid-October. More
photos and a complete set of MTY records are on a new Vermilion
Flycatcher page. The bird lingered and joined by a second young male
in late October, and both were seen off and on through mid-December. At
least one was present into January 2005.
The Big Sur Ornithology Lab (BSOL) did it again! On 2 October,
Jessica Griffiths and the interns captured a Dusky Warbler! [photos
below; © BSOL] This is another first county record, and just the 7th
for California, all of them between late September and early November.
The bird arrived without any fat, exhausted and stressed. It was released
after it was banded but it was recovered dead within the hour (specimen
to be deposited in a museum collection). The long 'wrong-way' flight was,
unfortunately, just too much for this Siberian vagrant.
|The third week of September was highlighted by an interesting
flycatcher in the cypresses next to Crespi Pond on 21 Sep. Careful
study, numerous photos, and expert comments established this as MTY's first
Flycatcher (right). Click on the above link for details, discussion,
and many more photos (some PhotoShop adjusted and others not). Alas, the
flycatcher was a 'one-day wonder.'
Photo © D. Roberson.
||Some of those searching for the flycatcher at Pt. Pinos on 22 Sep found
a Plumbeous Vireo (Bill Hill, Rick Fournier; photo left © Bill
Hill) while others watched a Red-throated Pipit fly over as
it called (Scott Terrill, Don Roberson).
Meanwhile, a sparrow flock at the campground at Big Sur R. mouth during
the week had one Chipping, one Clay-colored, and two Brewer's for several
days (Matt Brady +) but on 25 Sep was down to a Lark Sparrow &
a Clay-colored Sparrow, both vagrants at that spot (photos below;
© D. Roberson).
|Of local interest in mid-September was a Solitary Sandpiper
on Crespi Pond (right), found by Rick Fournier, on 17 Sep. This is only
the 3rd record for Crespi and the first here in 28 years! [5 May
1974, 11 Aug 1976]. It was still there 20 Sep (this photo). In the gull
roost at Carmel R. mouth on 16 Sep was a juv. Ring-billed Gull (below;
with Western & California Gulls left & right, respectively). This
is the second-earliest fall record in the MTY database [a juv on 2 Sep
2001 was earlier]. Photos © D. Roberson
Rarely has any vagrant Spizella sparrow been better documented
than this Brewer's Sparrow that was feeding on fennel at Dolan Pt.,
Big Sur coast, on 13 Sep 2004. Photos © Mike Tyner. Immature
Clay-colored Sparrow lacks the evenly streaked crown of Brewer's, is brighter
and more contrasting in facial and malar patterns, and generally has a
buffy wash to the breast. Note the pale lores and complete white eye-ring
that helps rule out hatch-year Chipping Sparrow.
|Monterey County is world famous for its pelagic trips, and particularly
those during autumn (Aug-Oct). One never knows the weather and winds that
might prevail, but Monterey Seabirds
trip on 22 Aug 2004 had exceptionally fine conditions: flat calm seas
under high overcast skies that turned much color photography in black-and-white
artistries. The short gallery that follows presents highlights mostly the
photography of Les Chibana, with a few of my own film examples
here and there.
|The 22 August trip was a 12-hour trip out to the warmer waters of the
'albacore grounds;' we reached an eventual point some 36 nmi W of Pt. Sur.
The route crossed the migration path of Long-tailed Jaeger (right),
and adults dominated in mid-August. © Les Chibana
||Sabine's Gulls are common migrants well offshore in August,
with adults arriving first (left; a photo taken 8 Aug 2004). Small flocks
are often encountered throughout the course of a day's voyage. ©
|The superb water conditions also made in possible to study the two
similar species of Synthliboramphus murrelets that often frequent
water waters offshore in Aug-Oct: Xantus's and Craveri's Murrelets.
With luck and a fine skipper (like Richard Ternullo), a boatload of observers
might approach them on the water. Can you identify the swimming birds shown
in the three panels below? Both species are illustrated.
Note that both species cock their tails up at times, showing bright white
undertail coverts. And further note how the overcast conditions have turned
these color photos into black-and-white portraits, reducing the usefulness
of things like the generally grayer cast to Xantus's, browner cast to Craveri's.
Rather, when murrelets are on the water, I try to focus on relative bill
shape (Xantus's slightly thicker and shorter; Craveri's thinner and a tad
longer) and on the extent of white on the face (Xantus's has more white
coming up the face and approaching the eye, including a white chin; Craveri's
has less white and the dark crown extends well down past the eye and includes
the chin). Ergo, here we have two different Xantus's Murrelet (right-hand
two birds; note the slight differences in facial pattern) and two Craveri's
Murrelet together (left-hand photo). All photos above &
below © Les Chibana
Murrelet identification becomes a lot easier if one can get a decent
look at the underwing coverts in flight: white in Xantus's, dark in Craveri's.
The latter species also tends to show a partial dark collar in flight.
Note how well you can see these characters — in addition to bill shape
and facial pattern — in this exceptional Chibana shot (below):
|The best bird of the 22 August trip was a Manx Shearwater (right
& below), found with a flock of Sooty, Pink-footed, and Buller's Shearwaters
~ 22 nmi W of Yankee Pt.
Manx has apparently colonized the north Pacific in the last two decades
but its nesting site has not yet been found, and just a few are seen on
migration off Monterey. Note the stark black-and-white pattern, small size,
short tail, entirely white undertail coverts, and facial pattern. The standard
i.d. paper is Roberson (1996) "Identifying Manx Shearwaters in the northeastern
Pacific," Birding 28: 18-33.
photos above & right, © D. Roberson
photo below, © L. Chibana
More highlights will be posted as they arise and are documented with
FROM FIRST HALF OF 2004
GO TO HOME PAGE
TO MONTEREY COUNTY
TO BIRD FAMILIES
OF THE WORLD
Page last updated 13 Dec 2004