MONTEREY COUNTY HIGHLIGHTS: 2006
page three [Sep-Dec]
These highlights chronicle the year 2006. 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.
Our year concludes with Christmas Bird Counts (CBC; the Moss Landing CBC is always on 1 Jan of the next year). Breaks in the weather helped our two other local counts Monterey Peninsula and Big Sur to find many surprises.
Perhaps no bird was more surprising than an adult female Brown Booby found roosting with cormorants at the tip of Monterey's Coast Guard jetty on 28 Dec, the day of the Monterey Peninsula CBC (above, bird in lower center; © D. Roberson). The bird was found by visiting birder Dave Weber, who passed on word to local counters he ran into. The booby remained to be nicely photographed the following day (left; © Bill Hill).

Yet another surprise was the continuing presence of the Blue-winged Warbler at Carmel River mouth during and after the CBC. Photos of it earlier in the fall are farther down this page; it is attempting to become only the second wintering Blue-winged in northern California.

There were further highlights on the Monterey Peninsula CBC on 28 Dec: an Eastern Phoebe near Esplanade in Pacific Grove discovered by Rob Fowler & Steve Rovell (photo below left; © Steve Rovell); a Tundra Swan on the Spanish Bay golf course pond, initially found a few weeks earlier by Bob Tintle (below center; © D. Roberson); and the adult Crested Caracara still lingered this time at Pt. Joe in Pebble Beach (below right; © D. Roberson). Presumably this is the same adult that has commuted between Pt. Sur and Ft. Ord, sometimes hitting the outer Monterey Peninsula enroute, since March.

The Big Sur CBC on 17 Dec was also quite successful. Two Ross's Geese (left; © Steve Rovell) were among a long list of rarities. Other treats included Thick-billed Murre from Pt. Sur (Matt Brady) and Sage Thrasher at Big Sur R. mouth (Rovell), plus Red-naped Sapsucker, Eastern Phoebe, and the Crested Caracara that has been in the Pt. Sur vicinity since March.
Brian Sullivan's reports of sea-watching from Pt. Pinos were among the highlights of the autumn. In early December he had a Thick-billed Murre fly past, then had small flights of Marbled Murrelet on 17 Dec (9) and 19 Dec (11), and throughout the late fall he observed a strong passage of Ancient Murrelet (up to 57 on 17 Dec). Aerial surveys shortly thereafter found 250 between Pt. Pinos and Bixby Bridge (Jeff Davis).

Sullivan's sea-watching also led to some landbird finds, including this vagrant Burrowing Owl, found in October, that remained to be photo-documented for the Monterey Peninsula CBC on 28 Dec (right © D. Roberson).

Late fall vagrants included one or two (still needs to be determined) juvenal Yellow-bellied Sapsucker in San Carlos Cemetery, El Estero, Monterey, found the weekend of 9-10 December (Matt Brady, Ryan Terrill et al.). Bill Hill's fine photo (left) shows a juv. female he found on 10 Dec; it would remain to year's end. A great yard bird was an American Tree Sparrow at Kent & Karen Van Vuren's Prunedale feeder 12-13 November. Steve Rovell got this snap (below) on its final day of appearance.
One cool aspect of fall migration is that you never quite know what to expect. Stan Dryden was searching for small vagrant passerines in a willow patch near the Carmel R. mouth on 10 Nov, and instead noticed a colorful "stump" that turned into this Long-eared Owl! (right; photo © Stan Dryden). This proved to be the first record for the Carmel River mouth listing area.

The Big Sur Ornithology Lab, operated by Ventana Wildlife Society, has just forwarded photos of its best capture of the fall (below): a Great Crested Flycatcher on 13 Oct. This was the 5th record for MTY: three at Big Sur R. mouth and two at Carmel River mouth. The great spread tail shot shows that the inner webs of each rectrix (except the middle two) are rusty all the way to the tip, ruling out Ash-throated Flycatcher (whose dark outer webs expand at the tail tip to 'cut off' the inner web).

Late October and early November invariably bring scarce geese into MTY. A taxa that we are finding much more often in recent years is the "Aleutian" subspecies of Cackling Goose, Branta minima leucopareia. This subspecies has a white neck ring as an adult (juvenal birds lack this feature), and differs from "minima" Cackling Geese by paler breast, details of head shape and bill size, and a slightly larger body size. At the time of the publication of Monterey Birds (2002), the largest flock ever in MTY was 7 birds. On 27-28 Oct 2006, a flock of 11 "Aleutian" geese rested at the Odello restoration area at Carmel R. mouth. Ten of the 11 birds can be seen in the photo below (© D. Roberson). Other "Aleutian" Cackling Geese have recently been at Crespi Pond and Lake El Estero, Monterey. This taxa was once on the Endangered species list but has rebounded very well after predators were removed from their breeding islands.
On 27 Oct, Matt Brady discovered a Blue-winged Warbler in a restricted-access "Odello Habitat Restoration Area" while doing surveys for Ventana Wildlife Society's Big Sur Ornithology Lab. This was just the 4th MTY record, and the second for Carmel River mouth, but these are the first photos taken of a bird 'in-the-wild' in MTY. It was photographed on 28 Oct (above left; © D. Roberson) and then lingered locally through December! There is a chance that it will winter there is the precedent of one wintering in Humboldt County in the early 1990s.

Brady also discovered a Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow at the restricted-access Odello Lagoon earlier on 27 Oct, and it lingered into the next week (photo above right 28 Oct, © Bill Hill). On 29 Oct, an imm female Magnolia Warbler was at Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve, a first record there (photo left, © D. Roberson).

On 23 October, Bob Tintle discovered two immature Chestnut-collared Longspurs near Pt. Joe in Pebble Beach. This is the first record for the Monterey Peninsula for this species, with has otherwise only been found on-shore in fields east of Gonzales in late autumn. Photos of the two birds are below: male © John Sorensen (left) and female © Don Roberson (right). The male was till present the next day.
A smattering of highlight birds enlivened the weekend of 7-8 Oct. At Big Sur River mouth, a Plumbeous Vireo (left; © D. Roberson) at the north headlands patch was singing a rather fast, burry song (in comparison with other 'Solitary' Vireo types); it was fresh, plain gray above with a slight wash of yellow to the flanks, and short-tailed with a broad white edge to outer rectrices. Meanwhile, Scott & Linda Terrill saw a Broad-winged Hawk over the campground. More usual vagrants included two Blackpolls, 2 Black-and-whites, a Tennessee, and a Palm (DR, Terrills, M. Tyner); the Terrills later had a Black-throated Green Warbler at Carmel River mouth. On the Monterey Peninsula, Susan Steele found an immature Lapland Longspur (below © D. Roberson) on 7 Oct that skulked in ocean edge grass at Rocky Shores in Pacific Grove. Given its location, it likely flew in off the ocean. It seemed famished and was feeding voraciously on grass seeds.
Monterey Bay was quite good for seabirds in September, and particularly during flat calm seas on the final weekend of the month. The best bird was this Streaked Shearwater on 30 Sep (photo right © Brian L. Sullivan), found by Scott Terrill. It was about 8 miles west of Cypress Pt. for the 8th MTY record, all of them in Sept-Oct. Yet another Streaked Shearwater was in mid-Bay on 15 Sep, seen in both MTY & SCZ, as was a Greater Shearwater that date (both Shearwater Journeys).

In the tw-plus months between 1 Aug and 22 Oct there were 15 reports of Manx Shearwater (10 in MTY, 5 in SCZ). This is the most reported in a season since the halcyon days of the 1990s, when there were 10+ in fall 1994, 12+ in fall 1996, and 8 in 1999 (in each year about 2 were in SCZ, the rest in MTY). Also of note was the storm-petrel flocks in the SCZ portions of the Bay, peaking at up to 8000 Ashy (including a couple leucistic ones), 450 Black, 6 Least, 2-3 Wilson's, and a Fork-tailed on various dates in September. Strong numbers of South Polar Skua, all 3 jaegers, and Sabine's Gull were encountered. By the end of September the occasional flock of a dozen or more Pomarine Jaegers sitting together on flat seas was encountered.

Humpback Whales also put on a show; click here for photos.

Many good birds were at the Big Sur River mouth in September, and none better than this Laughing Gull (left) on 21 Sep, a first for Andrew Molera State Park. It was found by and photographed © Waldo Holt.

Another impressive bird was the reappearance of the Crested Caracara here in September, near where it was first found in late March (see earlier pages of these highlights). During the spring and summer this adult Caracara was seen wandering around the Monterey Peninsula vicinity, being seen off-and-on at the Carmel River mouth, in Pebble Beach and Pacific Grove, and north to Ft. Ord and the Salinas River mouth.

Among migrant landbirds, Big Sur River mouth hosted Canada and Prairie Warblers in September, plus Red-eyed Vireo and Black-throated Sparrow, multiple Magnolia and Chestnut-sided Warblers, a host of lesser 'eastern' species, and lingering Chimney Swifts from the summer (Matt Brady, Ryan Terrill, Mike Tyner, Tim Amaral, Carole & Larry Rose, and others).

Early September brings the beginnings of autumn landbird migration, and its chances for vagrants and scarce species. One of the first to appear annually in Northern Waterthrush, and often first spotted at the Carmel River mouth. This year was no exception, with Scott & Linda Terrill finding the first waterthrush of the fall on 9 Sep [above; photo 10 Sep © D. Roberson]. Other 'eastern' species found over that first weekend including Northern Parula, Magnolia, Chestnut-sided, and Blackpoll Warblers (and several other species reported only third-hand we need those to be reported directly), and Bobolink (the Terrills, Rick Fournier, Mike Tyner, Linda Parker et al.).
    Shorebird migration continued to peak in early September, with juvenal Ruffs found at Moonglow Dairy 8-11 Sep (photo © Roger Wolfe, below left) and in the restricted areas near Carmel River mouth 7 Sep (photo © Bill Hill, below right). I like Bill Hill's shot that make it look like the Ruff, a Western Sandpiper, and a Pectoral Sandpiper are all leaning into a nor'eastern blizzard . . .
A remarkable find at Pt. Lobos on 4 Sep was this juvenal Bald Eagle [right; photo © Laura Carley], seemingly playing with kelp along the shore. Laura Carley writes that it was "hopping around in the stream, mock hunting, and pulling up sticks & kelp weeds." Presumably this same eagle had been seen a couple of days before at Carmel R. mouth (Stan Dryden). Since our wintering eagles don't arrive until October or November, it is my guess that this youngster was hatched from a central coast nest somewhere nearby. There were four known nests in southern MTY this year (fide Sal Lucido, Ventana Wildlife Society).
There were so many photographs to be highlighted between January and August 2006 that they've taken up two web pages, and it is now time to start a third featuring Fall 2006. We'll start with a rarity that appeared at the very end of August. What are these birders focused on?

Yes, the Big Lens is being man-handled by Bill Hill whilst Rita Carratello observes with interest. Apparently they've both focused on a little sandpiper (right), a nice vagrant to start of the 'official' fall season. To see the photo Bill Hill was taking, check his web site. Brian Sullivan also has a picture on his web pages.

The bird is a juvenal Buff-breasted Sandpiper, found by Brian Weed on 28 August on Asilomar State Beach. It seemed oblivious to the hordes of beach walkers, and even their dogs (but not to a Peregrine Falcon that flushed it off the beach for several hours). It seemed to be dining on sand flies among the rotting kelp. Yet another shot is below (© D. Roberson).

This is about the 20th record of Buff-breasted Sandpiper in MTY. All have been in juvenal plumage and all were discovered within the one month 'window' between 14 Aug-15 Sep. This is consistent with its status elsewhere in California.
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More highlights will be posted as they arise and are documented with photos.

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