page three [Sep–Dec]

These highlights chronicle the year 2012. 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.

An amazing bird found on 27 Dec was this Brown Booby (above, photo © Cooper Scollan). It was seen sitting at the end of Wharf #2 in Monterey Harbor before flying off by two guys arriving to work at the fish company at wharf's end (John Lucido, Klaus Campbell). They did not know that the Monterey Peninsula CBC was underway that day — but they contributed the bird of the count!

Unfortunately, a young Indigo Bunting in Steve Rovell's Marina yard 22-23 Dec (right, photo 22 Dec © S. Rovell) did not stick around for the count.


By late November/early December, more interesting birds had arrived. A couple Long-tailed Ducks appeared in Moss Landing harbor, one imm nicely photographed in flight on 13 Dec (right © Rick Fournier). A Nelson's Sparrow, a very rare local vagrant, was in the reeds at Moonglow Dairy on 29 Nov (photo below left © Paul Fenwick).

Two Eastern Phoebes were located in MTY. One at the Carmel River Inn on 28 Nov (Cooper Scollan) was seen only a few times, but was near Carmel Lagoon on 19 Jan 2013 (Chris Hartzell et al.). A second Eastern Phoebe was near Crespi Pond on Pt. Pinos in late Dec (Calvin Lou), was present on the Monterey Peninsula CBC (photo below right © Steve Rovell), and lingered until 3 Jan 2013.

Throughout November, dozens of Humboldt squid Dosidicus gigas were found beached along the Pacific Grove shoreline, attracting much attention from wintering gulls and from Brown Pelicans (above, 24 Nov © Don Roberson). According to the Monterey Bay Aquarium web site, these large squid can grow to six feet, weigh up to 110 pounds and feed on a staggering array of prey items. The Aquarium has captured some healthy ones but they are very hard to maintain in captivity. This squid appeared here during the major El Niño of 1997-98, and some remained in Monterey Bay for ten years, then disappeared. According to a news interview with an Aquarium scientist, this fall's event is a mysterious re-appearance.

While watching the gulls and squid on 24 Nov, hundreds of Pacific Loon were streaming past Pt. Pinos, and a flock of Surf Scoters (right) included a male Black Scoter (second scoter in top row, right © D. Roberson).

Over the Thanksgiving holidays, at Moonglow Dairy the Burrowing Owl found a week before (C&L Rose) continued (left © Rick Fournier), and Rick Fournier & Clay Kempf found two Swamp Sparrows on 23 Nov (one shown at right © R. Fournier). Yet another Swamp Sparrow was at Laguna Grande Park that same day (Steve Rovell).
Excellent birds in November included this female (likely hatch-year) Vermilion Flycatcher at Crespi Pond, Pt. Pinos, found by Bill Hill on 11 Nov (and photographed here with built-in flash just at dusk, right, © D. Roberson). Photos by Bill Hill are on his website. This is the first record for the Monterey Peninsula proper, and the 8th for MTY as a county (4 males, 4 females). It continued to be seen daily through the Thanksgiving weekend.

This first-cycle Franklin's Gull (left © D. Roberson) was encountered with a flock of 110 Ring-billed Gulls in a strawberry field along Giberson Road, enroute to Zmudowski SB, on 4 Nov.

In early November, migrant Short-eared Owls were encountered. Four were present along Moro Cojo Slough on 6 Nov (photo of a male, below left, © Rick Fournier), where they might winter. More unexpected was a migrant over Monterey Bay, 6 miles west of Moss Landing, on 4 Nov (Kate Cummings).

In late October, a first-year Red-naped Sapsucker, molting from juvenal into formative plumage, was in willows at the gatehouse for Monterey Dunes Colony (photo 21 Oct, below right, © Rick Fournier).

October continued to dazzle with a plethora of vagrants, including a young male Scarlet Tanager at Laguna Grande Park on 13 Oct (Carole & Larry Rose, Mike Stake, photo © D. Roberson). Other fine encounters included numerous Clay-colored Sparrow (one below left at Carmel R. mouth 6 Oct, © D. Roberson); a female Black-throated Blue Warbler at Moonglow Dairy on 6 Oct (photo middle below © Rick Fournier); and a few Bobolink, including this one (below right © Rick Fournier) near Salinas on 25 Sep and seen into October. Also impressive in early Oct was an huge influx of Black-vented Shearwater in Monterey Bay, many of them near shore (photo second row below from 7 Oct © D. Roberson).
What could be the "bird of the century" appeared along Watsonville Slough, Santa Cruz Co, just north of the MTY border, from 28 Sep–2 Oct: an imm female Common Cuckoo Cuculus canorus in hepatic plumage (photo below 28 Sep © D. Roberson). This amazing vagrant was found by Lois Goldfrank on a Santa Cruz Bird Club outing led by Steve Gerow, and all are to be praised for getting the word out so quickly! Common Cuckoo breeds parasitically (i.e., lies its eggs in other birds nests who hatch them and raise the babies) from Europe to Siberia and then flies to Africa for the winter. Our bird was heading the 'wrong' way (towards South America) in fall migration but found the patches of willows in Watsonville to be conducive for 'rest stop,' where it gorged on black-and-yellow wooly caterpillars. This is the first record for California and just the second for the lower 48 states. Except for a few back feathers the female was in juvenal plumage, and was identified as Common Cuckoo (instead of Oriental Cuckoo C. optatus, the other vagrant Eurasian cuckoo that has reached Alaska) because of the white patch on the nape, the comparatively narrow barring below, the mostly unmarked rump (just single subterminal spots on each feather), bill size and shape, and underwing pattern. It was seen by hundreds of birders from across California and beyond during its stay, and was featured by several local newspapers and newscasts. I have an additional page of photos, and other photographers do as well.

September was good for landbird migrants, including eastern vagrants and this surprising western vagrant: a Rock Wren at Pt. Pinos from 24 Sep on (right, photo 24 Sep © Bill Hill). There are only 4 previous records from the Monterey Peninsula: 27 Dec 1967 Pt. Joe; 15-26 Sep 1972 Lovers Pt., P.G.; 26 Nov 1983–11 Apr 1984 Hopkins Marine Station, P.G.; and 4 Nov–31 Dec 2001 at China Rock, 17 Mile Dr., Pebble Beach. This one frequented the wave-washed coastal outcroppings just east of the Point itself.

Numbers of eastern warblers in September were impressive, recalling autumns in the distant past. In the month between 25 Aug–25 Sep, MTY birders had located

  • 10 Blackpoll Warblers (including 3 at Laguna Grande Park, one shown in photo below left from 23 Sep © Sarah Lane)
  • 6 American Redstarts
  • 4 Chestnut-sided Warblers
  • 4 Northern Waterthrushes
  • 2 Tennessee Warblers
  • 1 Black-and-white Warbler
  • 1 Northern Parula

Also very nice was a Brewer's Sparrow in a Monterey backyard on 16-17 Sep (below right, photo © Chris Hartzell).

Another unexpected visitor to the cypresses around Crespi Pond in September was Greg Miller (above, photo 15 Sep © D. Roberson), of The Big Year book and movie fame, and the keynote speaker for the Monterey Bay Bird Festival in Watsonville this year. On the day of Greg's appearance here at Pt. Pinos, those cypresses to the left had attracted a flock of 30+ invading Red Crossbills. Greg and several locals were particularly intrigued with their vocalizations, which were distinctive from the typical "type 2" Red Crossbills that have occurred in the Monterey pines during prior invasions.

The flocks of crossbills included adult males, females, and younger birds. They looked smallish, with thinner and (maybe) longer bills than the type 2 Red Crossbills of invasions past and, in contrast to those prior birds, these 2012 crossbills appeared to forage only on cypress cones. A male from the 15 Sep flock is shown at left (© D. Roberson).

Their calls were faster, softer, higher-pitched and "wirey" in comparison to the usual, stronger "kip-kip-kip" of type 2 Red Crossbills. On 15 Sep in the Pacific Grove cemetery, I switched my digital camera to a "video" mode and shot a wild Blair-Witch-Project unviewable movie, but in the background you can hear the vocalizations at this link [just close your eyes and listen, weeding out the cries of crows]. These vocalization have been confirmed as type 3 Red Crossbill by crossbill researcher Dr. Jamie Cornelius.

There are 8–10 "types" of Red Crossbills in North America, which differ in size, bill shape, vocalizations, habitat, and food preference. They may eventually prove to be multiple different species. The one that normally reaches MTY in 'invasion years' is type 2, a pine-loving population that is widespread, and includes the Sierra Nevada. Type 3 is usually a taiga species, mostly in Alaska and Canada where it prefers spruce and hemlock; see a page by Jeff Groth (and use links there to check out the original 8 types). This year a huge southward invasion of type 3 crossbills is underway across much of the northern United States.

Here in Monterey County, flocks ranging from 6 to 50 birds were at numerous sites in Pacific Grove between 8-16 September. Small flocks were also seen in the City of Monterey and on the MTY side of Fremont Peak (on 13 Sep), while others have been in Santa Cruz. However, after that week, most of them have seemingly evaporated. Be sure to continue to report any crossbills you encounter this fall/winter, and more recordings would help us understand whether the entire autumn 2012 invasion is composed of just type 3 crossbills. As far as I know, this type has not been documented in MTY before.

Good migrant waders continued to be located in September. Two juvenal Ruff were present, including this male near Salinas (near right, photo 10 Sep © D. Roberson). Even better was a juvenal Buff-breasted Sandpiper at Moonglow Diary 8-11 Sep (far right, photo 8 Sep © D. Roberson). It has been quite a number of years since there was a chaseable "Buffy" in MTY.

Most of our rarer shorebirds are HY (=hatch-year) individuals in juvenal plumage. Nearly all the Baird's and Pectoral Sandpipers each fall migration are such young birds. Therefore it is a treat to find a wayward adult among them occasionally. The photo below, from 10 Sep (© D. Roberson) shows an adult Pectoral Sandpiper (left-hand bird) next to a juvenal Pectoral (right-hand bird). Note the substantial differences in back and covert feathers, and in the breast pattern.

The rarest species offshore this September was a juvenal-plumaged Little Gull (left & below) about 8 nmi NW of Pt. Pinos on 9 Sep on a Monterey Seabirds trip. This collage features photos (clockwise from right by © Elinor Gates, © D. Roberson, and © Jeff Poklen. There are only 4 prior records for MTY, but one was a first-winter bird on Monterey Bay on 16 Oct 1988.
Most pelagic trips in September were reasonably good. No major State-level rarities were encountered, but highlights included numerous Long-tailed Jaegers and South Polar Skuas, a smattering of Scripps's Murrelets in warmer water eddies, and this Laysan Albatross (below), a banded individual traced to Guadalupe I., that threw water droplets everywhere upon gliding in to land behind the boat (16 Sep © D. Roberson).





Page created 25-27 Sep 2012, last updated 10 Feb 2013