page two [July – September]
These highlights chronicle the year 2019. The year runs generally "backwards" on this page. Unlike earlier years, this update includes fewer highlights over a longer period. 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.

September 2019 started out slowly but ended with a crescendo. Winds shifted from the SW to a near-gale from the NW by late Saturday afternoon, 28 Sep. Brian Sullivan, anticipating good seawatching conditions, was at Pt. Pinos and reported that the "Point was cranking!" He was joined by more observers who witnessed the unprecedented near-shore passage of Arctic Terns. In the collage of two photos above, you can see that sea conditions are rough. The multiple white specks in the sky by the sailboat are Arctic Terns, as are the tiny terns against the ocean on the right-hand shot [collage from 28 Sep, left © Oliver Tan; right © D. Roberson]. One was even photographed on-shore on Moss Landing SB that day [photo right, © James Maughn.

Brian Sullivan, writing in eBird, called it an epic flight "mirroring other reports of remarkable events with this species elsewhere in California this fall." The flight got heavier as the afternoon progressed; Blake Matheson estimated 850 in his hour seawatch, in a "slow moving continuous stream of birds," with another 2000 terns, too distant to be sure of identification, "like confetti in all directions." Although deep-water pelagic trips have encountered large offshore migrations of Arctic Tern (e.g., 2500 on an Aug 1993 pelagic trip), nothing like this has ever remotely approached these numbers documented by on-shore observers with scopes. And it wasn't just Arctic Terns. Among these were hundreds of Elegant Terns, dozens of Sabine's Gulls, up to 380 Parasitic Jaegers in an hour, two Long-tailed Jaegers chasing terns, at least 3 South Polar Skua, plus over 600 Buller's Shearwaters and at least 4 Manx Shearwaters.

On land, the last week of September more than made up for the nearly vagrant-less first two weeks of the month. And has happened in the past, there was one specific location that hosted a diverse variety of rare landbirds within a short period of time.
In the past, that has occurred at Pacific Grove's El Carmelo Cemetery [Sep 2014] and at Del Rey Oaks' Frog Pond Nature Reserve [Sep 2018], but this September that spot was Monterey's San Carlos Cemetery, adjacent to El Estero (photo left, 28 Sep © D. Roberson). During the period 22–29 Sep, the cemetery hosted a Blackpoll, a Chestnut-sided, a Blackburnian, a Prairie, 3 or 4 Tennessee Warblers (a single locale record), and this much-desired Plumbeous Vireo (below, photo 29 Sep © Rita Carratello). Found initially on 7 Sep by Paul Fenwick & Brian Sullivan, this was MTY's 33rd record but the first in fall migration since 2011, and one of few to be documented by many observers.

During the final third of September, other impressive "eastern" vagrants appeared. The rarest was this Great Crested Flycatcher, first discovered by Jeff Barnum, and present at Laguna Grande Park from 28 Sep–1 Oct. Four days is a long stay for this species in MTY, and some observers also got to hear it vocalize. In this photo (right, 28 Sep © Carole Rose), note the heavy bill with pale base to lower mandible; the very distinctive broad white edgings to the uppermost tertials; and the tail pattern with the orange-red inner web to each rectrix extending to the tip of that feather. This Great Crest moved about but was most often seen in the Virgin Patch, giving moments of deja vu to those birders who saw a Great Crest in this same spot from 15-17 Oct 2009. The 2019 individual represents the 8th MTY record.

Birders will recall the two singing Yellow-throated Vireos near the Carmel River at Rancho Cañada back in spring 2017, with one lingering to mid-June. Most locals saw one of those. Yet Yellow-throated Vireo is quite a rarity in MTY, with just 12 records before Paul Fenwick spotted one while wading in the Carmel River near the Hwy 1 bridge on 10 Sep. Paul also photographed what may be the same individual farther upstream on 26 Sep {photo below, © Paul Fenwick). This was series of days in September with strong SW winds, rather than our usual NW winds, and perhaps there is a correlation to southeastern (Yellow-throated Vireo) and southwestern birds (Plumbeous Vireo, Painted Bunting) appearing not long thereafter?


There were two young Painted Bunting in September, the first appearing off-and-on on small sandbars in the Carmel River, upstream of Hwy 1, between 18–27 Sep (below left, photo 20 Sep © Carole Rose; Carol first discovered this vagrant). The second was a greener individual, found initially by Paul Fenwick, that frequented the small stream that runs into Laguna Grande lake, or an adjacent patch of tules, between 27-28 Sep (below right, photo 27 Sep © Don Roberson). These were the 14th and 15th records for MTY, and were "firsts" for these two eBird Hot Spots.

A smattering of more expected vagrants occurred during the last two weeks in September, including a Blue Grosbeak that replaced the Laguna Grande Painted Bunting in its favored reed patch 29 Sep-1 Oct; an Indigo Bunting in the general vicinity on 30 Sep; an imm Red-eyed Vireo at Carmel R. mouth; and various Blackpoll, Chestnut-sided, and Black-and-white warblers here and there.



2019 was Rick Fournier's year.

Back on 12 February, Rick discovered Monterey County's first record of Common Eider at Pebble Beach — and only the 3rd for all of California — while leading a bird tour [see winter 2019 highlights].This autumn, on 16 September, Rick found yet another first record for Monterey County (and again while leading a bird trip): a Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher at Pt. Lobos State Reserve! [photo, below right, © Judy Ellyson, a trip participant].

The Pebble Beach Common Eider remained around Bird Rock for 16 days and birders from throughout California were able to see it. Rick had a cadre of happy twitchers. Alas, the Pt. Lobos Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher was just the opposite. It disappeared quickly after being seen by Rick's group, reappeared briefly some distance away for a few very lucky locals, and then dived towards Headland Cove and was never seen again, dashing the hopes of many locals who came chasing it.


Riverside and San Luis Obispo county expert Curtis Marantz, who would have chased this one for his State list had it lingered, summarized the sad litany of heartbreak this Mexican beauty has caused in California: "This is the 21st record for the State and the seventh since 2003. With this one, nine have been from northern California (two each in San Mateo, Marin, and San Francisco counties, and one each in Humboldt and Sonoma counties; this is the first for Monterey County). There have been only four records from southern California since 1992. All but two of the records are from fall, with now 15 during the period 15 Sep—10 Oct, so this one was at the early edge of the 'expected' date range. Yet only seven of the 20 previous birds were seen for more than one day, and at least several of the others were seen for only brief periods and were not at all chaseable, even for those nearby. As such, this is one of the most difficult land birds in the State to chase, even on the same day. The last multi-day bird in California was 18-20 Sep 1999 at Pescadero Creek, San Mateo County." Curtis has been actively searching for California birds for decades — and has compiled several very impressive State year lists — but still has not seen a Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher. Those who saw the Pt. Lobos bird should consider their good fortune as pretty much the equivalent to winning the lottery.

But back to Rick Fournier's accomplishment for a moment. As the MTY county bird list reaches 500 species (currently 1 bird away) it is more and more difficult to find a new MTY county first-record than it has ever been before. In the 50 years before 2019, only six observer have unambiguously documented two different first MTY records within a single year. That list, with the most recent examples first:

  • Brian Sullivan (2017): Neotropical Cormorant (Aug) & Black-headed Gull (Nov) — both unchaseable flybys that were photographed;
  • Don Roberson (1986): Blue-headed Vireo (Oct *) & Cassin's Finch (Nov)— a scattering of records of both species since then; the Finch in 'incursion' years;
  • Bob Pitman (1979): Cook's Petrel & Red-tailed Tropicbird — both on the same Oct research cruise; many Cook's since then but very few RT tropicbirds;
  • Rich Stallcup (1974): Chestnut-collared Longspur (an Oct boat trip) & Plumbeous Vireo (the next day*) — both species have occurred thereafter; and
  • Bill Reese (1968): Chestnut-sided Warbler (Sep) & Greater Pewee (Dec) — over 100 Chestnut-sideds since then but we've still not had another G. Pewee.

* the former Solitary Vireo was not split into its 3 species [Blue-headed, Plumbeous, Cassin's] when this individual was discovered, so it wasn't technically added to the MTY list until the formal split in 1997. The pre-2002 listings are from Appendix A in Monterey Birds, 2d ed.

Aside from the Hudsonian Godwit (see below), it was a comparatively mediocre year for shorebird migration. The most 'chaseable' Siberian wader in September was this juvenal-plumage Ruff at Moonglow Dairy, present off-and-on 4–19 Sep (photo right, 6 Sep, © Cooper Scollan).

Another unusual bird in early October was flushed during the daytime on 3 Sep by Carole & Larry Rose. It was some sort of Caprimulgid but opinions varied. It wasn't until dusk that evening when the bird took to flight that it was confirmed as Lesser Nighthawk (photo below © C. Rose). These breed in far southeastern MTY but are very rare to the coast.

Last year (2018), MTY had its first Red-footed Boobies since the fall of 1987, at a time when an unprecedented incursion to central and southern California occurred. Starting last summer, four more Red-foots were added to the MTY total, both dead and alive, as set out in the summer 2018 highlights and the fall 2018 highlights.

As detailed in those fall highlights, yet another Red-footed Booby started roosting at Seacliff SB, Santa Cruz Co., beginning on 1 Nov 2018 and continuing to mid-January 2019, when it disappeared. After a several month delay, that same booby returned to Seacliff SB, beginning on 28 May 2019 and continuing off-and-on to mid-August, with an occasional appearance at other State Parks around Santa Cruz. We presume it was this same Red-footed Booby that James Maughn found sitting on Zmudowski State Beach on 20 August (photo left, © James Maughn). Alas, it was shortly thereafter flushed by an off-leash dog and flew north, back into SCZ.

Shorebird migration started with some real excitement on 1 August. Rita Carratello, leading her adult education bird class, discovered this juvenal-plumaged Hudsonian Godwit at the shallow pond at the Salinas River NWR. It remained to 7 August, the photos here are from 2 Aug (right, © Rita Carratello) and 7 Aug (below, © Don Roberson).

Hudsonian Godwit is a CBRC review species, and their most recent postings suggest this is the 51st record for the State of California. It is the earliest juvenal-plumaged Hudsonian ever in California (how fast can you say "global warming"?

It is just the 3d record for MTY. The CBRC considers one at Carmel River mouth on 28 Aug 1988 to be the same bird that settled in at Salinas River mouth a few days later and remained to 3 Oct 1988. The second record was at the Salinas WTP from 8-20 Sep 2007.

We had two scarce terns visit MTY over the summer months. Three of them were Black Tern: an adult in breeding plumage on 1-2 June at Zmudowski, a juv at Salinas R. NWR on 6 Aug (above right, photo © Lee-Hong Chang, courtesy of Earl Lebow), and a juv over Estrada Marsh, next to Elkhorn Slough, on 11-13 August. A handful visit MTY during this date span annually, but one has to be at the right place at the right time. The other species was Least Tern. An adult was Zmudowski State Beach pond from 18-19 Aug (photo above left, from 18 Aug, © Paul Fenwick). Note that Paul's nice photo shows this adult to be banded on its right leg.
    There has been a colony of breeding California Least Tern in San Francisco Bay. This west coast breeder, the subspecies called "California Least Tern" and formally known as Sterna antillarum browni, is an endangered species. Least Terns have been nesting on a runway at the old Alameda Naval Air Station since the 1970s. The Air Station was decommissioned in 1994 and the tern colony continued to increase. It received formal protection in 2012. Since 2002, the Alameda colony has become one of the most important California Least Tern breeding sites in the world. It has consistently produced more fledglings than other colonies four or five times its size in Southern California because the unique features of the runway and lack of human disturbance make the site more manageable. In many years it has 300 or more pairs nesting. The Alameda colony is the anchor for the Northern California population of California Least Terns and has been seeding other, smaller colonies in the Bay Area (info from Golden Gate Audubon). California Least Terns winter in Central America. Therefore, we believe the entire colony migrates to and from Alameda via the coast of MTY. Yet the overall numbers are so small, and their journey so determined, that they don't linger long here and a birder is quite lucky to see even one a year in our county during spring or fall migration. Presumably the band on this year's Zmudowski bird was placed by researchers at Alameda when it was a nestling there.
The second half of 2019 started with Michael Rieser's discovery of a singing Red-eyed Vireo near the Carmel River mouth on 7 July. Michael recorded the song but initially the vireo could not be seen in thick riparian woods with a heavy understory of poison oak. In subsequent days, though, Michael refound it and obtained photos, as did others. The photo above highlights the bright red eye of this adult (photo 10 July © Carole Rose), and the photo right shows the bird in full song (photo 11 July © Bill Hill). Both birds lingered late into summer.
   Red-eyed Vireo is an eastern vagrant to California — and always rare here — but there are several prior records of these vireos attempting to summer locally. There were July records along the Big Sur or Carmel Rivers in 1993, 1994, 1997, and 2000, and birds in mid-August in 2004 and 2012. It is possible that all of these individuals were attempting to summer locally. Summer vireos are quite unexpected; most of our Red-eyed Vireos are vagrants in spring or fall migration.





Page created 23 Aug 2019, updated 3 Oct 2019