page three [October – December]
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.

November's gorgeous highlight was this young male Broad-billed Hummingbird on private property near Carmel (photo left 1 Nov © Bill Hill; photo above 9 Nov © Don Roberson). Its presence apparently goes back to at least 24 October, a scorching-hot day that reached 92 degrees (!), when the owner noted a red-billed hummer at the feeder. During its stay it was growing in a primary and new colorful throat feathers. Birders were invited to view it during various chaperoned visits starting 1 Nov, but the hummer apparently departed with a cold front after being last seen on 18 November.

This is now the 3rd record for MTY. All three were males. The first was at Carmel R. mouth on 29 Sep-2 Oct 1984 (Bob Tintle, Chris Tenney), and the second was photo'd along the Big Sur coast on 29 Sep 2018 (Suzanne O'Rourke; photo on this web site). There was also a male at a Santa Cruz feeder in Oct 2017 (Sheri Howe; photo). According to the CBRC data base, this is about the 110th record for the State of California, but the vast majority have been in southern CA.


An incursion of montane birds to coastal north MTY began in September with big numbers of Red-breasted Nuthatches. By 2 Oct the first of a smattering of Evening Grosbeaks appeared (male, photo left 2 Oct near Jacks Peak © Blake Matheson).

In late October multiple flocks of Red Crossbills were found widely; this flock even landed briefly on the rocks at Pt. Pinos! (right 22 Oct © Jeff Smith).


So far all the crossbills tape-recorded in MTY this autumn has been "type 2" [Ponderosa Pine crossbills]. There are up to 10 "types" of Red Crossbills in North America (and even more in the Old World) which may be incipient species. These populations tend to forage primarily on specific conifers within resident ranges, but when there is a poor crop of their preferred cones, crossbills can appear far from their 'home' ranges. In fall 2012, winter 2014-15, and winter 2017-18, the incursions were composed of "type 3" Red Crossbills [Western Hemlock crossbills], presumable originating from northwestern North America. This year's event of "type 2" crossbills have been documented in various past irruptions (e.g., 1987-88, 1996-97). Their strong "kip-kip-kip" calls can remind local birders of their interactions with crossbills in Yosemite, where "type 2" crossbills breed annually.

On 1 November, Monterey Audubon's annual "Pt. Pinos Seawatch" began for its 5th consecutive year. Our professional counter in 2019 is John Garrett (right, staring at a rather calm Monterey Bay, which was typical in early November; © D. Roberson). The Seawatch continues dawn to dusk daily from 1 Nov-15 December, and visitors at the Point are welcome. Seawatch highlights will likely appear in more recent updates, but unexpected birds in early November included Short-eared Owl and Lapland Longspur at the Point.

On Sunday, 27 Oct, Michael Rieser glimpsed a small brown warbler in the undergrowth that was giving a call-note that sounded like Fox Sparrow at a limited access location in the Yankee Point vicinity. In discussing the situation that day with others, it was suggested that "Dusky Warbler" might fit that call-note, but efforts to relocate the bird that day were unsuccessful.
The suggestion was forwarded to a few locals who, indeed, refound the bird — which proved to be a Dusky Warbler Phylloscopus furcatus — shortly after dawn the next day. This "Old World Warbler," now in the family Phylloscopidae, remained characteristically secretive throughout Monday [photo left 28 Oct © Blake T. Matheson]. It did, however, make a few forays into a thick willow canopy, especially near dusk. And then it was gone.

This is just the second record for MTY: one was banded by Big Sur Ornithology Lab at Andrew Molera SP on 2 Oct 2004 (photo below © Jessica Griffiths, BSOL).

Dusky Warbler is a long-distance migrant from its breeding grounds in northeastern Asia to its wintering grounds in the tropics of south and southeast Asia. Vagrants have reached most countries in Europe — there were already more than 50 records from Britain when Rare Birds in Britain & Ireland, 2d ed., was published 30 years ago. That book stated that nearly all records were between Sep-Nov, and mentioned its "skulking" behavior and its "tak" call (Dymond et al. 1989). In California there are now about 20 records, all between late Sep and early Nov. The nearest to MTY were at Antonelli Pond, Santa Cruz Co., in mid-Oct 1997 and in mid-Oct 2008.

By late October there had already been two Vermilion Flycatchers recorded in MTY during 2019. Then Mark Kudrav discovered a third Vermilion Flycatcher at Pt. Pinos on 25 Oct: a young male showing much orange and red in its plumage! It remained only to 26 Oct, frequenting the reedy edge to Crespi Pond (photo left © Bill Hill). Only one Vermilion had occurred before at well-worked Pt. Pinos — a female in Nov 2012, found by Bill Hill (more details on the fall 2012 highlights page).

Photos of the adult male in June and the female Vermilion in early October are in earlier parts of this 2019 highlights project. Those were the 12th and 13th records for MTY, so this is the 14th.



By the middle of October 2019 it was apparent that the warblers that characterized late September were gone. Mark Chappell photographed this lovely hatch-year Black-and-white Warbler at Big Sur R. mouth on 12 Oct (photo below left, © Mark Chappell) but the best of the eastern vagrant warblers this fall may have passed through earlier (see bottom of this page for a couple of examples). Black-and-white, though, has been in very small numbers this autumn.

What did arrive in huge numbers of Sunday, 13 October, were Cackling Geese — the vast majority of which were Aleutian Cackling Geese Branta hutchinsii leucopareia. In the early morning a boatload of birders a mile west of Pt. Pinos spotted a huge phalanx of fast-traveling geese heading for them from the south. As the wave of vocalizing geese passed between them and the morning sun, a photographer aboard captured the "head of the V" (below right, © Carole Rose). They were estimated by 50s at 400 geese [I count 77 in her shot. The size of a couple of them may suggest a few minima among the flock, or may be an optical illusion]. On-shore observers within the next hour had another 110 passing Pt. Pinos and over 60 at the Carmel R. mouth; more were at Moss Landing later. Still more were passing over Pacific Grove at dusk. A minimum of 600 Aleutians — and likely more — were on the move northwards on 13 Oct, recalling the mighty flight of at least 688 in multiple flocks on 4 Oct 2017 [see near middle of fall 2017 page]. As noted there, "the occurrences might suggest that flocks migrating south from Alaska became lost over the sea (due to fog?) and had to return northward to reach the intended winter locales. The numbers also illustrate the extent of the Aleutian Goose's impressive comeback from Endangered status just a half-century ago."

Long-time MTY observers are accustomed to seeing a few Pacific Golden-Plovers in two patterns: a very few dazzling gold-spangled juvs in fall migration, and later, more subdued, but still yellow-faced and gold-backed plovers that may winter on coastal headlands, coastal artichoke fields after harvest, or occasionally among flocks of Black-bellied Plovers on rocky shorelines. On 12 Oct, Matthew Dodder and his Bay Area bird class found a golden-plover on the sandy dunes of Moss Landing SB that was problematic. It was not very "golden" and to some, at least, it appeared long-winged, recalling American Golden-Plover. Various observers thought it "confusing," "not typical of either species," or "a tough i.d." Complicating the problem was that photos from different cameras and different backgrounds produced images that differed from each other. Here are a couple of examples — left-hand photo 12 Oct © Don Roberson; right-hand photo 12 Oct © Bill Hubick:

In the photos above, the right-hand photo shows a plover with more yellow in the face than the left-hand bird shows. Is this a difference in cameras or color saturation? Or was the left side of the face actually yellower than the right side of the face? Both photos show rather long bills, an isolated ear patch, and the left-hand shot shows rather long legs. These tend to be characters of Pacific Golden-Plover.
    Perhaps more importantly, I've enlarged and brightened another photo by Bill Hubick (right) to show the lower back. Here we can see that a number of the longest scapular feathers are new formative feathers, black centered and crisply gold-edged when fresh. This should occur only in Pacific Golden-Plover. In short, this individual is in body molt while on migration, something most of us have never seen here in MTY. Birds arriving to winter in Hawaii in October, however, often show this pattern. And because the upperparts feathers are in a state of molt, it is possible that one of the tertials may be missing, producing the "long-winged" effect that confused some of us. It has long been known that southbound adults present complex problems in identification (e.g., Jaramillo 2004), but so can southbound juveniles.

In early October there were a string of "one-day-wonders" — basically every rarity from here to the bottom of the page! — and among these was this small flycatcher (left © John Mendoza). It was photographed at the Big Sur River lagoon on 6 October by Mendoza, visiting from San Luis Obispo Co. Review of a series of photos that evening by experts revealed it as a hatch-year female Vermilion Flycatcher!

This is the second Vermilion Flycatcher in MTY in 2019, following the male in June at the old Rancho Cañada golf course, and is just the 13th ever in the county.

And then there was yet another rare flycatcher that was a "five-minute-wonder" on Sunday, 6 Oct — this time at the east end of Laguna Grande Park in Seaside. Ralph Baker and Dale Swanberg, visiting from Modesto County, discovered this Gray Flycatcher (right, © Ralph Baker). They obtained photos and a video that showed it dipping its tail downwards regularly. Word did not reach local birders immediately and though there was a "chase" over the rest of the day, it was not refound.

This is the 20th Gray Flycatcher in MTY but only the second in fall migration. The only prior fall migrant was at Big Sur R. mouth on 10-12 Sep 2015. That fall migrant, and a spring migrant in Apr 2006, are the only Gray Flycatchers to stay for more than one day. So this elusive Empid remains, for most, in the category that it is best to find your own!

... and the previous week ....
There's a coda to the story on this year's Yellow-throated Warbler (which follows). You'll read below that a number of locals chased the reported warbler on Wednesday, 2 Oct, in Pacific Grove. One of those was Rita Carratello. When she gave up that search to return to her Pacific Grove home, she saw what she thought was a rat scurrying along the adjacent wooden fence border with the neighbor. But when she looked in her binoculars, the "rat" proved to be an Ovenbird, walking the fenceline! (photo right © D. Roberson). A text brought birders still searching at the P.G. cemetery, and a few quick arrivals (including Larry & Carole Rose) watched the Ovenbird walk into the back yard and disappear into a thicket . . . from which it never re-appeared.
    Ironically, it was Rita and Larry who discovered the previous MTY occurrence of Ovenbird back on 2 Sep 2017 [see bottom of that page]. And to spread the coincidences on thickly, that 2017 Ovenbird walked under the same Myoporum in the P.G. cemetery that sheltered the Yellow-throated Warbler on 2-3 Oct 2019. . . .
    This appears to be the 25th Ovenbird in MTY.

The turn of October brought a series of major rarities, each of which proved to be very elusive. On Tuesday, 1 Oct, Ryan Terrill documented two Chimney Swift with 30 Vaux's Swift, in a big migrant flock that included 45 White-throated Swift, over the parking lot of Andrew Molera SP on the Big Sur coast. No swifts were present there the next day. Chimney Swift remains a significant rarity locally, with most records in summer around the Big Sur R. mouth at Andrew Molera SP. There is a prior late August record of a fall migrant (see Roberson 2002) but these Chimney Swifts are among the latest in California, with fall migrants concluded by about 10 Oct (CBRC 2007). The identification of Chimney Swift can be perilous but is much improved if seen adjacent to Vaux's Swift (as in this case) or if the swifts are vocalizing.

On Wednesday, 2 Oct, Teale Fristoe — visiting from Berkeley — found a Yellow-throated Warbler at El Carmelo Cemetery in Pacific Grove, but it was active and flitty, and Teale snapped just one recognizable photo (above left, © Teale Fristoe) before it flew off towards the northwest. Don Glasco was with Teale and texted news of this great rarity, and many searched during that Tuesday — from Pt. Pinos to Esplanade — but it was not refound. More were searching again on Thursday morning, 3 Oct. One of those was Don Roberson — who decided at the last moment to double-check the very same Myoporum bush in which the warbler had been initially discovered the day before — and essentially the first bird seen was the Yellow-throated Warbler again! Don got off a few shots (above right and below, photos 3 Oct © D. Roberson) before getting on the iPhone to alert others. And while he did that, the warbler again took off and disappeared, never to be seen again, to the disappointment of many.
    One really cool outcome of these events, though, was the fact that until the discovery of this particular Yellow-throated Warbler, there had not been any previous photo of Yellow-throated Warbler entered into the eBird archives for MTY. There were 9 previous records — this is the 10th for the county — and now half are from fall migration (9 Sep–11 Nov) and half are from spring migration (24 May–13 June). Most of the spring birds were singing males. All that were identified to subspecies match the race albilora, the northern subspecies that breeds from New Jersey to eastern Nebraska, and south from north Florida to central Texas. Don's photos show a supercilium that looks all-white but with the barest tinge of yellow above the lores. This is consistent with subspecies albilora, as some "individuals from within the range of albilora show a yellow tinge to the supraloral area," states the California Bird Records Committee's [CBRC] book Rare Birds of California (2007), citing Jaramillo (1993).
    This now means that of MTY's 498 formally accepted species, 472 are documented by photos entered into eBird. There are two more with photos taken years ago but not entered in eBird [Red-tailed Tropicbird, Magnificent Frigatebird], so together 474 MTY species (95% of the total) have been documented by photos. Eleven more species are documented by specimens (but no photos taken of live birds), and a final 13 are documented by descriptions [all of which were accepted by CBRC if the species was reviewed by CBRC]. One of those documented by a description was also taped singing in the field [Mexican Whip-poor-will] but that tape has not yet been re-located.

Literature cited:

  • CBRC. 2007. Rare Birds of California (R.A. Hamilton, M.A. Patten, and R.A. Erickson, eds.). Western Field Ornithologists, Camarillo, CA.
  • Dymond, J.N., P.A. Fraser, and S.J.M. Gantlett. 1989. Rare Birds in Britain and Ireland. 2d ed. T. & A.D. Poyser, Calton, U.K.
  • Jaramillo, A. 1993. Subspecific identification of Yellow-throated Warblers. Birders J. 2: 160.
  • Jaramillo, A. 2004. Identification of adult Pacific and American Golden-Plovers in their southbound migration. W. Birds 35: 120–123.
  • Roberson, D. 2002. Monterey Birds. 2d ed. Monterey Audubon Society, Carmel, CA.





Page created 15 Oct 2019, updated 22 Nov 2019