a web page by Don Roberson

Ventana Wildlife Society's 2008 Birdathon to benefit the Big Sur Ornithology Lab took place between 4 p.m. on April 25 and 4 p.m. on April 26, 2008. That Saturday was an absolutely gorgeous day. Wildflowers were blooming; the day was warm and calm; everyone was happy to be outdoors.

This year's logo featured grassland species. BSOL interns Nerissa Rujanavich & Jill Gautreaux (left) show off Carole Rose's birdathon t-shirt at the countdown. It features an American Kestrel, with White-tailed Kite and Northern Harrier against the Creamery Meadow background [that meadow is a VWS restoration site]. These raptors were found during the birdathon 'big day' effort.

The problem with the 2008 birdathon was that it was too lovely. Migrants apparently kept on flying, without stopping at local wetlands or riparian corridors. Without a strong wind, pelagic species did not venture as near to shore, and some species were missed. The final group total of 241 species fell eleven birds short of our all-time high.

The event would feature two unprecedented vagrants for our local birdathon. John Sorensen found a subadult Brown Booby at mid-afternoon on 26 Apr roosting on Bird Rock in Pebble Beach. It remained until 5 p.m. until it took off and flew north, when Brian Sullivan managed this flight shot (below left; © B.L. Sullivan). Sullivan had discovered the other unexpected bird near Salinas on 16 April — a breeding-plumage Lapland Longspur — and it remained into 26 April when tallied by Craig Hohenberger, Michael Rieser, and team [and Sullivan took this shot; below right © B.L. Sullivan].
Other major rarities included a Horned Puffin, seen from the morning's pelagic trip on Monterey Bay by Bruce Elliott, and a very late Hooded Merganser on Rancho San Carlos, found by Chris & Ame Hartzell. Both were new birds to the birdathon; we've recorded 288 species over the last six years in this birdathon format. Also rare were a migrant Gray Flycatcher that sang atop Fremont Peak for Tim Amaral, Carole & Larry Rose, and team, and a singing Palm Warbler in Pacific Grove, found by visiting birder Dan Gliman; both have been found in 3 of the last 6 years.

We did rather well on late lingering waterfowl. In addition to the Hooded Merganser (the latest ever seen in the county), birdathoners found:

  • Snow Goose in Carmel Valley (Nellie Thorngate, Josh Scullen)
  • Cackling Goose at El Estero (Brian Weed & team)
  • Green-winged Teal at Moonglow and 3 flying past Molera Head
  • Blue-winged Teal near Kirby Park (Shirley Murphy) & Lake Espinosa (M. Rieser, J. Courtney, C. Hohenberger)
  • American Wigeon at Big Sur R. mouth (M. Brady et al.)
  • Harlequin Duck (3) and Long-tailed Duck (photo left © D. Roberson, taken 20 Apr) in Monterey harbor ( Brian Weed)
  • Canvasback on McCluskey Slough (Don Roberson)
  • Ring-necked Duck on Lower Stoney Resv. (Scott & Linda Terrill)
  • Common Goldeneye off Molera head (Adam Searcy et al.)
  • Black Scoter off Sand City (Steve Rovell)

The geese and Monterey harbor ducks have been present all winter. A Cattle Egret at Moonglow (D. Roberson, R. Carratello) was also of note.

We also did quite well with late gulls. Of note were:

  • Mew Gulls at Pebble Beach (photo right, with Black Turnstones; © D. Roberson) and two at Big Sur R. mouth (M. Brady, A. Searcy, R. Terrill, O. Johnson)
  • first-cycle Glaucous Gulls at Pt. Lobos (Bob Tintle) and the Ft. Ord beach (David & Jane Styer)
  • first-cycle Thayer's Gull at Big Sur R. mouth (R. Terrill et al.)
  • late Herring Gulls at various spots, including Carmel R. mouth & Pebble Beach (S.F. Bailey); Big Sur R. mouth; and Pajaro R. mouth (Steve Gerow, Nanci Adams)

The team at Big Sur R. mouth [Matt Brady, Ryan Terrill, Oscar Johnson, Adam Searcy] did so well with waders and gulls that they set a new one-day record for the Molera area (118 species).

Migrants are an important piece of any birdathon. This year we just did not have that many. Osprey was recorded surprisingly widely (including over Cone Peak! the Terrills), but we had no Merlins, Swainson's Hawk, or late raptors as we have in past years. Our scarce waders may have used the sunny weather to just fly over us (no golden-plover, no Solitary Sandpiper, no Lesser Yellowlegs, no Red Knot). Other than the Horned Puffin, almost all non-breeding alcids were missed. There was a Common Tern [Steve Gerow, Nanci Adams at Pajaro R. mouth] and an early Elegant Tern [Steve Rovell at Salinas R. mouth] but no Least or Black Terns, nor any skimmer this year.

The key linchpin to success locally, though, may be finding all the local breeders. Allen's Hummingbird (male left, from Moonglow Dairy on the birdathon © D. Roberson) is still easy to find, even if somewhat declining locally, but many local nesters can be difficult. We did locate such difficult birds as American Bittern [Karen Shihadeh at Carmel R. mouth, D. Roberson at Zmudowski]; Blue Grosbeak near San Lucas [the Kirklands]; American Dipper at Big Creek [Mike Tyner]; Golden-crowned Kinglet near Big Sur [Molera team]; and Bald Eagle, Prairie Falcon, and Burrowing Owl in south county [Dave Werner]. Most owls were heard — including Spotted & Long-eared — and Shirley Murphy watched the first flight of a baby Great Horned! But there were last minute drop-outs resulting in gaps in coverage, and for the first time ever we missed such local breeders as Northern Pintail, Lesser Nighthawk, and Hermit Thrush. Also missed were local montane birds like Flammulated Owl, Dusky Flycatcher, and Black-chinned Sparrow.

We did okay with late migrant landbirds like Yellow-headed Blackbird (one at Moonglow) and Fox, Lincoln's, and White-throated Sparrow; the latter, in the Hartzells' yard, meant that we have recorded it on our last six birdathons straight! The only Bank Swallow was a migrant near Salinas on 25 Apr [Matt Brady]. Two very scarce Calliope Hummingbirds were found: a female near Cone Peak [Scott & Linda Terrill] and one on Fremont Peak [Amaral team].

We fell about 8-9 birds short of our usual birdathon totals. In analyzing this, I'd say half of the difference was the missing local breeders, and half was the lack of scarce migrant waders, raptors, and tern. Perhaps we can 'blame' the beautiful day for the latter — they are all daytime migrants and may have not bothered to stop during such lovely weather. One other factor may be of importance. The prime Saturday this year was April 26. If you look at the dates of our other efforts on the Birdathon Portal, you will find that the prime date was 2–7 days later. It could be that we were 'barely' too early this year.

The fundraising format for this year's Birdathon was expanded. We had our traditional expert teams scouring much of Monterey County for the single 24-hour period, as highlighted above, but in addition:

  • VWS offered more guided walks for the public — to places like Andrew Molera State Park, the Carmel River mouth, and Elkhorn Slough — and a morning pelagic trip to benefit BSOL was organized by Roger Wolfe and Richard Ternullo of Monterey Bay Seabirds
  • The count period was extended for another six weeks for bird-watchers to raise pledges to support BSOL, culminating in
  • A special evening event — with dinner and guest speaker John Moir, author of Return of the Condor — on July 12 at Portola Plaza in Monterey.


This year's countdown for the 24-hour birdathon was held at the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History. Top birders and their teams enjoyed recounted the day's stories (below left; Steve Rovell, Craig Hohenberger, Dave Werner) and the evening's spread (below right).

Even if this year's bird total fell a bit short, it was a glorious day to be outside in nature. Chris Hartzell stopped during the birdathon to photograph displaying male Wild Turkeys among a field of lupine (above), and to snap a portrait of a Black-tailed Deer (right).

My personal highlight was in Pebble Beach not long after the 4 p.m. start on Friday. I'd just run into Bob Tintle near Bird Rock — the site which would be famous the following day when John Sorensen and Bob found a Brown Booby there — when I saw a Long-tailed Weasel dash across 17-Mile Drive with prey (mouse? vole?) in its mouth. It dashed into the grassy dunes and disappeared down a burrow. Bob went on to look for birds, but I waited patiently and was rewarded by my long-desired shot of this elusive mammal (below © D. Roberson).

A list of this year's species follows:

Snow Goose
Cackling Goose
Canada Goose
Wood Duck
American Wigeon
Blue-winged Teal
Cinnamon Teal
Northern Shoveler
Green-winged Teal
Ring-necked Duck
Greater Scaup
Harlequin Duck
Surf Scoter
Black Scoter
Long-tailed Duck
Common Goldeneye
Hooded Merganser
Common Merganser
Red-breasted Merganser
Ruddy Duck
Wild Turkey
Mountain Quail
California Quail
Red-throated Loon
Pacific Loon
Common Loon
Pied-billed Grebe
Horned Grebe
Red-necked Grebe
Eared Grebe
Western Grebe
Clark's Grebe
Black-footed Albatross
Pink-footed Shearwater
Sooty Shearwater
Brown Booby
American White Pelican
Brown Pelican
Brandt's Cormorant
Double-crested Cormorant
Pelagic Cormorant
American Bittern
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Cattle Egret
Green Heron
Black-crowned Night-Heron
Turkey Vulture
California Condor [seen but not counted since the wild-fledged young were not the condors observed]
White-tailed Kite
Bald Eagle
Northern Harrier
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Cooper's Hawk
Red-shouldered Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Golden Eagle
American Kestrel
Merlin Peregrine Falcon
Prairie Falcon
Virginia Rail
Common Moorhen
American Coot
Black-bellied Plover
Snowy Plover
Semipalmated Plover
Black Oystercatcher
Black-necked Stilt
American Avocet
Greater Yellowlegs
Wandering Tattler
Spotted Sandpiper
Long-billed Curlew
Marbled Godwit
Ruddy Turnstone
Black Turnstone
Red Knot Sanderling
Western Sandpiper
Least Sandpiper
Short-billed Dowitcher
Long-billed Dowitcher
Wilson's Snipe
Red-necked Phalarope
Red Phalarope
Bonaparte's Gull
Heermann's Gull
Mew Gull
Ring-billed Gull
California Gull
Herring Gull
Thayer's Gull
Western Gull
Glaucous-winged Gull
Glaucous Gull
Caspian Tern
Elegant Tern
Common Tern
Forster's Tern
Common Murre
Pigeon Guillemot
Horned Puffin
Rock Dove
Band-tailed Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Eurasian Collared-Dove
Greater Roadrunner
Barn Owl

Western Screech-Owl
Great Horned Owl
Northern Pygmy-Owl
Burrowing Owl
Spotted Owl
Long-eared Owl
Northern Saw-whet Owl
Common Poorwill
Vaux's Swift
White-throated Swift
Black-chinned Hummingbird
Anna's Hummingbird
Calliope Hummingbird
Rufous Hummingbird
Allen's Hummingbird
Belted Kingfisher
Acorn Woodpecker
Nuttall's Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Olive-sided Flycatcher
Western Wood-Pewee
Gray Flycatcher
Pacific-slope Flycatcher
Black Phoebe
Say's Phoebe
Ash-throated Flycatcher
Cassin's Kingbird
Western Kingbird
Loggerhead Shrike
Cassin's Vireo
Hutton's Vireo
Warbling Vireo
Steller's Jay
Western Scrub-Jay
Yellow-billed Magpie
American Crow
Common Raven
Horned Lark
Purple Martin
Tree Swallow
Violet-green Swallow
N. Rough-winged Swallow
Bank Swallow
Cliff Swallow
Barn Swallow
Chestnut-backed Chickadee
Oak Titmouse
Red-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch
Pygmy Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
Rock Wren
Canyon Wren
Bewick's Wren
House Wren
Winter Wren
Marsh Wren
American Dipper

Golden-crowned Kinglet
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Western Bluebird
Swainson's Thrush
American Robin
Northern Mockingbird
California Thrasher
European Starling
American Pipit
Cedar Waxwing
Orange-crowned Warbler
Nashville Warbler
Yellow Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Black-throated Gray Warbler
Townsend's Warbler
Hermit Warbler
Palm Warbler
MacGillivray's Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Wilson's Warbler
Yellow-breasted Chat
Western Tanager
Spotted Towhee
California Towhee
Rufous-crowned Sparrow
Chipping Sparrow
Black-chinned Sparrow
Lark Sparrow
Sage Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow
Grasshopper Sparrow
Fox Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Lincoln's Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Golden-crowned Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Lapland Longspur
Black-headed Grosbeak
Blue Grosbeak
Lazuli Bunting
Red-winged Blackbird
Tricolored Blackbird
Western Meadowlark
Yellow-headed Blackbird
Brewer's Blackbird
Great-tailed Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
Hooded Oriole
Bullock's Oriole
Purple Finch
House Finch
Pine Siskin
Lesser Goldfinch
Lawrence's Goldfinch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow
There are always many folks to thank for any major birdathon effort. Karen Shihadeh organized this year's effort, joined by a birdathon committee that included Cathy Keeran, Jessica Griffiths, Nellie Thorngate, Bette Mayer, and Janet Shing. Shihadeh, Griffiths, Thorngate, Josh Scullen, Chuck Bancroft, and Kathryn Hannay led public walks on April 26; Roger Wolfe, Richard Ternullo, Steve Bailey, and Bruce Elliott provided leadership on the pelagic trips. Access to non-public lands was provided by California State Parks, Santa Lucia Conservancy, Big Creek Preserve, Elkhorn Slough Foundation, and others. Major sponsors including the Wild Bird Center, Monterey Peninsula Audubon Society, and the CPA firm BBR, LLP. The City of Pacific Grove and the PG Museum Association assisted with the countdown venue; the Coast Weekly and radio station KPIG were very helpful with publicity. Carole Rose created yet another beautiful birdathon t-shirt, and of course the many participants and financial supporters are much appreciated.





  page created 28 Apr-1 May 2008  
all text & photos © Don Roberson, except as otherwise indicated; all rights reserved