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.
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,
- 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
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].
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.
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:
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.
VISIT VWS's BIRDTHON 2008 PAGE FOR MORE DETAILS
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).
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).
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:
American White Pelican
Great Blue Heron
California Condor [seen but not counted since the wild-fledged young were not the condors observed]
Merlin Peregrine Falcon
Red Knot Sanderling
Great Horned Owl
Northern Saw-whet Owl
N. Rough-winged Swallow
Black-throated Gray Warbler
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.