a web page by Don Roberson

The 24-hours between 1 May (4 pm) to 2 May (4 pm) was the period chosen for the 2009 Birdathon, sponsored by the Monterey Peninsula Audubon Society. It seemed like a good date when chosen, but after an all-night rain, 2 May began as a gloomy overcast day (left) with rain drops spattering the windshield (inset).

Further, the 13 years of fundraising for Big Sur Ornithology Lab had ended with VWS's closing of BSOL last summer, and the effort was an ad hoc last-minute affair without long-range organization. Numbers of birders were half that of prior recent efforts, so countywide coverage was spread rather thin. Yet the organizers and participants put together a fine effort.

Up in the mountains the rain dampened bird song, and everything was soaked (right; Larry Rose in green, green, drippy-fog wet forest on Fremont Peak © Carole Rose). Owling was miserable. Chris Tenney's planned hike to Cone Peak was wiped out because the road to get there was closed.

In the lowlands, a huge flock of at least 66 American White Pelican feeding at dawn on McCluskey Slough broke up and seemed to appear everywhere (e.g., some were in Moss Landing harbor by mid-day; shown at top of page © D. Roberson ).

The day brightened throughout Saturday, and many local birds were found. Tim Amaral (below) and his group on Fremont Peak actually had a decent migrant fall-out as the rain clouds lifted.

Those participating had a fine time, and the views of the county in spring could be spectacular (right, Fremont Peak at dawn © Marcos Rangel). Coverage coordinator Karen Shihadeh sent birders to all corners of the county. Jill Himonas, May Tenney, Jan Scott, and Bette Mayer managed to organize a really fun countdown. The event was held once again at Wild Bird Center in Del Monte Center, where we were treated to a great meal prepared by Kristina Scrivani of Whole Foods Salud!, accented with wine and stories from the day. The participation fees also raised several thousand dollars for Monterey Audubon's scholarship fund.

Pushing the birdathon into May, combined with poor weather and coverage spread very thin, resulted in our lowest birdathon total ever: 230 species. In analyzing the results, I noted 15 species (local breeding, regular migrants) that were missed this year, offset by 15 unusual species that are worth celebrating. Had we been able to add the 15 "missing" birds, our total would have been close to our "usual" average of about 245–250 species. But there were many birds of interest — so onto the birds!

Late lingering waterfowl were a mixed bag. We came up with some nice surprises — like this Greater White-fronted Goose at a winery pond in Gonzales (above © Chris Hartzell), but quite a number of wintering ducks were gone, including, alas, the pair of Harlequin Ducks that had spent all winter in Monterey harbor.

Birdathoners did find:

  • 'Aleutian' Cackling Goose at Crespi Pond (has been present all winter, but the Snow Goose is gone)
  • Northern Pintail at Carmel R. mouth (photo © Bill Hill, right; also Karen Shihadeh & field trip)
  • Green-winged Teal at Zmudowski & Moro Cojo (D. Roberson)
  • Blue-winged Teal near Kirby Park (D. Roberson, Rita Carratello)
  • Greater Scaup on upper Elkhorn Slough (D. Roberson)
  • Lesser Scaup at Hudson Landing (male, Rita Carratello) and another at Salinas R. mouth (Steve Rovell)
  • Bufflehead at Pajaro R. mouth (Steve Gerow, Nanci Adams) & Carmel R. mouth (C. Hohenberger, M. Rieser et al.)

We did reasonably well with some late gulls, including several widely scattered Herring Gull and two Thayer's Gull at Salinas R. mouth (Tim Amaral, Carole & Larry Rose; photo left © Marcos Rangel), but Mew Gull was missed. Of note were two first-cycle Glaucous Gulls: one at Salinas R. mouth on 2 May (Tim Amaral & team), and another at Little Sur R. mouth late on 1 May (Mike Tyner).

Flat calm conditions in the rain on Friday afternoon, and little wind on Saturday, limited pelagic observations from shore. Richard Ternullo had a couple good birds on his Saturday whale-watch trip: Flesh-footed Shearwater and Cassin's Auklet. A late Horned Grebe was in Monterey harbor (Brian Weed). The Ventana Wildlife Society's condor team was tracking condors throughout the day, and did observe a "countable" California Condor (i.e., hatched from a local nest).

Notable waterbird migrants included:

  • White-faced Ibis (3) at Castroville ponds (Don Roberson, Rita Carratello, and unnamed poachers)
  • Common Moorhen (2) on Laguna Grande & another at Locke Paddon pond (Steve Rovell)
  • Pacific Golden-Plover at Salinas R. mouth (Tim Amaral)
  • Lesser Yellowlegs at Castroville (Don Roberson)
  • flock of 21 Ruddy Turnstone at Moss Landing (photo of one, right © D. Roberson)
  • late Wilson's Snipe at Carmel R. mouth (Craig Hohenberger, Michael Rieser et al.) and Zmudowski (D. Roberson)
  • early Elegant Tern at Pt. Pinos on 1 May (Brian Weed) and another at Pajaro R. mouth 2 May (S. Gerow, N. Adams); also four Forster's Tern were at Pt. Pinos on 1 May, where they are quite rare (DR)

Landbirds of note were comparatively few, but among them were a flock of 31 Yellow-headed Blackbird at Moonglow Dairy (one shown at left © Don Roberson).

At Fremont Peak, Tim Amaral & team heard a 'whitting' Empidonax Flycatcher (likely Gray or Dusky) and had a fall-out of several dozen Hermit Warbler, plus a Nashville. They also found a male Rufous Hummingbird in Chualar Canyon.

Chris Tenney had a small flock of 3 Ruby-crowned Kinglet near Memorial Park, and added a scarce breeder Black-chinned Hummingbird and a singing Black-chinned Sparrow there. Wally & Lois Goldfrank and Bob & Bernadette Ramer had a late Lincoln's Sparrow at Big Sur River mouth, and the VWS banding team contributed a netted Hermit Thrush there. Roberson had a late American Pipit at Moonglow Diary.

As always, finding the scarce residents is the heart of any county-wide effort. The only Bald Eagles were 3 first-year birds by R.J. Adams at Lake San Antonio, and the only Loggerhead Shrike was by Kellie Morgantini in south county. Steve Rovell had an Osprey at Salinas R. mouth. Two parties found Greater Roadrunner (the Hartzells and the Amaral team) and both got photos: this one (below) is © Chris Hartzell.

A real surprise was a male Sharp-shinned Hawk carrying nesting material at Elkhorn Slough Estuarine Reserve (Mark Paxton, Steven Johnston & bird walk participants). This is the first evidence of nesting in the Elkhorn Slough watershed. Breeding Purple Martins were located at Andrew Molera State Park (the Goldfranks & the Ramers) and in the Santa Lucia Range (Scott & Linda Terrill). Grasshopper and Sage Sparrows on territory were at Ft. Ord (David & Jane Styer).

We were not able to get coverage for the known Bank Swallow colonies this year, but the Amaral team had a migrant in the lower Salinas Valley. Likewise, no one went to the Burrowing Owl colonies in the King City grasslands, but one was very fortuitously found within the City of Salinas by the Amaral team (photo to come, I hope!).

Finding a Burrowing Owl was particularly important this year, because the owl is featured
on this year's Birdathon Tshirt / sweatshirt. You can order a Tshirt or sweatshirt in your
preferred design and color at the on-line MPAS shop.

Heroic efforts in the rain did produce our resident owls, including N. Pygmy, Spotted, and Long-eared (thanks to Steve Rovell and to Scott & Linda Terrill).

Our annual Birdathon is during the peak of spring migration, but many local species have nesting well underway. This Wilson's Warbler was carrying nesting material at Frog Pond Natural Area (right; fine photo © Steve Rovell).

But a number of scarce breeding species were missed this year, including American Bittern, Flammulated Owl, Lesser Nighthawk, Costa's Hummingbird, and Blue Grosbeak. Also missed were scarce migrants like Red Knot, Wilson's & Red Phalaropes, and Black Skimmer, and the last lingering Red-necked Grebe, American Wigeon, White-winged Scoter, Common Goldeneye, and Fox & White-throated Sparrow appeared to be gone (or our coverage was not strong enough to find them).

Coverage, it turns out, is quite important to a high species count. We hope to recruit more of you next year!


A list of this year's species follows:

Gr. White-fronted Goose
Cackling Goose
Canada Goose
Wood Duck
Blue-winged Teal
Cinnamon Teal
Northern Shoveler
Northern Pintail
Green-winged Teal
Ring-necked Duck
Greater Scaup
Lesser Scaup
Surf Scoter
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
Eared Grebe
Western Grebe
Clark's Grebe
Black-footed Albatross
Flesh-footed Shearwater
Sooty Shearwater
American White Pelican
Brown Pelican
Brandt's Cormorant
Double-crested Cormorant
Pelagic Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Green Heron
Black-crowned Night-Heron
Turkey Vulture
California Condor [a wild-fledged young was seen]
White-tailed Kite
Bald Eagle
Northern Harrier
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Cooper's Hawk
Red-shouldered Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Golden Eagle
American Kestrel
Peregrine Falcon
Prairie Falcon
Virginia Rail
Common Moorhen
American Coot
Black-bellied Plover
Pacific Golden-Plover
Snowy Plover
Semipalmated Plover
Black Oystercatcher
Black-necked Stilt
American Avocet
Greater Yellowlegs
Lesser Yellowlegs
Wandering Tattler
Spotted Sandpiper
Long-billed Curlew
Marbled Godwit
Ruddy Turnstone
Black Turnstone
Western Sandpiper
Least Sandpiper
Short-billed Dowitcher
Long-billed Dowitcher
Wilson's Snipe
Red-necked Phalarope
Bonaparte's Gull
Heermann's 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
Cassin's Auklet
Rhinoceros Auklet
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
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/Dusky 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

Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Western Bluebird
Hermit Thrush
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
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
Song Sparrow
Lincoln's Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Golden-crowned Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Black-headed 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
May & Chris Tenney had the idea to continue our annual birdathon efforts, but this year as an MPAS fundraiser. Karen Shihadeh organized this year's coverage effort, and Jill Himonas was on top of everything through the Wild Bird Center. The countdown was organized by May Tenney, Jan Scott, and Bette Mayer; Leann Adler was very helpful with the event. Kristina Scrivani of Whole Foods' Salud! prepared our great meal. Chris & Ame Hartzell, Bill Hill, Don Roberson, Carole Rose & John Sorensen contributed art for the Salud! room reception. Karen Shihadeh and Mark Paxton led public walks for the birdathon; Richard Ternullo provided sightings from his whale-watching trip. Access to non-public lands was provided by California State Parks, Santa Lucia Conservancy, Elkhorn Slough Foundation, and others. Monterey Peninsula Audubon Society hosted the entire event. Chris Hartzell, Bill Hill, Marcos Rangel, Carole Rose, and Steve Rovell graciously provided photographs for this web page. Karen Shihadeh created a lovely birdathon t-shirt, available on-line. Finally, the many participants and financial supporters are much appreciated.





  page created 3 May 2009  
all text & photos © Don Roberson, except as otherwise indicated; all rights reserved