SANTA CLARA COUNTY BIRD DISCUSSIONS 2012
Please send any additions, corrections, or comments to: Bill Bousman
JANUARY 1, 2012
The Santa Clara County composite list for New Year's Day in 2012 is 157. There are probably a few species that were seen, but are not on the list. The total is very similar to the number recorded over the last five years (range 154-163).
JANUARY 31, 2012
It has been an astounding January, but as the philosopher says "one swallow does not make spring, nor does one fine day." The species total this January was 208 species, about 12 more than the 12-year average and a record count for January. I suspect that this extraordinary dry winter had allowed more half-hardy species to linger. It is a puzzle, are cold nights harder on bird or are the nasty storms worst? I suspect the latter, as the continuous cold, wet days of previous winters have sometimes resulted in terrible mortality of White-throated Swifts, here at the edge of their range. Anyway, a great bar room discussion, although I have a hard time imagining Santa Clara County birders frequenting bars when the weather has been this good.
My recital of rare birds includes many lingering rarities from early winter and a few surprises. For the 5's, New Year's Day was a chance to record lingering or stake-out birds. SNOWY PLOVERS tend to disappear from the South Bay in winter, but this was not the case this winter and they were tallied on that first day. The male RUFF in the vicinity of Crittenden Marsh was a continuing bird and still remains this late in February. EURASIAN COLLARED-DOVES are probably no longer 5's and this has been shown by our January records this year. But an immature YELLOW-BELLIED SAPSUCKER at Picchetti Ranch OSP on 1 Jan defied the odds--no stakeout bird, this was a unique discovery! At least one of our wintering NORTHERN WATERTHRUSHES graced New Year's Day, these birds may seem old hat to us, but their presence anywhere in Northern California is most unusual . CHIPPING SPARROWS are not normally considered a 5, but wintering birds do fit that category, and the Jeffrey Fontana Park birds continue to set their wintering records. A female COSTA'S HUMMINGBIRD originally showed up at a Morgan Hill feeder in the fall and we speculated it would stay for its wing molt and then leave, but it was still seen there on 2 Jan. 17 GREAT-TAILED GRACKLES were seen on 7 Jan, they are here and there, but not often where you want them to be. A SWAMP SPARROW was seen at Lake Cunningham on 14 Jan and at least one more was found at the Palo Alto Baylands later in the month. A WILSON'S WARBLER was seen at the Ulistac Natural Area on 17 Jan. This is a common bird in summer, but not in winter. The next day a RED-NAPED SAPSUCKER was along the Charleston Road marsh. Another half hardy warbler was a NASHVILLE WARBLER at Lake Cunningham on 26 Jan. A wintering GRASSHOPPER SPARROW at Santa Teresa CP on 30 Jan was one of our few occasional wintering birds.
A WARBLING VIREO was seen along the Los Capitancillos percolation ponds on 6 Jan, a common bird in summer, but a absolute 6 in winter. Other 6's included two amazing first records of continuing wintering shorebirds: two STILT SANDPIPERS on Pond A12 and a WILSON'S PHALAROPE on Pond A13 on 15 Jan. Another twofer was an EASTERN PHOEBE and an AMERICAN REDSTART at Lake Cunningham, both new for the winter.
I found a few errors in January. I overlooked a report of TREE SWALLOWS on 9 Jan and some HORNED LARKS on 15 Jan, so that brings our January total to 197 species, two more than our long-term average. Also, in the list, I had the wrong date for Phainopepla, it should have been 1/2/11. There may be some other errors lurking in the list.
As of the end of February, the Santa Clara County composite list is 214 species, which is 9 species above our long-term average. My guess is that this exceedingly dry winter has allowed a lot of half-hardy species to survive, but as spring birds arrive, this advantage my diminish. In a normal February, we find 9 new species, but in this February there were only 6.
Two of the 6 new species were 2's. A NORTHERN ROUGH-WINGED SWALLOW was seen along the Coyote Creek Trail on 12 Feb, which is about normal. The other 2 was really a 6: CASSIN'S VIREO. This was a wintering bird seen at Stanford near the medical center on 21 Feb, and is only our 3rd winter record.
There was only one 3, two ALLEN'S HUMMINGBIRDS at the edge of Ed Levin CP on 3 Feb. This is about 12 days early, but there is great variability in arrival dates for this species.
There were no 4's, and just one 5, three TUNDRA SWAN at the South County Regional Waste Water Authority treatment ponds in Gilroy on 2 Feb. Last year we had a family nearby along Bloomfield Road, but this year those fields had been disked.
We had two 6's this month which is really good. A male MOUNTAIN BLUEBIRD was found along the Coyote Creek Trail below Hwy 237 on 3 Feb, and a second male joined him on 7 Feb. This is one of the best Mountain Bluebird shows we've had in recent memory. The other 6 was a 2nd-cycle SLATY-BACKED GULL picked out of the thousands of roosting gulls on Pond A16 in Alviso on 11 Feb.
In March, the first real influx of spring arrivals show up, and our long-term average is 13 new birds. As of now, only six have been counted, so it remains to be seen if we can maintain the remarkable pace started in January.
The composite list at the end of March was 224, which is six species higher than our long-term average of 218. We only added 10 new species instead of the typical 13, so we are getting closer to that average.
With spring migration underway, we added four 1's during the month. CLIFF SWALLOWS were seen in the Palo Alto FCB on 14 Mar. BULLOCK'S ORIOLES were found the next day in the Coyote Valley OSP (not yet open to the public). SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHERS were heard at the Palo Alto Baylands on 22 Mar. The first BLACK-HEADED GROSBEAK of the year showed up in a Palo Alto yard on 24 Mar.
The only 2's both showed up on 29 Mar. CASPIAN TERNS were seen on both Pond A4 in Sunnyvale and at Ed Levin CP. The first WESTERN KINGBIRD was at the edge of Moffett Field.
The only 3 was an arriving HOODED ORIOLE at the McClellan Ranch Preserve on 21 Mar.
Two 4's included a RUFOUS HUMMINGBIRD at Morgan Hill feeders on 4 Mar and a HERMIT WARBLER along Coyote Creek below Silicon Valley on 28 Mar.
No 5's were found but we were graced with one 6, a PLUMBEOUS VIREO along Coyote Creek below Barber Lane on 29 Mar. It was a 7th county record and our first in spring.
Our April incremental list is always our largest with 21 new species typically found as migration hits full force. Go birds!
We finished April 2012 with 243 species, four more than our long-term average. We saw 19 new species for the month, two less than in a normal April.
Six of these species were 2's, that is fairly common birds we expect in the spring. An OLIVE-SIDED FLYCATCHER was heard at Alamitos and Hicks roads on 4/7 (the first seen was on 4/12 in Stevens Creek CP). The same day, the first ASH-THROATED FLYCATCHER was along Coyote Creek below Barber Lane in Milpitas. A LAZULI BUNTING returned to Rancho San Antonio OSP on 10 Apr. The first YELLOW WARBLER of the year was singing along the Coyote Creek Trail below Hwy 237 on 12 Apr. The first WESTERN WOOD-PEWEE of the season was found in Sanborn-Skyline CP on 21 Apr. Last of the 2's was a spring RED-NECKED PHALAROPE seen 24 Apr in the impoundment north of the Alviso Marina CP.
Two 3's were found. A COMMON POORWILL was over Milpitas on 7 Apr. A migrant SWAINSON'S THRUSH was at Smith Creek on 25 Apr.
We had six 4's during the month. The first VAUX'S SWIFT of the season was over Hidden Villa on 4 Apr. A basic COMMON LOON showed up at Shoreline Lake on 7 Apr, 1 to 2 birds were found there on and off through the end of the month. A LONG-EARED OWL was heard at the Monte Bello OSP on 15 Apr. The same day, a female MACGILLIVRAY'S WARBLER was seen at Smith Creek, the only one found this spring. RED-BREASTED NUTHATCHES were heard along Skyline Boulevard near Indian Rock on 17 Apr, likely resident birds just starting to call. A male BLUE GROSBEAK at Ed Levin CP on 21 Apr was the first of a number of spring migrants.
The rest of our new species for the months were 5's. A HAMMOND'S FLYCATCHER at Smith Creek on 7 Apr was the only one found this spring (we average about 9 in spring migration). Two CASSIN'S KINGBIRDS were found along San Felipe Road on 9 Apr and were building a nest within days. Another pair were nesting east of the end of Bloomfield Road. A migrating SWAINSON'S HAWK was east of the Parkway Lakes on 15 Apr. A YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT was seen along Llagas Creek above Bloomfield Road on 26 Apr. Scarce in recent years, a CATTLE EGRET in breeding plumage was seen along Zanker Road on 29 Apr.
We've found all the 1's, 2's, and 3's for the year We usually get about 9 new species in May. Were not there yet, we'll see what the next few days bring.
We finished the month of May with 253 species on the composite list. This is five species better than our long-term average, we even gained a species in June (10 species in May rather than the usual 9). So we are sitting pretty. It must be time for hubris to crank in and lead us to a fall.
We had three 4's for the month. PURPLE MARTINS were found again at Loma Prieta on 18 May. They're still hanging around the old snags northwest of the lower saddle and sometimes mosey into Santa Cruz County airspace. The next day, 19 May, at least three BLACK-CHINNED SPARROWS were heard on a survey route in Coe Park, it looks to be a good year for them. On the last day of the month, 31 May, a WILLOW FLYCATCHER was found along Artesian (Mallard) Slough in Alviso. Their score of 4 is based on their fall migration, they really are a 5 in spring.
We found five 5's during the month. Two BLACK SWIFTS were seen in Coe Park on a survey route next to Stanislaus County (three more were in that county). A nice breeding plumaged BLACK TERN was flying over Pond A14 in Alviso on 8 May. A double 5 were the two BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLERS found on the Alamitos Creek Trail on 12 May. Shorebirds are starting to make their move. A breeding plumaged PACIFIC GOLDEN-PLOVER was seen in the New Chicago Marsh on 19 May and almost a half-dozen RED KNOTS were in Pond A1 on 23 May.
The two 6's were a BLACK TURNSTONE in Pond A15 in Alviso on 10 May and an EASTERN KINGBIRD along the Pajaro River on 30 May.
Although we've already met our June quota, that is no reason to fall asleep. We need more new birds!
[Editor's Note: SY = second year; ASY = after second year]
After adding a SY male ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAK that visited a Gilroy feeder on 24 May, the May total of 254 species was six more than our long-term mean. June continued the number of good finds, with seven new species, three more than we usually encounter. That brings the tally to 261 species by the end of June, eight species beyond our regular pace. It is looking like a remarkable year!
Only one 4 was found, a family of CANYON WRENS deep in Henry Coe SP on 30 Jun.
The first of our three 5's was a SY male SUMMER TANAGER on the Stanford Campus on 8 Jun, a bird that was good for a day. The next day, a group at Vasona Reservoir found a SY or ASY PACIFIC LOON that remained for a few days. Rounding out the 5's was a ASY male INDIGO BUNTING near the Joseph Grant CP campground on 18 Jun, and still found there singing more than a week later.
A NORTHERN PARULA found along the Coyote Creek Bike Trail south of the model airplane park on 14 Jun was the first of the three 6's for the month, but it was not seen again. The next day, a WANDERING TATTLER was an amazing surprise at Stevens Creek Reservoir, our first June record. It was seen through the day, but not after. However, tattler searchers the next day, 16 Jun, did find a singing CHESTNUT-SIDED WARBLER singing at the Lakeview Picnic Area.
We are still missing five 4's for the year. We have a good chance for Baird's and Pectoral Sandpipers in August and September. Least Tern does not appear to have staged locally this year, so this may be a loss. But our chances for Common and Elegant Tern in the fall are good.
I overlooked our first record of a HEERMANN'S GULL in June last month, a 5. It was a SY bird seen in flight near the San Francisquito Creek delta on 2 Jun. So that brought our June total to 262 species.
In July, we found three new species, whereas we normally find four. Nonetheless, the 265 species as of the end of the month is still more than the long-term average of 257.
There were two 4's, both found on 19 Jul. From descriptions, it appears that two different adult SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPERS were seen in the New Chicago Marsh that day. Along the Coyote Creek Trail below Silver Creek Valley Road, a female-type BLACK-CHINNED HUMMINGBIRD was seen and recorded on video.
The one 6 of the month was a WHITE-WINGED DOVE in Morgan Hill on 16 Jul.
August usually brings us about six new species. Two have been noted already, so we are off to a good start.
We finished July with 265 species for the composite list, about 8 species more than our long-term average. We did very well in August, finding 7 more species (one more than we usually get). That brings us to 272 species at the end of August, 9 more that we usually have at this time of year. So this extraordinary year continues.
We found three 4's in August. On 20 Aug, 4 BAIRD'S SANDPIPERS were found in Pond A12 along the Alviso Slough Trail (subsequent observers counted 8). A survey of both closed and open refuge ponds on 25 Aug found 5 LEAST TERNS (both Ponds A2E and AB2), very late staging birds. Finally, the 4's were wrapped up for the year with a SY COMMON TERN on Pond A2E on 27 Aug.
Three 5's were found during the month as well. The first of the season's ELEGANT TERNs was found on 1 Aug on Pond A1. On 8 Aug a single YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRD was seen in the Sunnyvale West Channel in the Sunnyvale WPCP. The third 5 of the month was a juvenile RUDDY TURNSTONE found on Pond A15 on 21 Aug.
The one 6 for the month was a male BALTIMORE ORIOLE at Vasona CP on 8/12. Perhaps a SY bird molting into full adult plumage, this bird was seen through 25 Aug.
We only found nine new species in September instead of the usual 10, but that brought us to 281 (which is more than we saw for the entire year in four of the last 12 years). So we are in pretty fantastic shape.
The last of the 4's was a PECTORAL SANDPIPER on Pond A12 in Alviso on 11 Sep.
We had five 5's for the month. A juvenile COMMON MURRE was in Stevens Creek above Crittenden Lane on 4 Sep, no place for any sort of pelagic bird. Monday, 17 Sep, was a good day with our first CLAY-COLORED SPARROW of the fall at the Palo Alto Baylands, and a flyover RED CROSSBILL at Monte Bello. This is a irruptive year for Type 3 crossbills from the Pacific Northwest, but there is not much to their liking in Santa Clara County (Roberson says that they are feeding on Monterey Cypresses in Pacific Grove, so if you have a cypress in your yard . . .). A PALM WARBLER was found at Lake Cunningham on 21 Sep, and a BLACKPOLL WARBLER was at the Sunnyvale Baylands Park the next day.
There were three 6's for the month. A BLACK OYSTERCATCHER was apparently a one-day wonder in closed refuge ponds in Alviso on 6 Sep (like our previous two records). An adult TENNESSEE WARBLER was at Blackberry Farm along Stevens Creek on 11 Sep. As in a number of recent falls, a PELAGIC CORMORANT showed up on the Alviso ponds on 28 Sep.
If you like statistics, then you will be interested to know that the prior high count for the last quarter of the year is 17 birds (final total = 298). Or the low count is 5 (final = 286). The mean is 11 (final = 292) and the +/-1 sigma is 15 (final = 296) or 7 (final = 288). Or if you prefer "damned lies" over statistics, then you are in good company. For what it's worth, the three best years have been 304 species in 1997, 303 species in 1994, and 301 species in 1999.
We found only one new species in October, this brings the composite list to 282, four more species than our long-term average. Typically, we find four new birds in October.
The new species was a BRANDT'S CORMORANT, a 6. It turned up in an industrial park on 1 Oct. We've seen mis-oriented birds in the spring in recent years, but not in the fall. This bird was gone by the next day, but another was found on Pond A12 on 6 Oct.
We expect three new species in each of the months of November and December. Thus, my best guess is that we will finish near 288 species for the year, a good count, but not a record.
We finished up November with two more species, bringing our total to 284. This is about three more than our long-term average.
There was one 5 for the month, a flock of 10 EVENING GROSBEAKS over Monte Bello on 24 Nov. This was a nice harbinger for December, where these grosbeaks have been found widely in small numbers in urban areas, particularly where Chinese pistache have ripening fruit.
The single 6 was two LAPLAND LONGSPURS in a flock of Horned Larks southeast of the San Pedro percolation ponds in Morgan Hill on 16 Nov.
We've added a couple of more species in December (although not on the San Jose or Palo Alto CBCs), we'll see if any more are found in the last few days of the month.
We finished the year 2012 with 286 species. This is two species above the mean of the last 13 years and is equal to the median (the data are not normally distributed). In those thirteen years, the total count as varied from 273 to 293 species. If you look at the data as normally distributed, the standard deviation is about six species.
This year is particularly interesting in that we set an early blistering pace. At the end of June and August we were nine species over the average! We had visions of easily breaking the previous high count (293 in 2011). But by the end of October we were at 282 species, four more than the average for that period and one more than the record year in 2011. But in the last two months of 2012, the hand of fate wrote that we were only to see two new species in November and two more in December. In 2011, we were blessed by that hand and found six new species in both months. The hand has written and we move on, or something like that.
So, how did we end the year?
We had one 5, a RED PHALAROPE, found on Pond A15 in Alviso on 8 Dec. What a bird! It remained into the New Year, which rarely happens for this bird of the wild ocean in our quiet bay. If you have the stomach for the so called "Pacific" in December, than you will see Red Phalarope. But they are far more hardy than we are, so we must cherish the occasional wanderer in our stormless Bay. Mike Rogers reported seeing this bird chased by two of our healthy local Peregrine Falcons, yet it was not captured that time.
And we had one 6, a LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL on 22 Dec 2012. Beautifully photographed at Sobrato HS in Morgan Hill, a gift to us from the Kirby Landfill, it did not stay for the Calero-Morgan Hill CBC. Such is fate. Enjoy 2013.