SANTA CLARA COUNTY BIRD DISCUSSIONS 2009
Please send any additions, corrections, or comments to: Bill Bousman
JANUARY 1, 2009
The weather was nice on New Year's Day and we got a nice start on the composite list for the year with a total of 154 species. Fourteen folks supplied their lists and this was a great help. About 33 of the 154 birds were seen by only a single observer or party, whereas the rest were birds reported by multiple observers.
There were nine "4's" reported on 1 Jan, all of them being stakeout birds from December. There was one "5," a female ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAK at a Mountain View feeder, first found on 30 Dec 2008. Similarly, the one "6" was a CHESTNUT-SIDED WARBLER first found at a San Jose bird bath on 30 Dec as well. Our other stakeout rarity, the Lake Cunningham Eastern Phoebe was not seen until 2 Jan (the park was closed).
If the past is any guide, we will finish the month with about 193 birds (we are about 180 right now). Then the rest of the year will be our chase for the next 80-100 birds.
I have made a number of revisions to the county checklist, both as concerns "score" (rarity) and taxonomic sequence. The changes I've made as concern scores:
Mountain Quail. 4 to 5, very rare, this bird is no longer found yearly (perhaps all are releases)
Osprey. 4 to 3, uncommon, increasing population
Snowy Plover. 5 to 4, rare, most are on closed refuge lands, but are found more regularly now
Ruff. 5 to 4, rare, found more regularly now
Sabine's Gull. 6 to 5, very rare
Elegant Tern. 5 to 4, rare, but appears regularly now
Eurasian Collared-Dove. 5 to 4, still rare, no demonstrated breeding yet, but soon
Vaux's Swift, 4 to 3, uncommon in fall migration
Orchard Oriole, 6, extremely rare, added to the list in 2008
As concerns taxonomy, I have followed the most recent Western Field Ornithologists list. The taxonomic order in gulls and terns has been changed again, mostly these are slight. Whereas Black-legged Kittiwake and Sabine's Gulls used to finish up the list of gulls, they now start it out. An apparent change in terns and orioles may just be caused by my previous errors.
As always, if something is missing or in error, please contact me (off SBB).
JANUARY 31, 2009
The composite list reached 197 for the end of January, about 2 species above our normal 195. As expected, we added some of our more common birds after 1 Jan, including 5 "1's", 5 "2's", and 11 "3's". Three of these species were unusual overwintering bird, including a CHIPPING SPARROW in the Diablo Range on 8 Jan (a "3"), a HOUSE WREN in closed refuge ponds on 10 Jan (a "2"), and a female BLACK-THROATED GRAY WARBLER at the SCVWD ponds on 22 Jan (a "3").
We found 12 "4's" for the month. A GLAUCOUS GULL was in the Palo Alto estuary on 2 Jan and the same day a wintering RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH was seen at Lake Cunningham. Rare geese piled up over a four-day period with 3 adult GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GEESE at Shoreline Park on 7 Jan, an adult ROSS'S GOOSE in Byxbee Park on 9 Jan, and a juvenile SNOW GOOSE at Shoreline Park on 10 Jan. Also on 10 Jan, a RED-THROATED LOON was seen on Pond A9 in Alviso and a number of SANDERLING were found in both closed and open ponds in Alviso. A SHORT-EARED OWL was at the Palo Alto Baylands on 11 Jan. A couple of ROCK WRENS were at the Coyote Reservoir dam on 17 Jan. On 19 Jan, 1-2 PILEATED WOODPECKERS were heard in Sanborn Park and an AMERICAN DIPPER was seen along Stevens Creek above Mt. Eden Road. The last of the "4's" were 3 SNOWY PLOVERS found in closed refuge ponds on the last day of the month.
There were 8 "5's" for January, some stakeouts and some new. A big surprise was a SOLITARY SANDPIPER at Lake Cunningham on 5 Jan, only our 2nd winter record. Two NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH were found at the Charleston Road marsh on 6 Jan, where they have been since fall. Similarly, one of the wintering SWAMP SPARROWS wintering in the Palo Alto Bayands was seen the same day. Rounding out 6 Jan, a female GREAT-TAILED GRACKLE was found at the Coyote Creek GC. A PALM WARBLER in the Palo Alto FCB on 8 Jan was the same bird as first found there in December. A male RED-NAPED SAPSUCKER was seen on private land off San Felipe Road on 16 Jan. Two RED KNOTS were found at the Stevens Creek mouth on 22 Jan. Less likely in winter than the fall, a CLAY-COLORED SPARROW was seen along the Guadalupe River Trail north of Blossom Hill Road on 26 Jan.
The only "6" of the period was the continuing EASTERN PHOEBE at Lake Cunningham.
As always, if you notice any errors on this list, please contact me ( firstname.lastname@example.org ).
In February, we typically find about 8 new species for the month, go get 'em.
For January's composite list, I overlooked LARK SPARROWS found on 1/26 and CLAPPER RAILS on 1/29. This raises our January total to 199, which is 4 species over the long-term average. In February, however, we found only 7 new species where we normally see 9, so now the year's list is only 2 over the average.
The only "1" of the month were 2 CLIFF SWALLOWS at Lake Cunningham on 26 Feb. This is fairly typical, but these birds are still not widespread even in the second week in March.
The one "2" was another swallow, a NORTHERN ROUGH-WINGED SWALLOW at the Coyote Reservoir dam on 16 Feb.
An ALLEN'S HUMMINGBIRD at Ed Levin CP on 27 Feb was our only "3."
The rest of the 7 new birds were all "4's." A PYGMY NUTHATCH was in Upper Stevens Creek CP on 3 Feb. A GREATER ROADRUNNER was a nice discovery on 8 Feb on Canada Road out of Gilroy, a place where they are sometimes found. With still weather, a powerful scope, and some good luck, 2 BLACK SKIMMERS were seen on their favored winter roost in the northwest corner of Pond A1 in Mountain View on 18 Feb. Lastly, a wintering NASVILLE WARBLER was discovered in Edenvale Garden Park on 24 Feb and has remained through the end of the month.
March and April will bring returning birds, many of them quite common, but we can hope to pick out a few rarities among our returning birds. Good luck!
We found 13 new birds during March for a composite total of 219 species. Almost all were expected spring arrivals. This leaves us about two species above our long-term average.
Of the more common species, "1's", "2's", and "3's", we recorded 10. These started with an early WESTERN KINGBIRD on 7 Mar, and continued with HOODED ORIOLE on 15 Mar, a PACIFIC-SLOPE FLYCATCHER and WARBLING VIREO on 17 Mar, a WILSON'S WARBLER on 21 Mar, a CASPIAN TERN and a CASSIN'S VIREO on 24 Mar, a BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHER and a BLACK-HEADED GROSBEAK on 27 Mar, and a COMMON POORWILL on 29 Mar.
Two "4's" were found in March, a RUFOUS HUMMINGBIRD at Ed Levin CP on 6 Mar and an a likely wintering GRASSHOPPER SPARROW at Santa Teresa CP on 10 Mar.
The one "5" for the month was an early SWAINSON'S HAWK at Ed Levin CP on 7 Mar.
Typically, April brings even more spring arrivals, usually we find about 22 new species. It should be an exciting month.
April is a great month to add new birds to the composite list. This year observers found 19 new species, a bit below the average of 22. The composite total for April, then, is 238 species which matches the long-term average.
We cleaned up all the 2's except Wilson's Phalarope, which normally shows up in June. The first ASH-THROATED FLYCATCHERS were found on 6 Apr with observations in both Stevens Creek CP and the Arastradero Preserve. The next day, 7 Apr, an early LAZULI BUNTING male was photographed in Joseph Grant CP. The first OLIVE-SIDED FLYCATCHER was found in the Sierra Azul OSP on 13 Apr and the first WESTERN WOOD-PEWEE was along Hicks Road on 20 Apr. The last of the 2's were spring RED-NECKED PHALAROPE found in both closed and open refuge ponds in Alviso on 25 Apr.
There was only one 3 left unseen on the composite list at the start of April and this one, a SWAINSON'S THRUSH, was first found on 14 Apr along Coyote Creek below Hwy 237.
Five 4's were found during the month. The first VAUX'S SWIFTS to come through were single birds at Almaden Quicksilver CP and at the Stevens Creek mouth on 3 Apr. A HERMIT WARBLER seen on 4 Apr on a SCVAS trip to Stevens Creek CP was the first of the small passage of this rare warbler. A BLACK-CHINNED HUMMINGBIRD was along the Guadalupe River below Curtner on 8 Apr, a location where they nest. A migrating PURPLE MARTIN near San Felipe Lake on 14 Apr was in both counties. The first WHITE-FACED IBIS of the summer season was a single bird over Adobe Creek and Charleston Slough on 16 Apr. A singing YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT was found at the Gilroy sewer treatment pond on 24 Apr, probably the most reliable location we have for this rare breeder and migrant. 25 Apr was a banner day for shorebird migration in the South Bay with phenomenal numbers. The Snowy Plover survey team on closed refuge ponds managed an adult male RUFF, a female or second year PACIFIC GOLDEN-PLOVER, and two alternate-plumaged RUDDY TURNSTONES among the tens or hundreds of thousands of other shorebirds.
Observers recorded seven 5's during the month, a good haul. The first was a HAMMOND'S FLYCATCHER photographed at Alum Rock Park on 4 Apr. A YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRD was found on 19 Apr on a SCVAS trip to Joseph Grant CP, a good time for the small movement of birds that pass through on their way north. The next day, a male INDIGO BUNTING was seen in Alum Rock Park, an unexpected vagrant.
The only 6 of the month were BRANDT'S CORMORANTS that showed up in unprecedented numbers. As best we know, the first birds brought to wildlife services was about 11 Apr, whereas the first observations by birders were on 16 Apr when single birds were seen on Pond A16 in Alviso and Pond A1 in Mountain View. Although this story has not yet played out, this feast of Brandt's for our eyes was a consequence of famine on the coast for this bird that is rarely found far from the ocean littoral.
Ten species are typically found in May, but none of them are common. There's work to be done
The composite list for Santa Clara County increased in May from 238 to 250 species, a gain of 12 species, whereas we normally find about 10 in May. So now we are 2 birds over our long-term average.
We finished off the last of the 2's this month, a WILSON'S PHALAROPE was seen in New Chicago Marsh on 19 May. We always see these birds on their fall migration, but not so often in the spring.
We found six 4's for the period. A male MACGILLIVRAY'S WARBLER was singing at Anderson Lake CP on 2 May. The next day, multiple BLACK-CHINNED SPARROWS were singing on a burn survey route in Coe SP. The first CANYON WREN of the season was a singing bird found on another burn survey route in Coe on 16 May. A 1st-summer COMMON LOON showed up in Shoreline Lake on 24 May and stayed around, being joined by a second bird on 30 May. An alternate STILT SANDPIPER was found on New Chicago Marsh on 30 May, but did not linger. BLUE GROSBEAKS returned to the Pajaro River on 31 May, a place where they have nested in recent years.
Four 5's was not bad for the month. 15 May was the notable day, with a BLACK TERN on Pond A16 in Alviso, BLACK SWIFTS moving north over Monte Bello OSP, and 1-2 BANK SWALLOWS at the edge of the Sunnyvale WPCP ponds. Each of these good finds was from a different observer. The 5's were finished off with a CATTLE EGRET that showed up at the Palo Alto Baylands on 22 May, and has remained into June.
We had only one 6 for the month, but it was a doozy. A GULL-BILLED TERN was found at the Palo Alto estuary mouth on 3 May, a first record for Santa Clara County, and probably for Northern California as well. This bird was not found there again, but showed up at the Radio Road pond in San Mateo County a couple of weeks later, and remained for a few days.
All the easy birds are gone. We still have nine 4's on the list, these are birds seen nearly every year (and one has already been found this June). Most of these are our rare shorebirds, and we'll start to find them in July and August. After that it is just those ho-hum rarities. Keep your eyes open.
The Santa Clara County Composite List increased from 250 to 254 in June. The increase of 4 species is typical of our June experience of last years. The June total of 254 species is 2 over our long-term average.
The four new species ranged form a 3 to a 6. The 3 was a PRAIRIE FALCON found on a Coe Fire Survey on 12 Jun.
The new 4 was a male PHAINOPEPLA found on a different survey route in Coe on the same day, 12 Jun.
The new 5 was an immature male COSTA'S HUMMINGBIRD at a Morgan Hill feeder on 16 Jun.
Finally, the new 6 was an adult male SCISSOR-TAILED FLYCATCHER found on a Pond A1 levee in Mountain View on the Palo Alto SBC on 6 Jun. It did not stay around.
July normally brings 5 new species, although we've had none so far in the month. But the end of July is a good time for some of our rarer shorebirds. Get those scopes out there!
The composite list was unchanged for July, at 254 species.
In the 10 years or so I've been doing this, there has never been a month without a new species. The average increment for July is 5 new species. Quite a few months in past years have had just one new species: June (normal=4), October (normal=5) in two years, November (normal=3), and December (normal=3), again in two years. So how did this happen? Here is my opinion. Spring migration provided some very rare shorebirds this year in April, I believe, that would normally be our best chance for new species in July--Ruddy Turnstone and Ruff are examples that come to mind. Both were found this July, but weren't new of course. Also, we normally find staging Least Terns in July, but none were found this year (That has happened twice before in the last 30 years).
July and August (so far) have been fairly poor for shorebirds. I have a hare-brained theory about this that probably qualifies me as a conspiracy buff or maybe a "birther." The closed refuge ponds have had high water this year and so there have been few birds of any kind in there. Of course, we mere mortals cannot get into see what is in these ponds, but those local birders doing their official surveys there have found little of consequence (since April). My hare-brained theory is that the closed ponds are the true metropolis for rare birds in the South Bay and it is the overflow of the birds from those ponds that generates all our fall excitement. No overflow, no excitement, no new species in July. As Bob Power is fond of saying, "Do not try this at home."
The composite list as of the end of August was 259 species. At the end of June we were 3 species above our long-term average. But July was a disaster and we found no new species for the month, and were 2 in the hole. We found four species in August compared to our usual tally of about 7 species, so now were are 4 species in the hole, and digging deeper. September usually brings us 10 new species, but as of today, we are only at half of that number. It looks like this is going to be a 'record' year, but not one any of us will cheer.
Three 4's were found in the month. A PECTORAL SANDPIPER was found in New Chicago Marsh on 2 Aug. The first WILLOW FLYCATCHERS of the season were seen along Stevens Creek above Crittenden Lane on 17 Aug. LEAST TERNS, missed in July, showed up on 23 Aug when 10 juveniles were on Pond A16.
The only 5 was a couple of ELEGANT TERNS found over Pond A11 on 28 Aug.
Now it's time to look for someone to blame for our disaster.
We finished September 2009 with 266 species. This is down by 7 species from our long-term average of 273 species found by the end of a typical September.
We found seven new species during the month, three less than in a normal year. This included two 4's, three 5's, and two 6's.
The first of the 4's was a juvenile BAIRD'S SANDPIPER at the CCFS waterbird pond on 1 Sep. We finished the month with three juvenile COMMON TERNS on Pond A9 in Alviso on 27 Sep.
The first 5 was a BLACKPOLL WARBLER found on 9 Sep in Monte Bello OSP, a surprising location, as we normally find this vagrant somewhere along the edge of the Bay. A second Blackpoll Warbler was found at the Sunnyvale Baylands Park on 22 Sep, and it stayed for a few days. The second 5 was a BREWER'S SPARROW found in the fennel patch at the Palo Alto Baylands on 10 Sep. The last of the 5s was an AMERICAN REDSTART at Sunnyvale Baylands Park, first seen on 21 Sep. It also remained for a few days.
For the 6's, a CANADA WARBLER was discovered at Sunnyvale Baylands Park on 19 Sep, and is only our second record. Amazingly, a second bird was seen at the Palo Alto Baylands the next day. The other 6 was a TENNESSEE WARBLER at Sunnyvale Baylands Park on 23 Sep. With regular coverage in recent years at that park, we are finding Tennessee Warblers with more regularity, and it may be time to treat it as a 5 (we'll see).
The way I assign numbers, all of the 1's through 3's can be found in the county if looked for at the right time, and the right habitat and with some effort. Rare birds, the 4's, will show up nearly every year, but are difficult to find. The 5's and 6's simply don't show up each year, so they tend to be a crap shoot. For the remaining three months we are bound to find a few 5's and 6's, but which ones are anyone's guess. But if the odds are that we will see all the 4's somewhere sometime in a year, how are we doing? We are missing only two: Long-eared Owl and Semipalmated Sandpiper. The latter is a lost cause; they've all moved south. It's been a long time since we've missed this sandpiper. But we have a chance at Long-eared Owl if we can find a winter roost.
5's are easier than 6's, obviously. There are 28 5's we haven't seen this year, and 24 of these are possible in the next 3 months. Good luck!
Two new species were found in October, bringing the composite list for 2009 to 268 species, about 9 below our long-term average. In a normal October we would find about 5 new species, but not this year.
Both new species for October were 6's. On 8 Oct, an adult male BALTIMORE ORIOLE was found at the Sunnyvale Baylands Park. Unfortunately, that super bird did not linger. Better for the rest of us was a hatch year LARK BUNTING that was discovered at Byxbee Park on 18 Oct. That bird has been seen by many, and continues there into November.
Our expectation for November, at least based on long-term numbers, is another 3 species. We shall see.
In my last report, I overlooked a record of a PELAGIC CORMORANT on the A9/A10 levee in the Alviso ponds on 25 Oct. So that brings our October list to 269 species, which is 8 species lower than our long-term average.
In November, two new species were found, raising the year's total to 271 species, now 10 species below our-long term average.
Both species found in November were 5's. A NELSON'S SPARROW (used to be called Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow) was found at the Palo Alto Baylands on 1 Nov, starting out the month with a bang. This bird has been seen on both the early November tides and the early December tides, but is hard to find. A male LONG-TAILED DUCK was found on 16 Nov along Adobe Creek in the Palo Alto FCB. It was seen the next day as well, but not after that.
December normally brings about 3 new species. We've already found one of these. We'll see how it goes.
We added three more species in December (our average increment), and finished 2009 with a total of 274 species. We beat out our all-time low of 273 species (in 2003) by one. Our average for recent years is 284 species, so we were well short.
Two of the December species were 5's. An immature TUNDRA SWAN was seen on Lake Cunningham on 23 Dec. As is typical of Tundra Swans in the county, they do not stay long, and this one departed within a few minutes of the observation. The next day, 24 Dec, a PACIFIC LOON was seen in Pond A16. It was not found again.
The one 6 for the month was a female YELLOW-BELLIED SAPSUCKER, found initially in San Mateo Count along Creek Drive in Menlo Park. But on 3 Dec, a number of observers saw the bird move across the creek, and work in some of the trees on the Santa Clara side.
Happy New Year, and let's hope we do better in 2010!