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Photo by Tom Grey

SANTA CLARA COUNTY BIRD DISCUSSIONS 2004

Please send any additions, corrections, or comments to: Bill Bousman


|| JAN || FEB || MAR || APR || MAY || JUN || || JUL || AUG || SEP || OCT || NOV || DEC ||

JANUARY 1, 2004
Here is the first installment of the 2004 Santa Clara County composite list. These are all the records provided by observers for 1 Jan 2004. The species total of 125 is about as poor as it gets (last year was 157). A heavy rain before noon explains all of this, I expect.

We picked up a few 4s on New Year's Day: EURASIAN WIGEON, BLUE-WINGED TEAL, OSPREY, BALD EAGLE and WHITE-THROATED SPARROW. However, we only found one 5, the BLACK SKIMMERS, again at Charleston Slough.

Should Black Skimmers still be 5s? I am quite conservative about changing the checklist scores of invasive birds, as there is a tendency after the initial surge for invading birds to decline (seen any Little Blue Herons or Cattle Egrets lately?). The skimmer pattern still appears to be in flux--birds hung out in the Alviso salt ponds this fall instead of moving to Charleston Slough in late September. At the latter location they really didn't show until December Actual breeding numbers may have reached a plateau. The Black Skimmer is an impressive invader, but has it reached the end of its coastal invasion at San Francisco Bay? Or will it keep going? However, Great-tailed Grackles have been around long enough that I think that they are 5s, not 6s. We'll see in future years how they move down on the list.

JANUARY 31, 2004
I'm slowly getting caught up. I made one correction to the 1 Jan list, adding an AMERICAN BITTERN found at the Ogier Avenue ponds.

Although, New Year's Day started out slow, by the end of January we were up to 194 species, which is fairly typical. This is over half the total number of species recorded in the county.

We picked up quite a few of our local rarities in January, that is, the 4's. Two GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GEESE were found north of Bailey on 3 Jan. A ROSS'S GOOSE was seen at Sandy Wool Lake on 25 Jan. BARROW'S GOLDENEYE were missed at Shoreline Lake for the Palo Alto CBC, but an immature female was found on 5 Jan and females have been more-or-less regular since. Multiple FERRUGINOUS HAWKs were found on 2 Jan with one in Isabel Valley and another off Santa Teresa Boulevard. The latter bird was occasionally joined by a second adult and many had good looks during January. Eight SANDERLINGs were north of the Alviso marina on 5 Jan, one of the best spots in the county for this coastal sandpiper. An adult GLAUCOUS GULL on Almaden Lake on 25 Jan was a nice find. A PILEATED WOODPECKER was heard at Monte Bello OSP on 11 Jan, a place where they are almost regular now. Monte Bello OSP was also good for RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH and PYGMY NUTHATCHs, both found there on 11 Jan. An AMERICAN DIPPER was found along Herbert Creek where they are resident. The first PHAINOPEPLA of the year was a male in the Isabel Valley on 2 Jan. The female NASHVILLE WARBLER wintering at the Overfelt Gardens was refound on 4 Jan. A HERMIT WARBLER was seen in Graystone Park in the Almaden Valley on 3 Jan.

Of the 5's, a male TUFTED DUCK (without much of a tuft) showed up on 16 Jan at Shoreline Lake and stayed for a day (some of the time), delighting some and frustrating others. The January high tides were not very good, but two observers watched a Clapper Rail flush a BLACK RAIL momentarily from the marsh at Palo Alto on 19 Jan. Two SNOWY PLOVERs were found on closed refuge lands in Alviso on 9 Jan. A wintering RUFF was first picked up at New Chicago Marsh on 3 Jan. A HAMMOND'S FLYCATCHER was banded at CCFS on 7 Jan and is the first ever found in the winter. It remained into February. The NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH wintering in the Charleston Road marsh was refound on 12 Jan. A VESPER SPARROW in the Isabel Valley on 2 Jan was a good find. A wintering SWAMP SPARROW at the Gold Street Bridge in Alviso was refound on 8 Jan. A 1st-winter INDIGO BUNTING was seen at the Charleston Road marsh on 22 Jan, but did not linger. A female GREAT-TAILED GRACKLE was seen on 3 Jan at the Coyote Creek GC, where multiple birds had been seen in December.

The only 6 for the month was a 3rd-winter LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL at the Sunnyvale WPCP ponds on 14 Jan. This bird left and could not be refound.


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FEBRUARY 29, 2004
I did some minor fixes to the composite list, the most important of which was adding Semipalmated Plover for 8 Jan, which brings the January composite list to 195.

The list barely moved in February, climbing from 195 to 199 species. This is really not surprising, as January is filled with our resident birds and except for an occasional swallow, most of our summer residents do not start to show until March.

Since we picked up all the resident 1s, 2s, and 3s in January, none were left to be found in February. However, the first ALLEN'S HUMMINGBIRD of the season, a 3, was found on 28 Feb at Ed Levin CP.

A single 4 was found--a ROCK WREN on 7 Feb, singing on Tulare Hill.

Both of the other birds were 5s, a ROUGH-LEGGED HAWK at Page Mill and I-280 on 4 Feb and a TOWNSEND'S SOLITAIRE at Hidden Villa on 17 Feb. The latter bird hung around for five days or so and was seen by many eager birders.

As I write this, it is late March, and many of our summer residents are arriving in full song. We should get a decent jump of 10 to 20 species in March. Enjoy!

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MARCH 31, 2004
As expected, many of our summer resident birds showed up in March and the composite list jumped from 199 species to 216.

We had three of our most common species, the 1s, in March: CLIFF SWALLOW on 7 Mar, WILSON'S WARBLER on 23 Mar, and BLACK-HEADED GROSBEAK on 28 Mar.

Among the 2s, the first NORTHERN ROUGH-WINGED SWALLOW was found on 7 Mar, a WESTERN KINGBIRD was first seen on 14 Mar, a WARBLING VIREO was found on 17 Mar, a PACIFIC-SLOPE FLYCATCHER the next day on 18 Mar (by 5 observers at different locations!), and a CASPIAN TERN on 24 Mar.

Only two 3s were found in March: a HOODED ORIOLE on 13 Mar and a BLACK-THROATED GRAY WARBLER on 25 Mar.

We also had a good crop of 4s, a mixture of wintering birds, residents, and migrants. A GREATER ROADRUNNER was found north of the junction in San Antonio Valley on 5 Mar. A male RUFOUS HUMMINGBIRD was found in Ed Levin CP on 18 Mar. A SHORT-EARED OWL, the first of the winter was a spring surprise along Alviso Slough on 21 Mar. A GRASSHOPPER SPARROW at Ed Levin CP on 24 Mar seemed early, but this bird is starting to surprise us. However, a VAUX'S SWIFT over Fremont Older OSP on 31 Mar was truly early.

We had one 5, a remarkably early and well-described female CALLIOPE HUMMINGBIRD along Summit Ridge, conveniently in both Santa Cruz and Santa Clara counties.

A SANDHILL CRANE was found near San Felipe Lake in San Benito County through most of March. However, on 27 Mar, this bird flew briefly into Santa Clara County for our only 6.

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APRIL 2004
The composite list had a nice jump in April, from 217 to 236. We normally expect a decent increase in April, but this month not only had an increase in the regular expected species, but also some of the unexpected 5s and 6s. All in all, it was good month.

First, I need to clean up March. We had a CASSIN'S VIREO (heard) on 28 Mar and that brought the March total to 217 not 216.

In April, we had five of our 2s--these are our expected species. Both OLIVE-SIDED FLYCATCHER and ASH-THROATED FLYCATCHER were found on 3 Apr. Both a bit early, but not abnormally so. A LAZULI BUNTING was found on 9 Apr and a WESTERN WOOD-PEWEE was seen on 10 Apr. RED-NECKED PHALAROPE rounded out the 2s, although they are much less common in spring than in late summer.

For the 3s, a CHIPPING SPARROW showed up at a feeder in Milpitas on 1 Apr. COMMON POORWILLs were heard at Monte Bello on 17 Apr and the first SWAINSON'S THRUSH of the season was banded at the Coyote Creek Field Station on 21 Apr.

MOUNTAIN QUAIL were heard on the east slopes of Black Mountain on 12 Apr. This is one of our rarest 4s. For a while, it seemed that BLUE GROSBEAKs might be becoming more regular, but the one along Coyote Creek below Hwy 237 this spring has been the only one found. A MACGILLIVRAY'S WARBLER was seen at Smiths Creek on 21 Apr. Someone seems to always find a migrant each spring, but it is not easy.

The 5s are a tougher crowd, but we did fairly well in April. A CASSIN'S KINGBIRD was seen at Joseph Grant CP on 10 Apr. This is another species we thought might become easier, as they nested near the San Benito border for a few years, but it still remains a significant rarity. Two SWAINSON'S HAWKS were seen on a Big Day on 17 Apr, but the bigger story is that multiple birds were found later in the month and in May--this looks to be the biggest spring showing in half a century for this hawk that is regularly found in the Central Valley, but rarely in the coast ranges. YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRDS were again found in the Alviso area on 17 Apr, perhaps attracted to the horse boarding area at the Arzino Ranch or the remnant freshwater marsh there. This seems to be a regular pattern, but not clearly understood. Birds were seen in the vicinity into May. A singing YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT was found at Sierra and Felter roads on 24 Apr. Later, birds were found at more typical locations. This has always been a special bird locally, and its ability to succeed under the intense Brown-headed Cowbird parasitism it has suffered over the last 80 years has been a continuing source of amazement to us, as we've lost the Willow Flycatcher, Swainson's Thrush, and Wilson's Warbler to this parasite. To wrap up the 5s, a male COSTA'S HUMMINGBIRD was found on another Big Day on 25 Apr at Calero CP. What a find!

The big story for April is, of course, the 6s. A BLACK-HEADED GULL was found in the drying ponds at the San Jose-Santa Clara WPCP on 6 Apr. A few people who followed up the report immediately got to see this mega-rarity, but the rest of us were left to stand on the nearby dike and socialize with our good birding buddies over the next few days and commiserate on what we did not see. Another Big Day bird was an adult LAPLAND LONGSPUR at the Sierra Road summit on 17 Apr. This birds was completely unexpected as we never thought we would see a longspur so late in the spring! Then what to think when a CHESTNUT-COLLARED LONGSPUR was found in a closed area of the the San Francisco Bay Wildlife Refuge on 22 Apr? Amazing!

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MAY 2004
May brought the composite list to 243 species, up 11 birds from April's end.

The composite list moved up from 236 at the end of April to 246 at the end of May.

A flock of BROWN PELICANS over Alviso on 15 May were very early. This 3 is normally regular by mid- to late-summer.

We did quite well with the 4s, our regular rare birds. Multiple BLACK-CHINNED HUMMINGBIRDS were found along the Guadalupe River below Curtner including a female with a nearly finished nest who undoubtedly arrived in April. A BLACK-CHINNED SPARROW was found in the Sierra Azul OSP on 13 May and there were scattered reports after that. A LEAST TERN over the Alviso salt ponds on 15 May was one of our few spring records. An unusual spring WILLOW FLYCATCHER was along Stevens Creek below La Avenida on 26 May. a WHITE-FACED IBIS was found in Adobe Creek on 31 May and was a one-day wonder.

Three 5s showed up in May. A RUDDY TURNSTONE was in Salt Pond A16 in Alviso on 2 May and on the same day a DUSKY FLYCATCHER was banded along Coyote Creek. At the end of the month, on 30 May, a number of BLACK SWIFTS were seen moving northward over Monte Bello OSP.

The biggest excitement of the month was a SAGE THRASHER found in New Chicago Marsh on 10 May.

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JUNE 2004
Well, May was an amazing month--we jumped 20 species. Actually we jumped 21 species as I overlooked the first WILSON'S PHALAROPES of the season on 2 May. So that brought the end of May totals to 247 species!

What should we expect from June? Not much, actually, as all our normal birds have already shown up. Generally, June is the peak breeding month and there are few unusual birds. But this is one of those unusual years with the displacement of migrant birds from the southeastern United States. Those who have followed the rare bird alerts have heard (or gone and seen) such spectacular eastern birds as Hooded Warblers, Northern Parulas, and White-eyed Vireos! Although these have mostly been birds on the immediate coast, why not a few inland? We tried, sigh.

So, how did we do in June? Two more birds for the composite list, bringing us to 249 for the year. We found one 5, a ghost of the past, when a single adult LITTLE BLUE HERON was found on Salt Pond A4 on 21 Jun. This bird was searched for subsequently and seen only a few times in early July. It seems likely that it has spent a good bit of its time over Guadalupe Slough in the closed salt ponds.

We also had one 6, an OVENBIRD banded at CCFS on 16 Jun. This is an eastern vagrant that shows up now and then, often in June, but it doesn't seem to be tied to the southeast invasions.

Not on this list is a tantalizing report of Rose-breasted Grosbeak. Photos have been promised, but not delivered.

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JULY 2004
Big changes this month, as I've updated the county list to agree with the recently released 45th supplement of the AOU Checklist. This puts geese and ducks first, followed by pheasants and quail, and then all the rest without changes. At the same time Canada Goose has been split into Cackling and Canada. The Cackling Goose has the small-forms of which two are relatively easy to identify: Aleutian and Cackling, and both tend to show up here in the winter, at least occasionally. Anyway, the list at the end is in the new order.

I made one change for June and added a male ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAK seen at an New Almaden feeder on 2 Jun. This one-day wonder was never seen again. Last month's total was originally 249, which is bumped up to 250 with the addition of Cackling Goose and bumped up to 251 with the addition of the Grosbeak.

For July, we had six new species: three 4s and three 5s.

For the 4s, an adult SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPER was found at the CCFS waterbird pond on 17 Jul. On 22 Jul two COMMON TERNS were found in the Alviso salt ponds off the Alviso Slough Trail. Then on 28 Jul a single BAIRD'S SANDPIPER was found along the entrance channel to the Alviso EEC. This latter bird was very cooperative and was seen by many.

The 5s started out with two RED KNOTS that were along Coyote Slough opposite Salt Pond A9 in Alviso on 1 Jul. Then, 17 Jul became a super day with both an adult BLACK TERN and an adults and juvenile ELEGANT TERN at the Sunnyvale WPCP oxidation ponds. Its been about 3 or 4 years since we've had an Elegant Tern in the county.

So we wind up with 257 species.

Already August has brought out some good birds including a new species! But what of the easier birds, are there any left? Well, Pine Siskin is a 3, but we'll have to wait for winter, I guess, as none have been found along the crest this summer. There are eight 4s that are still to go. Many are wintering birds, such as Snow Goose or the Red-throated and Common loons. We've not found Canyon Wren this year--take a hike. And Purple Martin has also been missed, but we might get a migrant this fall.

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AUGUST 2004
The month of August brought good shorebirding and four of our six new species. We had one 4, two 5's, and three 6's, including a new county record!

The single 4 was a STILT SANDPIPER found 17 Aug at the New Chicago Marsh (New Chicago is the place to be this year).

A PACIFIC GOLDEN-PLOVER was found at the New Chicago Marsh on 19 Aug. Our other 5 was a couple of RED CROSSBILLS flying into Santa Clara County airspace over Charcoal Road on 26 Aug. They are more regular along the western slopes of the Santa Cruz Mountains.

The big news of the month was the LOUISIANA WATERTHRUSH found on Los Gatos Creek, mostly in Oak Meadow Park. It pleased many northern California birders in its 10 day stay. Another 6 was BLACK TURNSTONE, first found at the edge of Salt Pond A16 on 10 Aug, but later, more birds were found along other levees in Alviso. The third 6 was another coastal specialty which is rarely found in the Bay, a WANDERING TATTLER seen at the Sunnyvale WPCP oxidation ponds on 21 Aug.

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SEPTEMBER 2004
September was a good month for rarities (and a few others) and the composite list is at 270 for the year. This is only three birds shy of last year's poor total of 273.

We finally found our last 3 for the year when a juvenile PINE SISKIN was seen near Almaden Reservoir on 13 Sep.

Our only 4 for the month was a PECTORAL SANDPIPER that showed up at the New Chicago Marsh on 1 Sep. More birds were found near there throughout September, as expected.

Only one 5 was found in September, a BREWER'S SPARROW that was seen at the Sunnyvale Baylands Park on 22 Sep, but not thereafter.

The big news was that we found four 6s for the month! A CHESTNUT-SIDED WARBLER was found along Coyote Creek below Hwy 237 on 17 Sep. On 18 Sep a BRANDT'S CORMORANT was found on the Ogier Avenue ponds, and the next day a PELAGIC CORMORANT was seen on Shoreline Lake. Both birds were seen irregularly over the next few days. Finally, on 30 Sep, a SABINE'S GULL was seen at the CCFS waterbird pond.

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OCTOBER 2004
The tally was bumped to 271 as a wayward report of a CANYON WREN, a 4, from 18 Jul in Henry Coe SP turned up.

We had one 4 for the month, a COMMON LOON found in the closed Alviso salt ponds on 30 Oct. Snow Geese and Red-throated Loons are still good possibilities for November and December.

We had a nice bunch of 5s in October. A PALM WARBLER was found on 6 Oct along the Guadalupe River near Coleman. One or two more birds appeared later in the month near Great America. A CLAY-COLORED SPARROW was seen on 15 Oct near Great America. Then, on 26 Oct, an adult HEERMANN'S GULL turned up in some settling ponds near the Los Gatos CP percolation ponds.

We also had two 6s for the month. One or two imm. female MAGNOLIA WARBLERS were found at Lake Cunningham 1 Oct and one was seen again the next day. A PLUMBEOUS VIREO was found near Great America on 14 Oct, and was seen occasionally over the next few days. This is the first record in over a decade.

So that brings us to 277, which is four better than last year, and ties us with 2002.

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NOVEMBER 2004
Officially we finished October with a list of 277. But a belated report of a FRANKLIN'S GULL, a 5, on 30 Oct makes the October tally 278.

This month we added three species: two 4s and a 5. A SNOW GOOSE was found at Lake Cunningham on 3 Nov and for a few days the Canada Goose flock there supported a Ross's Goose and 1-3 Snows. Then on 21 Nov, a LONG-EARED OWL was found in the Guadalupe Oak Grove Park. This roosting owl was photographed, but did not return to the spot the next day.

Our one 5 of the month was TUNDRA SWAN. Large flocks were wandering around the South Bay on 21 Nov, the largest containing 49 birds! About nine of these birds remained in Salt Pond A9 for a few days, but as usual for these swans, they moved on.

So that gives us 281 species on the composite list for November. This almost gets us back to our 2001 total of 282. And, knowing at least 7 days of the future of December, I can say with confidence we already have two more species, to put us at 283. Is that where we will finish? Can we beat the 288 of the year 2000? Stay tuned.

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DECEMBER 2004
As in November, we found three new species in December, which moved the total count from 281 to 284. A total of 284 is the best since 2000, but will below the average of 296, which we saw in the years from 1993 to 1999.

The only 4 was a RED-THROATED LOON found at Calero Reservoir on 1 Dec, but it did not stay long.

Our 5 for this December was a CATTLE EGRET seen off Hwy 101 near Morgan Hill on 4 Dec. This bird was not found again. This egret was found regularly in Alviso at one time, but no longer nests locally and appears to have retracted its range in the South Bay, although its true distribution pattern appears confusing in northern California.

An immature HARRIS'S SPARROW found beside the Mountain View Forebay on 3 Dec was seen the next morning, but not after that. This 6 is the first we've had in the county since 1988.