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SANTA CLARA COUNTY BIRD DISCUSSIONS 2003

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


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


JANUARY 1, 2003
I thought I would start the year by combining everyone's New Year Day's lists. The total is a pretty good start, with 161 species. This includes three '5s': PACIFIC LOON, PACIFIC GOLDEN-PLOVER, and SWAMP SPARROW plus a '6': GREAT-TAILED GRACKLE. All of these were stakeouts from the CBC season or before.

Periodically I need to revise the checklist scores to reflect changing trends, particularly for rarities. Most of these changes are downgrades which raises the bar for finding '5s' and '6s'. Here are the changes:

White-faced Ibis. 5 to 4, found in each of the last 10 years.
Tufted Duck. 6 to 5, found in 8 of the last 10 years (13 records).
Long-tailed Duck. 6 to 5, six of the last 10 years (10 records).
Black Rail. 4 to 5, found in nine of last 10 years.
Semipalmated Sandpiper. 5 to 4, found in each of the last 10 years.
Baird's Sandpiper. 5 to 4, found in each of the last 10 years.
Stilt Sandpiper. 5 to 4, found in each of the last 10 years.
Heermann's Gull. 6 to 5, six of the last 10 years (14 records).
Glaucous Gull. 5 to 4, found in each of the last 10 years.
Common Tern. 5 to 4, found in each of the last 10 years.
Black Skimmer. 5 to 4, found in eight of the last 10 years,
............but appears to be established (4 to 3 someday?).
Long-eared Owl. 5 to 4, found in each of the last 10 years.
Pileated Woodpecker. 5 to 4, found in each of the last 10 years.
Hammond's Flycatcher. 5 to 4, found in each of the last 10 years.
Purple Martin. 5 to 4, found in each of the last 10 years.
Blue Grosbeak. 5 to 4, found in each of the last 10 years.

JANUARY 31, 2003
The New Year's Day total was 161 species for the composite list and as of the end of January, the list has climbed to 192, for a gain of 31 species. As one might expect a good number of these were 1s, 2s, and 3s (14 of the 31 species). These included PRAIRIE FALCON, WILD TURKEY, SEMIPALMATED PLOVER, NORTHERN PYGMY-OWL, BURROWING OWL, WHITE-THROATED SWIFT, AMERICAN PIPIT, BLACK-THROATED GRAY WARBLER, WESTERN TANAGER, RUFOUS-CROWNED SPARROW, LARK SPARROW, TRICOLORED BLACKBIRD, HOODED ORIOLE, and BULLOCK'S ORIOLE. Four of these species are considered more or less common based on their summer status, so observations in the winter are unusual. Two WESTERN TANAGERS were in Edenvale Garden Park on 18 Jan, a male BULLOCK'S ORIOLE was in the same park on 20 Jan, a single BLACK-THROATED GRAY WARBLER was seen in Joseph Grant CP on 23 Jan, and a HOODED ORIOLE came to an east San Jose feeder on 28 Jan.

We had 10 '4s' for the month. The first EURASIAN WIGEON was seen on 2 Jan in the Palo Alto FCB. SANDERLING were found north of the Alviso Marina on 3 Jan (with large numbers found in the Alviso area in January). An AMERICAN BITTERN was found at the Alviso Marina on 6 Jan and two SNOW GEESE were on the Alviso salt ponds on the same day. A staked-out adult FERRUGINOUS HAWK in Gilroy was first reported on 10 Jan. On 12 Jan a wintering female PHAINOPEPLA at Guadalupe Oak Grove Park was refound and, similarly, a HERMIT WARBLER at Edenvale Garden Park was also refound that day. Monte Bello supplied the first PILEATED WOODPECKER of the year on 20 Jan. An early RUFOUS HUMMINGBIRD was seen along Coyote Creek below Hwy 237 on 25 Jan. The first resident dippers along Stevens Creek were reported on 27 Jan.

Five '5s' were a good start for the year. A few lingering RED PHALAROPE from December's storms were found on the Alviso salt ponds on 2 Jan. The early January SNOWY PLOVER surveys provided four birds on Salt Pond A7 in Alviso on 7 Jan. A RED-NECKED GREBE wintering on Calero Reservoir was seen for the new year on 8 Jan. A single RED KNOT was found at the Stevens Creek mouth on 14 Jan. A RED-NAPED SAPSUCKER at Hidden Villa was a good find on 15 Jan.

Sixes were the big news for January. On 12 Jan Chris and Cyndie Illes found a female RUSTY BLACKBIRD with the flock of Brewer's at a strip mall on El Camino at Lawrence Expressway. This is our first county record! On 26 Jan a third-winter LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL was seen east of Stevens Creek in the salt ponds--this is a third county record if accepted by the CBRC.


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FEBRUARY 2003
February added 12 species to the composite list, moving us from 192 species to 204. Six of the new species were 2s and 3s: LESSER YELLOWLEGS, ALLEN'S HUMMINGBIRD, LEWIS'S WOODPECKER, NOR. ROUGH-WINGED SWALLOW, HOUSE WREN, and SAGE SPARROW.

There were four 4s. A ROSS'S GOOSE was found at the Sunnyvale Baylands on 5 Feb and has remained through the month and into March. A 1st-winter GLAUCOUS GULL was found north of the Alviso Marina on 1 Feb and has also been refound a few times in the Alviso area. LONG-EARED OWLS are again using Ed Levin for a roost site, with the first observation on 1 Feb. Three GRASSHOPPER SPARROWS at Ed Levin on 23 Feb may be wintering birds.

February provide two 5s. A female RUFF was found north of the Alviso Marina on 1 Feb. This may be the same bird found in the Alviso area last fall and perhaps in the last two winters as well. An EVENING GROSBEAK was seen in a Saratoga yard about 14 Feb and is the first we've found in the last four or five years.

Spring is already off and running and many fairly common species are already starting to reappear. Good luck on March!

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MARCH 2003
I did some records clean-up (see below) and this changed the February totals from 204 to 205. We then added 14 new records in March to bring the composite list to 219.

Most of the March additions were expected arriving summer birds, either 1s, 2s, or 3s. Thus, in March we added: CASPIAN TERN, COMMON POORWILL, PACIFIC-SLOPE FLYCATCHER, WESTERN KINGBIRD, CASSIN'S VIREO, WARBLING VIREO, CLIFF SWALLOW, BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHER, WILSON'S WARBLER, CHIPPING SPARROW, and BLACK-HEADED GROSBEAK. A female LAZULI BUNTING at Stevens Creek CP was five weeks early and likely wintered somewhere nearby. Surprisingly, PINE SISKINS noted at a San Jose feeder on 2 Mar were the first of the winter. Siskins were found widely in early March which suggests that there was a significant regional movement.

No 4s were added to the list, but the biggest excitement was a 5: a FRANKLIN'S GULL found in the San Jose-Santa Clara WPCP ponds on 18 Mar.

Record clean-up. I revised the first date for LONG-EARED OWL to 1 Feb. I removed the January Red-naped Sapsucker record absent a description. I added a HORNED LARK record from 28 Feb that I had overlooked. And, I've added a TOWNSEND'S SOLITAIRE seen in the northern end of the San Antonio Valley sometime in late February (the 25 Feb date is a guess).

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APRIL 2003
April brought in 13 more species to boost the composite list to 232. Four species were 2's, and are typical summer residents that arrive in April: OLIVE-SIDED FLYCATCHER on 12 Apr, WESTERN WOOD-PEWEE on 26 Apr (late), ASH-THROATED FLYCATCHER on 10 Apr, and YELLOW WARBLER on 9 Apr.

At the 4 level, rarities included VAUX'S SWIFT at the Stanford dish on 14 Apr, a very early WILLOW FLYCATCHER at Smiths Creek on 30 Apr, and a NASHVILLE WARBLER and MACGILLIVRAY'S WARBLER on 12 Apr, also at Smiths Creek. All of these are migrants except Vaux's Swift, which includes a small breeding population.

Rarer species, the 5's, included a SOLITARY SANDPIPER along Arroyo Bayo on 27 Apr, a male CALLIOPE HUMMINGBIRD at Ed Levin CP on a Big Day on 19 Apr, the first HAMMOND'S FLYCATCHER of the year at Smiths Creek on 13 Apr, a CASSIN'S KINGBIRD at the Stanford dish on 11 Apr, and a few YELLOW-BREASTED CHATS along Llagas Creek on 28 Apr. Except for the chats, these are all migrants (Cassin's Kingbird may only breed in occasional years).

I cleaned up Horned Lark, replacing the 28 Feb date with a 9 Feb date.

There are two 2's left: Red-necked and Wilson's Phalarope, and one 3: Swainson's Thrush (two have already been found in May, but that's for next month). This leaves 16 or so 4's to be found before year's end and the rest are the real rarities. Late May and June generally provides a few eastern vagrants--which will it be this year?

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MAY 2003
May brought the composite list to 243 species, up 11 birds from April's end.

Although more common in July and August, we had spring records of both WILSON'S PHALAROPE on 7 May at the Alviso EEC and the less expected RED-NECKED PHALAROPE on 30 May in the Alviso salt ponds. The first migrant SWAINSON'S THRUSH of the year was found on 7 May along Coyote Creek below Hwy 237. These three records now clean up all the 2s and 3s of the year.

Of our regular rarities, the 4s, we found four this month which leaves us only 12 for the rest of the years. An alternate COMMON LOON was at Lexington Reservoir on 18 May on its way north. Spring is our most likely time for invading or overshooting WHITE-FACED IBIS and the invasion was led off with a single bird along Llagas Creek on 23 May. The first BLACK-CHINNED HUMMINGBIRD of the year was one banded on 3 May along Coyote Creek below Hwy 237. The first record of our resident RED-BREASTED NUTHATCHES was from the Santa Cruz Mountains along Skyline Boulevard on 13 May.

We picked up four 5s this month, all excellent finds. A single CATTLE EGRET, a ghost from the past, was over the Alviso salt ponds on 12 May. A GRAY FLYCATCHER found along Llagas Creek on 11 May was a pleasant surprise. A DUSKY FLYCATCHER at Smiths Creek on 1 May was also a treat. Finally, this year YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRDS returned to the Arzino Ranch for a May visit starting on 8 May, a pattern we've not seen in the last two or three years.

Clean-up: I obtained an earlier date for Western Wood-Pewee.

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JUNE 2003
The summer doldrums have struck and we added only two species to the composite list, bringing it to 245.

A BLUE GROSBEAK along Coyote Creek on 8 Jun was a one-day wonder, and was not found again. A LITTLE BLUE HERON found on restricted salt ponds on 26 Jun was slightly more cooperative, occasionally feeding in Salt Pond A4 in July.

I have cleaned up some dates for White-faced Ibis and Swainson's Thrush.

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JULY/AUGUST 2003
I've been remiss and failed to put together a composite list for July. So here is the combined update for July and August.

We added 11 species to move the composite list from 245 to 257.

We picked up five 4's for the two months, mostly shorebirds. This leaves us with only six more 4's to wrap up the year. As expected in most years we find LEAST TERNS in early July so a single bird at Salt Pond A4 on 3 Jul was expected. The shorebird migration came in well with a juvenile SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPER at the CCFS ponds on 26 Jul. An adult BAIRD'S SANDPIPER was found in the Alviso salt ponds on 30 Jul for one of our few records of an adult bird. The first PECTORAL SANDPIPER of the season showed up on 11 Aug in the Sunnyvale WPCP ponds and was also an adult bird. Finally, a STILT SANPIPER was found on 19 Aug in New Chicago Marsh, as has often happened in recent falls.

We found four 5's over the two-month period. An adult RUDDY TURNSTONE showed up on Salt Pond A16 on 19 Jul and at least three adults were there over the next few days. An immature BANK SWALLOW, a local dispersant, was at the CCFS waterbird pond on 27 Jul. A BLACK TERN was found on 15 Aug in closed refuge ponds in Alviso and, within days, up to four birds were being seen off and on at the Sunnyvale WPCP ponds. Finally, a SUMMER TANAGER was found in Palo Alto's Foothills Park on 30 Aug at the close of the period.

Early fall is a great time for the real rarities, the 6's. An EASTERN KINGBIRD was found along Skyline Boulevard on 27 Jul and was seen in both Santa Clara and San Mateo counties. A HUDSONIAN GODWIT was identified in the New Chicago Marsh on 29 Aug (it had likely been there at least two days prior) and an amazing two birds were found over the next week! These birds are only our third record.

Minor clean-up: I changed the first date of the LITTLE BLUE HERON from 26 to 25 Jun.

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AUGUST 2003
I've been remiss and failed to put together a composite list for July. So here is the combined update for July and August.

We added 11 species to move the composite list from 245 to 257.

We picked up five 4's for the two months, mostly shorebirds. This leaves us with only six more 4's to wrap up the year. As expected in most years we find LEAST TERNS in early July so a single bird at Salt Pond A4 on 3 Jul was expected. The shorebird migration came in well with a juvenile SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPER at the CCFS ponds on 26 Jul. An adult BAIRD'S SANDPIPER was found in the Alviso salt ponds on 30 Jul for one of our few records of an adult bird. The first PECTORAL SANDPIPER of the season showed up on 11 Aug in the Sunnyvale WPCP ponds and was also an adult bird. Finally, a STILT SANPIPER was found on 19 Aug in New Chicago Marsh, as has often happened in recent falls.

We found four 5's over the two-month period. An adult RUDDY TURNSTONE showed up on Salt Pond A16 on 19 Jul and at least three adults were there over the next few days. An immature BANK SWALLOW, a local dispersant, was at the CCFS waterbird pond on 27 Jul. A BLACK TERN was found on 15 Aug in closed refuge ponds in Alviso and, within days, up to four birds were being seen off and on at the Sunnyvale WPCP ponds. Finally, a SUMMER TANAGER was found in Palo Alto's Foothills Park on 30 Aug at the close of the period.

Early fall is a great time for the real rarities, the 6's. An EASTERN KINGBIRD was found along Skyline Boulevard on 27 Jul and was seen in both Santa Clara and San Mateo counties. A HUDSONIAN GODWIT was identified in the New Chicago Marsh on 29 Aug (it had likely been there at least two days prior) and an amazing two birds were found over the next week! These birds are only our third record.

Minor clean-up: I changed the first date of the LITTLE BLUE HERON from 26 to 25 Jun.

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SEPTEMBER 2003
We added four species to the Composite List in September.

Our only 4 this month was a COMMON TERN found at the Sunnyvale WPCP oxidation ponds on 6 Sep.

With a potential list of 27 5's this month it is a bit surprising that we only found one: a NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH along Stevens Creek below La Avenida on 2 Sep. It was seen once the next day and has not been found since then.

But we did get two 6's. A juvenile COMMON MURRE was found near the mouth of Guadalupe Slough on 7 Sep. September is a typical time for misoriented birds to get into the Bay. Few that reach the lower end of the South Bay appear to survive. A BROAD-WINGED HAWK was found along Pacheco Creek east of Casa de Fruta and in the seventh record for the county.

We've three months left for the composite list and things look bad. Representative of our problems is that we are missing five 4's: Red-throated Loon, Barrow's Goldeneye, Mountain Quail, Purple Martin, and Black-chinned Sparrow. We have a very good chance to pick up the loon and goldeneye in November or December, but none of the others. By definition, 4's are birds we see almost every year, but this year has been pretty hard on us. With so many 5's and 6's untouched this year, we've plenty of opportunities, but these are hard birds to find.

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OCTOBER 2003
October added four new species for the composite list, bringing the total to 264.

We added two 5s for October. A flock of RED CROSSBILLS was seen on Summit Ridge near Loma Prieta on 11 Oct. On 25 Oct a female TUFTED DUCK was found on the western oxidation pond at the Sunnyvale WPCP.

Two 6s were added this month. A SHARP-TAILED SANDPIPER was seen briefly in the Palo Alto Baylands on 6 Oct. The big news was the addition of PINYON JAY to the county list on 10 Oct. This bird was seen in the San Antonio Valley by Matthew O'Brien. Remarkable numbers of Pinyon Jays have been found in the Coast Range this fall. A bird seen a few days earlier along Skyline Boulevard was just a few tens of meters outside of the county line and barely missed being the first county record. When I say there were 'remarkable' numbers of Pinyon Jays, I don't mean to imply that there were very many or that they were easy to find. Many local observers sought out places where this wandering corvid could be found over the next few weeks, but without success.

An interesting aside about the four species added this month is that each was found only once by one group. The crossbills were seen for probably less than a minute as they flew over Summit Ridge. The Tufted Duck, seen on a SCVAS trip, could not be found in subsequent days. The Sharp-tailed Sandpiper was seen for a minute or two and the Pinyon Jay was seen for 12 seconds.

As the year comes to a close it is possible to look at some depressing statistics. So far, as concerns species totals, 2003 has been poor. In the last decade, the composite list average species total has been 292. This year we are at 264, an amazing deficit of 28 species compared to the decade's average! We are in an excellent position to beat out last year's 277 species for a new, decadal low.

In the last decade we've seen 35 4s in every year but 2002 when we missed one species (Red-throated Loon). This year we are missing five as of the end of October! [November has dropped that to 4, but this is still remarkable.] The average number of 5s we find, based on the last ten years is 48 species, this year we've found only 28 so far. Our previous low was 43 in 1996 (which, by the way, was a good year). For the rarest species, the 6s, we normally find about 22. This year we have had only 9. Previously, the worst we've done was 12 in 2002 (which was a lousy year).

Okay, okay, looking at these kinds of numbers is a bit like navel-gazing. The sky has not fallen, life goes on, so fagiddaboutit! Get out there and enjoy that Fox Sparrow singing within the shrubs or the drake Mallard that thinks he's so cool (he is).

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NOVEMBER 2003
We found five new species in November, which brings the composite list to 270.

Only one of these was one of our missing 4's, a female BARROW'S GOLDENEYE found at Shoreline Lake on 4 Nov. This female was seen occasionally after this (always a hard ID) as well as 1-2 imm males. Towards the end of the month a hybrid BARROW'S X COMMON showed up, but you have to go to Foster City or Lake Merritt for looks at a pure male.

We found three 5's for the month, which was nice. A PALM WARBLER was seen at the Mountain View Forebay on 1 Nov. Adding to the vagrant warblers, a BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLER was found in Rancho San Antonio OSP on 3 Nov. After being missed for a few years, a single immature WHITE-WINGED SCOTER was found on Shoreline Lake and remained at least a few days.

As always, the big excitement in any month is a 6. A CHESTNUT-COLLARED LONGSPUR was found over one of the closed salt ponds in Alviso on 14 Nov, for a sixth county record.

As I write this in late December, we have added a few more species to the county list, but we may not even match last year's poor total and this will be the lowest since 1991. I won't close out the 2003 list until sometime in January, but let's not forget to get a fresh start on the 2004 lists. Send your day lists for 1 Jan to me at barlowi@earthlink.net and I'll put together a composite list for New Year's Day 2004.

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DECEMBER 2003
We finished the year with 273 species, having added only three in December. This is the lowest species total since 1991 when we had 270 species. The most interesting statistic is that our 10-year average for the composite list is 292 species, which is 19 species greater! In 1997 we had 304 species, which is 31 species more--astounding! We did add one species to the county list in 2003, a single Pinyon Jay in October, and that was nice.

The high tides of December brought sightings of BLACK RAIL at last on 21 Dec. This species is usually found every winter (although not in 2002), so it is nice to keep it in the category of 4s.

Two Tundra Swans were on Searsville Lake during the first part of December. Fortunately for us, these birds slipped into Santa Clara County airspace on 13 Dec. This is the only 5 we added.

Our 6 for the month was a Sage Thrasher at the Sunnyvale WPCP on 12 Dec. This is 9th county record.