Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Smells Like Rare Birds- Fall Migration in Marin,CA 2014

We had the most beautiful weather while visiting family in Marin. One of our favorite places is the Point Reyes Peninsula. It is also a great place to see migrating vagrants (rare birds) that are following the Pacific Coast south since the peninsula is one of the most western points. There are a few isolated areas with trees for the birds to feed  which provides birders with great visibility. We were fortunate to see some rare birds to this area that were migrating or stopping by.

We first saw the Black-throated Blue Warbler at Mendoza or B Ranch. It was the first female we had seen. A few years ago we saw the male Black-throated Blue Warbler at the same location which we thought was an incredible coincidence.

Black-throated Blue Warbler-female 

Then, a few days later, a male Black-throated Blue Warbler showed in the same location and was feeding in the trees with the female!! They were calling back and forth. It makes me wonder if they did not have a date to meet in the trees at Mendoza Ranch:)

We had a few chances to get some great views of a Blackpoll Warbler. Our first sighting was in Bodega Bay- about 45 minutes north of Pt. Reyes. Our second sighting was in the pines at Fish Docks at Outer Point Reyes. The birds in the photos below are in fall or non-breeding plumage which is much different than breeding plumage.

This species is one of the most common birds of the northern boreal forest. They spend the winter in South America. Their typical fall migratory route is over the Atlantic Ocean from the northeastern U.S to South America. The route averages 1,800 miles over water requiring a non-stop flight of up to 88 hours. To accomplish this feat the Blackpoll Warbler nearly doubles its body mass and takes advantage of of the prevailing wind direction to help conserve the necessary energy for the trip! These birds traveling the Pacific Coast might have found an easier route??

Blackpoll Warbler in Bodega Bay, CA
Blackpoll Warbler in the pine trees at Fish Docks at Outer Pt. Reyes

The Chestnut-sided Warbler is a common bird of second-growth and scrubby woodlands of northeastern North America. On their wintering grounds of Central America, the Chestnut-sided Warbler joins in mixed species foraging flocks that include resident antwrens and tropical warblers. An individual warbler will return to the same area in subsequent years, joining the same foraging flock it associated with the year before.

Chestnut-sided Warbler- non-breeding or immature bird seen in the pines at Fish Docks at Pt. Reyes Peninsula, CA

Clark's Nutcrackers are not a new bird for us but this sighting definitely provided the closest views of the species we have ever had. It is a resident of the mountains from British Columbia to California and New Mexico. They may wander widely but irregularly in lower-elevation forests during winter. This is the first sighting in the Pt Reyes area. 

Clark's Nutcracker- seen off of Limantour Rd at the Muddy Hollow Trailhead.
The bird books describe the Dusky-capped Flycatcher's whistled call as being common among oak and pine woodlands of southeastern Arizona & southwestern New Mexico. That is why were were not expecting to see this flycatcher along the Pt Reyes coast. Bob saw the flycatcher and thought it might be an Ash-throated Flycatcher at first.....then it whistled. I fortunately had my camera and was able to get a few shots. We knew the whistle but could not place it right away. (we had seen and heard the Dusky-capped in S.E. Arizona in the spring) It was not until we came home and posted the photos on Flickr and listened to some calls that we came to the conclusion that we probably saw an immature Dusky-capped Flycatcher. Apparently there are a few that winter along the California coast but this was one of the earliest sightings.

Dusky-capped Flycatcher seen at Arch Rock via the Bear Valley Trail at Pt Reyes National Seashore.(9.5 mi round trip hike)

Local birders describe the Palm Warbler as commonly uncommon. They tend to see a few Palm Warblers during fall migration out on Pt Reyes peninsula each year. This Palm Warbler appears to be the western subspecies -palmarum. The western subspecies has dusky streaking on the breast, flanks & belly. They are very photogenic and love to wag their tails.

Palm Warbler in the pine trees at Fish Docks at Pt Reyes.
Palm Warblers along the road near Mendoza or B Ranch- Pt Reyes, CA

Philadelphia Vireo is the most northerly breeding species of vireo that summers in northeastern Canada and winters in Central America. The range maps show they do occasionally migrate along the Pacific coast. This is a bird of young deciduous woods. We had heard reports of sightings of the Philadelphia Vireo out at Pt Reyes and went to check it out a few times but had no luck. We kept trying to make the Warbling Vireo into a Philadelphia.....finally we got these fabulous looks at the Philadelphia Vireo.

Philadelphia Vireos seen near Mendoza or B Ranch- Pt Reyes, CA

The Prairie Warbler is described at a tail-wagging yellow warbler that can be found in everything from scrubby fields to reclaimed strip mines throughout the the eastern and south-central U.S. but not on the true prairies. We saw this striking warbler out at Pt. Reyes!

Immature Prairie Warbler seen in the pines at Fish Docks at Pt Reyes, CA

This was another new bird for us. We were birding in Pine Gulch (near Bolinas Lagoon) and Bob spotted this bird feeding in the tree. It was pretty dark so the photos were a bit grainy but you can clearly see the strong streaking across the breast which is one of the characteristics of the immature or female Rose-breasted Grosbeak. They breed in the north eastern part of North America & winter from southern Mexico to South American and even the Caribbean.

A first fall or female Rose-breasted Grosbeak seen at Pine Gulch-Bolinas, CA

The Tennessee Warbler is a dainty warbler of the Canadian boreal forest. This species specializes in eating the spruce budworm. As a result their population rises and falls with fluctuations in the population of the budworm. They winter from southern Mexico to northwestern South America. There are no spruce budworms in their winter grounds. There they are known as a nectar "thief"- instead of probing the flower & spreading the pollen on its face in the process- the warbler pierces the flower tube at the base and gets the nectar with out participating in the pollination activities.

An adult breeding female Tennessee Warbler (must be transitioning to non-breeding plumage)-seen near Mendoza or B Ranch-Pt Reyes, CA

The Tropical Kingbird is a common bird of the American tropics. It reaches the U.S. in southern Texas & southern Arizona. The Tropical Kingbird is one of the most specialized of the flycatchers. It forages almost exclusively by chasing after large flying insects.

This species has become a regular fall visitor to the Pacific Coast. We had to come to Pt. Reyes to see one. Nearly every year a few wandering Tropical Kingbirds are discovered there. Most of these are thought to be immature birds.

We saw this Tropical Kingbird near Mendoza or B Ranch- Pt Reyes, CA
The White-throated Sparrow typically summers across Canada & winters through out the southeastern U.S. & along the Pacific Coast. The White-throated Sparrow has 2 color morphs: white-striped & tan-striped morph. Individuals almost always mate with a bird of the opposite morph? Also- White-throated Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos occasionally mate and produce hybrids. The offspring look like gray, dully marked White-throated Sparrows with white outer tail feathers. Learn something new everyday!

White-throated Sparrow (tan-striped morph) seen at Mendoza or B Ranch-Pt Reyes, CA

The natural world continues to inspire and amaze us!!
Enjoy the beauty & wonder:)

Turtle & Hawk


  1. That first image labeled as Blackpoll Warbler at Bodega Bay isn't a Blackpoll. In the East I'd be tempted to label it Blackburnian but since it's a western site I'm wondering if something along the lines of Townsend's could be a better match. But the face pattern is quite wrong for Blackpoll.

  2. Thanks so much for your feedback & insight- we will take a look at it...I have to agree it is probably a young Townsend's.