Saturday, September 29, 2012

Mega: Arctic Warbler

I woke up this morning to fog and south winds, and soon after, the fog lifted, and the wave began.  We banded 42 Red-breasted Nuthatches today, and 70 birds all together.  We saw a total of 69 species.  Oh and did I mention?  We had an Arctic Warbler hit one of our mist nets.  This mega rarity represents the 2nd record for the island and 8th for California.  Still, we all just found out about the Common Cuckoo in Santa Cruz, CA...that bird wins.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Birds in the Fog

White-crowned Sparrow
We've been plagued with fog here at the Farallons for the past few days.  Fog is bad for business here, and birding is our business.  If birds can't see the island as the sun rises, then there is little hope of them finding it.  Optimally, we would have south winds and high overcast skies.  This way the mainland is not visible from far out at seam, and the island draws in birds from miles around.  When the conditions are right, we can get huge fallouts of migrants – days where literally thousands of birds use the island as a stopover site to forage and build up fat reserves so they can get back to where they really want to be, the mainland.  It is days like those that have the highest chance of a mega rarity.

Today, though, will not be one of those days.  Birding in the haze not only clouds our vision such that seeing birds at a distance becomes more challenging, but also makes birding slow for us.  We expect few birds on days like these, and generally find few as well.  Despite the poor weather, we have been able to turn up a few new arrivals here and there.
Monday we found this damp American Redstart in the company of a Warbling Vireo we banded over a week ago.
Burrowing Owls have finally arrived on the island, and we captured and banded one individual so far.
Ruby-crowned Kinglet at the Lighthouse
Even in the fog yesterday we had many new arrivals and first of fall birds on the island including Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Varied Thrush, Nashville Warbler, and several Lincoln's, Golden-crowned, and White-crowned Sparrows.  All those new birds on a day with bad weather conditions made us wonder what kind of a major wave we could have experienced if the conditions were right.
Lincoln's Sparrow
It has been an amazing year for Red-breasted Nuthatches here.
One of our first Golden-crowned Sparrows of the fall.
Another first of fall bird and arrival in the fog, I found this Varied Thrush late in the day.
Even through the dense fog, this Common Raven is unmistakable.  
Despite the fog, we've had some good birds, but it's time for a wave.  The winds should be very good the next couple nights for a fallout, but if the fog doesn't clear we'll be screwed.  Hopefully the fog will lift tonight so I will have lots to talk about in the next few days.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Prairie Warbler and other Notes (Shark Notes)

I've been two weeks on the island now, and if you haven't noticed it's been pretty incredible.  No megas (yet), but always plenty of good birding to be had.  We sea watch twice per day on the island, and although numbers of birds (specifically Sooty Shearwaters) are down from the first week, I've had Pomarine Jaegers migrating close to the island on my last two afternoon watches.  Today I had an adult and an immature within a few minutes of each other.

The interesting landbirds continue to move through including a Prairie Warbler that showed up yesterday afternoon at the lighthouse.

As you may know, one of the specialties of the Farallon Islands is white sharks.  Each intern spends two hours per day on the lighthouse watching for shark attacks.  We look for gulls swarming, pools of blood in the water,

and, of course, sharks thrashing and feeding on a carcass in the water.

These photos were taken on Thursday of a white shark feeding on an immature elephant seal less than a quarter of a kilometer from the island.  This was one of five attacks we've gotten to see in the past week.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Recent Farallon Finds

Magnolia Warbler, Southeast Farallon Island, CA
It's been busy as ever lately, with lots of new birds coming to the island.  Today is our first slow day in over a week, so allow me to fill you in on some of the goodies that have been turning up.

The migrant passerines continue to move through with Yellow, Chestnut-sided, Hermit, Magnolia, Blackpoll, Bay-breasted, Townsend's, Black-throated Gray, Yellow-throated, Black-and-white, Tennessee, Orange-crowned, MacGillivray's, and Wilson's Warblers, American Redstart (including one stunning adult male), Common Yellowthroat, Bobolink, Vesper Sparrow, Indigo Bunting, Dickcissel, Red Crossbill (there are very few records of this for the island, but this fall has been especially good since it is an irruption year for at least one type on the west coast), Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (less than 40 records for the island), Swainson's and Hermit Thrushes, Warbling Vireo, Baltimore Oriole, Western tanager, Lincoln's Sparrow, Pacific Wren, and Hammond's Flycatcher as some of the migrants we've seen since my last post.

We are banding dozens of Red-breasted Nuthatches as well, with more coming in each day.  When they come in off the ocean they land on the lighthouse, and begin to glean microscopic invertebrates off of the lichen that grows on it.  They allow very close approach, and one even let me feed it dead kelp flies (slapped from my arms), off of the tip of a pencil.

On the 17th Dan Maxwell and I were up on the lighthouse when we heard over the radio, "ducks flying by the terrace!"  We immediately got on the flock of six birds, and began calling things out.  I immediately said Blue-winged Teal, and over the radio Jim Tietz said, "I think we've got a mixed flock of teal."  Although at the time I thought they were all uniform in size, shape, and plumage, Jim was right, and thanks to some photos by Dan Maxwell (below), we confirmed that we had three Cinnamon Teal, and three Blue-winged Teal. Can you pick out which ones are which?  Here's a hint, look at bill size and shape, and face pattern.  I think you'll find that the wing pattern on these two species is nearly identical.  The Cinnamon Teal were the first for the island in more than 12 years, and the Blue-winged Teal represent the 11th (or 12th?) record for the island ever.
Mixed Teal Flock, Southeast Farallon Island, CA [Photo by Daniel Maxwell]
The Northern Gannet is still around.
One of the few Bobolinks we've had this year.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Farallon Yellow-throated Warbler

Thanks to this web cam on top of the Farallon lighthouse (below), Matt Brady found a Yellow-throated Warbler for us while most of us were still sleeping yesterday morning.  I woke up to Jim Tietz exclaiming, "Yellow-throated Warbler on the lighthouse!" I subsequently rolled out of bed, threw on some clothes and made my way up the hill to begin looking.  It was an easy target. This is the sixth record for the island of this species, and only the third record for fall.

This Chestnut-sided Warbler, a new arrival, was also present this morning up at the lighthouse.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Some Vagrants: My First Farallon Wave

Blackburnian Warbler at the Lighthouse.
Tuesday night the conditions were good for a small wave to hit the Farallons yesterday.  The light south winds and low overcast sky made made my fourth day on the island a good one.  As I was eating breakfast this morning, the first landbirds started dropping in to the lighthouse, with reports of Bay-breasted and Blackburnian Warblers, American Redstart, Olive-sided Flycatcher, and Rose-breasted Grosbeak over the radio.  After my morning sea watch, where I picked up my year Pink-footed Shearwater, I began searching the island for birds, turning up several new arrivals including two Clay-colored Sparrows, several Townsend's Warblers, and the Blackburnian Warbler.  However, it wasn't until I made it up to the lighthouse for my shark-watching shift that I got to see almost all of the vagrants reported on the island for the day.  The only one I missed was Ovenbird.

Tuesday afternoon was good as well, with a couple vagrants arriving in the afternoon including Baltimore Oriole and Tennessee Warbler.

This Tennessee Warbler was present since Tuesday, along with one new arrival on Wednesday.
Bay-breasted Warbler on Lighthouse Hill.
 Magnolia Warbler at the lighthouse
Townsend's Warbler at the Lighthouse
American Redstart at the Lighthouse

Rose-breasted Grosbeak on Lighthouse Hill
Magnolia Warbler
Chestnut-sided Warbler at the lighthouse

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

First Days on the Farallons

Northern Gannet.  This is the first Pacific ocean record has been present at Southeast Farallon Island since April.  Today it flew right by while I was white shark-watching from the lighthouse and allowed for some great photos.
My first few days on Southeast Farallon Island have been pretty amazing for me.  Although we haven't had any megas or big waves of migrants yet, it has been a real treat for me just to be here.  Some of the birds we've had just since Wednesday include Semipalmated Sandpiper, Least Flycatcher, Cape May Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler, Black-headed Grosbeak, Bobolink, Yellow-headed Blackbird, Painted Bunting, Western Wood-Pewee, Barn Owl, Chipping, Clay-colored, and Brewer's Sparrows, Lark Bunting, and Lark Sparrow among many others.  Here are some photos.

This Blackpoll Warbler has been around since before I got here, but somehow remained under the radar for the past three days.
One of the several Red-breasted Nuthatches that have been around the past few days.  This one paid no attention to me at all, while foraging in one of the three trees on the island.  It was eventually banded.
This Northern Pintail has been here for several days as well, spending most of its time in "Stinky Pond."
Pelagic Cormorants nest ont the island.
Common Murres nest on the island as well, although their breeding season is over.  This bird is oiled.
Birds aren't the only wildlife on the island.  This adult male elephant seal is one of five pinniped species that can be commonly found on the island.  The others are California and Steller's sea lions, northern fur seal, and...
Harbor seals are another pinniped species on the island.