Wot no migrants?

The thought of a trip to Point Reyes in mid-September is enough to get any birder’s adrenaline pumping, so the expectations of Pete, Margaret, Marcel and myself were high as we left Davis at 5am. On arriving at the lighthouse, the only passerines in sight were the resident White-crowned Sparrows! The rest of the peninsula was disappointingly quiet migrant-wise: we failed to relocate a Tropical Kingbird that another birder had seen that morning, and only managed to find a single Yellow Warbler at Drake’s Beach!

Fortunately, there was plenty of other wildlife to keep us interested. I was very impressed by my first living Striped Skunk – they really are pretty animals! The Tricolored Blackbird flocks were entertaining, and a steady passage of Turkey Vultures continued through the morning. We did surprisingly well for daytime Barn Owl sightings: we spotted 3 different roosting birds, including this rather sickly-looking individual.

A Great Horned Owl was also showing well in willows near the Elephant Seal viewpoint at Chimney Rock.

Seabirds were also obliging here. We saw the three regular loons including my first CA record of Red-throated Loon, still in summer plumage.

Amongst the Common Murres and Pigeon Guillemots was this Marbled Murrelet, only my second encounter with this species.

A couple of Wandering Tattlers were my first of the fall.

At Drake’s Beach I was able to get close-up shots of this smart adult winter Ring-billed Gull

… and this first-winter Western Gull.

Our next target was the Cassin’s Sparrow reported at Stinson Beach. En route to this site, we saw a group of birders at Bolinas Lagoon, but they didn’t seem to be looking at anything in particular so we pressed on. The sparrow’s favoured site was a tiny strip of long grass alongside a parking lot, which was depressingly full of noisy people (someone was actually having a birthday party here), so we only gave it about 5 minutes before deciding it was a lost cause!

Back at Bolinas, we learned that a Chestnut-sided Warbler had been spotted around the time we drove past a group of birders in the same spot – oops! We searched for this bird without success, but did at least come across a reasonable flock of warblers, and my first Hutton’s Vireo and Chestnut-backed Chickadees in a while. The lagoon itself was very birdy, and a Peregrine was terrorising the ducks and shorebirds before alighting on a post next to an Osprey. Elegant Terns, always nice to see, were here in good numbers (Marcel estimated at leats 160 birds). Brown Pelicans were in a feeding frenzy, flapping frantically to stay airborne just above water level while trawling the shallows with their enormous bills.

Perhaps the most unusual sighting of the day was an albino Shoveler, seen here almost glowing amongst the American Wigeon, Pintail, Shovelers and Willets.