Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Farallons at Their Best

It's been awhile since I've been able to get a post up.  First the internet went down (bummer) and then we were hit with a massive wave of migrant birds (super awesome), not leaving much time for anything but looking for birds.  As noted in my last post, the weather had not been cooperating and we ended up having one of the worst Septembers on record in terms of numbers and variety of birds arriving on the island.  The crew was starting to lose hope, but then on Oct. 6th a small wavelet of migrants arrived.  A couple of the interesting birds were Hermit Warbler, Vesper Sparrow, Great Blue Heron, and Varied Thrush.  Nothing too unusual, but it was the highest diversity we'd seen all fall.  With this small influx of birds and a weather forecast that looked like it might bring some birds our way, we decided to start Farallon-a-thon.  I posted about this last year (which had the lowest total ever), so if you sift through my posts you should find it.  In short, as part of PRBO's Bird-a-thon (see my first post this year), we run a week long search for as many species as possible.  We of course focus on birds, but also include marine mammals, butterflies, dragonflies, sharks, and even the one species on salamander (I found the salamander this year).  This always adds a bit of excitement to our daily searches, but also puts pressure on us to beat previous years totals.  We were shooting low this year, just wanted to beat last year's dismal total.

On Oct. 9th the wave hit, and slammed us big time.  The island was crawling (I guess flitting) with birds.  We were racking up the Farallon-a-thon points left and right, up and down.  We also had two shark attacks, which give us 5 points each.  Walking outside was a bit of sensory overload.  Usually you can walk around, find some birds, identify them and move on.  That day so many birds were around that you'd flush a dozen birds and only be able to identify one of them.  This of course is frustrating since you don't know what the other birds were, but at the same time you could look at a flock and see new birds all day.  I spent all day birding.  When we filled in the journal that night, the estimated total number of landbirds (so not including ducks, gulls, shorebirds, etc.) was 1332.  There isn't a single landbird that breeds on the island.  During most of the year there are only a handful of wayward songbirds on the island, so this is pretty amazing.  We saw 87 migrant bird species including a Gray-cheeked Thrush, which is very rare in California.

Arboreal Salamander (1 Farallonathon point)

Gray-cheeked Thrush (5 Farallonathon points)

We continued to have many birds around for the next three days, with new birds showing up each day.  Over those days we saw 21 species of warbler, including Tennessee, Black-throated Blue, Black-throated Green, Blackburnian, and Black-and-white.

Blackburnian Warbler

Black-throated Blue Warbler, female

Other interesting birds were Tropical Kingbird (a life bird for me), Tricolored Blackbird, and Virginia Rail.  The rail was flushed near one of the houses and ran to a nearby bush.  When we approached the bush the bird never came out.  There were some auklet nest boxes at the base of the bush, so we looked inside, found the bird, caught it, and banded it.  Rails are birds of the wetlands and tend to run rather than fly, so it's always exciting when one shows up out here.

Lifer Tropical Kingbird

Tricolored Blackbird (left flying bird), Yellow-headed Blackbird, Red-winged Blackbirds, and Brown-headed Cowbirds

The most exciting find during this time is a bit of a disappointment for me since I didn't get to see it.  The island biologist very briefly saw a Yellow-breasted Bunting.  They have only been recorded in Alaska a few times and never in the lower 48.  It is a sparrow that breeds in Asia, and therefore was way, way off course.  Unfortunately, no one else saw the bird and we never refound it.  It's hard to believe that a bird could disappear on a island with only four trees, but some of them find a way.

I know I'm forgetting a ton of cool things that happened, but I wanted to get a post up about it while the internet was working.

Black-throated Gray Warbler

Foggy Sunset

Hoary Bat - the first I've found on the island

Sun breaking through the clouds over Maintop

Lark Bunting

Orange-crowned Warbler

Burrowing Owl

Short-eared Owl

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