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Thursday, September 27, 2012

Migrant traps

In the 1960s, Rich Stallcup and C.J. Ralph discovered that outer Point Reyes is a "migrant trap."  In Rich's words (from the PRBO Observer, Fall 2009):

During periods of ideal "migrant weather" (light breezes from any direction except northwest and a high, even overcast), an amazing assortment of lost landbirds may gather in the oases of trees and brush that birders call "migrant traps." Because they travel at night, have overshot the coast, and are out of fuel, these off-course songbirds are returning to the continent from the sea. They are tired, thirsty, and hungry and so are attracted to the first vegetation available.

Bodega Head is also a migrant trap.  The prime areas to look for rare migrant songbirds include the trees and shrubs along the outer portion of Westshore Road — Owl Canyon, Campbell Cove/Hole-in-the-Head, and the cypress trees near the Bodega Marine Lab entrance road and Bodega Marine Lab housing.

The last couple of days have produced a number of rare sightings: e.g., American Redstart, Blackburnian Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler, Cape May Warbler, and Clay-colored Sparrow.

This morning I caught up with a few of them, and took photos of Blackburnian Warbler (Setophaga fusca) and Clay-colored Sparrow (Spizella pallida).

This first photo is a Blackburnian Warbler in a willow near Owl Canyon.  Note the dark ear patch behind the eye and the yellow throat.  (It's an immature bird, so not as bright as an adult in breeding plumage.)


The next photos were taken later in the day in the cypress trees near the entrance to the Bodega Marine Lab housing area.  (Many thanks to Dea for alerting me to this bird!)

In these photos you can also see the two white wing bars and a few dark streaks along the sides (below the wings).  All of the photos below show the same individual.  It's instructive to see how different it can look in various positions and lighting conditions.



The Clay-colored Sparrow was first spotted near Owl Canyon and then spent a little time across the road in the coyote brush along the Bodega Harbor shoreline.


This is a very pretty little sparrow.  Note the distinctive head pattern and the gray nape contrasting with the overall buffy plumage.


There were also a few regular migrants around, such as this handsome Townsend's Warbler (Setophaga townsendi).

This is a moth's-eye view!  (The genus, Setophaga, means moth-eater.)


P.S.  If you have a serious interest in Sonoma County bird records, I highly recommend Birds of Sonoma County California by Bolander & Parmeter, along with the recently published updated edition by Parmeter and Wight.

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