WFO 2012: Cuckoo Chase Eschewed -- Pt. Reyes Round II

I'm sure that Shawneen questioned my sanity when I repeatedly dismissed thoughts of making a Saturday chase trip to Watsonville for the Common Cuckoo, even though it would have been a lifer for me. She had seen this species on multiple occasions during trips to western Alaska, so it would not be a lifer or even a new ABA bird for her. I had really enjoyed out visit to Point Reyes on Thursday and I really wanted to spend another full day exploring the vagrant traps on the point. While the cuckoo was enticing, I couldn't get excited about the prospect of spending more than half the day in the car and really only birding while we were at the cuckoo site. The idea held little appeal. 

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Cole Wolf of Albuquerque, NM found this Connecticut Warbler at the Mendoza Ranch on Point Reyes on 28 September 2012. This photo was taken the following day as the bird entertained dozens of birders with its confiding ways. (Photo by Dave Irons) 

On Saturday morning we were up and on the road to Point Reyes National Seashore before it got light. We found a grocery store that opened at 6AM, grabbed some provisions, and then commenced the 50+ minute drive out Sir Francis Drake Hwy. Our first stop would be at the Mendoza Ranch, where two days earlier we'd found a Philadelphia Vireo. While searching for our vireo on Friday, Cole Wolf of Albuquerque, New Mexico turned up a Connecticut Warbler feeding on the ground underneath the Monterey cypress stand at the ranch. We know Cole well from the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival, where all of us lead trips each year. 

When we reached the ranch, several other birders were already milling around in the semi-darkness created by the dense cypresses. The Connecticut Warbler was still present, a welcome relief after spending the day looking for the Humboldt Bird earlier in the week. This bird was comically tame. As it walked about in a lurching and jerky fashion on the bare dirt under the trees it was rarely out of view and often times walked to within a meter or so of the feet of birders gathered in the grove. There was also an Ovenbird in the grove, but it was quite stealthy and only occasionally hopped into view. We enjoyed these two birds for awhile and then left to check out the rest of the string of trees. Not five minutes after leaving the Connecticut and the Ovenbird, Shawneen picked out a fairly bright yellow-breasted bird in the treetops. It was a Tennessee Warbler, our fourth vagrant at this ranch. 

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This tailless male Rose-breasted Grosbeak was clearly trying to rally by tanking up on food. It seemed to barely notice us as we watched from less than 15 feet away. 

(Photo by Dave Irons)

We continued on to the Nunes Ranch, where we ran into Nevada Bird Records Committee secretary Martin Myers. The Pacific-slope Flycatcher we'd seen there two days earlier was still present, but the numbers of Red-breasted Nuthatches had dropped off a bit. After chatting up Martin and his birding companion, we headed on to the Point Reyes Lighthouse. Dense fog engulfed the point, which made the lighthouse trees almost unbirdable, and wet too as the condensing fog was dripping heavily off of the cypresses. As we walked back towards the parking area, another group of birds called our attention to a male Rose-brested Grobeak that was feeding along the edge of the road by the radio tower. Oddly, it had no tail. It was ridiculously approachable. Seemingly, its hunger trumped its fear of humans. We watched it for quite a while and got some fantastic close-up photos, which showed molt limits that allowed us to determine that it was a second-year (SY) male.

From the lighthouse, we continued on to the Fish Docks, where we'd heard that both Blackpoll Warbler and Orchard Oriole were being seen. We managed to refind both of these and saw another Blackpoll at Drakes Beach. On our way out to Drakes Beach, a Broad-winged Hawk flew over. On Friday there had been spectacular flight of Broad-wingeds over the Marin Headlands, with nearly 300 birds seen. Other we'd run into had seen a couple of small groups over the point on Saturday. 

Ultimately, our decision to spend another day at Point Reyes paid off. The weather was mostly nice, with patches of fog limited to the outermost reaches of the point. It was sunny and warm at the Fish Docks and Drakes Beach and we had a nice assortment of vagrants, including the prized Connecticut Warbler, which made up for our miss in Humboldt. 

We birded as long as we could before we needed to head back to Petaluma for the banquet and keynote presentation on the research work being conducted on Southeast Farallon Island. We enjoyed a hearty meal, good company, and nice program by Russ Bradley.

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It is a major annual briding event! We went last year. This year was even more fun because the weather was much better. We are planning to go next year. I hope to see you there!

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