Los Farallones

Dispatches from Point Blue’s field station on the Farallon Islands National Wildlife Refuge

Farallonathon 2019!

From September 27 to October 3, the fall crew conducted the 28th annual Farallonathon, the Southeast Farallon Island rendition of Point Blue’s annual Bird-a-thon fundraiser. Farallonathon was established in 1992 to highlight vertebrate diversity on the island while showcasing many of the fall wildlife monitoring programs. Points are awarded for each unique species of bird, marine mammal, bat, fish, salamander, dragonfly and butterfly throughout the week. Rare bird species that are, or at one time were, reviewed by the California Bird Records Committee (CBRC) receive five point and new species for the island are awarded ten points. Shark attacks earn five points.

Day 1:  We awoke to favorable weather conditions for attracting migrant landbirds – slow winds, overcast skies and visibility that didn’t reach the mainland.  While eating breakfast, we noticed a peculiar looking vireo with a long, thick bill. After a few minutes of searching outside a Yellow-green Vireo was found in the Lavatera, a CBRC review species worth 5 points. Other highlights included Bank Swallow, Townsend’s Solitare, Magnolia Warbler, Hermit Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler, Nashville Warbler, and Lark Sparrow. Later that morning we counted three species of sulids (Northern Gannet, Brown Booby and an immature Blue-footed Booby) on Sugarloaf that earned 15 additional points, since all are CBRC birds.

Yellow-green Vireo (photo by Melissa Simon)
Hermit and Black-throated Gray Warblers (photo Kurt Ongman)
Bank Swallow (photo John Garrett)

Running total: 9 (breeding birds) + 5 (pinnipeds) + 2 (cetaceans) + 2 (insects) + 52 (migrants) + 20 (CBRC review birds) = 90 Points

Day 2: The skies cleared and winds increased to 35 knots, making our second day much less favorable than our first. Despite the heavy winds, we found two new species for the count: a Pectoral Sandpiper on Mussel Flat, and a Long-tailed Jaeger seen during the afternoon seawatch. Other highlights included Townsend’s Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler, Wilson’s Warbler, Chipping Sparrow, Western Meadowlark, and Purple Finch.

Townsend’s Warbler (photo John Garrett)
Blackpoll Warbler (photo Kurt Ongman)

Running total: 90 points + 2 (new migrants) = 92 Points

Day 3: Winds dropped to a level which allowed a few landbirds to trickle in, but only three species were new for the count: Wilson’s Snipe, Anna’s Hummingbird, and Varied Thrush. Low tides granted John and Kurt access to Jewel Cave where they found Tidepool and Wooly Sculpins, both worth 1 point each.

Wilson’s Snipe (photo by John Garrett)
Peregrine Falcon cruising past the Lighthouse (photo by John Garrett)

Running total: 92 points + 3 (new migrants) + 2 (fishes) = 97 Points

Day 4: During breakfast, Pete radioed down to the house after discovering a Painted Bunting at the lighthouse, our second of the season and a CBRC review species worth five points! An hour or so later, a shark attack was spotted off Saddle Rock, earning another five points. The only other new species were the first Northern Fulmar of the season seen during seawatch, and a Least Flycatcher found in the Monterey pine in the afternoon.

Painted Bunting (photo by Kurt Ongman)
Least Flycatcher (photo by John Garrett)

Running total: 97 points + 7 (new migrants) + 5 (shark attack) = 109 Points

Day 5: Another shark attack near Middle Farallon raked in 5 points early on, followed by two Blue Whales that were spotted a few miles northwest of the island, earning another point. Six new species of birds were found throughout the day, but none were exceptionally rare. These included: Great Blue Heron, Ruddy Turnstone, Dunlin, Mourning Dove, Pacific-slope Flycatcher and Western Tanager. Other highlights included a Great Blue Heron with a strangely upturned bill, a Ruddy Turnstone, and Parasitic Jaeger.

Ruddy Turnstone (photo by Kurt Ongman)
Great Blue Heron (photo by John Garrett)

Running total:  109 points + 6 (new migrants) + 1 (new whale) + 5 (shark attack) = 121 Points

Western Pygmy Blue Butterfly (photo by John Garrett)

Day 6: Only two new species were found, A Sharp-shinned Hawk and a Western Pygmy-blue (Our second butterfly of the count after Painted Lady). Other highlights included continuing Marbled Godwit, Say’s Phoebe, Rock Wren, and Lesser Goldfinch.

Running total: 121 points + 1 (new migrant) = 1 (butterfly) = 123 Points

Day 7: Our final day brought in a total of 5 more points. Four points came from new bird sightings, including Cackling Goose, Greater Yellowlegs, Barn Owl (captured on our trail camera), and THREE South Polar Skuas that whipped past the island during the afternoon seawatch. John also discovered a Farallon Camel Cricket during Ashy Storm-Petrel nestling monitoring, which is endemic to the island and worth a single point.

Barn Owl sitting on a Cassin’s Auklet nest box (photo by Point Blue)


Breaching Humpback Whale (photo by Kurt Ongman)

Running total: 123 points + 4 (new migrant) + 1 (cricket). That brings the final total for the 28th annual Farallonathon to 128 points, second to last place across all years. The only Farallonathon with fewer points was in 2017 with a total of 122 points. In general, the weather for much of the week was unfavorable for songbird migration and the results were disappointing. But, the Farallonathon was still a success and highlighted the amazing birds and other wildlife that can be found at the Farallon Islands.

Although the Farallonathon is finished for this year, you can still support Point Blue and the Farallon Program. Visit our Farallonathon page to donate and check out our website for more information and links to our other work.