Los Farallones

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


The day started out with clear skies and a 10 knot breeze out of the northwest. The weather forecast had made it sound as though the day would be even windier, and so we were all quite excited to see that we might get more birds than anticipated. Within an hour of dawn, the wind dropped down to just 5 knots, and a small fallout of birds ensued. A dozen White-crowned Sparrows were flocking in the Lavaterra near the house trees with a few Fox Sparrows (both points). The first House Finch of the fall was in the Rixford Tree, the first White-throated Sparrow was at the water tank, and the first Spotted Towhee of the fall showed up at the Lighthouse. We also found our first Say’s Phoebe of the Farallonathon at the lighthouse. 
We banded several birds this day too such as these two Clay-colored Sparrows and this Western Meadowlark.

During an area search, Matt Brady encountered four flickers flocking together around Heligoland Hill. Two were Red-shafted, but Matt noticed that one had orangy-yellow wings with a red malar stripe and a red nape patch. Since male Yellow-shafted Flickers have red nape patches and black malars and male Red-shafted Flickers have red malars without a nape patch, this bird was clearly a hybrid, or intergrade as occurs between these two subspecies of the Northern Flicker. Another flicker appeared similar to a female Red-shafted Flicker, but because it had a red nape patch, it was also an intergrade – Red-shafted Flickers never have red nape patches.

Butterflies also put on a good show with 2 Monarchs, 1 Red Admiral, 4 Painted Ladies, and 5 West Coast Ladies. All of these were new Farallonathon points. It’s hard to understand how these butterflies can cross 20 miles of open ocean when a 5-10 knot wind is blowing them back to the mainland.
We also found several points on the ocean today. Scanning from the lighthouse during our whale watch survey, we were able to pick up two more cetacean species: 2 Blue Whales and 100 Risso’s Dolphins. The Risso’s Dolphins have been quite abundant around the island this fall. Risso’s are squid specialists, so there must be a lot of squid around. We also spotted a dozen Humpback Whales and our 2 resident Gray Whales. Matt also had a good seawatch in the afternoon when he picked up our first Northern Fulmar and Short-tailed Shearwater of the Farallonathon. For a day that was supposed to be a blowout, it turned out pretty well. All these points brought up our total to 111. With the wind slackening already and a forecast predicting light winds for the next few days, we were really anticipating a good fallout.

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