Los Farallones

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


The dawn weather seemed pretty good for the bird fallout we’d been waiting for. The skies were mostly cloudy, the winds were only 2 knots out of the east, and the visibility was barely 20 miles. These conditions usually bring lots of birds. Today did bring birds, but not as many as anticipated. Walking around outside at dawn was fairly quiet. On a good wave day, there should have been “zeets” and “seets” of bird giving flight calls everywhere. Instead, there was just the barking of California Sea Lions. As the day progressed, though, more migrants trickled to the island, and we ended up having a pretty good day for western migrants. The sparrows were the most numerous with 50 Savannah Sparrows and 16 White-crowned Sparrows. But we also had a good showing of a few other species such as a dozen Audubon’s Warblers, 14 American Goldfinches (new for Farallonathon), and 7 Ruby-crowned Kinglets. Two early season migrants were new for Farallonathon: Western Tanager and Lazuli Bunting. We were also able to pick up a few of the less common western migrants to the Farallones such as Surf Scoter, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Semipalmated Plover, Pacific Wren, and Varied Thrush. Overall, 43 birds were banded, which isn’t too bad, but we really needed a big fallout with lots of diversity to increase our overall point total. What was especially bothersome was that there were no vagrants.

In addition to birds, we added 5 points for a shark attack that was out past Indian Head and two more points for a Black Saddlebags and the 5 Variegated Meadowhawks (dragonflies). Though not a point for the day, Painted Ladies were especially numerous with 12 being counted around the island. Earlier in the fall, West Coast Ladies were seen almost daily, but we were only able to find about one Painted Lady a week. This seasonality of West Coast Ladies preceding Painted Ladies seems to be normal on the Farallones.  It was also a decent day for whales with our 2 resident Gray Whales, and 8 Blue Whales and 39 Humpback Whales to the south.  These Gray Whales swim as close as 100 meters to the island most of day and provide great opportunities for photos.

Today’s points (8 migrant birds, 2 dragonflies, and 5 for one shark attack) brought up our Farallonathon total to just 126. We were really going to need a big wave or more shark action to bring up our total.

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