Well it’s been a quiet week on Southeast Farallon, our home island, out here on the edge of the continental shelf. With September being one of the slowest on record (we banded 90% fewer birds than average), the crew was a bit downtrodden. We had to take joy in the few birds that were showing up. On Oct. 1 a couple of White-tailed Kites made a lap around the lighthouse, and we discovered one of the Burrowing Owls that was banded in 2007. A5 (the number on its blue color band) has spent the past three winters on the island in the same auklet burrow. The next few days were pretty windy, leaving us with fairly low bird diversity, and even lower spirits.
On Oct. 5 we saw a ray of sunshine with a small increase in diversity, including a couple unusual species. Great Blue Heron, Northern Harrier, Black-bellied Plover, and Varied Thrush all made an appearance. The weather forecast was showing some favorable conditions over the next several days, so we decided to start the Farallonathon. This is an annual event each fall in which we attempt to score points by finding as many species as possible, including marine mammals, fish, salamanders, butterflies, dragonflies, as well as birds, over a seven day period. Farallonathon usually starts sometime in late September with one of the bigger waves that usually come that time of year. As this year is unusual, we waited until October to start.
The next day we garnered a few more points from Minke Whale, Monarch, Black Saddlebags, Mew Gull, Short-eared Owl, Barn Swallow, Hermit Warbler, Clay-colored Sparrow, and White-throated Sparrow, among others. We were literally scrounging for points on the 7th as the winds continued to come from the WNW with Mark looking around for Arboreal Salamanders (he found one). A rush of excitement came in the afternoon when Matt flushed a nightjar, which we then chased for an hour up and down Lighthouse Hill. This cryptically colored group of birds can be very difficult to identify when seen. The calls of these birds are the easiest way to identify them, which they usually give at night. After several fleeting glimpses of the bird and discussion of the features each of us had seen, we came to the conclusion that the bird was a Common Poorwill. With less than 10 records for the island, it's a rare bird for us even though they are relatively “common” along the mainland coast.
With visions of vagrants in our dreams, we went to bed exhausted and elated. What would tomorrow bring? As we starting birding on the 10th it was obvious that there were fewer birds on the island, but there were different birds around. The numbers of Hermit Thrushes and Yellow-rumped Warblers were reduced by two-thirds, and Golden-crowned Kinglets doubled. We found Chestnut-sided, Magnolia, Black-throated Green, Palm, and Black-and-white Warblers. Long-billed Dowitcher, Band-tailed Pigeon, Hammond's Flycatcher, Northern Mockingbird, and Orchard Oriole were also nice additions. To add to the frantic pace of the day, we were also switching crew members and getting our food shipment. Jim, Matt, and Kristie were leaving, and Pete Warzybok and Andrew Greene were arriving.
Sunday, Oct. 11 was the last day of Farallonathon, and we were determined to squeeze out some more points. Diversity and numbers were down, but new species were still being found. A few of the highlights were Northern Shoveler, Tropical Kingbird, “Siberian” American Pipit, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Lark Bunting, and Yellow-headed Blackbird. Interesting fact for the day was that we saw all three Black-throated warbler species (Blue, Gray, and Green). Our Farallonathon point total was 193, which was the sixth highest total since it started in 1992. Hooray for wave days!