Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Mr. WarblerWatch, are the recent Dusky Warbler sightings in California rare ones?

(Photo © Brian L. Sullivan)

Simon Frazer, Eugene, OR

No need to be so formal, Simon. WarblerGuy is fine.

The answer to your question is “yes.”

Normally a breeder in East Asia, Dusky Warbler (Phylloscopus fuscatus) has been spotted in North America just 10 times since the 1970s, most commonly in Alaska, according to Joseph Morlan, an ornithology instructor at the City College of San Francisco. Morlan also told the Santa Cruz Sentinel — see: — his theory as to why the four and a half inch songbird found itself thousands of miles wayward from its normal environs:
“Weather is the most likely culprit, but it's untested," Morlan said.

Morlan, who is a member of California Bird Records Committee, provided a list of Dusky Warbler sightings in California below.

Who initially planted the proverbial flag on the moon and took the Giant Step for Birding Humankind by spotting the Dusky Warbler at Antonelli's Pond in Santa Cruz (Santa Cruz County)? That would be one Steve Gerow, followed by Rick Rournier, who apparently alerted master birder Don Roberson. By then, the digital airwaves were bathed in the typical alert system birders use to exclaim their discoveries. The resulting throng of binocular-toting enthusiasts lining the banks of the diminutive pond quickly climaxed. Meanwhile, the sudden spike of incoming revenue for local Santa Cruz motels and restaurants had proprietors scratching their head.

Coincidentally, lightning strikes twice. Dusky Warbler appeared in California’s Bay Area, as “. . .another dusky warbler was spotted last week next to a Costco parking lot in Richmond (just north of Oakland)," Matthew Dodder told the Santa Cruz Sentinel in the same article. Dodder, a birding instructor, brought his students from Palo Alto to capitalize upon the anomaly. To say the least, the appreciative witnesses may have enshrined their mentor for the viewing thrill, while ticking off another species on their burgeoning life lists.

Given all the excitement occurred nearby — basically in my backyard because I live nearby — you’d think I’d be around to skedaddle quickly over to watch the fun, correct? You’d be wrong. I was 750 miles away when this so-called Super Nova of a birding phenomenon occurred. My gazes were instead fixated on distant horizons while conducting raptor surveys in the Nevada wilderness since early September.

Such a tragedy, I’m sure you’re thinking. Relegated to raptors instead of vagrant warblers. Life is so cruel. Oh well, there’s always Alaska, as this Old World warbler (Sylviidae family member) sometimes occurs in Alaska.

Otherwise, I've got the toll-free number for Singapore Airlines to share with you because your better bet is to head to the Dusky's primary breeding area: southeast Asia.

As for the moral of this (rare) birding story: “Wait ‘till next time" or "the early bird gets the worm" (substitute "birder" for "bird" and "Dusky Warbler" for "worm."


Accepted Dusky Warbler Sightings (County in parentheses):
1. 27 Sep 1980, SE Farallon Island. SF
2. 28-29 Sep 1984, Hayward Regional Shoreline
3. 14 Oct 1987, SE Farallon Island. SF
4. 22-23 Oct 1993, Goleta SBA
5. 31 Oct-3 Nov 1995, Vandenburg Air Force Base
In addition there has been one documented record from Kern County on October 4-5, 2008; and a sighting of a bird believed to possibly be this species in San Joaquin County on October 3rd of this year.


Anonymous said...

I wonder if Dusky is still in Santa Cruz?

James T.

Anonymous said...

I read the newspaper article, but it's not clear a female is present to believe breeding could occur as the author seems to suggest.

Weird equivocation

Brian L.

Anonymous said...

You're choice, but I'm with you on seeing the raptors. Warblers are hot, but raptors are even better to see.

Jordan K.
East Lansing, MI

Anonymous said...

I got to see the Dusky, but I'd rather see a Kirtland's!

Thomas P.