In spring and fall cruise lines reposition ships for the upcoming season. Birders started taking these trips several years ago because of the unique chance to ply offshore waters for truly pelagic bird species. The ships offer a fi rst class opportunity for offshore birding as they are stable enough to bird with a scope, and offer room, board and entertainment, all for less than $100 a day. I took a trip from San Diego to Vancouver with about 20 birders April 14-18. Several sought-after pelagic species including Murphy’s and Dark-rumped Petrel were seen off California. Unfortunately, on April 15 the SLO County waters were some of the least productive of the trip. It’s the possibility of what might be seen that keeps birders returning offshore.
WATERFOWL THRU GREBES: The continuing SNOW and ROSS’S GEESE split their time between Pismo State Beach Oceano Campground and Oceano County Park through Apr (mob) and will likely summer there. Two adult CANADA GEESE with four goslings at Pismo Creek Mouth on 28 Apr (JR) were the fi rst family unit reported this season. The last report for WHITE-WINGED SCOTER was one seen from the North Point Natural Area in Morro Bay on 3 Apr (PR). LONG-TAILED DUCKS continued off North Point, where three males and a female were still present on 3 Apr (PR), but only the female remained on 26 Apr (MDH). A female plumaged HOODED MERGANSER at Whale Rock Reservoir on 6 Apr (TME,MLS) provided the only Apr report. COMMON MERGANSERS usually disperse in March for breeding sites; one at Santa Rosa Creek in Cambria on 9 Apr (JA) may breed locally, however 36 at Lopez Lake on 23 Apr (BKS) was an exceptionally large concentration for that date. Any HORNED GREBE on freshwater is noteworthy including two in breeding plumage at Whale Rock Reservoir on 26 Apr (TME,MLS).
ALBATROSS THRU SHOREBIRDS: A repositioning cruise that passed through SLO County waters about 50 miles offshore on 15Apr recorded up to seven BLACK- FOOTED ALBATROSS (TME,mob). Irregularly occurring and generally as lone birds, a single CATTLE EGRET in breeding plumage was along Los Osos Valley Road west of Foothill Blvd on 24 Apr (JSR). The expected spring movement of WHITE-FACED IBIS accounted for nine in San Luis Obispo on 9 Apr (JC) and two more at OFL on 21 Apr (TS). The number of SWAINSON’S HAWKS recorded in Apr was down signifi cantly from the past two years with only two adults along Hwy 46 near Shandon on 5 Apr (PA) and an adult east of New Cuyama on 14 Apr (MLS). Remaining later than expected, a ROUGH-LEGGED HAWK was at the Carrizo Plain on 12 Apr (DK). A male and female BLACK-NECKED STILT at a residential pond along Hwy 58 at the Carrizo Plain on 27 Apr (TME) were the fi rst reported in the county this year. Considered a fairly rare spring migrant, a SOLITARY SANDPIPER was found at Whale Rock Reservoir on 20 Apr (JSR). An estimated 300 SURFBIRDS along the shoreline south of Oso Flaco Lake on 20 Apr (RHZ) was ten times higher than any previous spring report. A lone RED PHALAROPE was onshore at Morro Strand State Beach on 2 Apr (JC). On 15 Apr, twenty SABINE’S GULLS were recorded offshore during the previously mentioned repositioning cruise through SLO County’s offshore waters (TME,mob).
OWLS THRU WARBLERS: Rarely reported in the county, a calling female SPOTTED OWL was in the Irish Hills on 28 Apr (MLS,DGS). Our second spring report of CALLIOPE HUMMINGBIRD involved another male this time along Hwy 229 no more than a mile from Hwy 58 on 30 Apr (MLS). A rather late MERLIN was around Los Osos 23-24 Apr (JSR). There were three reports of HAMMOND’S FLYCATCHERS with one at Cerro Alto on 17 Apr (MLS), one along Islay Creek, Montana de Oro State Park on 20 Apr (JSR), and another near the Carrisa Plains School on 23 Apr (PAG). The fi rst BANK SWALLOW of the season was seen at OFL on 12 Apr (MLS). The latest SAGE THRASHER report involved a bird in the upper Cuyama Valley near the Kern County line on 3 Apr (TME). A singing male BLACK-AND- WHITE WARBLER at OFL on 27 Apr (MLS) may be the same male that wintered there last year. A defi nite lingering winter bird was a PALM WARBLER seen along the Morro Bay State Park marina boardwalk on 8 Apr (DK) and at the campground 19 Apr (JG). A migrant YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT was on the north side of Black Hill on 28 Apr (JB).
SPARROWS THRU ORIOLES: The HARRIS’S SPARROW found in Santa Margarita in March was last reported on 5 Apr (TO). Two WHITE-THROATED SPARROWS continued at Cerro Alto on 27 Apr (TME) and another was at a feeder in Atascadero 1-16 Apr (RHZ). An apparent WHITE- CROWNED X GOLDEN-CROWNED SPARROW hybrid was in Atascadero 16-17 Apr (RHZ, http://www.fl ickr. com/photos/sloroger/8659745503/in/photostream). A male SUMMER TANAGER at Pismo State Beach Oceano Campground on 6 Apr (JMC) is presumed to be the same one that wintered at that location. Only three YELLOW- HEADED BLACKBIRDS during the period was below average for Apr and included individuals near SLO Airport on 15 Apr (GK), OFL on 19 Apr (MLS), and the Morro Bay Marina boardwalk on 19 Apr (JG). Two, possibly three, SCOTT’S ORIOLES were singing in the Quail Springs area of the Carrizo Plain National Monument on 14-15 Apr (TME); this is the extreme northwestern limit of this species breeding range in California.