The Morro Bay Winter Bird Festival was a great success again this year. Lots of enthusiastic birders and trip leaders led to many reports of good birds through the weekend. One of the highlights is always the boat trips because of the scarcity of offshore winter trips. An example of how these trips (held on 14-15 Jan) uncover otherwise unreported pelagic species was the count of 40 Black-legged Kittiwakes and 14 Ancient Murrelets on the 14 Jan trip (many observers=mob†) – only one kittiwake previously reported this winter. But the highlights of the trip had to be the Tufted Puffin (C. Marantz†) and two Flesh-footed Shearwaters (B.Schram,C.Marantz†) on 14 Jan as both are seen infrequently in county waters. No less interesting were the seven Northern Fulmars, 1500 Black-vented Shearwaters, seven Sooty Shearwaters, six Pomarine Jaegers, 50 Cassin’s Auklets and 250 Rhinoceros Auklets (mob†). Three other noteworthy species seen while entering and/or leaving the harbor were a continuing Common Merganser 1-15 Jan (A&P.Vaughan†), Red-necked Grebe (mob†) and juvenile Pigeon Guillemot (mob†). Missed in the harbor by both boats was a Long-tailed Duck that was last reported on 26 Jan (G.Mapel). 

The rarest bird discovered during the festival was a Dusky-capped Flycatcher found along Meadow Creek adjacent to the Monarch Butterfly Preserve in Pismo Beach on 13 Jan (L.Garney†,J.Booth). This bird remained through the month and if it and the Fall 2016 Los Osos bird are accepted by the California Bird Records Committee, it will represent the 5th county record. Also present in the same location were a female Black-and-white Warbler 15-19 Jan (C.Marantz†), a female Summer Tanager 14-24 Jan (J.Chavez†), and a Bullock’s Oriole 12-16 Jan (L.Garney†). A surprise sighting was a first-winter Glaucous Gull with an injured leg that flew over Meadow Creek on 14 Jan (K.Perry,J.Chavez†) that was surely the same bird visiting the Arroyo Grande Town Center and last reported there on 22 Jan (E.Thomas†). Nearby birds at the Pismo State Beach Oceano Campground included a Palm Warbler 13 Jan-3 Feb (P&J.Clayton) and a Nashville Warbler on 30 Jan (M.Stiles), and an adult Ross’s Goose at Pismo Creek Mouth on 5 Jan (D.Keeling). Farther afield at Oso Flaco Lake, a Common Gallinule on 13 Jan (J.Pavelko) was probably the same bird last reported there in Nov and a Wilson’s Warbler there on 23 Jan (H.Elliott†) surely wintered at that location. One more South County bird was an adult male Harlequin Duck at the Cal Poly Pier in Avila Beach 14-28 Jan (J.Knowlton†). 

Given the Bird Festival is centered in Morro Bay it’s not surprising that most of the unusual birds reported were from around the bay. A group of five white geese that continued on the estuary all month were often too distant to identify, but contained an adult and two juvenile Snow Geese and two adult Ross’s Geese (mob†). Up to two Greater White-fronted Geese remained on the estuary on 13 Jan (H.Elliott) and two male Eurasian Wigeon were still present on 16 Jan (J.Royer). A flock of 12 White-faced Ibis appeared on the estuary 15-16 Jan (D.Lawrence) and small flocks of Barn Swallows were noted there during the month (mob). At the harbor mouth, a White-winged Scoter was seen from Morro Rock on 1 Jan (J.Royer) as was a female Black Scoter on 9 Jan (L.Kahle). A well-documented orestera type Orange-crowned Warbler continued through at least 23 Jan at a Morro Bay residence (K.Perry†). A Palm Warbler in Cloisters Park 14-21 Jan (J.Royer) may be the same bird last reported there in late Nov.

Given its winter rarity, it’s not surprising than many festival goers took time to see the continuing Bay-breasted Warbler on Garden Street in Los Osos that continued to be reported into Feb (mob). While there, many people looked for the Eastern Phoebe 1-31 Jan (mob) and the Summer Tanager present through 17 Jan (mob) at the north end of Pecho Road. Close by, the female Bullock’s Oriole hanging around Pecho Road and Henrietta Ave area was reported through Jan (J.Royer), while at the small Doris Ave marsh the latest report of the Black-and-white Warbler was on 14 Jan (T.Miller) and the Swamp Sparrow was not reported after 11 Jan (M.Stiles).

The most interesting bird in the City of SLO was the adult male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker at Santa Rosa Park present through at least 13 Jan (D.Plotkin†). Also continuing in the City were the White-winged Dove at Meadow Park through 27 Jan (M.Smith). At Laguna Lake, four Snow Geese were reported through 15 Jan (R.VanBuskirk) where two (1 Jan) and then 27 (13 Jan) White-fronted Geese (R.VanBuskirk) were wintering. New finds in SLO on 1 Jan were a female Costa’s Hummingbird along Buchon Street (P.Chaon) and a Western Tanager eating persimmons on Sandercock Street (W.Knowlton). Northwest of the City, a juvenile male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker continued at El Chorro Regional Park through 24 Jan (D.Keeling) and north of the City on Cuesta Ridge the Townsend’s Solitaire found last month was heard calling on 18 Jan (M.Smith,H.Elliott).

In Cayucos, a female Hooded Oriole and a male Bullock’s Oriole continued to visit a feeder through 7 and 9 Jan respectively (T.Edell†) and a Long-tailed Duck was seen off the Cayucos Pier on 7 Jan (T.Edell†). Nearby a small flock of six Redheads were at Whale Rock Reservoir on 26 Jan (M.Smith,H.Elliott) and the male and two female Harlequin Ducks remained off Estero Bluffs State Park through Jan (mob†). On the North Coast, San Simeon Cove yielded a Marbled Murrelet on 30 Jan (M.Smith) and a male White-winged Scoter was off the San Simeon Creek Mouth on 18 Jan (K.Perry), while the Hearst Ranch Pasture visible from Hwy 1 held five Greater White-fronted Geese and a Ross’s Goose on 10 Jan (M.Smith,H.Elliott).

The rare “gray-headed” subspecies of Dark-eyed Junco continued at an Atascadero residence through at least 15 Jan (R.Zachary†) and the male Eurasian Wigeon was back at Atascadero Lake 3-10 Jan (P&A.Vaughan). Heritage Ranch remains the only location Chipping Sparrows are regular in winter with two there 17-31 Jan (K.Kent†). A Lewis’s Woodpecker near the Chimney Rock Road entrance to Justin Winery on 23 Jan (C.French) was apparently a first for that location.

The symbol † indicates a report was documented with a photo. For seasonal status and distribution information about birds mentioned in this report, consult the Morro Coast Audubon publication “The Birds of San Luis Obispo County, California”, eBird at the following link, or contact me at For information on birding locations, including those mentioned above, consult the Morro Coast Audubon Bird Finding Guide at ….Tom Edell