Hands down, the rarest bird found in February was an adult, breeding plumage Sabine’s Gull photographed at Atascadero Lake on 21 Feb (A&P.Vaughan†). This gull is a regular offshore spring and fall migrant, but is completely unexpected along the Pacific Coast in February. An adult Heermann’s Gull, also at the lake the same day (T.Edell†), provided only the second county record east of the Santa Lucia Range. It’s likely the occurrence of these two gulls was tied to recent storm conditions, especially the unusually strong winds. Checking lakes and beaches during and right after stormy conditions can often turn up unexpected species. Another species that can appear onshore in stormy weather is Black-legged Kittiwake. Two to three were found along the North Coast, one at San Simeon Creek on 13 and 24 Feb (K.Kent†,T.Edell†) and another at Arroyo del Corral on 25 Feb (P&J.Clayton†). Also at Arroyo de Corral were a second-winter (25-26 Feb - P&J.Clayton†) and first-winter (26 Feb – R.Zachary†) Glaucous Gull, a Cattle Egret on 25 Feb (P&J.Clayton†), and two immature Snow Geese 13-27 Feb (K. Kent†).
Estero Bluffs State Park, and especially the Villa Creek area, had some interesting birds. Of the 18 Hooded Mergansers reported in Feb, 14 were on a private pond just north of the State Park on 27 Feb (T. Edell). A Greater White-fronted Goose was at Villa Creek mouth 13-15 Feb (K.Kent†) and a presumed White-faced Ibis flying toward the creek mouth on 4 Feb was one of two observed that day, the other at San Simeon Creek (B.Bouton). Though seen on different dates, the two females and one male Harlequin Duck continued through the month (mob) along the Estero Bluffs shoreline. At least one Mountain Bluebird remained along the coast (where rare in winter) at Harmony Headlands State Park on 1 Mar (T.Edell†). An intergrade female Yellow/Red-shafted Northern Flicker was also at the Harmony Headlands on 11 Feb (T. Edell†).
The most interesting new bird along the south coast was the first Red-necked Grebe ever recorded at Oso Flaco Lake on 11 Feb (K.Rusch†). The Dusky-capped Flycatcher at Meadow Creek in Pismo Beach remained a South County highlight and was reported through 27 Feb (W.Knowlton†), while the Bullock’s Oriole wintering there was last seen on 9 Feb (K.Zimmer). The first-winter Glaucous Gull with an injured leg, initially found at the Arroyo Grande Town Center in Dec, was again seen at Meadow Creek on 27 Feb (W.Knowlton†). The Palm Warbler at Pismo State Beach Oceano Campground was last reported on 3 Feb (S.Goodchild). Present for its second winter, an adult male Red-naped Sapsucker continued along the Bob Jones Trail at the Avila Beach Golf Course maintenance area through 28 Feb (many observers=mob†).
Two Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers remained through February, one the first-winter male at El Chorro Regional Park (mob†) and the other an adult male in the North County at Santa Margarita Lake on 25 Feb (J.Surbey,S.Mingo†). Other unusual North County birds included both the continuing “gray-headed” Dark-eyed Junco present all month at the same Atascadero residence where a rare-this-winter Pine Siskin was found on 19 Feb (R.Zachary†). A “slate-colored” Dark-eyed Junco on 24 Feb and at least one Chipping Sparrow 12-27 Feb (K.Kent†) were at Heritage Ranch. A wintering male Costa’s Hummingbird continued at an Atascadero residence through at least 10 Feb (R.Derevan).
The only new rarity from around the Morro Bay Estuary was an altivagans type Fox Sparrow at a Morro Bay residence on 16 Feb (K.Perry†). Otherwise there were many continuing winter rarities, the most unusual being the Bay-breasted Warbler in Los Osos through 27 Feb (R.Zachary†). Close by at the north end of Pecho Road, the wintering Eastern Phoebe was still present on 8 Mat (J.Royer). Around the bay all month were up to two Greater White-fronted Geese, an adult and two immature Snow Geese, and two male Eurasian Wigeon (all mob). The Red-necked Grebe that was first reported in late-Oct remained until at least 15 Feb (A&R.O’Donnell). Rare on Morro Bay, a female Common Merganser continued near the harbor mouth on 17 Feb (T.Edell). This was a good winter along the SLO coast for orioles, the last reported being a Bullock’s Oriole at a Pecho Road feeder on 25 Feb (J.Carroll).
A few more odds-and-ends. Four Snow Geese that wintered at Laguna Lake were last seen from Foothill Road on 5 Feb (W.Knowlton†). Eight White-winged Scoters observed between Cayucos and San Simeon included a high count of five off Cayucos on 19 Feb (D.Long). A lone male Redhead was at Whale Rock Reservoir on 23 Feb (K.Perry†).
Lastly, a couple of our first spring arrivals. An adult Pigeon Guillemot at the San Simeon Pier on 27 Feb (M.Smith) and a Northern Rough-winged Swallow at Santa Margarita Lake on 23 Feb (T. Edell) were earliest first-of-season reports at known breeding sites. More to come in March!
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 https://goo.gl/JQscuN , or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. For information on birding locations, including those mentioned above, consult the Morro Coast Audubon Bird Finding Guide at http://tinyurl.com/Bird-Finding-Guide ….Tom Edell