Murrelets, Crossbills, Mysteries, and Belateds

Brian Fitch

Marbled Murrelets made their first appearance of the season for me in a notable way today; two flyby pairs, then 2 flyby singles, then 4 pairs on the water, close to the north side of the Sutro terrace.  "Thayer's" Gulls began showing up in good numbers last week, and today there were roughly 20 hanging out between the baths and North Rock.  A few Herrings and Olympics were present as well.  An adult male White-winged Scoter flew by close enough to see the white around the eye, but he was following a mystery duck that was slightly smaller and less bulky, showed no marks on the dorsally brown plumage, had an all brown head, and a white breast and belly.  It wasn't a pintail, and that was the closest candidate from our region.  Then, just to press the theme further, a scaup-like duck flew by following 2 Surf Scoters, but the odd duck was a female type with no white at all in the face.  Shortly thereafter, a note came through from the East Bay that a Tufted Duck had been discovered, but I'm not saying that I saw the EB bird on its way to Emeryville.  It looked like a female Tufted, but was distant enough to leave as a second mystery.

Later, at the north end of the Soccer fields east of the Beach Chalet, I came across a wonderful mixed flock consisting of 24 species.  The highlights included an unseen sapsucker, 2 Red-breasted Nuthatches, a Bewick's Wren, 2 Golden-crowned Kinglets, 2 Lincoln's Sparrows, and at least 10 Red Crossbills.  The crossbills were quite low as they fed on cypress cones.  Their calls sounded like locals, but they were more confiding than any I've ever spent time with anywhere.  One immature crossbill was unstreaked and as pale as a Clay-colored Sparrow on the breast.  I only recently learned from Rudy that the guidebooks' streaked renderings are not the only possibility, as there was another unstreaked white crossbill at the Lily Pond last month.

On December 3rd, there was a Red-necked Grebe off of Land's End near Hermit Rock, the Red-footed Booby was fishing out in the Gate, six Northern Flickers were together in the small cypress at Battery Godfrey, and back at Land's End, a Fox Sparrow was giving a very good facsimile of an Evening Grosbeak call, while an unseen bird made an even better grosbeak call from nearby.

And on the 2nd, I found an interesting gull at Sutro that bore some resemblance to the bird Hugh reported, though not the same individual.  It was as dark as, but a little smaller than adjacent Westerns, with long wing extension like a California, and pink feet.  There is debate about that mix of characteristics, so keep your eyes and cameras on the lookout for odd gulls (and ducks).
Brian Fitch

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