Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Philadelphia Vireo at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery

The Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery [birding site guide here] sits on the top of Point Loma near the end, as this peninsula juts into the Pacific Ocean. Fall migrants, flying at night and perhaps disoriented by coastal fog, often find themselves out over the ocean at dawn. The nearest point of land? Perhaps the green residential area of Point Loma. If they work themselves southward during the day, they'll eventually end up in the cemetery on Point Loma and not want to fly southward over the bay to the low sand spit that is North Island Naval Air Station and Coronado. These tiny waifs will rest, feed, and wait until nightfall to see if atmospheric conditions are right to fly several hundred more miles farther south on their annual trip.

Not every day brings a new set of migrants, but there are at least a few new birds arriving and departing almost every day, all through September and October. On some mornings there is a "fall out" of migrants--that's what you want--the trees dripping with newly arrived birds. Those individual bird watchers who can arrange their schedule to visit several times a week during fall will end up with many migrants, frequently including rather rare birds. In fact, this is the best location in San Diego County for finding rare neotropical migrants--warblers, vireos, flycatchers, orioles, tanagers, grosbeaks, and others.

Thus it was that Gary Nunn discovered a Philadelphia Vireo at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery on October 2, 2016. [Read about it on Gary's blog here.] It wasn't a very good day for migrants. It was Gary's third circuit around the SE part of the cemetery, repeatedly checking favorite trees, when he struck gold just before 8:00 am. He then announced his find on the San Diego birding listserve.

Point Loma is almost an hour by freeway from my home, so I only visit a couple of times each fall. Fortuitously, I had chosen this exact day to bird in the Tijuana River Valley, and visit Fort Rosecrans cemetery on the way home.

Updated posts to the San Diego birding list indicated the bird had likely flown away, but I stopped anyway. A few birders were milling about the favored Chinese elm that Gary had indicated earlier. "I think I have it!" someone whisper-shouted, and everyone went running. Was that the bird? It kept hiding very well in the little tree. To make matters worse, a very similar-looking Warbling Vireo was working slowly through the branches. But what's that chasing the Warbling Vireo? It looks yellow on the throat and I think it has dark lores. Is that it? Yes! A "life bird"--the first I've ever seen. And photographed to boot.

Philadephia Vireo

Philadephia Vireo
Philadelphia Vireo. Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, San Diego, California. October 2, 2016. Greg Gillson.
Philadephia Vireo