La Jolla Cove Trip Report

Below is our eBird report from the Palomar Audubon session at La Jolla Cove this past Saturday. Special thanks to Stan Walens for his extraordinary birding prowess and patient explanations of our sightings. (And for his identifying the bird of the day, a Manx Shearwater.) We were also treated to an introduction to Dorian Anderson, a young birder who’s doing a Big Year across America–on a bicycle.

36 species

Surf Scoter
Eared Grebe
Western Grebe
Pink-footed Shearwater
Manx Shearwater (Identified by Stan Walens. In his words, “Even at a mile out, the completely white undersides and the white flank patches were clearly visible.”)
Black-vented Shearwater
Brandt’s Cormorant
Double-crested Cormorant
Pelagic Cormorant
Brown Pelican
Snowy Egret
Red-tailed Hawk
Spotted Sandpiper
Wandering Tattler
Black Turnstone
Red-necked Phalarope
Heermann’s Gull
Western Gull
California Gull
Caspian Tern
Forster’s Tern
Royal Tern
Elegant Tern
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)
Peregrine Falcon
Black Phoebe
American Crow
Northern Mockingbird
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Song Sparrow
House Finch
House Sparrow

Leader Jack Friery

For a number of reasons, I couldn’t resist retransmitting a report Stan Walens made after our jaunt to La Jolla Cove this morning.  Of course, the cormorant-that-shan’t-be-named is the Great Cormorant, which has apparently never been seen in San Diego county. – Jack

I tagged along this morning on a Palomar Audubon field trip to the Cove, led by the brilliant and erudite Jack Friery.

Overcast, light winds until about 10:30.
Seabirds were few and far between.
No loons or jaegers, e.g.
A couple hundred black-vented shearwaters were about a mile offshore.
At one point, after the sun had started to come through the clouds, a Manx Shearwater flew past among them, side-by-side with a black-vented. One other birder [Dorian A.] was able to pick it out. Even at a mile out, the completely white undersides and the white flank patches were clearly visible.

I’ve been debating with myself for the last couple of hours whether to mention a weird cormorant that 3 of us saw as it flew out of the Cove, about 20 yards off the rocks and just about at eye height. I decided it was better to report it and have other people mock me, but maybe keep an eye out for it, rather than just let it lie.

Here, in quasi-sentence form, are the notes I jotted down, in outline, in the field:

Bird in view for only about 5-7 seconds before my view was blocked by all the birders standing between me and the ocean. After the bird had disappeared two other birders asked me if I’d seen the big cormorant with the wide white line around the bill. They saw no other field marks.

It was flying with, and just in front of, a group of Brandt’s cormorants, of which we’d seen many hundreds today; we’d also seen about 60-75 double-crested cormorants flying past us and two pelagic cormorants. It was obviously substantially bigger and heavier, with a thick neck, which had a crook in it, and a heavy, slightly shaggy-crested head with a long bill. It was an adult or subadult, with all-black body plumage. No white on flanks or on top of head.

The most—and immediately—noticeable feature was a broad white line/border that started under the chin, wrapped around the back of the bill and across the front portion of the cheek and then up above the gape to the level of the eye. The skin at the base of the bill was yellowish. The bill appeared pale.

End of notes.

Now, I know that Brandt’s cormorants can show quite white throat/chin patches, but those stop at the level of the gape. This broad line wrapped around the base of the bill and above it, like that on a Neotropical cormorant, just 10 times wider [and not angular, like a Neotropical, but quite squared-off looking]. I’ve seen a very few double-cresteds that have a very narrow white line around the base of the bill, but most do not, and I’ve never seen one with a white border this humongous.

I spent a couple hours watching cormorants fly in and out of the Cove afterward the field trip disbanded, but did not re-see the bird.
I’ll be there tomorrow and Monday mornings doing the same.

Possibly a double-crested with vitiligo, but possibly something different, [and, if so, ship-assisted?]. If I’d been on the Atlantic Coast, I wouldn’t have hesitated for a second to assign an identification to this bird, but I’m not going to do that.

So, if you’re at the Cove, please pay extra attention to the cormorants.

Stan Walens
San Diego


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