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Common Murres and Black-throated Blue Warblers

March 20, 2014

And very, very rarely shall the twain e’er meet. This blog may be the exception.

Simi Valley birder and photographer Bill Crowe was at Malibu Lagoon on 3/6/14, and reported the following on LACoBirds:

Yesterday between 11:30 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. I birded Malibu Lagoon. I was amazed at how the recent storm changed the shoreline. Sand was pushed into the lagoon and much of the beach appeared to be washed away. There were no Western Snowy Plovers to be seen. The usual shorebirds and dabbling ducks were present along with a small group of Western and Least Sandpipers. When I reach the mouth of the creek (where it enters the ocean), I was surprised to see a Common Murre resting on the beach. At first I thought the bird was injured, but as I approached the bird it began to swim away. It stayed close to shore, about 100′ or so away.

Common Murre is – as the name implies – common, with a world population around 9 million pairs.  But it’s an ocean bird and unless you are out sailing around on a boat or happen to be near one of their nesting or roosting sites – steep rocky cliffs with ledges and without rats – you’re not likely to see one. The Pacific population has nesting sites from central California to Alaska, over to northeast Siberia and down to Japan. The Atlantic population breeds from Maine up to Greenland and from Portugal up to Russia’s Noväja Zeml’a (northeast of Finland – but you knew that) and most islands in  between.

The only place where a Common Murre is likely to be within earshot of a Black-throated Blue Warbler might be in Canada’s Maritime Provinces during the summer.

The Common Murre below appears to be in an intermediate plumage between basic (winter) or juvenile and alternate (breeding).

Common Murre swims just off Surfrider Beach (Bill Crowe 3/6/14)

Common Murre swims just off Surfrider Beach (Bill Crowe 3/6/14)

Birder and Photographer Dennis Erwin joined us on our San Jacinto Wildlife Area trip a few weeks ago, but he didn’t return home in time to send me his photos before I posted that trip report.  So here’s his shot of the female Black-throated Blue Warbler we located and viewed well. This eastern warbler breeds from Manitoba east to Nova Scotia and southward down the Appalachian Mountains to northeast Georgia. They normally spend their winter in the Caribbean, ranging from coastal southeastern Mexico to Honduras and over to Jamaica, Cuba, Hispaniola, Puerto Rico and the Bahamas. As a result, they’re fairly rare in California, but a few do appear during the winter, possibly the result of their internal geomagnetic compass being out of whack – instead of flying southeast, they fly southwest.

Female Black-throated Blue Warbler (Dennis Erwin 2/15/14)

Female Black-throated Blue Warbler (Dennis Erwin 2/15/14)

This female is neither black nor blue: rather it is more a composite of of brownish and yellow-green shades. The white squarish patch in its wing, its relatively bold white supercilium (line above the eye), white semicircle below the eye, and its white undertail coverts gave it away. Unfortunately, not all these characteristics could be captured in a single photo. The photo is a bit fuzzy due to severe cropping.

The rest of Dennis’s photos have been added to the original San Jacinto Wildlife Area trip report.
[Chuck Almdale]

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