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a few continuing things, and a bit of Abert’s Towhee history

3:25 pm

Today, the wintering, returning UTC Northern Parula and near Montgomery Field American Redstart both continue. Last year they both remained until about mid-April. In the Tijuana River channel near the sod farm, the immature Laughing and Short-billed Gulls and a couple Lesser Yellowlegs all continue with the many Californias and Ring-billeds and a flock of ibis, as well as up to 20 Bonaparte’s Gulls. That place and the adjoining “Lake Sod” on the sod farm look like they should be sucking in some really good rarity any day now–although if we are done with the moderate/heavy rain for the season then they will start drying up fairly quickly.
With the discovery of the Abert’s Towhees just barely inside extreme ne. San Diego County a few days ago by Ford-Hutchinson and Stratton, and which continue through today, I thought perhaps a little “towhee history” at that site is in order. The species is a regular, fairly numerous resident in lusher vegetation associated with agriculture (including date palm groves) literally just a few hundred yards away in both Riverside and Imperial Counties. But the habitat abruptly changes to sparser desert right near and at the county line. Beginning back in the 1980s or early 1990s, Guy McCaskie started checking that road (which formerly had no gate and so one could drive to the end where the birds currently are) for Abert’s, knowing they occurred as a resident so so close by. He says that over the years he checked perhaps several times. How many other folks looked for them in that area in addition to Guy back before 2010 or so, I don’t know. Fast forward to the the past several years, and several other folks have looked, one such search by a Grigory Heaton last December turned up a rare-in-winter Black-chinned Sparrow somewhere nearby in this Travertine Palms Wash area. Currently, there appear to be multiple birds/pairs along the dirt road from the gate out to the San Diego County birds–a distance of about 1/3-1/2 mile, so it’s not just one pair who have ventured out beyond the palm groves and other agriculture. Whether this has been going on for a while now, or is something very fresh and might possibly be associated with slightly-lusher-than-normal desert conditions currently, is anyone’s guess. When things dry out over the next many months, we can see if all the bird stay there or if they retreat back eastwards.
–Paul Lehman, San Diego