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visible migration (morning flight) at Mt. Soledad, incl. Townsend's Solitaire, Calliope (a bit Long)

I made my first early-morning visit of this spring to Mount Soledad today (Thursday), given that the overnight and early-morning wind flow was from the ENE. As some of you know, and some of you don't, the top of Mount Soledad in La Jolla can be a great spot to witness visible migration in spring–otherwise known as a "morning flight"–of moderate to large numbers of landbirds. But the conditions have to be right: preferably an overnight and early morning wind/breeze flow from somewhere between the SE and N, but not with a westerly component. Calm conditions are OK, too, but much better to have that easterly component. And certainly avoid mornings when the top of the mountain is enveloped in fog. (But a high marine layer could be OK, and having marine overcast, some drizzle, or north/northwest post-frontal winds in May is what can be good there for Black Swifts.) So check the overnight and pre-dawn weather conditions before heading there. The morning flight starts in a delayed fashion after dawn, sometimes not until 30-45+ minutes after first light; and it continues on good days for up to 90 minutes or so, although on other days only for 30+ minutes. Today, the largest numbers of birds were delayed even a bit more than usual and passed by between 7:00-8:20 AM. The entrance gate to the park is signed to open at 7AM, but they usually have it open by 6:30. Even if locked, park just outside and walk in.  The best place to look at the birds flying by is anywhere between the 'saddle' just inside the gate and to farther inside near the planted pines, just before the loop road and flagpole/cross–the 'exact' best stretch varies from day to day (today it was across the saddle) and can change a bit depending on the hour and on the changing lighting, and the flight can be on a somewhat broad front, from even outside the entrance to the top of the mountain, so impossible for a single person to witness the whole thing, and certainly not to identify every bird! Best chance for good numbers of birds is probably from now (mid-April) through mid-May, with the peak in late April and early May.

This sort of birding may not be everyone's cup of tea, as it requires the ability to get on birds quickly and to identify most of them on the wing.  Some birds briefly pause in vegetation, but a majority do not. It IS a very fun and interesting different sort of birding than most of us practice, it is a challenge, and it can really be quite exciting on a good day. It is certainly the BEST site in coastal San Diego County to witness such a phenomenon in spring, even quite a bit better than on outer Point Loma (which can be good on a few days each season.) A few rarities may well be possible, especially later in spring, and today I had nice looks at a TOWNSEND'S SOLITAIRE flying by at about 7:15AM. In previous years I've had a White-winged Dove and an almost-certain Northern Parula. Problem of course is by the time you have identified a rarity in flight, and then called it out, the person standing next to you may have already missed it!  Another really interesting thing about such morning-flights is that one can document the relative ratios of migrants on a given day pretty well, AND document the active migration of species that otherwise are very difficult to detect as true migrants, and thus better determine early and late dates for migration. For example, today I had a male Phainopepla fly over at moderate height, migrant Ash-throated Fly and Blue Grosbeak, and three different young male and female Hooded Orioles in seemingly clear migratory flight. OK, we ALL know exactly when the FIRST Hooded Orioles appear each year, over a month ago, in our yard and neighborhood–boy, do we!:-)–but how late in the spring is this species still migrating??  Also, some species which we do not think are migratory at all can sometimes be seen indeed doing just that. When I lived in Cape May NJ, famous for its morning flights of large numbers of migrant birds, one could document sizeable fall flights of, for example, flocks of House Finches and multiple Northern Mockingbirds flying by in clear migratory movements. Morning flights can also be witnessed at a site or two up in San Francisco city.

I am often out of town for a fair bit of spring, so over the years I have been able to visit Mount Soledad only a relatively small number of times when the weather conditions are good, so there is still lots to be learned about what makes or doesn't make for a good flight, and what species might turn up.

This morning's totals, 18 April, a medium day:

Western Kingbird:  5

Ash-throated Flycatcher:  1

Warbling Vireo:  15

TOWNSEND'S SOLITAIRE:  1

Cedar Waxwing:  20

PHAINOPEPLA:  1

"SLATE-COLORED" FOX SPARROW:  1  (getting late; yes, it was indeed seen perched!)

Hooded Oriole:  3

Bullock's Oriole:  4

Orange-crowned Warbler:  15

Yellow-rumped Warbler:  35

Townsend's Warbler:  15

Hermit Warbler:  1

Common Yellowthroat:  1

Wilson's Warbler:  8

warbler sp.:  10

Western Tanager:  15

Black-headed Grosbeak:  7

Blue Grosbeak:  1

Lazuli Bunting:  25

And lastly, just slightly downhill on the main road (Capri Drive) to the north from the entrance gate is an abandoned building and microwave tower on the right with a pullout and lots of heavily blooming bottlebrush (both outside and inside a small "No Trespassing" sign). A female CALLIOPE HUMMINGBIRD was there this morning.

–Paul Lehman,  San Diego
Source: SanDiegoRegionBirding Latest Reports