After a wet and stormy February, a very spring-like March brought with it a compliment of spring arrivals and breeding activity from resident species. As expected, our regular swallows were busily scouting nesting sites by the first week of the month, aside from the much rarer and later-arriving Bank Swallow. The first Purple Martin of the season was visiting the Roseville Rd colony on 3/11, with another martin seen flying at the Bobcat Ranch near Winters on 3/29, far from a known nesting site.
The City of Sacramento is the only place Purple Martins persist in the Central Valley. In the past 4 years their numbers have declined by 52%. SAS contributes to an ongoing monitoring and conservation program led by Dan Airola (for more info click on the photo). Martin pair at the Sutterville colony. Female scratching and exposing band on leg. Photo by Chris Conard.
Western Kingbirds and Bullock’s Orioles added a splash of color from the south by the last week of March. A few migrants beat the turning of the calendar with March arrivals. First-of-season reports of Cassin’s Vireo (3/29), Nashville Warbler (3/29), and Wilson’s Warbler (3/25) were slightly early at Cosumnes River Preserve (CRP).
As noted in last month’s column, some of the marquee gulls at the Davis Wastewater Treatment Plant continued well into March. The adult Slaty-backed Gull found on 2/27 continued through 3/7. The putative first-winter Iceland Gull (possibly of the nominate race glaucoides) was found again on 3/23 and 3/28 (see the February sightings for photos of these birds). There was some debate whether this was a different bird than the one found last month, or just farther advanced into its molt. A second-winter Lesser Black-backed Gull was found on 3/23. Documentation of the three species above should be submitted to the California Bird Records Committee (californiabirds.org). At least two Glaucous Gulls continued well into April. It was stated last month that up to four Glaucous Gulls were found on a single day, but it should be noted that based on plumage characteristics at least seven different individuals were present in February and March. The numbers and late occurrence of the species that was only recently considered very rare are obviously unprecedented. An adult Western Gull at the Ancil Hoffman access to the American River Parkway (ARP) was reported on 3/17 and 3/26.
An amazing 11,300 Dunlin along with 2,800 Long-billed Dowitchers were at CRP on 3/26. Unfortunately, much of this habitat literally evaporated (or drained) prior to the most dynamic period of the spring shorebird migration in April and early May, when rarities are most likely to be found among the usual suspects. Other interesting reports include single Merlins from the upper ARP on 3/26 and 3/31, a Band-tailed Pigeon visiting a Rancho Cordova yard on 3/1 and about 20 band-tails at the Bobcat Ranch on 3/6. A well-described Red-naped Sapsucker was found at the Gristmill access to ARP on 3/31. A Common Raven nest on the famous Peregrine Falcon microwave tower along Bruceville Rd near CRP adds yet more emphasis to their overwhelming expansion into the heart of the Sacramento area. A Red Fox Sparrow was found at CRP on 3/4, and Yellow-headed Blackbirds numbering around 1,500 made an impressive spectacle at the Yolo Wildlife Area (YWA) during the last ten days of the month. Pine Siskins were considered abundant in Davis, regular in parts of Sacramento and the ARP, but were absent from CRP and other sites in the low floodplain where they had been regular in the fall. From February, a nicely photographed juvenile Harlan’s (Red-tailed) Hawk at YWA was present from at least 2/21-24.
Many of these reports first appeared on the Central Valley Bird Club Listserv. Visit www.cvbirds.org and click "Listserv" for details. With over 100 reports, it is impossible to list everyone; however, I want to thank the following for reports on the above species and for providing additional information: Roger Adamson, Paul Buchanan, Dan Brown, Todd Easterla, Andy Engilis, Gil Ewing, Steve Hampton, Ed Harper, Scott Hoppe, Dan Kopp, Gary Langham, Jeri Langham, Cathie LaZier, Ed Pandolfino, Vance Russell, John Sterling, and John Trochet. Thanks to everyone for their reports—without them, this column would not be possible.