Dusky Warbler
Antonelli's Pond, Santa Cruz Santa Cruz County, California
Thursday, October 16, 1997

Photos copyright © 1997 Bert McKee

Today I drove down to Santa Cruz hoping to see the Dusky Warbler (Phylloscopus fuscatus) which was apparently first found on Tuesday by Steve Gerow, then seen again yesterday morning by Rick Fournier who alerted Don Roberson who saw the bird about mid-day and confirmed the identification. Apparently it was also seen briefly late yesterday afternoon.

I arrived about 7:30am and about 75 people were congregated along the trail through the willows on the west side of the pond but nobody saw the bird until Josiah Clark found it in willows across the pond on the east side about 9:15am. Quite an exodus ensued. Eventually I got brief and incomplete views of the bird as it bathed and preened deep in the shade of branches overhanging the water. Viewing was possible only from a very limited area and relatively few birders were able to get into position at this time. Eventually the bird flew across the pond to the southwest corner. We went around to the small beach near there and I got better and more complete views but the light was miserable with the bird directly under the sun. It started calling and then flew back across to the original location but we couldn't find it there. At this point it apparently flew across the pond again to the large willow clumps on the west side of the pond and it was here that most of us got our best and most complete views, and where David Nelson and Jim Lomax attempted photographs.

The bird was a real skulker, spending almost all of its time within two feet of the ground, mostly foraging on willow branches overhanging the water. Its behavior was rather kinglet-like with some wing flicking and hover-gleaning. It called sporadically, a heavy "tsick" sometimes doubled or in quick succession when alarmed. The loudness and intensity of this call varied somewhat. The heaviest call reminded me of the call of Fox Sparrow, but more clipped and slightly higher. Bert McKee suggested that the typical call sounded exactly like the secondary call of Lincoln's Sparrow and I think that comes closest to accurately describing it. <Click here to listen to Al Jaramillo's recording of the call-notes>

The following description is based on notes taken just after seeing the bird, discussions with other observers and memory:

Although identification of warblers in this genus is notoriously difficult, this particular case was rather straightforward. No field guides were consulted, but I did refer to Paul Leader's nicely illustrated paper on "Field Identification of Dusky, Radde's and Yellow-streaked warblers" (Hong Kong Bird Report 1994: 170-180, Dec. 1995) which outlines the considerable individual variation present in Dusky Warbler.

This is the second Dusky Warbler I have ever seen. The first was at Hayward, Alameda County, 28 Sept 1984. In that case I had the privilege of contributing to the identification process. The following is a list of previously accepted records:

DUSKY WARBLER Phylloscopus fuscatus (5,5,0,0)


1. 27 Sep 1980 SE Farallon I. SF                 229-1980-5 (#CAS, ph.)
2. 28-29 Sep 1984 Hayward Reg. Shoreline ALA     216-1984-9 (ph.)
3. 14 Oct 1987 SE Farallon I. SF                 6-1988-13 (ph.)
4. 22-23 Oct 1993 Goleta SBA                     160-1993-19
5. 31 Oct-3 Nov 1995 Vandenburg AFB SBA          119-1995 (ph., tape)

In addition there has been one documented record from Kern County this year October 4-5; and a sighting of a bird believed to possibly be this species in San Joaquin County October 3 of this year.

Today's bird was viewed by close to one hundred observers by the time I left. All appeared to agree with the identification.

I'd like to thank all those fine people who helped find the bird and keep it in view including some who sacrificed their own views so others could see early on. This is the kind of situation that could have gotten out of control and almost everybody was very careful not to push the bird or cause it unnecessary disturbance.

I also thought the discussions about identification were helpful and informative and I appreciated the astuteness and sharpness of observation of the people with whom I had the privilege of sharing this sighting. I'd also like to thank Karen Gilbert who selflessly lent me desperately needed note-paper at just the right time, and Dan Singer who lent me his copy of the Hong Kong Bird Report even though he was unable to go see the bird today.

I'd especially like to thank Alvaro Jaramillo for making his recordings of the vocalizations available.

Joseph Morlan
380 Talbot Avenue #206
Pacifica, CA 94044