Connecticut Warbler Oporornis agilis
Point Reyes Lighthouse
Marin County, California
4 October 1999
Joseph Morlan

Photos © 3 Oct 1999 by Lillian Fujii
A high marine cloud layer and continuing light southerly winds encouraged Robbie Fischer and I to head out to Point Reyes in search of various rarities which had been found there over the weekend. We arrived at the lighthouse parking lot about 7:30 am and were pleased to find a Magnolia Warbler, Tennessee Warbler, American Redstart, Palm Warbler, and at least two Blackpoll Warbler in the trees along the entrance road and in the weeds below the residence. As we were leaving we encountered a group of birders including Kaaren Perry, Richard Redmond, Nancy Brown and several others. We learned that they had just seen the Connecticut Warbler on the ground near the first tree. While searching for it, a call came from closer to the residence that they had relocated the bird. It was skulking below a small lupine on the left side of the road near a utility shed. Finally, after several minutes it walked out from under the lupines, through the thick grass. Eventually it flew across the road and we relocated it under one of the trees. It came walking closer and closer and after about 10 minutes of observation I found myself staring directly down at the bird as it fearlessly approached us. I appreciated the close-focus feature of the Bausch & Lomb 8x40 Elites as I was able to keep the bird in sharp focus although it came as close as 7 feet or less at times. Once it actually walked across Ralph Hunter's shoe before walking back into the grass by the side of the road. Occasionally the bird flew up and hovered in front the trees acrobatically taking insects in flight close to the tree trunks.

This was probably the tamest and most cooperative bird of any species I have ever seen. John Luther, Ken Burton, Kay Loughman and others arrived and all had stunning close-up views of the this confiding bird. The following is based on notes made while watching the bird:

A large Oporornis, olive above and yellow below with a brownish-olive hood and complete white eyering. It walked around on the ground and in the tree branches in a high-stepping gate recalling Ovenbird.

The bill was very large, gray with a pinkish color on the lower mandibular rami. The bill appeared very broad at the base and tapered toward the tip.

The upperparts were browner on the crown, blending to grayish on the face. There were no wingbars or obvious feather-edges on this bird. It had a very uniform, plain appearance above. The wings were very long with extensive primary projection. At least eight blackish primaries with narrow grayish fringes could be seen to extend beyond the folded tertials. No emargination was evident on any of the primaries.

The head was relatively large, but the crown did not strike me as particularly rounded. Rather the flat forehead seemed to blend more with the large bill. The hood was paler on the throat, almost whitish, but with a slight creamy cast. There were a couple of darker gray spots at the bottom of the hood in front where it met the yellow of the chest.

The underparts were all medium yellow, not particularly bright, with olive tinged flanks. The undertail coverts were very long, reaching almost to the tip of the tail. The tail was grayish below without tail-spots and olive above concolor with the back.

The legs were a dull purple-drab color in front and somewhat paler more pink on the back. The toes appeared fairly long, but not as long as portrayed in the first edition of the "National Geographic Guide."

The call-note was given several times. It was very loud and ringing, high pitched, emphatic and decidedly two parted. I transcribed it at "chewit" or "tsweeet." The latter is probably better as the call definitely had a sibilant quality.

This bird had been present at this locality since 2 October when it was first found by Ellen Blustein. It is the fourth Connecticut Warbler I have seen in California. Prior sightings were at Stovepipe Wells in Death Valley, Inyo County; the Point Reyes Fish Docks; and at Owl Canyon in Bodega Bay, Sonoma County.