Gray Catbird
Moss Beach, San Mateo County, California
16 January 2003
Joseph Morlan

Photo © 17 January 2003 by Calvin Lou.
This morning I visited Moss Beach in search of a Gray Catbird which had been present in the area since 12 December 2002. I arrived early at the intersection of California and Beach Streets and spoke to Barbara Cosse who originally found the bird. She said that it originally stunned itself as it flew into her window. She took the bird to the nearby Fitzgerald Marine Reserve where it was placed in a holding cage used for oiled seabirds. The bird apparently recovered quickly and was released a few hours later. It was not seen again until 6 January 2003. Attempts to relocate it were unsuccessful until yesterday when Peter Metropulos and Ron Thorn found it early in the morning.

Roy Carlson showed up and we continued to search. About 8:30 we heard the bird calling from a Pitosporum in the yard on the northeast side of California Ave. and Beach St. Roy spotted the bird and we had brief views as it worked the back side of the tree before disappearing behind a fence. About an hour later we heard the bird calling again from a hedge along the north side of Beach St. and west of Virginia Ave. Roy watched from the Beach St. side and I watched from the Virginia Ave. side. After about 15 minutes the catbird flew from the back of the hedge toward a wood pile across the vacant lot on the northwest corner of Virginia and Beach. There we got good views as it worked its way up some bare branches and finally up into a tall leafless tree. Eventually it dropped down into a yard behind a fence. About 20 minutes later the bird started calling and we relocated it in the bare tree where I got scope views. It then flew back into the hedge and disappeared. I heard it calling once more from the south side of Beach street, but was unable to see it again.

The following description was noted:

A slim all gray bird, decidedly larger than nearby White-crowned and House sparrows, but smaller than nearby American Robins. It had an expressive long black tail that it pumped up and down occasionally. The rest of the bird was solid gray with a charcoal cast except for the cap which was contrasting black, the eye which was contrasting black standing out prominently on the gray face, and the undertail coverts which were dark russet. The bill, legs and feet were dark. The bill was thin, but not particularly long. It recalled the bill of a thrush.

The best way to find the bird was the call, a cat-like, fairly loud and penetrating "meeeuuw."

This is apparently the fourth record for San Mateo County. This species is no longer reviewed by the California Bird Records Committee.