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Bird watching highlights of Lake Murray for February 2014

Lesser scaup at Lake Murray taken in 2013
Lesser scaup at Lake Murray taken in 2013
Darlene Luckins

February is usually a quiet month for migration and, at Lake Murray, San Diego in 2014, it was no exception. The beginning of the month showed no surprises. When the monthly count was done during the Great Backyard Bird Count, it was noted that the numbers of birds has dropped considerably from the previous few months. Some species were almost down to their summer levels. Here is a few of the birding highlights for this month.

While the numbers of many species of birds such as yellow-rumped warblers, coots, mallards and other birds has dropped, most species stayed about the same. Blue-gray gnatcatchers have been seen in several places. And, now that breeding season is approaching, the calls of both the blue-gray and California gnatcatcher can be heard around the lake. At least one American goldfinch was heard around the lake in February. A black-headed grosbeak was heard near the end of the month.

The mallards are in full breeding mode and some females may already be on nests. Many of the other females seem to be searching for nesting areas. Pairs of coots are patrolling their usual territories. The osprey are also nesting. Many gadwalls, lesser scaup and northern shovelers are still present at the lake. Redhead numbers remained stable and in good numbers compared to previous years. Few other duck species were seen in February. Eared and western grebes were seen closer to the beginning of the month.

There are fewer ring-billed and California gulls at the lake this year, but the western gull numbers remain strong. During a small bout of rough weather early in the month, gull numbers increased tremendously until after the weather cleared. Killdeer numbers are much fewer than normal, but the few that are around can be seen courting. No signs of any spotted sandpipers or greater yellowlegs around the lake.

Most birds will begin their migration by the end of March, so expect fewer coots and migratory ducks as the month goes on. Ruddy ducks may remain in their current numbers for at least another month or two. Redhead ducks may also be late to leave and some redhead ducks may remain in the summer. Lesser scaup should begin a gradual decline in number. It’s possible that hooded orioles, yellow warblers, and grosbeaks will begin to be seen during March. The first ducklings are also often seen at that time.