We have had a similar situation at Point La Jolla, San Diego County as what you are describing. Usually mid November to Thanksgiving is peak seawatching time here for loon migration and Surf Scoter movement with other duck species mixed in. It has been very, very slow. Much smaller numbers of Pacific Loon than normal. I think I had just one day with a 5-6K maximum, blocks of birds coming by in 50-100 size flocks. It looked like the precursor to some big days but that did not materialize. Previous years not unusual to get 1-2 days during this time period of full bore constant stream of birds at 5-6K per hour. The number of Surf Scoters coming by Point La Jolla this year also about 1/10th of normal at the most. Usually we can expect good days with suitable winds and scoters coming by 2-3K for a 4 hour watch and hard pressed to see 100-200 birds.
Weather has been very benign down here so far this fall. No real onshore wind events, only a trace of rain. There was one day the winds picked up to 15-20 knots from the west but there was no sign of bird movement. I am not sure what is going on - the two hypotheses you describe come to mind. I guess we should know soon enough if the birds are still staging to the north and peak movement window has shifted later by some weeks.
On Wed, Nov 29, 2017 at 8:50 PM, Brian Sullivan heraldpetrel@... [CALBIRDS] < CALBIRDSfirstname.lastname@example.org > wrote:
For the past two years Monterey Audubon has sponsored a 6-week fall seawatch at Point Pinos in Monterey County. The count runs from 1 Nov - 15 Dec. The focus of of the count is Pacific Loons, and during each of the last two years we tallied ~250,000 migrant loons during the period.
This year has been quite different. Despite having favorable, though not great, weather conditions, Pacific Loon numbers have been dismal. Our biggest day so far barely approached 10K (most of those in just two hours on the morning of the 27th), and the season total is probably less than 20K--so far.
I'm wondering if others have been seeing large concentrations of staging loons in places along the coast, or whether seawatchers have had good flights to the north and/or south of Monterey County this fall I spent .5hr watching from Pigeon Point in San Mateo on Saturday and had thousands of Pacific Loons--all moving north! I'm not sure what that was all about, but at Point Pinos we don't see northbound loons in fall.
It seems like there are two possibilities: they haven't made it this far south yet and they are staging in big numbers to the north; or they are passing to the west of our limit of vision, well offshore. Thanksgiving has proven the be the peak time for Pacific Loons here, so the flight is certainly late, if it is to come at all this year. Pacific Loons are pretty scarce once you get truly offshore, so the idea of thousands moving many miles off the coast seems unlikely, though certainly possible.
Any thoughts would be appreciated.
Perplexed in Monterey...
Brian L. Sullivan
eBird Project Leader
Birds of North America Online
you can find me on twitter, @garybnunn
San Diego Birding - my blog