Number observed: 18
Comments: While standing above upper Miguelito Canyon to the south, I heard a couple of nasal calls coming from across the canyon, about 0.25 miles away. I then saw a flock of birds come over the ridge and make their way west below the ridge top, over the divide between Miguelito Creek and Honda Creek, and then farther west, in the direction of Vandenberg Air Force Base. The birds were very distant and initially were backlit against a gray sky. But they soon dropped down enough that I could see them against the ridge. Even though I did not expect Pinyon Jay in the least given the time and place, I quickly suspected I was looking at this species. When the birds dropped down in front of the ridge, I could make out blue dorsal sides to the birds, or at least some of them. I couldn't make out anything else in terms of plumage. The birds were largish, but size was difficult to discern at this distance. I briefly entertained the notion that the birds could be Band-tailed Pigeons, just because I thought I needed to consider something less likely. But these birds were blue and they flew nothing like Band-taileds, a flock of which I had seen a few minutes earlier. These birds flew fairly directly, but much slower than pigeons, and looked pretty buoyant in flight. It's hard to say that I thought they looked like jays, since they didn't fly like a scrub-jay or a Steller's Jay. I suppose the flight resembled that of Clark's Nutcracker the most among other corvids occurring in California. Or maybe it was a bit like American Crow, but slower. They flew in a fairly disorganized group, with some undulation noted in their flight. But this was not pronounced. It was a bit like watching a small blackbird flock in slow motion.
I initially noted that I thought the flight call, which I heard maybe 10 or 12 times as I followed the flock, sounded nasal and plaintiff, and rising in pitch. This description does not really match anything I've listened to since. But the call was definitely nasal, and it was loud enough to be heard from a quarter mile away. I would also say it seemed like a fairly deep nasal call. It was not that high pitched. I am sure there was a change in pitch in the call. But I suspect I erred in noting the pitch was rising. The quality of the call was like that of other Pinyon Jay calls that I've listened to since seeing these birds, whether or not the pitch was rising.
In short, despite the distance of this observation, I'm confident of the ID, given the larger size of the birds, the blue dorsal color, and the vocalization.