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Birds of the Season- January 2012

By Jon Fisher

Mid-November through January was a remarkable time frame, with a seemingly inexhaustible supply of rarities being found one after another. Variety ran the gamut from waterfowl through passerines and from the relatively mundane to the extraordinary.

While the coastal slope naturally produced the majority of reports- due both to better coverage and milder climate- good birds were found in the interior and on the deserts as well. The number of birds- both common and rare- that can be found in and around the sprawling urbanized portions of the county can be impressive, as reports over the period clearly demonstrated.

City and county parks, golf courses, various suburban/residential areas and miscellaneous bodies of water produced many interesting birds. Observer hours spent in the field is obviously a key element, and with so many active birders in the greater Los Angeles area the list of rarae aves this winter was substantial.

Very few Greater White-fronted Geese were present, with birds at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery from December 5-January 2 (Richard Barth) and at Pepperdine University in Malibu from December 18-January 10.

Snow Geese were at El Dorado Park in Long Beach from December 5-6 (Tracy Drake), at Santa Fe Dam from December 17-January 12 (John Garrett) at Malibu Lagoon on December 18 (Nick & Mary Freeman, Larry Allen) at the Piute Ponds on December 26 (Thomas Drescher, Andree Brown) and at the Sepulveda Basin on January 16 (Jon Fisher). Also recorded was a Snow x Ross’s Goose at the Ballona Freshwater Marsh on December 29 (Dinuk Magammana).

Ross’s Geese- oddly less common than Snows this winter- were along the San Gabriel River in Pico Rivera from November 23-December 17 (Larry Schmahl), at Bonelli Park in San Dimas on December 4 (Rod Higbie), at Echo Park from December 24-January 2 (Judith Raskin) and continuing in Marina del Rey through January 22.

Brant were also scarce this winter with one at the Ballona Freshwater Marsh on January 6 (Jonathan Coffin) and what was perhaps the same bird at the Ballona Creek mouth from January 6-8 (Bob Pann). Cackling Geese by contrast were widely reported.

Eurasian Wigeons included one at the Livingston-Graham gravel pits in Irwindale on December 2 (Ed Stonick), one at Legg Lake in South El Monte from December 31-January 7 (John Garrett) and another along Ballona Creek in Culver City from January 2-24 (Walter Lamb). Also at the latter location was a hybrid American x Eurasian Wigeon present from January 12-24 (Don Sterba).

Diving ducks of interest were a Greater Scaup off Dockweiler State Beach in El Segundo from November 22-December 17 (Richard Barth), a Black Scoter at the same location from November 27-December 27 (Steve Sosensky) with two there on January 8 (Ron Cyger, Frank & Susan Gilliland) and two more in Long Beach Harbor on December 7 (Robb Hamilton). From one to three White-winged Scoters were at Dockweiler from November 22-January 24 (Richard Barth) and one was at Quail Lake near Gorman- where nearly regular- from December 30-January 12 (Frank Gilliland).

Rare in winter visitors, Long-tailed Ducks were in Long Beach Harbor on December 10 (Dana Quincy) and at the Ballona Creek mouth from January 14-22 (Martin Byhower).

A very nice find was the county’s second ever Barrow’s Goldeneye at Quail Lake- the same location as the county’s first- on December 18. It remained at least through December 30 (David Vander Pluym, Lauren Harter).

Much more expected, but still scarce on the coastal slope, were two Common Goldeneyes on the San Gabriel River in Long Beach on December 24 (Kevin Alcano).

Always of note away from the immediate coast was a Red-breasted Merganser at Bonelli Park in San Dimas from November 28-December 6 (Rod Higbie).

An oiled Pacific Loon wound up at Madrona Marsh in Torrance on December 7 where it was subsequently rescued (Daniel Marion) and another was at Castaic Lagoon along with a much rarer inland Red-throated Loon onJanuary 12 (Jon Dunn).

Two Red-necked Grebes were recorded, one at Paradise Cove in Malibu on December 18 and the other at Castaic Lagoon from December 30-January 6 (John Garrett, Neil Gilbert).

Scarce after October were a Sooty Shearwater (Lew Hastings) and a Sooty/Short-tailed Shearwater (Kimball Garrett) recorded on the Malibu CBC on December 18.

The winter’s only American Bittern thus far was at Harbor Park in Wilmington on January 2 (Martin Byhower). A Least Bittern was at Legg Lake in South El Monte where somewhat regular on January 3 (Ron Cyger).

Bald Eagles were reported more frequently than usual, with single birds found at Peck Water Conservation Park in Arcadia on December 2 (Ed Stonick), at Hansen Dam on December 4 (Dessie Sieburth), over Santa Fe Dam on December 19 (Andrew Lee) and two at Quail Lake on December 30 (Frank Gilliland). El Dorado Park in Long Beach produced one on January 5 (John Willis) and another continued at Bonelli Park in San Dimas through January 20.

A good county bird was a probable Broad-winged Hawk in West Los Angeles on December 23 (Richard Barth).

Swainson’s Hawks- unheard of in winter not long ago- were seen in South El Monte on November 27 David Bell), at the Ballona area on December 2 (Don Sterba) and over San Gabriel on December 17 (Dan Cooper, Lew Hastings). Another continued in the Antelope Valley through December 31 and one was near the Long Beach Airport on December 28 (Pam Dong). Winter records in the state have been on the rise over the past few decades, but this was an unprecedented number for Los Angeles County.

A rare dark morph Ferruginous Hawk was in the east Antelope Valley on December 10 (Norm Vargas, Nick & Mary Freeman) and also very rare in the county was a Rough-legged Hawk near Quail Lake from December 18-January 12 (David Vander Pluym, Lauren Harter).

Away from expected areas was a Golden Eagle at Whittier Narrows in South El Monte from November 24-December 16 (Robb Hamilton).

A Crested Caracara in the Ballona Wetlands area from January 13- (Rick Pine) was only the third ever recorded in the county. Merlins of the scarce pale Richardson’s race were in the east Antelope Valley on December 10 (Norm Vargas, Nick & Mary Freeman) and at Inglewood Park Cemetery on January 2 (Jon Fisher).

Quite uncommon in winter was a Lesser Yellowlegs along the LA River in Long Beach on December 26 (Richard Barth). Also scarce in winter- particularly inland- was a Dunlin at the Piute Ponds on December 26 (Thomas Drescher, Andree Brown).

A Glaucous Gull in San Pedro on January 2 was the only rare Larid to be found (Bernardo Alps).

Typically late summer and fall vagrants, White-winged Doves occasionally linger through the winter. Two such birds were reported- one at Kenneth Hahn Park from November 30- December 4 (Ann & Eric Brooks) and another at Angels Gate Park in San Pedro on December 26 (David Ellsworth).

Burrowing Owls were at the Marina del Rey harbor on December 4 (fide Dan Cooper), at Santa Fe Dam on December 12 (Jon Feenstra) and near the Long Beach Airport on December 26 (Becky & Steve Turley). One was also at Vista del Mar Park in El Segundo on December 29 (Roy van de Hoek) and another continued on Mt. Lukens in the San Gabriels through January 5.

Rare on the coastal slope were Long-eared Owls in La Canada on November 20 (Beth Rohman) and at Griffith Park through January 2.

A Common Poorwill was active through most of the period at Kenneth Hahn Park (Ann & Eric Brooks) and another was recorded in Topanga on December 28 (Dick Norton).

A rare winter Rufous Hummingbird was among the many Allen’s at the Sepulveda Basin on December 5 (Scott Logan) and a Costa’s Hummingbird was at Pt. Dume on December 18 where unusual (Kimball Garrett).

A Lewis’s Woodpecker along Big Rock Creek Road near Highway 2 on December 11 (Tom Ford-Hutchinson) was the only one reported. More intense coverage on the north slope of the San Gabriels would likely turn up additional birds.

Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers continued at Veteran’s Park in Sylmar though December 6 and at Ed Vincent Park in Inglewood through January 24. A male Williamson’s Sapsucker continued at Veteran’s Park and a female was discovered there on December 4 (Lori & Mark Conrad), with both remaining through the period. Another Williamson’s lingered at Pearblossom Park through December 26 (Andrew Lee). Seven Red-naped Sapsuckers for the period was above average for this species.

White-headed Woodpeckers away from their usual haunts in the higher San Gabriels included birds at St. Andrew’s Abbey near Valyermo on December 11 (Mark Scheel) and a less expected one on the coastal slope at Almansor Park in Alhambra on December 24 (Norm Vargas).

Pure Northern “Yellow-shafted” Flickers were at Loyola Marymount University through January 2 and at Santa Fe Dam in Irwindale on January 12 (Mickey Long).

Empidonax were represented by Hammond’s Flycatchers at Pt. Dume on December 18 (Kimball Garrett) and in the Sepulveda Basin on December 16 (Jon Fisher), a total of five Gray Flycatchers and a Pacific-slope Flycatcher at the South Coast Botanic Gardens on January 2 (Ed Griffin).

A Dusky-capped Flycatcher continued at Veteran’s Park in Bell Gardens and another returned for its fifth winter to La Mirada’s Creek Park as of December 1 (Jonathan Rowley). Ash-throated Flycatchers were at the South Coast Botanic Garden on January 7 and continuing at the Sepulveda Basin in Van Nuys through January 22.

An excellent discovery on lightly birded Catalina Island was a Thick-billed Kingbird present at Middle Ranch on November 21 (Linda Farley). The returning Tropical Kingbird at Legg Lake in South El Monte persisted through January 7 and a late Western Kingbird was at Kenneth Hahn Park on November 22 (Ann & Eric Brooks). A nice find in winter was a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher in Long Beach from December 27-January 16 (Ann & Eric Brooks).

Remarkably rare in winter was a Bell’s Vireo at Cudahy Park in Cudahy on January 15 (Richard Barth). Also highly unusual was a Warbling Vireo at Exposition Park on January 2 (Kimball Garrett).

Scarce but expected in winter were Cassin’s Vireos at the Gardena on December 11 (John Tomlinson), in Pasadena from December 12-26 (John Garrett), along the San Gabriel River (Kimball Garrett), at the Huntington Gardens in Pasadena (Jon Fisher) on December 17.

No fewer than three Pacific Wrens were in Big Santa Anita Canyon above Arcadia on November 25 (Darren Dowell). Watercourses in the front range are a good place to check for this species and naturally the far rarer Winter Wren, its recently split congener, needs to be ruled out- or in. Also at this locale, and scarce at lower elevations on the coastal slope, was a Townsend’s Solitaire found on November 25 (Darren Dowell).

Outranking any other bird during the period was a Red-flanked Bluetail found on San Clemente Island on December 6 (Jethro Runco, Loni Silver). Only two have ever been recorded in the state and both have been island birds, with the first discovered on the Farallons in 1989. In fact, this species is virtually unknown in North America outside of Alaska. The magnitude of this record went unappreciated- except as a potential meal- by a Loggerhead Shrike which impaled the hapless vagrant, but was at least courteous enough to wait until the record had been established.

Up to eight Mountain Bluebirds were at Santa Fe Dam in Irwindale from November 30-January 12 (David Bell) and other coastal slope reports included one at the Sepulveda Basin on December 22 (Hiroshi Kano) and four at Brackett Field in La Verne on January 9 (Rod Higbie).

Varied Thrushes were at Sand Dune Park in Manhattan Beach from November 18-20 (Dinuk Magammana) with two there on November 23 (Martin Byhower), at Polliwog Park in Manhattan Beach on December 3 (Richard Barth) and at Harbor Park in Wilmington on December 26 (Don Sterba).

Wintering Sage Thrashers were at Nebeker Ranch in the Antelope Valley on December 10 (Alex Viduetsky) and in the east Antelope Valley on December 26 (Andrew Lee). Always a good find in the county was a Brown Thrasher at Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden from January 2-25 (Johnny Bovee).

Among a number of species regular in the county but rare for the Lancaster CBC, was a Chestnut-collared Longspur in the Antelope Valley on December 18 (Nick & Mary Freeman).

Quite a few eastern warblers were recorded over the period, with two being especially rare. In fact, the winter warbler count would have equaled a good spring vagrant period.

A Northern Waterthrush was back for a second winter on San Jose Creek near South El Monte as of December 17 (Jon Feenstra, Kimball Garrett) and another was found on December 26 at Harbor Park in Wilmington (Don Sterba).

Black-and-white Warblers included birds in Pasadena on December 12 (John Garrett) continuing at Legg Lake through December 17, at Harbor Park in Wilmington on December 26 (Don Sterba) and at El Segundo Library Park from January 11-18 (Richard Barth).

A Lucy’s Warbler was at Veteran’s Park in Bell Gardens on January 14 (Norm Vargas). Common in spring, but very scarce in winter were two Nashville Warblers in Palos Verdes on December 26 (Jim Pike) one at Heartwell Park in Long Beach on December 27 (Robb Hamilton) and one at Exposition Park in Los Angeles on January 2 (Kimball Garrett).

A regular migrant, but extremely rare in winter was a MacGillivray’s Warbler in Pasadena from December 13-17 (John Garrett).

At the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Gardens in Claremont, a Hooded Warbler was present from December 18-January 25 (Ken Watanabe). An American Redstart was at the Sepulveda Basin from December 5-January 16 (Scott Logan) and a Northern Parula continued at Legg Lake with another found at Heartwell Park in Long Beach on December 26 (Robb Hamilton). Also continuing at Legg Lake was a Chestnut-sided Warbler.

Two Palm Warblers were at the Ballona Freshwater Marsh from December 2-4 (Chris Lord, Bill Figueroa) and one was at Santa Fe Dam in Irwindale from December 12-19 (Jon Feenstra). Pine Warblers continued at Hansen Dam in Lake View Terrace and another persisted at the Palos Verdes Golf Course through January 2.

Quite rare was a Yellow-throated Warbler found at Park La Brea in Los Angeles on December 31 (Bhaskar Krishnamachari).

Rare but regular in winter, Hermit Warblers were in Pasadena through December 17 (John Garrett), at Pt. Dume on December 18 (Kimball Garrett), at Oak Grove Park in Pasadena through December 24 (Darren Dowell) and near the Palos Verdes Golf Club on December 26 (Jim Pike). Closely related- but a good deal rarer- was a Black-throated Green Warbler along the San Gabriel River in Pico Rivera from January 1- (Larry Schmahl).

Bringing up the rear was a Painted Redstart at Elysian Park from November 30-January 16 (Richard Barth).

Green-tailed Towhees were found along the San Gabriel River near El Monte on December 17 (Kimball Garret, Jon Feenstra) and near Playa Vista on January 2.

Two Clay-colored Sparrows were at Madrona Marsh in Torrance from December 3-January 7 (Dinuk Magammana) with another two at Santa Fe Dam on December 19 presumably continuing birds (Andrew Lee). The latest find was one at Castaic Lagoon on December 26 (Kimball Garrett).

Kenneth Hahn Park continued to produce interesting birds, with a Grasshopper Sparrow there on the very late date of December 1 (Ann & Eric Brooks).

White-throated Sparrows were at Kenneth Hahn Park from November 24-December 4 (Ann & Eric Brooks), at Sand Dune Park in Manhattan Beach on December 23 (Mark Conrad), near the Palos Verdes Golf Course on December 26 (Jim Pike), at Madrona Marsh in Torrance on January 7 (Dinuk Magammana) and at Augustus Hawkins Natural Park in Los Angeles on January 22 (Richard Barth).

In Pasadena, a Hepatic Tanager was back for a second winter in the Kewen Canyon area first found on December 29 (John Garrett), while no fewer than eleven Summer Tanagers were present in the county during the period.

Grosbeaks included a Rose-breasted Grosbeak at a feeder in La Canada from November 19-20 (Mark Hunter) and a Black-headed Grosbeak in Palos Verdes on January 2 (Martin Byhower). An Indigo Bunting had returned for a second year to the Los Feliz area as of January 12 (Andy Birch) and a very unusual winter Dickcissel was in La Mirada on January 26 (Jon Feenstra).

A rare county bird was a female Rusty Blackbird at Legg Lake in South El Monte from January 3-4 found in almost the exact spot where a male was found in December of 2010 (Mickey Long).

Orchard Orioles included one continuing in Culver City through November 19 and a new one at Ralph Dills Park in Paramount from December 11-January15 (Richard Barth). Also quite rare in winter were Hooded Orioles in Paramount from December 11-31 (Richard Barth), in Rolling Hills Estates on January1 (Chris Boyd) and in West Los Angeles on January 2. Baltimore Orioles were at Heartwell Park in Long Beach on December 26 (Robb Hamilton) and at the South Coast Botanic Garden in Rolling Hills Estates from December-January 7.

It was quite a season of birds. New reports finally slowed after early January. By that time all CBCs had been run and most birding locales had been checked and double-checked and most wintering vagrants had been discovered.

The usual parade of spring migrants is poised to begin in a few weeks and some birds are already moving north. A few vagrants will no doubt sweeten the mix, especially as we move toward late May. It’s been a rather dry winter thus far, but since rainfall for the season has yet to be determined, it’s difficult to know the effect that precipitation- or lack thereof- may have on bird movements. Most often a dry year concentrates migrants in hotspots- perhaps better termed “green” spots. Wet years tend to see migrants more evenly distributed

Either way, spring is a most enjoyable time, with the opportunity to see those first of season birds once again. One of the great things about birds- for birders at least- is their ability to move both far and freely, and their resulting penchant for wandering off course. It makes each season different, exciting and rewarding.


 

Published Western TanagerVol. 78 No. 4 Mar/Apr 2012

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