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Birds of the Season- May 2012

By Jon Fisher

The spring of 2012 was typically cool, warm, dry and wet, depending which day you picked. As high and low pressure systems alternated over the region, temperatures rose and fell. Some late season storms added a bit to last winter’s lackluster precipitation, but we failed to make it much past half of normal levels.

 

Spring in southern California is noted not only for the diversity of weather but also of birds. It’s for that reason that most Big Day counts and Birdathons are done during this period, most often in late April. It’s also logically the appropriate time for us to have the America’s Birdiest (Coastal) County event.

But late April is also a critical time, with wintering birds- both regular and rare- on the verge of leaving and our later spring migrants just starting to arrive. It can be a tricky balance between being too late for departing birds and too early for late arriving ones.

This year our ABC count was held from April 27-29, and though the 263 birds recorded fell a bit short of previous numbers, achieving the highest species count- though a fun challenge- is not the only goal. Often what’s missing provides as valuable information as what was found, and with much of the data entered into eBird this three day period of intensive coverage generates a great deal of useful information.

Migrant numbers continued to build through April and timing appeared to be more typical as opposed to last spring’s number of later arrivals. Passerines generally appeared to be present in good numbers. Though April and early May are not prime time for eastern vagrants, a handful were found-- including two birds new to the county. It certainly made things more interesting and left one wondering what else might follow.

Aside from a few Ross’s Geese persisting at various lakes and ponds, one that actually decided to return north passed over Claremont on April 30 (Tom Miko). Another odd goose was lingering Greater White-fronted Goose at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Hollywood on May 4 (Andrew Howe).

Ducks of note included a late American Wigeon at Hahamongna Watershed Park in Pasadena on May 23 (Darren Dowell), a lone Black Scoter continuing off Dockweiler State Beach in El Segundo through March 27 and Long-tailed Ducks doing likewise there through April 23 and off Santa Monica Beach through March 20.

American Bitterns, apparently absent this winter, were noted as migrants at Holiday Lake in the west Antelope Valley on April 16 (Cal Yorke), at Madrona Marsh in Torrance on April 29 (obs?), and at Harbor Park in Wilmington on May 1 (Jose Sandoval).

An immature Little Blue Heron was at Malibu Lagoon on April 20 (Wanda Dameron, Ellen Vahan) and a still very rare LA County Reddish Egret was along Ballona Creek near the Culver bridge on April 9 (Rick Pine) and flying over nearby Westchester a few moments later (Kevin Larson). Far more usual were Cattle Egrets at Malibu Lagoon on April 15 (Michael Zarky), at Holiday Lake in the west Antelope Valley on April 16 (Cal Yorke) and along the San Gabriel River in Pico Rivera on May 9 (Larry Schmahl). Two more were at Legg Lake in South El Monte from May 18-21 (Ray Jillson). Away from the Lancaster area where they are expected, twenty-eight White-faced Ibis flew over Santa Fe Dam on April 27 (Darren Dowell).

Swainson’s Hawks continued to pass through numbers in early spring with fifty over Claremont on March 23 (Martha Estus), another fifty over La Canada on March 26 (Will & Lois Fulmer). Numbers waned as spring progressed, but a few were still being noted through early May.

Always of interest away from their coastal wintering areas, three Snowy Plovers were at the Lancaster Sewer Ponds on May 15 (Kris Ohlenkamp).

A bird that may have been pure enough to be labeled an American Oystercatcher was at White’s Point in San Pedro on May 2 (Bernardo Alps).

Solitary Sandpipers were in short supply this spring with one at Madrona Marsh in Torrance from March 31-April 11 (Dinuk Magammana) and another at Hahamongna Watershed Park in Pasadena on April 7 (Darren Dowell).

Quite scarce as spring transients were single Lesser Yellowlegs at the San Gabriel Coastal Spreading Grounds in Pico Rivera on April 17 (Norm Vargas) and in the west Antelope Valley on April 19 (Dave Goodward).

Nine hundred Whimbrels flying over the Poppy Preserve west of Lancaster on April 19 (Dave Goodward) gives some indication of how many may pass through the county in spring.

Always of note inland were ten Sanderlings at the Lancaster Sewer Ponds on May 7 (Jon Feenstra).

Two Baird’s Sandpipers, regular in fall but quite rare in spring, were in the west Antelope Valley’s AVEK groundwater recharge ponds on April 16 (Cal Yorke). Also found was a Pectoral Sandpiper at Malibu Lagoon on April 18 (Irwin Woldman).

Generally of interest in the county, but especially so away from the coast was a Dunlin on the Tejon Ranch at the LA and Kern County line on April 28 (Ron Cyger).

A Franklin’s Gull was at Malibu Lagoon on April 15 (Michael Zarky) and three at the Lancaster Sewer Ponds on April 17 were the first reported there this spring (Cal Yorke). Farther south on the coast were single Franklin’s Gulls off White Point in San Pedro on May 2 and at Cabrillo Beach on May 10 (Bernardo Alps)

Following above average numbers in the region earlier in the year, a lone Common Murre was at Cabrillo Beach on May 10 (Bernardo Alps).

Unusual in spring was a White-winged Dove in the Mt. Washington area on April 22 (Julian Donahue). A Common Ground-Dove was heard calling at Powder Canyon in La Habra Heights on April 27 indicating that a few still persist there (Jon Feenstra).

Lesser Nighthawks were present as early as March 27 along the San Gabriel River in Duarte where they are expected later in spring and summer (Norm Vargas). Away from breeding areas were single birds at John Anson Ford Park in Bell Gardens on May 6 (Richard Barth), in Playa Vista on May 15 (Dan Cooper) and one over Pasadena on May ? (Ron Cyger). A Common Poorwill at Holiday Lake in the west Antelope Valley on April 16 was also obviously a migrant (Cal Yorke).

Over a dozen Black Swifts over the San Gabriel River in Duarte on May 10 were the only ones reported this spring (Norm Vargas).

A Calliope Hummingbird at Kenneth Hahn Park in Baldwin Hills from April 9-13 (Ann & Eric Brooks) was the only one reported from the coastal slope this spring.

Woodpeckers included a Lewis’s Woodpecker continuing near Cloudburst Summit in the San Gabriel Mountains through April 9 and a Northern “Yellow-shafted” Flicker in Descanso Gardens in La Canada on March 26 (Will & Lois Fulmer).

Wintering Gray Flycatchers persisted at Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City through April 12 and on the Veteran’s Administration grounds in West Los Angeles through April 21. Migrant Grays were detected at Placerita Canyon on April 6 (Brad Rumble) at Hahamongna Watershed Park in Pasadena on April 20 (David Bell).

Also wintering were Dusky-capped Flycatchers that remained at Creek Park in La Mirada through April 14 and at Veteran’s Park in Bell Gardens through May 6. A Tropical Kingbird spending its second winter at Legg Lake in South El Monte was present through at least April 1.

Quite a rarity in the county was a White-eyed Vireo at El Segundo Library Park in El Segundo from May 10-13 (Richard Barth). An even bigger surprise was the appearance of second bird, this one at Harbor Regional Park in Wilmington on May 13 (Martin Byhower).

A Plumbeous Vireo in Exposition Park on April 2 may have been a spring migrant or a bird that wintered locally (Richard Barth), while another one at Wheeler Park in Claremont on April 8 was likely a migrant (Tom Miko).

It was a good spring for Purple Martins in the county- at least as far as migrants were concerned. The first reported was a probable flying over Studio City on March 30 (Dan Cooper). Two were over Glendale on April 20 (Andy Birch), singles were at Harbor Park in Wilmington on April 15 (Ed Griffin) and at the Ballona Freshwater Marsh on April 15 (Martin Byhower), while four were at Sand Dune Park in Manhattan Beach on April 26 (Dinuk Magammana, Tommye Hite). On the desert, two were over Apollo Park in Lancaster on April 27 (Jon Fisher) and the last was one in Pico Rivera on May 9 (Larry Schmahl).

A rather early Swainson’s Thrush was in suitable breeding habitat along the San Gabriel River’s West Fork below Cogswell Reservoir on April 12 (Robb Hamilton).

Black-and-white Warblers included a continuing wintering bird at Legg Lake in South El Monte through April 12 and spring migrants in Zuma Canyon on April 14 (Nick & Mary Freeman) and at Sand Dune Park in Manhattan Beach on May 5 (Ed Stonick).

A bird that may have wintered locally was a Virginia’s Warbler on the Veteran’s Administration grounds in West Los Angeles from April 21-22 (Richard Barth)

A probable Hooded Warbler was seen briefly at Sand Dune Park in Manhattan Beach on May 12 (Ann & Eric Brooks) and a wintering American Redstart continued in the Sepulveda Basin through March 27.

Northern Parulas were represented by a wintering bird continuing bird at Legg Lake in South El Monte through April 14 and spring migrants at Sand Dune Park in Manhattan Beach from May 4-5 (Dinuk Magammana), in Playa Vista on May 7 (Dan Cooper), at DeForest Park in Long Beach on May 10 (David Bell) and at the Village Green in Los Angeles on May 22 (Don Sterba).

Back for its second winter, the Chestnut-sided Warbler was present through April 12 at Legg Lake in South El Monte. Palm Warblers were at Banning Park in Wilmington from April 22-23 (Martin Byhower) and at Apollo Park in Lancaster on May 7 (Jon Feenstra) and a Black-throated Green Warbler wintering in the Sepulveda Basin was seen through March 24.

A Green-tailed Towhee at Madrona Marsh in Torrance on April 26 was the only one reported on the coastal slope (Ron Melin).

Clay-colored Sparrows included a bird continuing at Madrona Marsh in Torrance through April 20 and two presumed spring migrants at Castaic Lagoon on April 7 (Jon Fisher). Rather rare on the coastal slope in spring was a Brewer’s Sparrow at Kenneth Hahn Park in Baldwin Hills from March 26- April ? (Richard Barth) and two more at Santa Fe Dam in Irwindale on April 27 (Darren Dowell).

Most remarkable was a Field Sparrow found at Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area in Baldwin Hills on April 19 and seen through May 9 (Ann & Eric Brooks). This was a first county record for a statewide rarity that has been found in California fewer than a dozen times. Its remarkably long stay allowed many birders a chance to see it. Attention paid to the Field Sparrow at Kennerh Hahn SRA also turned up a Grasshopper Sparrow there on April 20 (Jim Hardesty).

A Black-chinned Sparrow near Portuguese Bend on the Palos Verdes Peninsula on April 15 was one of few recorded away from breeding areas (Ed Griffin).

Adding to the ABC tally was a lingering Vesper Sparrow in the Antelope Valley on April 27 (Brian Daniels).

Wintering White-throated Sparrows continued at Augustus Hawkins Natural Park in Los Angeles through March 30, at Descanso Gardens in La Canada through April 27 and at Kenneth Hahn SRA in Baldwin Hills through May 2.

A Hepatic Tanager continued at Gonzales Park in Compton through April 14 and a Summer Tanager was still there as of March 24. Migrant Summer Tanagers were found at Bonelli Regional Park in San Dimas on April 28 (Karlene & Henk Campo), at DeForest Park in Long Beach on May 10 (David Bell) and at Sycamore Canyon in Whittier where two birds were present on May 10 (Larry Schmahl).

Rose-breasted Grosbeaks were at La Mirada Creek Park on March 28 (Jonathan Rowley), at DeForest Park in Long Beach on May 10 (David Bell), in Woodland Hills on May 12 (Ed Stauss), at Whittier Narrows on May 23 (Robb Hamilton, Wilson Walters) and in Long Beach from May 23-25 (Ilich Zuniga)

An Indigo Bunting back for its second winter in the Los Feliz area remained through April 19 (Andy Birch). Spring migrants included one at Apollo Park in Lancaster from May 6-7 (Becky & Steve Turley), two at Paramount Ranch in the Santa Monica Mountains from May 11-12 (James Bailey) and one near the Ballona Freshwater Marsh on May 15 (Rick Pine).

Yellow-headed Blackbirds were on the move on the coastal slope, with a few singles and small groups turning up by mid-April and some still being reported through mid May.

Continuing wintering orioles included an Orchard Oriole present through April 29 at Ralph Dills Park in Paramount and a Baltimore Oriole at the South Coast Botanic Garden in Rolling Hills Estates through March 31. A Baltimore Oriole at El Segundo Library Park from May 12-13 however was undoubtedly a spring vagrant (Tom Wurster).

An extraordinary find was a Common Redpoll on San Clemente Island present from May 3-4 (Martin Sluk). A record from Julian in San Diego County this past February notwithstanding, a record so far south- and at this late date- is exceptional and this bird was another first for LA County. Following a decade long absence from the state, there have now been ten records in as many years, yet prior to these two most recent records, this species has been only an extremely rare winter visitor to the northern part of the state.

We’ll have to leave it to the next column to know what vagrants late May and early June produces. But with two new county birds already under our belt, the end of spring may be somewhat anti-climactic-- though in the world of birding assuming so would be unwise.

As the last of the spring migrants have trickled through and summer approaches, by early July the thoughts of local birders inevitably turn to shorebirding. The lower LA River, Piute Ponds, Malibu Lagoon and the Ballona area where remnants of suitable habitat remain will all be good spots to check for regular and rare species.

The San Gabriel Mountains will offer high elevation specialties such as Williamson’s Sapsucker, Clark’s Nutcracker and Townsend‘s Solitaire. Selasphorus hummingbirds will be working their way south in late June and July, taking advantage of flowering plants at higher altitudes to fuel their journey. Breeding activity will continue at higher elevations after things have quieted in the lowlands, and by August significant numbers of southbound passerines will be moving through the mountains.

Originally published in the Western Tanager, Vol. 78 No. 6 July/August 2012