Birds of the Season – July 2012

By Jon Fisher

The big news of spring migration was made by early May with two new species- a Field Sparrow and Common Redpoll- having been added to the Los Angeles County list in as many weeks. Not bad at all, but late spring and vagrant season- at least as far as what we normally expect- was underwhelming.

Eastern warblers were very scarce, with just a few recorded by mid May and almost none reported later in the month when they are even more likely. Other vagrant passerines were largely absent as well, but in spite of that there were a few good birds around.

Once most of migration was over, attention in June and July turned to the mountains where there was still ample bird activity and always the potential for something unusual. Indeed the mountains produced some interesting records during the period, including two Mexican Whip-poor-wills and breeding Long-eared Owls.

Though July might seem a rather slow time positioned between spring and fall migration, a number of birds were already on the move. As early as mid June a few Wilson’s Phalaropes were passing through and these were followed in July by increasing numbers of Willets, Whimbrels, peeps and Long-billed Dowitchers. The mountains were hosting southbound Selasphorus hummingbirds, while Belted Kingfishers, a few Common Terns and others signaled that “fall” migration for some is well underway by early summer.

At the other end of the spectrum, a few waterfowl lingered after most had long since headed north. A Greater White-fronted Goose was at Harbor Park in Wilmington on May 30 (Martin Byhower) and an oiled Brant was found at Malibu Lagoon on June 4 (Roy van de Hoek).

A pair of Blue-winged Teal were along the LA River in the Sepulveda Basin on June 2 (Scott Logan), indicating some potential for local breeding. Single Northern Pintails were along the LA River in Atwater Village on June 3 (Richard Barth) and along the lower LA River in Long Beach from June 16-July 17 (Jon Fisher).

Diving ducks included a Bufflehead on the LA River in Long Beach on June 15 (Jon Fisher) and a White-winged Scoter at Malibu Lagoon on June 18 (Irwin Woldman).

Provoking interest was a Wild Turkey found in San Gabriel Canyon near Morris Reservoir on July 1 (Ron & Susie Cyger). A small introduced population was once in this area, with evidence of these birds being noted along the San Gabriel River’s West Fork some thirty years ago. Yet as inaccessible and scarcely birded as much of this area is, it‘s conceivable that a few still persist here.

With very few records for the county, a Manx Shearwater well photographed off the Palos Verdes Peninsula on July 29 was a nice find (Bernardo Alps).

Scarce inland in the county was a Brown Pelican at Bonelli Park in San Dimas on June 25. It was joined by a second on June 27 (Rod Higbie).

Single Cattle Egrets were at Harbor Regional Park in Wilmington from May 27-30 (Ed Griffin) and continuing at Legg Lake in South El Monte through June 13. A few White-faced Ibis turned up on the coastal slope between May 23 and July 16 with the largest group a flock of twenty-three birds over South El Monte.

Generally absent after from May through July, a Common Gallinule continued along Ballona Creek through July 1 and another was at Madrona Marsh in Torrance through May 26 (Dinuk Magammana).

Shorebirds of interest included two Solitary Sandpipers at Hansen Dam in Lakeview Terrace on July 22 which were the first reported this fall (Kimball Garrett). The first Baird’s Sandpiper was in Lancaster on July 26 along with a Ruddy Turnstone (Jim Moore) and a Sanderling was at the ponds on July 28 (Kimball Garrett).

Summering Glaucous-winged Gulls were reported from Dockweiler State Beach in El Segundo on June 11 (Moro Rogers) and along the LA River near DeForest Park in Long Beach through July 18 (Richard Barth).

Single Common Terns were found on the lower LA River in Long Beach on June 27 (Richard Barth), at the LA River mouth on July 14 (Jon Fisher) and on the river near the 405 Freeway on July 26 (David Bell). Regular on the deserts in spring but scarce on the coastal slope was a Black Tern at Bonelli Regional Park in San Dimas on May 23 (Rod Higbie).

River channels offer a convenient pathway for coastal birds to move well inland. One such example was a Black Skimmer on the LA River about nine miles from the coast on June 20 (Richard Barth).

Small numbers of Pigeon Guillemots persisted along the coast in the latter half of June (Bernardo Alps, Mark & Janet Scheel) and one was at the Ballona Creek mouth on July 25 (Bob Schallman).

Always a rare find in the county was a Yellow-billed Cuckoo at Ernest E. Debs Park in Los Angeles on June 25 (John Garrett). Given the locale this bird was certainly just passing through, but a probable cuckoo heard in the Sepulveda Basin on July 10 was in an area where potential breeding habitat exists (Dan Cooper). One can always hope.

Owls in the San Gabriel Mountains have been of interest recently, especially in the areas of change wrought by Station Fire. On June 21, A Barn Owl was seemingly out of place near Upper Big Tujunga Canyon Road and the Angeles Crest Highway (Lance Benner). Even more intriguing was a pair of Long-eared Owls, first discovered in April and then confirmed breeding on June 26 also near upper Big Tujunga Canyon Road (Lance Benner). Formerly abundant in the Los Angeles basin, this species has been reduced to a rare migrant and winter visitor, though a few are still breeding on the deserts and along the Santa Clara River drainage.

A Burrowing Owl, first found last December, was back in a field near the Long Beach Airport on July 9 (Becky & Steve Turley)

Returning again this spring was a Mexican Whip-poor-will in the San Gabriel Mountains just east of Islip Saddle. It was present at least as of June 9 and heard through June 21 (Darren Dowell). More remarkable was the appearance of another- perhaps a fluke discovery of a migrant- calling in the front range near Brown Mountain Saddle on June 11 (Lance Benner). Naturally but unfortunately, night birding attracts far fewer birders than does daylight birding. One can only wonder what increased nocturnal coverage might turn up.

Following an absence of reports this spring, three Black Swifts were seen over Claremont Wilderness Park on June 14, with at least two reported there through June 25 (Tom Miko). A probable Chimney Swift was near Union Station in downtown Los Angeles on June 18 & 20 (Tom Miko) and on July 16 one was confirmed along the river near the 110 Freeway crossing (Kimball Garrett).

Out of place was a singing Bell’s Vireo in the Antelope Valley near the 14 Freeway at Avenue G. on May 28 where one was also found in 2006 (Jon Feenstra). Also of note- and away from regular breeding areas- was a pair of Bell’s Vireos at Harbor Regional Park in Wilmington on May 28 (Ed Griffin) and an adult and juvenile at Hahamongna Watershed Park in Pasadena from July 15-29 (David Bell). For a bird that was present as a breeder at only a couple of sites in the county only three decades ago, this species’ recovery and continuing expansion has been remarkable.

A Bank Swallow at Madrona Marsh in Torrance on May 26 was the only report during the period (Dinuk Magammana).

An Oak Titmouse present at the Village Green Condominiums in Los Angeles for two years was recently joined by another and confirmed breeding on June 30 (Don Sterba). While common in our local mountains, foothills and adjacent areas, there are few records of birds away from those areas. This and a few other recent records seem to indicate a modest range expansion.

Portending a possible irruption of White-breasted Nuthatches into the lowlands this fall were July reports from the Prado Basin in western Riverside County and of two birds at Bonelli Regional Park in San Dimas on July 23 (Rod & Pat Higbie). Predicting such movements from such limited data can be tricky however.

Notable was a California Gnatcatcher carrying nesting material at Whittier Narrows on May 26 (Joyce Waterman). At least one bird was present here in (since?) the summer of 2010, but no breeding behavior had been previously documented. This sedentary species is limited almost exclusively to areas of relatively undisturbed coastal sage scrub.

Santa Catalina Island produced five Cedar Waxwings on June 15 (Robb Hamilton). Though this species is typically very early to arrive and late to leave, most are gone by the end of May.

American Redstarts were at Pt. Fermin Park in San Pedro from June 14-16 (David Ellsworth) and near Loyola Marymount University from June 17-18 (Don Sterba).

A Black-throated Gray Warbler in the Santa Monica Mountains on June 23 was interesting as they are not known to breed there, and this date should preclude a late spring migrant (Joyce Waterman).

A Wilson’s Warbler at Dawson Saddle in the San Gabriel Mountains on June 31 (John Rogers) was of interest as it was away from expected breeding locales, though small numbers do breed in willow thickets above 2,000 meters. Another was at Lily Spring on July 7 (John Garrett).

Though more expected on the deserts than on the coastal slope, a Green-tailed Towhee at Pearblossom Park in Antelope Valley on May 27 was of interest (Jon Feenstra).

Lincoln’s Sparrows are very scarce breeders in the San Gabriels, thus a singing bird at Lily Spring in the San Gabriel Mountains from June 1-July 7 was both noteworthy and at a new locale (Lance Benner).

Cardinalids included a Rose-breasted Grosbeak near the Ballona Freshwater Marsh from June 3-5 (Don Sterba) and a male Indigo Bunting continuing at Paramount Ranch in the Santa Monica Mountains through June 23. Another Indigo was at Towsley Canyon near Santa Clarita from June 13-17 (Doug Martin) and a fall migrant was at Hahamongna Watershed Park in Pasadena on July 29 (John Garrett).

A remarkable- and quite late- spring vagrant was a Dickcissel at Hansen Dam on June 23 (Kimball Garrett).

A male Yellow-headed Blackbird along the LA River in Long Beach on July 13 was likely an early fall migrant (David Bell). Single Tricolored Blackbirds were at Alondra Park in Lawndale on July 4 (Dinuk Magammana) and in El Segundo on July 22 (Mark Conrad).

Lawrence’s Goldfinches continue to flourish following the Station Fire, being hard to miss almost anywhere in the burn area. Of note were about 100 birds present at Chilao Flat on July 7 (John Garrett).

Eight Red Crossbills near Blue Ridge in the San Gabriel Mountains on July 7 were the only ones reported (John Garrett). This nomadic and often difficult to detect species is undoubtedly more common than records indicate.

As we head into September we’ll find out if the fall is kinder than spring in offering up wayward passerines. While vagrants are hardly the only reason we bird, they certainly add a very appealing dimension to the pursuit. In fall the potential for strays from Siberia, post-breeding wanderers from Mexico and eastern songbirds veering off course make birding especially attractive in California. Almost anything is possible. Add to that the host of regular migrants that autumn brings, the cooler nights and shorter days… there’s truly no better time to be out in the field.

The deserts will still be hot but can often be rewarding while the coastal areas are productive and pleasantly cooler. Good numbers of migrants will be passing through the mountains in August and September and any patch of green on the coastal slope can attract birds. Many portions of the San Gabriel River and Los Angeles River offer great variety and will host migrants from waterfowl to shorebirds to passerines. But there’s really no need to enumerate all the potential locations—in fall most anywhere can be productive.

Originally Published in the Western Tanager, Vol. 79 No. 1, Sept/Oct 2012