Birds of the Season- April 2013

By Jon Fisher 

Plenty of states and counties have their own specialties and unique birds that make them a worthwhile visit for the avid birder.  Some even offer an impressive variety of species.  But when it comes to birds from a wide range of habitats at a latitude that offers a remarkable cross section of resident, summering, wintering and migrant birds, southern California- and especially LA County- has few rivals.  Each season showcases the diversity to be found here and February through April was no exception.

 Among our many regular species, plenty of wintering rarities continued into March and April and a number of new finds were made.  February saw the return of a bird unrecorded for decades and March produced yet another new bird for the county list. 

Our earlier passerine migrants- aside from the truly early swallows- arrived on schedule in March.  By the middle of the month Western Kingbirds, Warbling Vireos and Bullock’s Orioles among others were in widespread evidence.  The tide of spring migration really began to surge in the first half of April with migrants being hard to miss wherever you were birding.

An aspect of spring migration that is both easy to overlook and often difficult to quantify in species that are both winter visitors and migrants is differentiating between the two.  The push of birds is more obvious in species such as Lincoln’s Sparrows whose numbers show an obvious spike as migrants pass through in March.  It’s worth watching for similar movements in other species, especially if you regularly work a specific “patch”.

As winter progressed and spring began, a lack of precipitation continued, making this one of the two driest seasons of the last decade.  But since people prefer to recreate in green places, most parks and residential neighborhoods benefit from plenty of artificial watering.  That these areas tend to attract birds both in winter and during migration is no secret.  Indeed drier years likely make these places even more appealing to birds, thus more productive for birders. 

A number of Snow Geese were present in the Antelope Valley and single birds were on the coastal slope in Pico Rivera at the San Gabriel Coastal Basin Spreading Grounds on February 17 (Peter Sharp) and at the Rio Hondo basins on March 2 (Larry Schmahl).  In addition to a handful of Cackling and Ross’s Geese found on the coastal slope, ten Ross’s Geese in the Antelope Valley on March 8 was a good concentration (David Bell, Darren Dowell).

Dabbling ducks included both a Eurasian Wigeon and a hybrid American x Eurasian Wigeon at Reseda Park from March 14-25 (Irwin Woldman).

A Long-tailed Duck near the Ballona Creek mouth in Playa del Rey continued through March 15, with what may have been a second bird not far away at Dockweiler State Beach on March 30 (Frederick Ruckersfeldt).  Two more continued at Quail Lake near Gorman through March 21 as did a White-winged Scoter through at least March 26.  Other White-winged Scoters were off the Palos Verdes Peninsula on March 1 (William Hull) and at the Ballona Creek mouth on March 23 (Kris Ohlenkamp).

Scarce away from the immediate coast were two Red-breasted Mergansers at Quail Lake from February 23-March 26 (Mark Scheel) and two more were at Bonelli Park in San Dimas from March 11-April 1 (Rod Higbie). 

Always a nice find were Red-necked Grebes at the Ballona Creek mouth on March 14 (Karen Zumwalt) and off Leo Carillo Beach on March 17 (Daniel Tinoco).

A Manx Shearwater a few miles south of Cabrillo Beach on February 12 added to the relatively few records of this species in LA County compared to the state as a whole (Bernardo Alps).

Remarkable was a probable Magnificent Frigatebird- with the far rarer Great Frigatebird also a possibility- at Malibu Lagoon on April 2 (Katy Delaney).  This date is well outside the June through mid September window when the vast majority of Magnificent Frigatebirds have been recorded in California and separating these two species can be problematic.  While they shouldn’t serve as the sole documentation for rarities, photos can prove essential in resolving records such as this one

A Brown Booby at Long Beach Harbor on February 13 may have been the same bird present not far from there last December (David Bell).

An American Bittern at the Sepulveda Basin on April 6 was the only one reported during the period (Frank & Susan Gilliland).  Also of note were ten Cattle Egrets at the Chatsworth Nature Preserve on April 14 (Arthur Langton)

White-faced Ibises were at Eldorado Park in Long Beach from February 16-22 (John Fitch), at the Piute Ponds on March 26 (Kimball Garrett) and there were up to three birds at the Sepulveda Basin from April 2-10 (Daniel Tinoco, Irwin Woldman).  A good-sized flock of fifty was observed flying over the LA River near Glendale on April 16 (Andy Birch) and a lone bird was at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery on April 17 (Linda Navroth). 

One of the reintroduced California Condors was spotted as it wandered by Quail Lake near Gorman on February 23 (Mark Scheel).

Bald Eagles continued at Quail Lake through February 23 and at Elizabeth Lake on the north side of the San Gabriels through February 23.  One to two were at Bonelli Regional Park in San Dimas off and on through March 30 and another was at the Piute Ponds on March 8 (Darren Dowell).

Always rare in the county were pale richardsonii Merlins at Legg Lake in South El Monte on March 6 (David Bell) and at the Earvin Magic Johnson Recreation Area in Willowbrook on March 3 (Kimball Garrett).

An excellent find was a Wilson’s Plover at Dockweiler State Beach in El Segundo on March 26 (Walter Lamb).  Though there are now over twenty southern California records, this was the first for LA County.  With well over a dozen found in San Diego County and multiple records from both Orange and Ventura Counties, this was a bird long expected in LA County.  Though not a long distance migrant, its normal range includes much of coastal Baja California and Mexico’s west coast, thus potential vagrants to coastal southern California needn’t travel far. 

The only spring Solitary Sandpiper reported thus far was at the Ballona Freshwater Marsh from April 11-17 (Don Sterba).

A push of Red-necked Phalaropes was noted in early April with twenty along Ballona Creek on April 8 (Moro Rogers) and thirty-eight on the lower LA River in Long Beach on April 9 (Richard Barth).

Three Glaucous Gulls were found in March- all of which presumably wintered farther south.  Reports came from San Clemente Island on March 3 (Justin Stahl, John Garrett), along Ballona Creek near the 90 Freeway from March 18-19 (Jonathan Coffin) and at Dockweiler State Beach in El Segundo from March 28-April 7 (John Garrett).

The first Franklin’s Gulls of the season were two at the Piute Ponds on Edwards AFB on April 12 (Jim Moore).

A White-winged Dove was in Pasadena on February 17 (Jane Bork), a probable one was in Willowbrook on February 24 (Mark & Janet Scheel) with another in Claremont on April 10 (Tom Miko).

Common Ground-Doves, scarce and local in the county, included one at Powder Canyon in La Habra Heights on February 23 where they are regular and a small number continuing along the San Gabriel River in the Bellflower area.

Always rare, with a lack of suitable habitat being the primary culprit, a Short-eared Owl was fairly reliable at the Ballona Freshwater Marsh from February 17-April 5 (Bob Muenckler).  More expected was a Burrowing Owl at Dockweiler State Beach in El Segundo from February 22-March 13.

A Lewis’s Woodpecker that continued at Temescal Canyon in Pacific Palisades through March 22 was the only one reported over the period.

Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers included a continuing bird at Ed Vincent Park in Inglewood through March 1, one at the South Coast Botanic Gardens in Rolling Hills Estates on March 3 (Dinuk Magamanna) and another at Castaic Lagoon on March 16 (Lance Benner).  A Yellow-bellied Sapsucker or hybrid Yellow-bellied x Red-naped Sapsucker was at Legg Lake in South El Monte through February 27. 

White-headed Woodpeckers away from their regular higher elevation haunts included one continuing at Pearblossom Park in the Antelope Valley through February 23 and one at Vogel Flat in the San Gabriel Mountains on February 20 (Jon Fisher).

A Yellow-shafted Flicker continued at Madrona Marsh through April 19 in Torrance and a new one was at Whiting Woods near Verdugo City on March 5 (Kimball Garrett).

A wintering Hammond’s Flycatcher was still at Bonelli Park in San Dimas as of March 22 and two Gray Flycatchers, scarce migrants on the coastal slope, were along the San Gabriel River in Duarte on April 17 (Robb Hamilton).

Probably wintering locally was a Pacific-slope Flycatcher at Ed Vincent Park in Inglewood on February 22 (Richard Barth).  Either wintering or an early migrant was another Pac-slope at Del Valle Park in Long Beach on March 9 (Andrew Lee).

Vermilion Flycatchers continued at the Sepulveda Basin in Van Nuys through March 3 and at the Earvin Magic Johnson Recreation Area in Willowbrook through March 9.  New birds were found at Hahamongna Watershed Park in Pasadena on April 8 (Darren Dowell) and at Legacy Park in Malibu on April 11 (Kathleen Waldron).

The Dusky-capped Flycatcher wintering at Veteran’s Park in Bell Gardens remained through April 8 and another continued at Creek Park in La Mirada through March 20.

A wintering Ash-throated Flycatcher was found at El Dorado Park in Long Beach on February 15 (Tracy Drake).  Others continued at the Sepulveda Basin in Van Nuys through February 16 and at Ralph Dills Park in Paramount through March 3.

The Tropical Kingbird persisted at Legg Lake through April 7 and one was at El Dorado Park in Long Beach from February 19-20 (Becky & Steve Turley).  A Western Kingbird, still quite rare in winter, was at the Arboretum in Arcadia on February 27 (Amy Williamson).

A Northern Shrike was found at Quail Lake on February 26 where it was reported through March 4 (John Sterling).  This species was last recorded in the county in 1979 following a virtual invasion of six birds during the winter of 1977-78.  As one would expect, the Antelope Valley has been the area where almost all have occurred, with an interesting anomalous record from Eaton Canyon in Pasadena in 1973.

Bell’s Vireos had returned to Hansen Dam as of March 24 when five birds were already on territory (Kimball Garrett).  By mid April they were widespread in appropriate habitat, continuing the remarkable recovery of this species.

Among a handful of continuing wintering birds, a surprising number of spring Plumbeous Vireos were found with birds at the Village Green Condominiums in Los Angeles on March 23- with the same bird or a new one there on April 20 (Don Sterba, Richard Barth), at Wheeler Park in Claremont from April 3-10 (Tom Miko), at South Gate Park in South Gate on April 8 (Richard Barth) and at the LA County Arboretum in Arcadia on April 16 (David Bell).  The far rarer Blue-headed Vireo wintering at Harbor Park in Harbor City was reported through March 16.

A continuing Pacific Wren in Santa Anita Canyon through March 5 was the only one reported.

Newly discovered was a small population of California Gnatcatchers at the El Segundo Dunes on March 15, a previously unknown locality for this species (Tracy Drake).

Common on the deserts but quite scarce as a migrant on the coastal slope were Sage Thrashers at Hansen Dam in Lakeview Terrace on February 16 (Dessi Sieburth, Beatrix Schwartz) and at the Ocean Trails Preserve on the Palos Verdes Peninsula on March 1 (William Hull).

A Lucy’s Warbler was found near Victory Park in Pasadena on February 16 (Gerald Orcholski).  Virginia’s Warblers included one continuing at the Veteran’s Administration in West LA through March 13 and another found in Sycamore Canyon in Whittier on April 14 (John Fitch).

Black-and-white Warblers continued at El Segundo Library Park through April 17, at Legg Lake in South El Monte through March 30 and at Bonelli Regional Park in San Dimas through March 15.  Others were at Alondra Park in Lawndale through February 19 (Dave Moody) and at Recreation Park in El Segundo from March 12-April 13 (Richard Barth).

A spring American Redstart was in Monterey Park on April 18 (Jane Strong).  Northern Parulas continued at Legg Lake in South El Monte through March 30, at Madrona Marsh in Torrance through March 22 and at the Earvin Magic Johnson Recreation Area in Willowbrook through March 9.  A new bird was at Oak Park Cemetery in Claremont on April 15 (Tom Miko).

Also new- and presumably wintering locally even though discovered late in the season- was a Chestnut-sided Warbler at Heartwell Park in Long Beach from March 9-11 (Andrew Lee).

After a spate of reports in the fall and early winter, with a number of those birds continuing, another half dozen Palm Warblers turned up between February 25 and April 17.  It was quite a year for this species in the county.

Far rarer were continuing wintering Pine Warblers at Hansen Dam through April 9 and at the Earvin Magic Johnson Recreation area in Willowbrook through March 31.

Also continuing was a Painted Redstart at Ed Vincent Park in Inglewood through that was reported through March 4.

Quite rare in winter was a Green-tailed Towhee continuing at Kenneth Hahn Park through February 20 and one found at the El Segundo Dunes on March 15 (Tracy Drake).

Clay-colored Sparrows turned up at Eaton Canyon in Pasadena (David Bell) and at Maywood Riverfront Park in Bell (Richard Barth), both on April 12.

Extremely rare in winter- as well as difficult to detect when not singing, but probably more regular than records indicate- was a Grasshopper Sparrow found at Hahamongna Watershed Park on February 26 and seen again on April 8 (Darren Dowell).  Another, this one almost certainly a spring migrant, was along the Santa Clara River in Valencia on April 11 (Jim Pike). 

An additional handful of new White-throated Sparrows turned up, adding to those continuing and the already remarkable total for the winter.

Rare Dark-eyed Juncos included “Gray-headed” Juncos at Hollywood Forever Cemetery from February 10-12 (Richard Barth), a continuing bird at Ed Vincent Park in Inglewood through February 22, one at Holiday Lake in the Antelope Valley on February 23 (Mark Scheel) and another at Cheseboro Park in Agoura Hills on March 25 (Scott Logan).  “Pink-sided” Juncos were at Hollywood Forever Cemetery from February 10-12 (Richard Barth) and at St. Andrew’s Priory near Valyermo on March 31 (Mark & Janet Scheel).

Summer Tanagers were at the Los Angeles County Arboretum on February 27 (Amy Williamson), at West LA College on March 3 (Don Sterba), at Ed Vincent Park in Inglewood from March 4-April 6 (Richard Barth) and in South Pasadena on March 17 (David Bell).  A continuing male was in the Old Zoo area of Griffith Park through March 24.

Rare in winter was a Black-headed Grosbeak- present since December- that continued at Buena Vista High School in Los Angeles through February 22 (Garrett Lepper).

Once more regular but now also quite rare in winter was a Hooded Oriole at the Huntington Gardens in San Marino on February 15 (Dan Cooper).  A Baltimore Oriole was at the LA County Arboretum in Arcadia from March 16-April 19 (Mark & Janet Scheel) and another continued at La Mirada‘s Creek Park through April 16. 

A handful of Red Crossbills continued on the desert at Pearblossom Park through March 31.  A dozen were at Holiday Lake in the west Antelope Valley from February 23-March 2 (Mark Scheel) and a few others remained at Apollo Park near Lancaster through March 2.  Another dozen were at Castaic Lagoon on March 11 (Jim Hardesty).

Though the bulk of passerine migration will be over by mid May, an ever decreasing number of birds will be passing through even into early June.  Desert localities such as Holiday Lake and Apollo Park and various ranches, windbreaks and other green patches will be worth checking for possible vagrants among the regulars.  But rare birds will turn up elsewhere too.  Coastal spots, urban and suburban parks and foothill canyons can all produce good birds as spring migration starts to wind down.

Birding the San Gabriels, worthwhile at any time, will become more productive into May and June once summer visitors have arrived in force and breeding activity there reaches its peak.  Any of the numerous springs along Highway 2 and those requiring a hike to reach will be worth checking.  Among the more regular nocturnal birds, Mexican Whip-poor-wills are to be listened for at higher elevations but are nonetheless extremely rare.  The north slope between Angeles Forest Highway and Big Rock Creek is worth exploring for potentially breeding Gray Flycatchers and possible Gray Vireos, the latter unrecorded for many years but formerly somewhat regular there.  A lot of territory inevitably goes uncovered in these mountains and there’s plenty for curious birders to explore. 

Originally published in the Western Tanager Vol. 79 No. 5 May/June 2013