BOTS Cassins-Sparrow by-Tom-Benson web

Cassin's Sparrow, Photo by Tom Benson

Birds of the Season—June 2014

By Jon Fisher

Migration is a large part of what makes birding so appealing.  The variety and constant change make time spent in the field a good deal more interesting.  Thus we’re quite fortunate that in southern California at least some birds are migrating virtually every month of the year.  . . .

Birds of all kinds are in the migration mix, but in spring our focus is largely and understandably on passerines.  Their attractive appearance and the fact that they’ve been largely absent since October adds to their appeal. 

At the peak of their migration our America’s Birdiest County event was held from April 25-27.  This year we managed to record a very respectable 272 species- our second highest count ever and just five short of the 2011 record.  Spring birding weekends see most active birders out in the field anyway, but this event saturates as much of the county as possible with coverage, as well as efforts to track down lingering wintering birds and harder to find species. 

Now as these spring movements have come to a close, it seems an appropriate time to ask “how many birds were there?”  One estimate is that a billion passerines move through California in spring- a figure virtually impossible to comprehend.  Los Angeles County gets its fair share of those birds, most of which breed well to our north.    

While we were far from inundated with late spring vagrants, there were a few.  There were also some remarkable rarities, yet none of these were entirely unexpected.

Scarce inland were single Brants at Quail Lake near Gorman on April 20 (Kimball Garrett) and along Ballona Creek in Culver City on May 13 (Kevin Lapp).

A Redhead at the Ballona Freshwater Marsh on May 2 (Rick Pine) was potential local breeder, but a female scaup on the lower LA River on June 5 (Andrew Lee) was merely lingering late.  Also late were Common Goldeneyes at the Lancaster Water Treatment ponds on April 12 (Mark & Janet Scheel), and at Quail Lake near Gorman on April 27 (Mark & Janet Scheel, Eleanor Osgood).

As they did last spring, a couple of Hooded Mergansers lingered at Apollo Park in Lancaster and were reported through April 21 (Jon Feenstra).  Another was at the Ballona Freshwater Marsh from April 18-25 (Don Sterba).

Also reluctant to head north were two Horned Grebes at the Lancaster Water Treatment ponds on May 10 (Daniel Tinoco).

A buoy in the waters just off Long Beach attracted a rare Brown Booby from April 19-21, apparently a bird released after rehabilitation at the International Bird Center in San Pedro. 

Away from expected areas was a Least Bittern in upper Franklin Canyon from April 22-May 3 (Scott Logan).  Cattle Egrets were at Santa Fe Dam on April 26 (Chris Stevenson) and near the Ballona Freshwater Marsh on May 15 (Don Sterba).

Even after many decades of birders exploring every nook and cranny of LA County, there’s still room for something new.  This spring that something was Los Angeles County’s first Glossy Ibis that turned up at the Piute Ponds on June 11 (Jon Feenstra).  This was a bird that was bound to appear in the county sooner or later, with multiple records from western Riverside County and a handful of others scattered throughout the state.  As one might expect, it was found with a flock of White-faced Ibis and these two species are notoriously difficult to separate except when in their breeding colors.  Following this record it’s even clearer that observers should not assume any flock of ibis to be monospecific or that any lone ibis is by default a White-faced.  Photographing any suspect bird is the prudent course of action.

BOTS GlossyIbis Piute-Ponds-flight by-Jon-Feenstra Web 

BOTS GlossyIbis Piute-Ponds by-Jon-Feenstra web

Glossy Ibis, Photo By Jon Feenstra

A presumably continuing Bald Eagle was still at Bonelli Regional Park in San Dimas on May 23 (Rod Higbie).

Rare as a migrant in the county was a Sandhill Crane at the Piute Ponds present from April 19-28 (Dave, Quady Kimball Garrett).

Scarce as transients in spring, Solitary Sandpipers were at the Piute Ponds from April 27-May 3 (Mark & Janet Scheel), with two there on May 1 (Jon Feenstra), at Hansen Dam on April 30 (Kimball Garrett), in the Sepulveda Basin from May 1-2 (Daniel Tinoco) and at Madrona Marsh in Torrance on May 2 (Tracy Drake).

Other shorebirds of interest included a Baird’s Sandpiper at the Ballona Wetlands on April 17 (Dan Cooper).  Pectoral Sandpipers were on the LA River in Long Beach on April 30 (Becky & Steve Turley) and at the Piute Ponds on May 18 (Becky & Steve Turley, Judy Matsuoka, Brittany O’Connor, Jim Moore).  Rounding out the reports were five Sanderlings at the Lancaster Water Treatment ponds on May 22 (Mark & Janet Scheel, Matsuoka, Moore).

Quite rare in June was a Parasitic Jaeger off Pt. Vicente on June 14 (Ed Griffin).  Almost all have passed through by late May.

A Laughing Gull- almost certainly the same bird found previously at Shoreline Aquatic Park- was along the lower LA River in Long Beach from May 10-June 11 (Andrew Lee).  Rare in late spring was a Herring Gull on the San Gabriel River in the Whittier Narrows area on June 10 (Phil Richardson).

Elegant Terns took advantage of the new islands at recently renovated Malibu Lagoon, with over 700 birds present on May 2, some engaging in courtship displays and copulation (Irwin Woldman).  None remained to breed however… at least not this year. 

There is but one accepted record of Sandwich Tern for the county, that bird recorded back in 1991.  Thus a possible Elegant x Sandwich Tern at the Ballona Creek mouth on May 2 was of interest (Darren Dowell).  Away from the Lancaster area where they are expected in spring, a single Black Tern was at Quail Lake on April 27 (Mark & Janet Scheel, Eleanor Osgood) and four were at Bonelli Regional Park in San Dimas on May 9 (Andrew Lee).

Inca Doves continued to be reported at Col. Leo H. Washington Park in Los Angeles with least two active nests confirmed.  At least a couple of Common Ground-Doves continued to be reported along the San Gabriel River in Bellflower through April 26.  Two White-winged Doves at the Crystalaire Country Club southeast of Pearblossom on May 10 were also of interest (Ruth Gravance).

The only Black Swift recorded was likely a migrant over Compton on May 23 (Richard Barth).  Any possible local breeding birds have thus far evaded detection.

Chaetura swifts included two birds at Madrona Marsh in Torrance on June 3 (Tracy Drake) and two along the LA River near Union Station on June 6 (Tom Miko).  Vaux’s and Chimney Swifts are generally difficult to separate in the field when silent and even in the hand differences are subtle.

Noteworthy woodpeckers included a Lewis’s Woodpecker along the Angeles Crest Highway on April 26 (Darren Dowell) and a Hairy Woodpecker- rare on the Palos Verdes Peninsula- at George F Canyon Nature Preserve on May 31 (Vincent Lloyd).

A Crested Caracara turned up on several of the Channel Islands, including Santa Catalina Island, between April 8 and 27, but if it ever put in an appearance on the mainland, it did so unobserved (Julie King). 

In addition to the continuing pair of Vermilion Flycatchers at Oakdale Memorial Park in Glendora, new birds were at the Los Angeles National Cemetery on April 28 (Richard Barth), at Whittier Narrows in South El Monte on May 1 (Tom Ryan) and at Rancho Sierra Golf Course east of Lancaster from June 1-2 (David Bell).

The wintering Dusky-capped Flycatcher continued... and continued… at Ralph Dills Park in Paramount through May 13.

At the Ballona Wetlands, a Loggerhead Shrike was present as late as May 28, raising the possibility of breeding on the coastal slope which is now a rare occurrence (Jonathan Coffin).

Miscellaneous passerines of interest included a Horned Lark in Long Beach on April 21 (Bob Schallmann), a Brown Creeper at Gonzales Park in Compton on April 16 (Richard Barth) and a rather late Sage Thrasher at Angel’s Gate Park in San Pedro on May 2 (David Ellsworth).

A brief highlight at Bonelli Regional Park in San Dimas was a Gray Catbird on May 22 (Amy Williamson).  As is often the case with spring rarities, it could not be found the following day.

May is a time of year when vagrant warblers are especially likely, but there weren’t many to be had this spring.  Black-and-white Warblers were at Evey Canyon above Claremont on April 22 (Pam Dong), along the San Gabriel River in El Monte on April 25 (Jon Feenstra) and at Heartwell Park in Long Beach on May 26 (Becky Turley).

An American Redstart was at Heartwell Park in Long Beach from May 3-4 (Andrew Lee) while Palm Warblers included a continuing bird at the Ballona Freshwater Marsh through May 1 and a new one at Banning Park in Wilmington from April 22-May 7 (Richard Barth). 

A Townsend’s x Hermit Warbler was along the Rio Hondo in Rosemead on May 14 (Robb Hamilton), while the best of this spring’s parulids was a Black-throated Green Warbler at Bonelli Regional Park in San Dimas on May 9 (Andrew Lee). 

Migrant Green-tailed Towhees were in Rolling Hills Estates for a week or more in early May, in South El Monte on May 16 (Robb Hamilton) and at Madrona Marsh in Torrance on May 25 (Tracy Drake).

It’s not a bad idea to drive with your windows down… and to know your bird songs.  This particular combination was rewarded with a Cassin’s Sparrow in the west Antelope Valley that was present from May 22-28 (Jon Feenstra).  Of the county’s five sightings, this is the third in spring record.  Typically, range expansions/extensions in this species occur after wetter than average winters, yet the last three season were anything but in southern California.  One can’t help wondering if others might have been out there given the many square miles of potential habitat, much of it private land.      

Other interesting sparrows included a Vesper Sparrow at Peck Road Water Conservation Park in Arcadia on April 29 (Pam Dong), a singing Grasshopper Sparrow at the Golden Valley Open Space southeast of Santa Clarita on May 28 (Brian Bielfelt) and an Eastern “Red” Fox Sparrow at Rancho Sierra Golf Club in the east Antelope Valley on April 27 (David Bell). 

Following a handful of wintering individuals, the only spring Summer Tanagers were in Northridge on May 22 (Georgia Doyle) and a territorial male at a traditional riparian breeding site in Soledad Canyon on June 1 (Kimball Garrett).

A Rose-breasted Grosbeak was near Lancaster on June 9 (Jerry & Jeanie Dunn) and Indigo Buntings were at Hansen Dam near Lake View Terrace on April 20 (David Hurst) and at the Playa Vista Riparian Corridor from April 23-25 (Don Sterba).

The Orchard Oriole wintering at the Arboretum in Arcadia persisted through April 26. 

Small numbers of Red Crossbills were reported from various locales in the mid to high San Gabriel Mountains from April into June.

Among a handful of interesting finds on San Clemente Island were a late Hermit Thrush on June 9 (Nicole Desnoyers), a Tennessee Warbler on May 15 (Justyn Stahl) and a Rose-breasted Grosbeak on May 28 (Justyn Stahl).  A Baltimore Oriole was present from May 19-June 9 (Justyn Stahl).  While far fewer vagrants turn up here in spring compared to fall, it’s clearly a productive spot at both seasons. 

Though there were a few nice surprises, it obviously wasn’t a banner spring for vagrant songbirds.  But if that was a disappointment, take heart. Shorebird migration is already well underway.  The lower Los Angeles River, Piute Ponds and usual coastal spots will receive plenty of attention and surely produce some good finds.  By August there will be plenty of passerines in the mountains and lesser but growing numbers of migrants will be in the lowlands. 

While there are great places to bird all over the state, you don’t have to travel far to experience all that fall offers.  Birders have learned that great opportunities await very close to home, no matter where you live.    

What will the fall season bring?  Perhaps another bird never before recorded in the county?  One can only guess and guessing doesn’t make us right all that often.  We’ll find out soon enough.  Regardless, fall is arguably the most enjoyable chapter in the birding year.

Published Western Tanager Vol. 80 No. 6 July August 2014