Birds of the Season—October 2014

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By Jon Fisher

Birders are understandably concerned about the welfare of avian populations.  As much as we love a good rare bird, we know it’s good if that species is common somewhere.  But being common anywhere is becoming increasingly difficult for many species.  It’s clear that habitat loss is the most significant cause of declining populations, yet there are many lesser ones that in aggregate have considerable impact.

Window collisions, various pollutants and toxic substances, shooting, automobiles, wind turbines, and domestic cats constitute only a partial list.  These of course are all above and beyond the natural hazards that birds confront:  unfavorable climate and weather, predators and arduous migrations. 

How much attrition from all these sources can birds sustain?  As would be expected, most species are experiencing at least slow declines in numbers, though in some the changes have been dramatic.

A recent study by the World Wildlife Federation, Zoological Society of London and others has concluded that since 1970 the earth has lost fully one half of its wildlife.  This is a stunning and sobering figure, difficult to even comprehend.

North America has suffered its share of historic losses, but today we worry about many songbirds in decline.  Most at risk are those species that cross borders to winter to the south of us, as these birds are often losing both breeding and wintering habitat.  The losses are hardly limited to songbirds, but this group is perhaps the most emblematic. 

California is geographically situated in such a way that many of these population changes are evident to birders here, even though these may not be “our” birds.  Cerulean Warblers, Dickcissels, Bobolinks and Rusty Blackbirds all have shrinking populations, and in recent decades the state has seen fewer occurrences of these species.  While we can celebrate that some conservation progress is being made, it’s hardly enough to halt these declines, let alone reverse them.

While it may simply be pragmatic to be pessimistic about the future, there are still a lot of birds.  In southern California, it was no surprise that September brought us plenty of hot days.  There’s a good reason many passerines are nocturnal migrants- avoiding the stresses of heat and dehydration are worth the risks.

By the middle of September most of our wintering passerines had begun to show up along with early arriving waterfowl.  Thus far there’s been little evidence of any irruptive species, though given the dry conditions in the west we might expect such dispersals to be more marked. 

A Snow Goose was in Pico Rivera on the San Gabriel River on October 12 (Larry Schmahl).

The waters southwest of San Clemente Island produced a Red-billed Tropicbird on September 4 (Jon Feenstra).  Good numbers of Brown Boobies appeared in southern and central California waters this summer and fall, but just two were recorded during the period in LA County.  One Brown Booby was found southwest of San Clemente Island on September 4 (Jon Feenstra) and anotherwas at the Long Beach Harbor entrance on October 5 (Mark & Janet Scheel). 

An American Bittern was observed briefly on the San Gabriel River in Pico Rivera on October 12 (Larry Schmahl).

Rare as fall transients, single Broad-winged Hawks were in Agoura on October 3 (Cynthia Schotte) and in Claremont on October 5 (Tom Miko).

Scarce in the Antelope Valley was a Ruddy Turnstone at Lake Palmdale on September 16 (Cal Yorke).

Eight Red Knots were along the lower LA River from September 10 (Tom Miko, Amy Williamson) and single birds were at the Ballona Creek Mouth from September 12-15 (Mike Stensvold) and at Piute Ponds on September 21 (Mark & Janet Scheel).

Four Stilt Sandpipers were discovered on the LA River in Long Beach on September 9 (Richard Barth), with another found close by (Jeff Boyd).  A total of up to six were present through September 15.  The last one reported was at the Piute Ponds on September 21 (Mark & Janet Scheel).

Dunlins began arriving earlier than expected and in greater numbers, though this species is never common in the county.

Semipalmated Sandpipers were rather scarce again this fall, with birds on the LA River in Long Beach on August 23 (Andrew Lee), at the Piute Ponds on August 24 (Kimball Garrett), on lower LA River from August 30-September 1 (Mark & Janet Scheel, Jared Knickmeyer) and again at Piute Ponds on September 6 (Frank & Susan Gilliland, Janet Scheel).

Expected offshore but rare inland were single Red Phalaropes at the Piute Ponds on September 17 (Al Guarente) and on October 3 (Jim Moore).

Present since May 10, the Laughing Gull on the LA River in Long Beach remained through September 17.  Sabine’s Gulls were at Lake Palmdale on September 16 (Cal Yorke) and at the Piute Ponds from September 21-26 (Mark & Janet Scheel).  The first fall Herring Gull recorded was on the LA River in South Gate on September 17 (Richard Barth).

A handful of Common Terns were recorded from September 7-23 both along the coast and in the Antelope Valley, but less expected was an interior coastal slope record at Legg Lake in South El Monte on September 23 (John Garrett).

A Chimney Swift was over the LA River by the Harbor Freeway on September 1 (Curtis Marantz), with up to ten continuing through September 11.  Always of interest in the county, but also somewhat late was a Black Swift over Claremont on October 9 (Tom Miko).

White-winged Doves, expected in small numbers in late summer and fall, were along the LA River in Long Beach on August 23 (Amy Williamson), at Hahamongna Watershed Park on September 5, at Cabrillo Beach on September 14 (David Ellsworth) and at Creek Park in La Mirada on September 19 (Jonathan Rowley).

Portending another good year for this species were Lewis’s Woodpeckers at Grassy Hollow in the San Gabriels on September 14, over Pasadena on September 21 (Darren Dowell, John Garrett) and over San Marino on September 23 (John Garrett).  After a three week gap in sightings, another was found at Evey Canyon in Claremont on October 12 (Cathy McFadden & Paul Clarke)

We see plenty of intergrade flickers showing yellow underwings along with some intermediate features, but relatively few pure eastern birds.  Thus Northern “Yellow-shafted” Flickers at Hahamongna Watershed Park in Pasadena on October 7 (Darren Dowell) and Veteran’s Park in Sylmar on October 11 (Jeffrey Fenwick) were of note.

A Crested Caracara that turned up earlier on several of the Channel Islands appeared content to remain on Santa Catalina Island through September 26.

Least Flycatchers were found at Sand Dune Park in Manhattan Beach on September 18 (Jon Feenstra) and in Avalon on Santa Catalina Island on September 26 (Kimball Garrett, Sherman Suter).  Expected on the deserts but quite rare on the coastal slope was a Dusky Flycatcher at Sand Dune Park in Manhattan Beach on September 1 (David Moody).

At least one Vermilion Flycatcher continued at Oakdale Memorial Park in Glendora through September 21 and another was discovered at Lake Balboa on October 2 (Daniel Tinoco).

Returning for another winter was a Tropical Kingbird at Legg Lake in South El Monte and first observed on September 23 (John Garrett), while another possibly returning bird was at El Dorado Park in Long Beach on October 3 (John Willis).

Plumbeous Vireos were at Brackett Field in La Verne on September 22 (Tom Miko) and at Hermit Gulch Campground on Catalina Island on September 26 (Rick Taylor).  A continuing Red-eyed Vireo was at the Village Green Condominiums in Los Angeles through August 23 (Don Sterba).

Coastal slope Bank Swallows included birds on the LA River in Long Beach on August 29 (Dick Barth) and in the Sepulveda Basin on September 21 (Mike Stensvold).

A Sage Thrasher at Hahamongna Watershed Park in Pasadena from October 7-8 was the only report from the coastal slope (Darren Dowell).

Cedar Waxwings were already present in modest numbers by the third week of August, as indicated by a handful of reports from the San Gabriel Valley.

It was far from a disappointing fall for vagrant warblers, and they often lingered long enough to be seen by many birders.  DeForest Park in Long Beach was noteworthy as a warbler hotspot from late September into October.  Recall this was also the spot of LA County’s only Arctic Warbler back in autumn 2007.  Clearly it’s a good spot to check in September and October.

Banning Park in Wilmington hosted an Ovenbird from October 10-11 (Richard Barth) and a Northern Waterthrush was in Big Tujunga Wash from September 28-October 5 (Kimball Garrett).

Black-and-white Warblers were at Creek Park in La Mirada from September 10-11 (Jonathan Rowley), at DeForest Park in Long Beach from September 23-October 12 (Jeff Boyd), at Madrona Marsh in Torrance on October 5 (Tony Strangarity) and at Banning Park in Wilmington on October 13 (Bob Schallman).

A summering Tennessee Warbler continued at Hahamongna Watershed Park in Pasadena through August 19.  In addition to that bird, new ones turned up with regularity with at least nine found on the coastal slope between August 24 and September 23.

At least a half dozen Virginia’s Warblers were found between August 22 and September 21, with all but one on the coastal slope.  American Redstarts were at Peck Road WCP from August 18-19 (John Garrett) and at the West San Gabriel River Parkway Nature Trail in Lawndale on October 12 (Mark Scheel, Steve & Becky Turley, Nancy Strang).

Northern Parulas were at Oak Park Cemetery in Claremont on September 18 (Mike San Miguel) and at the West San Gabriel River Parkway Nature Trail in Lakewood on October 11 (Andrew Lee).  Always a nice find was a Bay-breasted Warbler at DeForest Park in Long Beach from September 20-28.  A Blackburnian Warbler was there from September 20-October 3 (both Andrew Lee) and another Blackburnian was on San Clemente Island on October 13 (Nicole Desnoyers).

A Chestnut-sided Warbler was at Apollo Park on September 19 (Bart Scott) and five Blackpoll Warblers were recorded between September 21 and October 4.  Reliably productive in fall, Wilson Cove on San Clemente Island produced a Black-throated Blue Warbler on October 9 (Nicole Desnoyers).

Palm Warblers included one in Agoura Hills on October 5 (Dan Cooper), two at Peck Road Water Conservation Park in Arcadia from October 12-14 (Jon Fisher), and one at Malibu Lagoon (Scott Logan) on October 12.

No fewer than three Prairie Warblers were found during the period and included birds at Lake Palmdale on August 26 (Cal Yorke), at Madrona Marsh on Torrance from September 7-20 (Tracy Drake) and along the San Gabriel River in Lakewood from October 2-4 (Andrew Lee).

Turning to emberizids, a Green-tailed Towhee on the Palos Verdes Peninsula on September 15 was the only one reported on the coastal slope (Jim Aichele).

Clay-colored Sparrows were at the Ballona Wetlands on September 13 (Jonathan Coffin) and at Peck Road WCP in Arcadia on September 30 (Mickey Long, Kevin Long).  Scarce fall migrants on the coastal slope were Vesper Sparrows at Hahamongna Park in Pasadena from September 19-24 (Darren Dowell) and at the Sepulveda Basin in Van Nuys on September 24 (Daniel Tinoco) and October 14 (Rose Liebowitz).  From one to four were at Santa Fe Dam from September 24-October 12 (Steve & Becky Turley).

The only coastal slope Black-throated Sparrow of the fall was one at Pt. Dume on August 17 (Kimball Garrett) and a less expected Lark Bunting was on San Clemente Island on September 3 (Justyn Stahl).

Summer Tanagers were at Veteran’s Park in Bell Gardens on September 22 and at South Gate Park in South Gate on September 29 (both Richard Barth).

Indigo Buntings were at Peck Road Water Cons Park on August 17 (Jon Fisher) and at Hahamongna Watershed Park in Pasadena on August 18 (Darren Dowell).  Dickcissels were on the Palos Verdes Peninsula on September 26 (Jim Aichele, Cathy Nichols) and at Madrona Marsh in Torrance from October 2-3 (Tracy Drake).

Orchard Orioles were at Hahamongna Watershed Park in Pasadena on August 26 (Tom Wurster), at Loyola Marymount University in Westchester on September 6 (Russell Stone) and in Cheviot Hills from September 27-28 (Bob Pann).  Baltimore Orioles turned up at Madrona Marsh in Torrance on September 25 (Tracy Drake) and at DeForest Park in Long Beach from October 2-5 (Lynda Elkin).

Though fall migration and the calendar year are coming to an end, birders will still have much to occupy their time.  Late migrants and lingering vagrants as well as newly arriving wintering birds will be present.  The Antelope Valley offers a number of regular specialties and perhaps a longspur or two.  A Northern Wheatear or White Wagtail could appear along the coast and possible Barrow’s Goldeneyes are to be looked for on our interior lakes.  These are just a few of the many possibilities…

Christmas Bird Counts will begin in mid-December and are always an entertaining way to spend time in the field.  They also contribute to scientific record.  It should be noted that almost all of these counts could benefit from greater participation, particularly by more experienced observers.

As wintering waterfowl are still arriving in November, our first spring migrants will appear in a couple of months and the birding year will be renewed.  Change in southern California is nearly constant and this means every day has the potential to turn up something different and unusual. 


Published Western Tanager Vol. 81 No. 2 Nov/Dec 2014

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