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By Jon Fisher

As entertaining for birders as late summer and early fall was, the final third of autumn migration most definitely did not disappoint.  From mid-October to mid-December, we had the mild weather and excellent variety of vagrants that we expect.  Unusual waterfowl, flycatchers, warblers, seedeaters and others combined with regular migrants to provide us with a satisfying mix of species. 

Discoveries of unusual passerines slowed but did not cease after October.  In fact, the two best finds of the fall turned up in late November.  In spite of seemingly inexorable march of urbanization, the number of rarities found in the county continues to impress. 

The sheer number of reports indicates not only that the birds were there but that observers were active, whether they were making new discoveries or chasing down those already found.  

Madrona Marsh, Peck Road Water Conservation Park, Santa Fe Dam and the Piute Ponds were just a few of the birding locales that demonstrated their potential.  San Clemente Island again showed off its geographic significance when it comes to attracting fall vagrants, adding a number of records to the list.

Red-breasted Nuthatches continued to show evidence of a modest irruption and small numbers of Red Crossbills were also recorded away from their mountain haunts, primarily on the desert.  In contrast, Varied Thrushes continued to be conspicuous by their relative absence following a major invasion of last fall and winter.

Returning for another winter was a Eurasian Green-winged Teal at the San Gabriel Coastal Basin Spreading Grounds in Pico Rivera.  It was first observed there on December 6 (Andrew Lee).

One to two Black Scoters were off Dockweiler State Beach in El Segundo from November 17-29 (Richard Barth).  Long-tailed Duck sightings included a male along lower Ballona Creek in Playa del Rey from November 7-December 8 (Lynn Bossone, Ulrike Mehler) and a female there on November 29- (Barbara Johnson, Irwin Woldman).  An odd record was one at the almost completely drained Silver Lake Reservoir on December 7 (John Parent, Art Popp).  What was apparently the same bird then moved to nearby Hollywood Reservoir where it was seen from December 9-13 (Sherman Suter).

Scarce coastally were seven Common Mergansers that overflew the Ballona Freshwater Marsh on December 4 (John Garrett, Darren Dowell). 

Rare inland were Red-throated Loons at Legg Lake in South El Monte from November 29-December 12 (David Bell) and at Lincoln Park in Los Angeles on December 4 (Ed Stonick).  Somewhat more regular inland was a Pacific Loon at the San Gabriel Coastal Basin Spreading Grounds in Pico Rivera on December 11.

Red-necked Grebes were only recorded inland thus far with one at Castaic Lake from November 25-December 9 (John Garrett) and another at Quail Lake on November 27 (John Garrett).

Along the mainland coast, a Brown Booby was at Shoreline Aquatic Park in Long Beach on October 25 (Todd Wills) and one was off Pt. Dume in Malibu on November 7.  Three more were at San Clemente Island on November 10 (Eric Lutomski).

An American Bittern continued at the Ballona Freshwater Marsh in Playa del Rey through November 5.  Less expected, but already the second found in the county this year was a Yellow-crowned Night-Heron in San Pedro from November 12-December 12 (Bill Tweit, Dave Sonneborn). 

Bald Eagles were at Bonelli Regional Park in San Dimas on October 29 and November 29 (Rod & Pat Higbie) and at the Sepulveda Basin in Van Nuys on December 6 (Kris Ohlenkamp).

Harris’s Hawks in downtown Los Angeles on November 5 (Axel Hellman) and at Hansen Dam near Lake View Terrace on November 21 (Kimball Garrett) were almost certainly escapees or lost falconer’s birds.

Rare as fall migrants in the county were three Broad-winged Hawks over Pasadena on October 22 (Luke Tiller).  Late Swainson’s Hawks were at Madrona Marsh in Torrance on November 6 (David Moody, Tracy Drake) and over Whittier on November 14 (Linda Leroy, Jeff Allison).  The only Ferruginous Hawk reported away from the Antelope Valley was near LAX on November 2 (Mark Rubke, Dave Domenico).

The section of Ballona Creek passing through Culver City produced a rare for the county Sandhill Crane on October 28 (Walter Lamb).

In addition to the modest and ever-decreasing numbers that winter in the Antelope Valley, an unusual coastal slope Mountain Plover was at Santa Fe Dam in Irwindale on October 26 (Joyce Brady).

Up to five Marbled Godwits were lingering late inland at Rosamond Lake in the Antelope Valley beginning on November 12 with two continuing through December 10 (Wayne Martin, John Birsner).

A Red Knot, scarce as a transient in the county, was along lower Ballona Creek on October 27 (Kevin Lapp).  Late shorebirds at Rosamond Lake on Edwards AFB included a Ruff, a Red Phalarope, three Baird’s Sandpipers and three Pectoral Sandpipers all on October 15 (Jon Feenstra).

Nearby at Big Piute Pond, a rare inland Long-tailed Jaeger made a brief appearance on October 15 (Jon Feenstra).

Unusual gulls included a Black-legged Kittiwake at Torrance Beach on December 8 (Jun & Bin Wu) and a Glaucous Gull seen briefly at Malibu Lagoon on November 30 (Kathleen Waldron).

One to two Common Ground-Doves were at the Linden H. Chandler Preserve in Rolling Hills Estates on October 29 (Philip Carnehl) and another was at Peck Road Water Conservation Park in Arcadia from October 25-29 (Sandy Koonce, Catherine McFadden).  A White-winged Dove was at Cabrillo Beach in San Pedro on October 14.  It was joined by a second bird on December 3 and both continued through December 12 (David Ellsworth).  Another one was over Pepperdine University in Malibu on October 21 (Dan Cooper).

A Burrowing Owl was at the Ballona Freshwater Marsh on November 28 (Don Sterba) with what was probably the same bird at the Ballona Wetlands on December 1.  Others were at Dockweiler State Beach on December 1 (Jonathan Coffin) and at the Kenneth Hahn SRA in Los Angeles on December 8 and apparently present for at least two weeks prior (Ann & Eric Brooks).

A rare coastal slope Long-eared Owl was at the Sepulveda Basin on October 23 (Daniel Tinoco), while Short-eared Owls were seen at the Piute Ponds on Edwards AFB on November 30 (Joe Lepisto Sr.) and flying over Rosemead on December 6 (Jon Fisher).

Lewis’s Woodpeckers were present in modest numbers with about a dozen birds found over the period, split evenly between the mountains and coastal slope. 

Veteran’s Park in Sylmar is reliable spot for birders wanting to see sapsuckers.  This fall a Williamson’s Sapsucker was there from October 26 into December (Kris Ohlenkamp) and two Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers were seen off and on from October 26-December 9 (Kris Ohlenkamp). 

Among the widely encountered intergrade birds, pure Northern “Yellow-shafted” Flickers were at Eaton Canyon in Pasadena from November 12-19 (Tom Wurster), on Catalina Island on October 23 (David Rankin) and at Earvin Magic Johnson Recreation Area in Willowbrook on October 24 (Andrew Lee)

Rare away from the Antelope Valley was a Prairie Falcon at Malibu Creek State Park on October 18 (Art Langton).

Late or potentially wintering Empidonax flycatchers were well represented, with two Hammond’s Flycatchers at El Dorado Park in Long Beach on November 28 (Andrew Lee) and another at Legg Lake in South El Monte from December 9-13 (Dan Cooper).  Gray Flycatchers were at Santa Fe Dam on October 18 (Luke Tiller, David Bell) and at Gwinn Park in Pasadena on November 19 (Luke Tiller).  Unexpected was a Dusky Flycatcher netted and carefully examined in Zuma Canyon on December 5 (John Garrett).  Finally, Pacific-slope Flycatchers were at the George F. Canyon Nature Preserve in Rolling Hills on November 30 (Philip Carnehl), at Bonelli Regional Park in San Dimas on December 9 (Michael San Miguel) and at Pomona Cemetery on December 10 (Dan Guthrie).

Eastern Phoebe reports came from Vina Vieja Park in Pasadena where one was present October 22-25 (Luke Tiller) and on San Clemente Island- for only the third island record- from October 27 and 28 (Eric Lutomski).  Others were at the Earvin Magic Johnson Recreation Area in Willowbrook on November 7 (Richard Barth), at Madrona Marsh in Torrance from November 21-December 12 (Tracy Drake) and at the Piute Ponds from December 5-10 (Mark and Janet Scheel).

At least seven Vermilion Flycatchers were in the county between October 16 and November 29, most of these on the coastal slope.

Late or wintering Ash-throated Flycatchers were at Madrona Marsh in Torrance from November 14-December 12 (Tom Benson, Tracy Drake), in the Sepulveda Basin in Van Nuys on December 5 (Gerard van Heijzen) and at Peck Road WCP in Arcadia on December 5 (Jon Fisher).

Often, as in fishing, the ones that get away are often the most intriguing.  So it was for a Social or Rusty-margined Flycatcher photographed by non-birders in El Monte and submitted for identification.  The bird could not be re-found, nor could it be conclusively identified to species from the photos.  Could such a bird, normally not found north of southern Sonora, arrive here naturally?  That possibility can rarely be discounted, but the question of provenance would have likely kept this record from being accepted even if documentation had confirmed its identity to species.

The Tropical Kingbird continuing at El Dorado Park in Long Beach through November 29 was the only one reported during the period.  A Thick-billed Kingbird that spent the last two winters at Horsethief Canyon Park in San Dimas was reported as back for a third go round as of November 1 (Eric Smith).

Among an increasing number of Western Kingbirds lingering well into October, a truly late bird was at Cal State Dominguez Hills on November 23 (John Thomlinson).  A Scissor-tailed Flycatcher was at Woodlawn Cemetery in Santa Monica from November 11-December 12 (Kathleen Waldron).

Scarce as a migrant coastally was Bank Swallow at Del Rey Lagoon in Playa del Rey on October 21 (Dan Cooper).  Also of interest was a very late Cliff Swallow at the Sepulveda Basin in Van Nuys on November 28 (Mike Stensvold).

But the major swallow news was indeed significant:  a new bird for the county list.  A Cave Swallow was found and photographed at El Dorado Park in Long Beach on November 28 (Andrew Lee).  To date the only accepted records for the state have come from the south end of the Salton Sea.  This species’ occurrence elsewhere was not unexpected, as it has expanded in both range and numbers in Texas and in the northeast.  If we weren’t diligently checking Cliff Swallow flocks for errant Cave Swallows before, clearly we should be doing so going forward.   

A Canyon Wren on San Clemente Island from October 20-21 (Eric Lutomski) had to be a vagrant from the mainland, as they are not resident on the island.  That's quite a feat for such a sedentary species.  Pacific Wrens were at Griffith Park in Los Angeles on November 10 (Octavio J), near Switzer’s Camp on November 26 (Marcus England) and in Big Santa Anita Canyon above Arcadia from November 21-December 5 (Lance Benner).

Mimids of note included a Brown Thrasher on San Clemente Island from October 13-19 (Ben Sandstrom) and a Sage Thrasher at Alta Vicente Reserve on October 16 (Jun & Bin Wu).

Difficult to find anywhere in the county were three Chestnut-collared Longspurs at Santa Fe Dam in Irwindale from October 18-31 (Luke Tiller, David Bell).  Two were also at this locale in October of 2012.  A handful of all three longspur species likely pass through the county each fall.  Complicating the task of finding them is that the places they are likely to occur are often difficult to survey due to accessibility or simply because of their size.  Consider the challenge of the agricultural fields of the Antelope Valley. 

A Northern Waterthrush at the Wilmington Drain in Wilmington on October 18 was the only one reported (Philip Carnehl).  At least ten Black-and-white Warblers were present between October 16 and December 6.

A Tennessee Warbler was at Malibu Lagoon on November 14 (Merryl Edelstein, Kim Moore).  Late Nashville Warblers were at DeForest Park in Long Beach from November 7-8 (Brendan and Paul Galvin) and at Madrona Marsh in Torrance on December 1 (David Moody).

A Hooded Warbler at Lake Palmdale on October 22 was a nice find at this restricted access locale (Cal Yorke).  American Redstarts were at Banning Park in Wilmington on October 13 (David Ellsworth, Neil Multack) and at the San Gabriel Coastal Basin Spreading Grounds in Pico Rivera from November 27-December 12 (Dessi Sieburth).

A Northern Parula- probably a returning bird from last winter- was at Legg Lake in South El Monte on December 12 (Mark & Janet Scheel).  Blackburnian Warblers were on San Clemente Island on October 17 (Justyn Stahl, Nicole Desnoyers) and at Buena Vista Park in Burbank on November 29 (Richard Barth).

Hahamongna Watershed Park in Pasadena hosted a Chestnut-sided Warbler from October 15-18 (Darren Dowell).  A Black-throated Blue Warbler was on San Clemente Island from October 26-27 (Curtis Twellman, Eric Lutomski).  After a very slow start, over a dozen Palm Warblers were found between October 19 and December 6.

Pine Warblers were at the Firestone Scout Reservation in Yorba Linda on October 18 (Larry Schmahl) and at Peck Road Water Conservation Park from October 20-28 (Elaine MacPherson, Steve & Becky Turley, Michael Long).

A Prairie Warbler at DeForest Park in Long Beach from November 7-8 was the third in the county this fall (Trish Gussler).  Black-throated Green Warblers were at Quail Lake near Gorman on October 25 (Mark & Janet Scheel) and at Hahamongna Watershed Park in Pasadena from November 2-3 (Darren Dowell). 

Rounding out the warblers was a Painted Redstart in Mar Vista from November 22-December 8 (Richard Hedley).

Over a half dozen Clay-colored Sparrows were found between October 24 and November 17, with a couple of these continuing through end of the period.  A Lark Bunting on San Clemente Island on October 31 was the only one found during the period (Justyn Stahl).

Grasshopper Sparrows, only rarely detected away from breeding areas, were at Peck Road WCP in Arcadia on October 19 (Brittany O’Connor), at Madrona Marsh in Torrance from November 13-December 2 (Dinuk Magammana) and along the LA River in Atwater Village on November 15 (Jon Fisher).

A great find was a Le Conte’s Sparrow- only the second ever recorded in the county- at Castiac Lagoon from November 22-December 13 (Luke Tiller, David Bell).  Needless to say this sparrow attracted many birders- some of whom hadn’t even been born when the county’s first spent the winter of 1992-93 at Malibu Creek State Park.

Swamp Sparrows included one at Juan Bautista de Anza Park in Calabasas from October 27-December 9 (Dan Cooper), with two there on December 9 (Kris Ohlenkamp).  Others were at Peck Road WCP in Arcadia on October 28 (Darren Dowell), along the LA River in Atwater Village on November 28 (Jon Fisher) and at Wheeler Park in Claremont on December 5 (Tom Miko).

Five White-throated Sparrows were found between October 19 and December 6.  An oriantha (Mountain) White-crowned Sparrow was at Peck Road WCP in Arcadia on October 25 (Kimball Garrett).  Though “merely” a subspecies, this dark-lored type is quite rare in the county and worth separating from the abundant gambelii

Also in the category of identifiable subspecies, Dark-eyed “Gray-headed” Juncos were on San Clemente Island on October 22 (Ben Sandstrom) and again on November 3 (Justyn Stahl), at the South Coast Botanic Garden in Rolling Hills Estates on November 8 (Manuel Duran, Alejandra Cedillo), in La Canada on November 26 (David Bell) and at the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden in Claremont on December 6 (Kurt Nguyen).

Summer Tanagers included a continuing bird in Ladera Heights through November 8 and two at West LA College on November 15, with one continuing through November 26 (Don Sterba).  Far rarer was a Scarlet Tanager at DeForest Park in Long Beach from November 5-7 (Jeff Boyd).

A Rose-breasted Grosbeak was at Lancaster City Park on October 26 (Vern Benhart) and a late Blue Grosbeak was at DeForest Park in Long Beach on October 22 (Richard Barth).

Late was a Lazuli Bunting on San Clemente Island on November 1 (Justyn Stahl).  Very late was one at Madrona Marsh in Torrance from December 4-12 (Tracy Drake)

Two different Dickcissels were found on San Clemente Island, the first on October 31 (Justyn Stahl) and the second November 1 (Justyn Stahl, Ben Sandstrom, Eric Lutomski).

Lingering late was a Hooded Oriole at Madrona Marsh in Torrance from December 1-11 (Tracy Drake).  A Baltimore Oriole was at Holmby Park in Los Angeles from November 7-13 (Marc Better).

An Evening Grosbeak at Lake Palmdale on October 22 (Cal Yorke) seemed to offer some potential of others appearing this fall and winter, but none had materialized by mid-December… or if they did they were not found by birders.

Even with all of these records, it’s a certainty that we miss far more vagrants than are ever found.  Thus the birds in this column represent just a fraction of what’s actually out there.  The percentages change depending on the species involved.  At least in areas that get covered by birders, Tundra Swans and Bald Eagles are hard to miss, whereas a Worm-eating Warbler or a Le Conte’s Sparrow could easily spend all winter undetected.    

In light of that, repeat visits to any birding spot- even on the same day- can turn up birds that would otherwise be missed.

The space between the end of fall migration and the onset of spring migration is brief indeed.  Birders can occupy that time by participating in Christmas Bird Counts, studying female ducks, gulls and the often perplexing variety found in Fox Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos.  New vagrants will be found and old ones will be ticked again as soon as the new year begins.

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