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Birds of the Season- June 2016

By Jon Fisher

Spring migration, nearly six months in duration, has finally come to a close.  The last of the late passerines have traversed the area by the first half of June.  Yet as long as it lasts, it seems to be over all too quickly.

The general impression this spring was that observed migrant numbers were well below average.  There were a few days and places that offered good numbers of birds, but these were in the minority. 

While rainfall was still well below average, a relatively cool and wet spring perhaps had enough of an influence to cause migrants to spread out, rather than concentrate in greener patches typical of very dry years.  The inexorable decline of Neotropical migrants may also be partly to blame for the lower observed numbers and weather may also have played a role.  The short answer, as it frequently is- we don’t really know why fewer birds were observed.        

As one might expect given the relative paucity of migrants, there were likewise an underwhelming number of vagrants, but San Clemente Island netted a decent handful of rarities and a few turned up on the mainland as well. 

Now in its fourteenth year, our America’s Birdiest County event at the end of April produced 270 species.  Below our record of 277, but a respectable number for three days of extensive coverage.  In addition to being quite a bit of fun, this event generates a significant amount of data.

Though the main focus in spring is on migrants, resident birds are breeding locally as early as January- and of course some species breed throughout the year.  With the arrival of summer visitors, this activity continues to increase through May and June.  The resulting cacophony of sound and energy being expended to raise broods is always something to be looked forward to.  And these observations can be put to good use.  Evidence of breeding can easily be included on eBird checklists by entering breeding codes, thus making these lists all the more valuable. 

A late inland Brant was at the Piute Ponds from May 27-28 (Darren Dowell).

Also late were two Common Mergansers at Quail Lake near Gorman on May 21 (Kimball Garrett) and another along the LA River in Glendale on June 5 (Joy Brooks).  Unusual inland were three Red-breasted Mergansers at Bonelli Regional Park in San Dimas on May 1, with one continuing through May 20 (Rod Higbie).  Ten at Hansen Dam on May 7 was a good inland count (Kimball Garrett).  Another lingering bird was a Hooded Merganser at Descanso Gardens on May 7 (Mark Hunter).

Scarce inland was a Pacific Loon at Alondra Park Reservoir on April 23 (Mark & Janet Scheel), while late inland was a Common Loon at Bonelli Regional Park in San Dimas on May 23 (Rod Higbie).

Attesting to the fact that they are increasing in southern California waters were six Brown Boobies near San Clemente Island on May 2 (Olaf Danielson).

First found on February 17, the county’s first Neotropic Cormorant remained at Bonelli Regional Park in San Dimas through May 20.  There was plenty of searching but no subsequent reports.

Cattle Egrets were at Santa Fe Dam on April 15 (Amy Williamson) and at the Earvin Magic Johnson Recreation Area in Willowbrook on April 27 (Richard Barth).

The now adult Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, having lingered in the area for nearly a year, was reported at the Ballona Freshwater Marsh through May 22.

The county’s second Glossy Ibis was found in the Sepulveda Basin on May 24 (Mike Stensvold).  Though nearly annual in Imperial County - and with a few records from adjacent counties- this was the first chaseable bird in Los Angeles County.  It remained through June 5 and offered many birders an excellent and easy opportunity to observe it.      

One of the reintroduced California Condors was near Lebec on April 24 (Gabriel Gartner, Brooke Keeney).  Quite rare in spring was a Broad-winged Hawk seen flying over Hahamongna Watershed Park in Pasadena on April 17 (Darren Dowell).

Intriguing was a Ridgway’s Rail that turned up at the Ballona Freshwater Marsh on March 20 (Don Sterba) and still present on June 12.  This species, known for many years as the subspecies “Light-footed” Clapper Rail, was present as a breeder in this area until 1949 but has since absent from the county.  Thus the presence of this bird is encouraging to say the least.    

Possibly indicative of local breeding was a Sora at Malibu Creek State Park on May 26 (Karen Chaivoe).

As expected in spring, unusual shorebirds were scarce.  Four Pacific Golden-Plovers were found together on San Clemente Island on May 1 (Michael Novak, Justyn Stahl) and a late Semipalmated Plover was at the Piute Ponds from May 27-June 8 (Darren Dowell).

A Solitary Sandpiper was on the LA River in Long Beach on May 1 (Jon Feenstra) and a less expected Semipalmated Sandpiper was at the Piute Ponds from June 3-4 (Jon Feenstra, Darren Dowell, Adam Searcy, Steve Morris).

Quite scarce as a transient in the county was a Red Knot on the salt pan at the Ballona Wetlands on June 8 (Jun & Bin Wu).

At an unexpected date and locale was a Glaucous-winged Gull at Apollo Park near Lancaster from June 10-13 (Kerry Ross).

Scarce on the coastal slope was a Black Tern at Bonelli Regional Park in San Dimas on May 8 (Tom Miko).  Conversely rare inland was a Least Tern at the Piute Ponds on Edwards AFB from May 12-14 (Darren Dowell), with either the same bird or another observed on June 7 (Jon Feenstra).

Two Arctic Terns at the Piute Ponds on June 3 were a nice surprise inland, with one continuing through June 8 (Jon Feenstra, Darren Dowell, Adam Searcy, Steve Morris).

Two Inca Doves in Lake Los Angeles on May 30 indicate that a small population persists there (Andrew Lee).  A few others continued to be reported at Col. Leon H. Washington Park in Los Angeles.

White-winged Doves were found at Apollo Park near Lancaster on May 26 (Logan Khale) and in west Palmdale on May 27 (Beverly Shoemaker).

Six Long-eared Owl nests were discovered in the Lancaster/Palmdale area this spring, with up to ten young fledged (Kerry Ross).  Easily overlooked as a breeder, they may well be more common than records indicate.

Black Swifts were again observed over the foothills above Claremont this spring, with eight present on May 7 (Tom Benson) and smaller numbers being reported through June 4.  Nesting is presumably taking place somewhere locally, but this species ranges widely on daily foraging flights. 

A handful of Vermilion Flycatchers were found on the coastal slope and on the deserts, with a count of eight being notable at Oakdale Memorial Park in Glendora on June 12 (Rick Fisher).

Continuing wintering flycatchers included a Dusky-capped Flycatcher at Creek Park in La Mirada through May 2 and a Tropical Kingbird at El Dorado Park in Long Beach through April 16.  An Eastern Kingbird on San Clemente Island on May 30 was obviously a spring vagrant (Justyn Stahl, Alex Bartolo).

Plumbeous Vireos were at Maywood Riverfront Park in Maywood on April 27 (Richard Barth), at Apollo Park near Lancaster on May 9 (Darren Dowell) and at the Piute Ponds on May 18 (John Birsner).

A Purple Martin was at the Piute Ponds on April 24 (Dessi Sieburth, Frank & Susan Gilliland) and five were there on May 22 (John Birsner).  Two were at Bonelli Regional Park in San Dimas on May 24 (Rod Higbie) and one was in northwest Lancaster on May 22 (Kerry Ross).

Miscellaneous passerines included a Pygmy Nuthatch out of place at Sand Dune Park in Manhattan Beach on April 20 (Jun & Bin Wu), a late Varied Thrush at Rancho Sierra Golf Club on May 1 (Pamela Stones) and a Townsend’s Solitaire on San Clemente Island on May 17 (Justyn Stahl).

The wintering Gray Catbird at Monte Verde Park in Lakewood was present through April 23, while a spring vagrant was on San Clemente Island from May 18-24 (Justyn Stahl, Nicole Desnoyers).

A rare spring Red-throated Pipit was on San Clemente Island on May 1 (Justyn Stahl).  Also of note were two more at Big Bear Lake on May 1.  Rare but expected in fall along the coast, this species is unusual in spring. 

A Northern Waterthrush at the Piute Ponds on May 27 was the only one reported this spring (Darren Dowell).

A Black-and-white Warbler continued at DeForest Park in Long Beach through May 7.  Others were at Ohara Nursery in West Carson on May 1 (Vincent Lloyd), at Sand Dune Park in Manhattan Beach on May 12 (Lee Pace) and on San Clemente Island on May 14 (Alex Bartolo).

Tennessee Warblers were on San Clemente Island from May 13-15 (Justyn Stahl, Michael Novak), on May 22 (Nicole Desnoyers, Joel Throckmorton) and again- possibly the same bird- on May 30 (Justyn Stahl).  Also of note was a Lucy’s Warbler was on Edwards AFB on June 2 (Jon Feenstra).

A Hooded Warbler stopped over at Sand Dune Park in Manhattan Beach from May 11-14 (Jun & Bin Wu) and another was at Apollo Park near Lancaster on June 12 (Davie Bell, Luke Tiller).

San Clemente Island produced an American Redstart on May 19 (Justyn Stahl, Richard Hepner, Nicole Desnoyers) where it continued through June 3.  A different bird was found there on June 7 (Nicole Desnoyers, Joel Throckmorton) and another was in Altadena on June 10 (Luke Tiller).

Northern Parulas were at Maywood Riverfront Park in Maywood from May 21-22 (Richard Barth) and on San Clemente Island from May 12-13 (Justyn Stahl, Michael Novak).

A wintering Palm Warbler continued on the LA River north of the 91 Freeway through April 9, while a spring migrant was at the Dominguez Seminary and Museum in Carson from April 11-14 (Richard Barth).  Late was a Yellow-rumped “Myrtle” Warbler was at the Piute Ponds on May 27 (Darren Dowell). 

Continuing wintering Emberizids included a Clay-colored Sparrow at Madrona Marsh in Torrance through April 12, a Grasshopper Sparrow at UCLA in Westwood through May 7 and a White-throated Sparrow at Silver Lake Reservoir through April 11 (Chris Dean).

A Summer Tanager at Hahamongna Watershed Park in Pasadena on May 29 (Darren Dowell) was the only one reported during the period.

Rose-breasted Grosbeaks were San Clemente Island on 12 (Joel Throckmorton), at Sand Dune Park in Manhattan Beach on May 14 (David Moody) and again on San Clemente Island from May 19-June 7 (Richard Hepner) and May 28 (Justyn Stahl).  Another was at a residence in Long Beach on June 10 (Tracy Drake).

San Clemente Island also produced two Indigo Buntings present from May 11-14 (Justyn Stahl, Michael Novak) and another on May 22 (Nicole Desnoyers).  A singing male was at Malibu Creek State Park from June 5-13 (David Plotkin).

Up to five Red Crossbills were at Apollo Park from May 21-28 where breeding has taken place in the past (Mark & Janet Scheel).

The seasonal movements of birds are one of the most intriguing things about them, so it’s fortunate that there’s only a short lull between spring and fall migration.  In fact these two events overlap slightly.  Wilson’s Phalaropes, among the earliest southbound birds, had already appeared by the first week of June while the late spring songbirds were still heading north.

July and August will be big months for shorebirds, with a good chance for vagrants and a variety of plumages to study. 

Though some passerines disperse early from breeding areas, fall migration for this large and varied group won’t seriously get underway until later.  While still dry, the mountains will be good for these southbound birds in August and they will be increasingly encountered in the lowlands as well.

August and September will also be prime time for seedeaters in the lowlands.  Sparrows, buntings, Bobolinks and perhaps a Dickcissel or Lark Bunting are possible.  Any weed patch along river channels, in flood basins and elsewhere has good potential for attracting these birds.

Regardless of where you bird in Los Angeles County this summer and fall, you are practically guaranteed a wide variety of birds and the potential for vagrants.  It’s easy to take our wealth of birdlife for granted, yet there are few other places in the state- or even the country- that are as productive for birders.

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