Vol. 83 No. 6 Jul/Aug 2017

By Jon Fisher

For The Western Tanager, July/August 2017


As we head into mid-June, as always it seems spring migration has ended all too soon.  Yet it’s hard to complain about brevity when it spans nearly half the year. 

A good number of rarities appeared this spring, with an increase in late May and June fitting the classic pattern of late season vagrancy in passerines.  As it often is, San Clemente Island was impressive when it came to producing good birds.

The appearance of several southeastern passerines–Yellow-throated Vireo, White-eyed Vireo, Hooded Warbler and Northern Parula–mirrored to a lesser extent the record year of 1992 when well above average numbers of these vagrants reached California.  Yet the reason for their occurrence, both then and now, remains a mystery.

Late April illustrated just how many passerines traverse the area, with a surprisingly large movement of birds noted at Hansen Dam and lesser numbers at other locations contemporaneously.  Significant northerly winds appeared to be largely responsible for the orientation and numbers of these birds, and weather clearly plays a substantial role in migration.  This is especially true on the deserts, but its effect elsewhere sometimes appears inconsistent. 

Following our first wet winter since 2010-2011, some interesting discoveries foreshadowed the potential of the San Gabriel Mountains.  Between the Station Fire in 2008 and subsequent years of drought, birdlife in the mountains has truly been challenged.  Habitat has been radically altered and degraded.  Thankfully both have benefitted greatly from last winter’s rains.    

Birds face a litany of threats.  Fortunately Domoic acid is not often a significant one.  This spring however, this toxin was present in increased levels, primarily due to warmer than normal ocean temperatures and intensified by nutrient rich urban/suburban runoff which spurs the growth of the algae that produces it.  Though the acid doesn’t affect birds directly, it accumulates in the fish on which they feed.  It caused a number of seabird and mammal deaths.  Hundreds of loons, grebes, murres, and others were found deceased or captured and treated, which indicates that thousands of birds that were never found must have been sickened or died.

On a more positive note, our America’s Birdiest County event took place from April 28-30.  This year’s total was 264 species, less than our better years but about in line with the long term average and an impressive variety for three days of coverage.

By Brad Rumble, LAAS Director at Large

For The Western Tanager, July/August 2017, Vol. 83 No. 6

Judith Raskin was a Los Angeles Audubon volunteer and citizen scientist. She began birding Echo Park Lake in 2000. Consider all the natural history she packed into this, her first posting on the Los Angeles County listserv on November 3, 2005:

This morning for the second time in a week and the first time since August 15, a Caspian Tern hovered over Echo Park Lake, Los Angeles. The first two times, there was a pair of them; today, just one, but today’s tern flew over the lake long enough and circled a number of times so I was able to identify it. Prior to these sightings, I have not seen a Caspian at Echo Park Lake since 2003.

Judy’s enthusiasm is apparent in that post, and certainly it was evident in her actions. She regularly led bird walks at Echo Park Lake, which she described in one of her frequent announcements as “a little oasis just a bit north of downtown Los Angeles.” Christmas Bird Counts, Backyard Bird Counts, America’s Birdiest County, simple walks—everyone was invited.

To review all her posts really is to learn much about the natural history of Echo Park Lake. What comes through is her sense of wonder, and also her commitment to the precision of data. Those who knew Judy will recall her reportage of Ross, a wild Ross’s Goose.

2011.02.06 Ross Goose MacArthur Park

Here’s her first report on the bird:

By Louis Tucker, LAAS Member and Field Trip Leader

Western Tanager, July/August 2017, Vol. 83 No. 6

Lakota Sioux Standing Rock North Dakota By Andrew Lichtenstein main 900

There are people who eat earth and eat all the people on it like in the Bible with the locusts. Then there are people who stand around and watch them eat it. (Softly) Sometimes I think it ain't right to stand and watch them do it. —Lillian Hellman, American Playright

By Robert Jeffers, L.A. Audubon Treasurer | Instructional Coach

Western Tanager, July/August 2017, Vol. 83 No. 6

Asilomar Conference Grounds, Pacific Grove, CA

Asilomar Conference Grounds, Pacific Grove, CA

In Los Angeles, June usually means gloom, but it also means contemplation for the city’s thousands of educators. Personally, I carefully look over the school year — successes and defeats, opportunities and challenges. And, this past August after 15 years of teaching, I stepped out of the classroom and moved into an administrative position, which required that I reflect on my work both as an English teacher and also in my new role as an instructional coach. Knowing I would have to support educators in diverse subjects and in preparation before the year started. I read several education theory books, but those avenues provided typically familiar solutions to familiar problems. I needed something fresh, something new. So, I turned to what I spend most of my non-teaching time doing—nature.

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