By Jon Fisher

bos banner 12 birds

As summer progressed, so did migration.  In late August the focus began to shift from shorebirds to passerines.  The often oppressive summer heat continued as birders blissfully stumbled into an early September that saw a remarkable flush of rare birds.  Thus began an excellent period for vagrant warblers, with eighteen species recorded in addition to the nine or so regulars.  And it wasn’t merely the variety but the overall numbers that were impressive. 

There were also above average numbers of normally scarce seedeaters, the usual mixed bag of other odds and ends, as well a few superb finds including two new species for the county. 

Among the most productive spots this fall were Peck Road Water Conservation Park (WCP) in Arcadia, Madrona Marsh in Torrance, the Piute Ponds on Edwards AFB and of course San Clemente Island. 

While these spots were definitely “hot”, vagrants were found throughout the county; though it’s no surprise that in fall they were concentrated on the coastal slope.  Here there are literally dozens of city, county and regional parks that can produce vagrants.  

There was minimal evidence of irruptive species thus far, save for a dozen or so Lewis’s Woodpeckers, mainly in the San Gabriel Mountains.  That said, we shall see what the remainder of fall and winter have to offer.

Waterfowl of interest included a Long-tailed Duck continuing on the lower LA River in Long Beach through August 27.  A likewise summering Common Merganser was along the LA River in Atwater Village through August 27 while a Red-breasted Merganser was at Castaic Lagoon on August 20 (Jeffrey Fenwick) and another continued through the summer at Harbor Regional Park in Harbor City.

A sign of approaching winter was a Red-necked Grebe on the lake at Harbor Regional Park in Harbor City from October 15-17 (Ed Griffin).

Expected in small numbers in late summer and fall, White-winged Doves were at Madrona Marsh in Torrance on September 7 (Tracy Drake), at Legacy Park in Malibu from October 4-14 (Ryan Terrill) and at the Ballona Freshwater Marsh near Playa Vista on October 7 (Lisa Fimiani).  Outdoing the mainland by a wide margin were the dozen found on San Clemente Island during the period.

A late Lesser Nighthawk was flushed in Sycamore Canyon near Whittier on October 14 (Larry Schmahl).

Also late was a Rufous Hummingbird at the Sepulveda Basin in Van Nuys on October 14 (Sarah Ngo).

A Ridgway’s Rail at Legacy Park in Malibu on October 10 was an interesting find (Gabriel Gartner, Brooke Keeney).  This bird along with another at the Ballona Freshwater Marsh last year shows that this species can turn up well away from expected areas.

Only the second ever found in the county was a Bar-tailed Godwit near the Ballona Creek Mouth on September 24 (Kevin Lapp); it was also the first in over forty years.  Unfortunately for many interested birders, this one could not be refound.

Scarce in the county were Red Knots at Malibu Lagoon from August 28-September 6 (Daniel Tinoco) and near the Ballona Creek mouth from September 2-25 (Rebecca Marschall).

A Stilt Sandpiper at the Piute Ponds from September 2-3 was just the second found this fall (Ryan Terrill).

Semipalmated Sandpipers were at the Piute Ponds from August 19-22 (Mark Scheel), on the LA River in Glendale on August 22 (Ryan Terrill), on the LA River in Long Beach on September 27 (Jon Feenstra) and at the Piute Ponds on August 26 and on September 4.

A Craveri’s Murrelet was spotted southeast of Santa Catalina Island on September 16 (Kimball Garrett).

Gulls of interest included a Sabine’s Gull at Lake Palmdale on September 14 (Cal Yorke) and a Franklin’s Gull at the Lancaster Water Treatment Plant from September 8-9 (Dessi Sieburth).

Pelagic birds of note included a Cook’s Petrel and a Red-billed Tropicbird at Cortez Bank on September 3 (Joe Hanfman) and a Fork-tailed Storm-Petrel at the Palos Verdes Escarpment on October 7 (Kimball Garrett).

A Brown Booby was at San Clemente Island on October 14 was the only one recorded for the period (Justyn Stahl).

One or two Yellow-crowned Night-Herons continued at the Ballona Freshwater Marsh through October 7.  Others were at the Cabrillo Salt Marsh in San Pedro on September 8 (David Ellsworth), at Malibu Lagoon on September 10 (James Maley) and on San Clemente Island from October 14-16 (Justyn Stahl).

Raptors of interest included a Broad-winged Hawk in the west Antelope Valley on September 24 (Anna Von Kovn), an early for the coastal slope Swainson’s Hawk at the Ballona Freshwater Marsh on August 26 (Michael & Jan Long) and a “Harlan’s” Red-tailed Hawk in the east Antelope Valley on October 8 (Luke Tiller, David Bell).

The only owl of note was a Short-eared Owl in the west Antelope Valley on October 9 (Anna Von Kovn).

Even the most jaded birder must have done a double- or triple- take at the report of a

Eurasian Wryneck on San Clemente Island on September 25 (Brian Flick).  This old world species has never before been recorded outside of Alaska, with but two records there.  Though it could not be found again, thankfully the record was supported by verifiable photographs- always nice to have for a sighting of this magnitude.  Skeptics raised the possibility that this bird could have been ship-assisted, or even a complete hoax.  Photos proved the second conjecture untrue and as a long distance migrant it’s quite likely it reached the island without any assistance from man.

A Lewis’s Woodpecker was in La Canada on October 3 (Mary Freeman) and one was at Peck Road WCP in Arcadia on October 18 (Kathy Harty, Jane Bork).  Another ten or so were found in the San Gabriel Mountains from late September through mid-October.  A Yellow-bellied Sapsucker was at Maywood Riverfront Park in Maywood on October 11 (Richard Barth) and a Northern “Yellow-shafted” Flicker was at El Dorado Park in Long Beach on October 8 (Tracy Drake).

Scarce in the county was a pale Richardson’s Merlin at the Sepulveda Basin in Van Nuys on October 14 (Mike Stensvold).

Rare as a late fall and winter visitor, a Greater Pewee was found in Rustic Canyon in Santa Monica on October 12 and continuing through October 16 (Steve Morris).

Ever productive San Clemente Island yielded a Least Flycatcher that was present from September 24-25 (Nicole Desnoyers).

About eight Vermilion Flycatchers either continued or were found on the coastal slope.  This species definitely appears to be increasing away from the deserts where it was previously more expected.

Tropical Kingbirds were found at Harbor Regional Park in Harbor City from October 1-16 (David Bell) and at El Dorado Park in Long Beach from October 8-14 (Mark & Janet Scheel) and San Clemente Island produced an Eastern Kingbird present from September 1-4 (Justyn Stahl, Nicole Desnoyers).

Very rare was an apparent nominate “Eastern” Bell’s Vireo was at Sand Dune Park on October 1 (Jun Wu, Bin Cao), while expected but late was a Least Bell’s Vireo at Peck Road WCP in Arcadia on October 10 (Dan Cooper).

Gray Vireos on San Clemente Island on September 24 and on October 7 marked the first records ever for the island (Nicole Desnoyers).  A nice find was a Yellow-Green Vireo at Sand Dune Park in Manhattan Beach on October 4 (Jun Wu, Bin Cao).

Up to five Purple Martins were at Lancaster City Park in Lancaster on September 14-16 (Andrew Lee) and two more were at Santa Fe Dam on September 17 (Andrew Lee).

A Pacific Wren at Icy Springs in the San Gabriel Mountains on October 15 was the only one reported thus far (Lance Benner, Kathi Ellsworth).

A Dusky Warbler at Madrona Marsh in Torrance from September 29-October 1 was the first ever recorded on the county (Tracy Drake).  If that bird weren’t enough, a second Dusky was recorded on San Clemente Island on October 11 (Justyn Stahl).  There are a remarkable twenty plus records for this old world species in California, yet until this fall we’ve merely been surrounded by counties where this species has occurred.

An early Varied Thrush was at Sand Dune Park on October 4 (Jun Wu, Bin Cao) and a Red-throated Pipit was on San Clemente Island on October 13 (Justyn Stahl).

Single Chestnut-collared Longspurs were at Santa Fe Dam in Irwindale from October 3-6 (Jon Feenstra), on San Clemente Island on October 5 (Justyn Stahl, Nicole Desnoyers) and at the Piute Ponds on October 15 (Kimball Garrett).  A Lapland Longspur was on San Clemente Island from October 8-14 (Nicole Desnoyers).

Seven Green-tailed Towhees, an above average number for fall, were reported on the coastal slope with another on San Clemente Island on August 30 (Brian Flick). 

Also more common than usual were the sixteen Clay-colored Sparrows found between early September and early October, almost all being on the coastal slope.

A Black-chinned Sparrow on San Clemente Island on September 4 was a very good bird for that locale (Nicole Desnoyers).

Black-throated Sparrows were on San Clemente Island on August 31 (Justyn Stahl) and on September 26 (Nicole Desnoyers, Justyn Stahl) and at Sand Dune Park in Manhattan Beach on September 10 (Jun Wu, Bin Cao).

Lark Buntings are quite rare in the county, thus the half dozen found over the period were notable.  Single birds were on San Clemente Island from September 1-5 (Justyn Stahl) and again on September 26 (Justyn Stahl, Nicole Desnoyers) and at Santa Fe Dam in Irwindale on September 9 (Andrew Lee).  Two more were on San Clemente Island from October 5-6 (Justyn Stahl, Nicole Desnoyers) and one was at Agua Amarga Canyon on the Palos Verdes Peninsula from October 7-15 (Jun Wu, Bin Cao).

A “Large-billed” Savannah Sparrow was at Malibu Lagoon on September 10 (James Maley).

Rare as migrants were Grasshopper Sparrows at the Ballona Wetlands on September 29 (Jonathan Coffin) and at Peck Road WCP from September 30-October 5 (Jon Fisher).

Quite unexpected inland was a Nelson’s Sparrow at the Piute Ponds on September 25 (many observers).  Normally a rare to very scarce visitor to California’s coastal marshes in winter, interior records are few and recent LA County records virtually non-existent.

Hahamongna Watershed Park in Pasadena hosted a Swamp Sparrow from October 2-3 (Darren Dowell).

The first White-throated Sparrow of the fall was in Porter Ranch on October 13 (ed Thomas).

Unusual was a hybrid Dark-eyed “Gray-headed” x “Pink-sided” Junco at Chilao in the San Gabriel Mountains on September 27 (Richard Armerding, Catherine Bourne).  A pure “Pink-sided” Junco was at Apollo Park near Lancaster on October 9 (Chris Dean) and a “Gray-headed” Junco was on San Clemente Island on October 14 (Justyn Stahl)

A few Bobolinks were found this fall, with one at Hansen Dam on September 22 (Kimball Garrett), one at the Ballona Freshwater marsh on September 26 (Dean Schaff) and one or two at Peck Road WCP from October 2-9 (Tom Wurster).  Small numbers were also recorded on San Clemente Island from late September through mid-October.

Baltimore Orioles were at Creek Park in La Mirada on September 26 (Andrew Lee) and on San Clemente Island on October 1 (Justyn Stahl).  Additionally, two were at Wardlow Park in Long Beach on October 14 (Tracy Drake)

The surprise summering Ovenbird at Madrona Marsh in Torrance continued through October 14 and was joined by a second individual for a day on October 10 (Eric Hansen).  Northern Waterthrushes were on San Clemente Island from September 2-4 (Justyn Stahl) and at Creek Park in La Mirada on September 17 (Tracy Drake).

Over a dozen Black-and-white Warblers were tallied between September 3 and October 15, and just over a dozen Tennessee Warblers were observed during the period.

Far rarer was a Prothonotary Warbler discovered on San Clemente Island on September 20 (Justyn Stahl).

Hahamongna Watershed Park in Pasadena held a Lucy’s Warbler from August 24-29 (Luke Tiller) and another was at Agua Amarga Canyon on the Palos Verdes Peninsula from October 14-16 (Jun & Bin).  About a dozen Virginia’s Warblers were recorded during the month of September.

A Mourning Warbler at the Piute Ponds on September 10 was only the seventh ever found in the county (Jon Feenstra).

Six American Redstarts, generally one of our more common “vagrants”, were found between September 1 and 28.

Northern Parulas were at Madrona Marsh on September 20 (Becky Turley), at the Village Green Condominiums in Los Angeles from September 21-22 (Don Sterba) and at Wilderness Park in Downey on October 2 (Jon Feenstra).

Magnolia Warblers were at Madrona Marsh from September 16-17 (Jim Hecht) and on San Clemente Island from September 23-26 (Nicole Desnoyers) and Blackburnian Warblers were at DeForest Park from September 11-17 (Andrew Lee) and at the Piute Ponds from September 23-26 (Cuyler Stapelmann).

Eight Chestnut-sided Warblers were found from September 4 to October 5 and likewise eight Blackpoll Warblers were detected in September.

Palm Warblers were on San Clemente Island on September 23 (Nicole Desnoyers), at White Point Nature Preserve on the Palos Verdes Peninsula from September 29-October 2 (Bas Van Schooten), at Peck Road WCP in Arcadia from October 8-12 (Lance Benner, Kathi Ellsworth), at Malibu Legacy Park on October 11 (Chris Dean) and again on San Clemente Island on October 16 (Justyn Stahl, Ryan Terrill).

A Black-throated Green Warbler was at Medea Creek in Agoura Hills on October 5 (David Koeppel).

Rare Canada Warblers were at LMU on September 16 (Russell Stone) and at the George F. Canyon Nature Preserve on the Palos Verdes Peninsula on September 23 (Sue Pastel).

Wrapping up the warblers was a Painted Redstart at the Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook/Culver City Park from October 10-13 (Emily Cobar).

Summer Tanagers were at Veteran’s Park in Sylmar from September 17-October 1 (Nathan Barkley), at Malaga Dunes on the Palos Verdes Peninsula on October 10 (Jonathan Nakai), at the LA County Arboretum in Arcadia on October 15 (Sarah Ngo), on San Clemente Island on October 15 (Justyn Stahl, Ryan Terrill) and on October 17 at Harbor Park in Harbor City (Philip Carnehl).  Less expected was a Scarlet Tanager on San Clemente Island from October 13-15 (Justyn Stahl).

Rose-breasted Grosbeaks were in Baldwin Hills on September 15 (Eric Brooks), on San Clemente Island from September 22-26 (Justyn Stahl, Nicole Desnoyers), with two more were there on September 30 (Justyn Stahl), and in San Pedro on October 10 (Tom Kantor).

Indigo Buntings included single birds on San Clemente Island on September 14 (Brian Flick), at the LA County Arboretum in Arcadia on September 18 (Tom Wurster) and several at Peck Road WCP from September 22-October 8 (Tom Wurster, et al).

Not content with the litany of rarities already noted, San Clemente Island held a Painted Bunting on September 25 (Brian Flick).

Dickcissels turned up at Pt. Dume on September 4 (Kimball Garrett), at Avalon on Santa Catalina Island from September 15-20 (Andrew Lee) and of course on San Clemente Island on October 8 (Nicole Desnoyers).

If this fall proved anything, it’s that birding can be as unpredictable as it is predictable… we never know exactly what we’re going to get. 

Why was it such a good fall for vagrants?  Since they originated from a different places, it’s likely there was no single cause.  Weather patterns likely played some role in the occurrence of some, increased breeding success in some species may have accounted for others.

As remarkable as the numbers of rare birds were this fall, one question always intrigues... if two Dusky Warblers were found, how many others passed through unseen?  If eight Chestnut-sided Warblers and six Lark Buntings were recorded, how many were missed?  We can never know, but the number is certainly of some magnitude greater than what was actually seen.

While it’s hard to imagine a period more dynamic than the past couple of months, good birds will continue to be found.  Though fall songbird migration has essentially ended, other birds are still on the move.  Numbers of wintering bird numbers- especially waterfowl- are increasing.  Late or lingering rare passerines will continue to be found into and through the winter.  Bird movements will slow for a few months, but never cease. 

Thoughts will soon turn to winter birds and to Christmas Bird Counts.  Even the most well attended count can benefit from further coverage.  Birders are in the rare and fortunate position of being able to use their passion for birds to further scientific study.  There’s a level of satisfaction to be gained in using eBird, participating in Christmas Bird Counts and other community science efforts.  Bird conservation is today more important than ever, and the data that birders are generating is very useful in that endeavor.

TPL_LAAS_ADDITIONAL_INFORMATION