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By Jon Fisher

As far as birds were concerned, what was an exceptional fall was followed by a very satisfying winter as we moved into 2018.  It was obvious- given the volume of records and rarities- that birders were out in force on a daily basis.  Continuing vagrants were reported and re-reported at a dizzying pace and many new finds were made as well. 

The last two months affirmed that there are many city, county and regional parks capable of attracting rare birds.  With so many well covered “hotspots” in the county, often these parks barely make it onto the radar of most birders.  That was certainly not the case this winter however.   

There were no notable trends, irruptive events or anything particularly out of the ordinary, but there were a lot of good birds around.  As usual, the coastal slope- with its mild winter climate and plethora of sources of food, water and shelter- was especially good for wintering Neotropic migrants. 

Climatologists tell us that a La Niña following an El Niño tends to produce a warm and dry conditions.  That turned out to be one major understatement this winter.  In short order we’ve flipped from a “drought-busting” 2016-2017 season to conditions that set new records for a lack of precipitation and high temperatures. 

With most of California’s reservoirs at or above average levels after last winter, human needs should be met for a while.  But with Los Angeles County receiving a mere two inches of rain in the last 12 months, habitats have again suffered.  This in turn will affect the numbers of birds present and breeding success this year.

Still it was clear that a lack of rain had little if any negative impact on vagrants; here’s a review of what was found between mid-December and mid-February.

The only Tundra Swan recorded was a continuing bird at the Piute Ponds on Edwards AFB that was reported through February 17.

Single “Eurasian” Green-winged Teal continued along the LA River in Glendale through February 17 and at the San Gabriel Coastal Basin Spreading Grounds through February 10.

Numbers varied during the period, but up to three White-winged Scoters and six Black Scoters were observed in the waters off Dockweiler State Beach in El Segundo through February 14 (Richard Barth).

Quite rare was a male Barrow’s Goldeneye on Lake Palmdale from December 24-26 (Kimball Garrett).  The previous half dozen or so records are all from Quail Lake and all have occurred since 2008.

A Red-necked Grebe continued through February 10 at Castaic Lagoon where it was seen by many birders.

Quite rare these days was a Spotted Dove in Huntington Park from February 10-17 (Paul Contreras).  Though apparently declining there, at least one Inca Dove remained at Col. Leon H. Washington Park in Los Angeles through February 16 and a White-winged Dove was there on February 2 (Jason Riggio).  A Common Ground-Dove continued at the usual spot along the San Gabriel River in Bellflower through February 10.

The only shorebird of note was the Pacific Golden-Plover at Dockweiler State Beach in El Segundo which was present through February 17.

Unusual in winter was a Franklin’s Gull at Bonelli Regional Park in San Dimas from February 15-17 (Rod & Pat Higbie).

Three Lesser Black-backed Gulls were recorded.  One was a continuing adult at the Rio Hondo spreading basins in Pico Rivera last reported on January 17.  Nearby, a first cycle bird was at the San Gabriel Coastal Basin Spreading Grounds in Pico Rivera from January 15-21 (Dessi Seiburth).  Another adult was at Cabrillo Beach on January 22 (David Ellsworth).

Also at the San Gabriel Coastal Basin Spreading Grounds was a Slaty-backed Gull from January 6-13 (John Garrett), likely a returning bird that spent last winter in the area.  That bird was also the county’s first.  Also of note was a Glaucous Gull continuing at both the San Gabriel Coastal Basin Spreading Grounds and nearby Rio Hondo basins through January 27.

A Brown Booby was in the Santa Catalina Channel on December 26 (Bernardo Alps) and two more were off Manhattan Beach on January 7 (Will Brooks).

A Neotropic Cormorant was at Peck Road Water Conservation Park (WCP) in Arcadia from December 24-January 21 (Darren Dowell, Mickey Long) and another- very possibly the same individual- was at Bonelli Regional Park in San Dimas from February 11-17 (Rod Higbie, Tom Miko).  This record, coupled with at least two at Bonelli Park in San Dimas in 2016 and 2017, almost certainly means that more will turn up.  Any inland cormorant used to be considered a Double-crested by default, but this is no longer a safe assumption. 

An immature Yellow-crowned Night-Heron was at Topanga Lagoon from January 14-February 1 (Mark & Janet Scheel).

California Condors included one near Pyramid Lake on December 30 and again on February 4 (Nora Papian, Dessi Seiburth) and two were not far from there at Quail Lake on February 3 (Mark & Janet Scheel).

A Short-eared Owl was on San Clemente Island on December 27 (Brian Flick).

At least a half dozen Lewis’s Woodpeckers remained at Chilao Flat in the San Gabriel Mountains through early February where up to two dozen had been since late October.  In the lowlands, one was at the Los Angeles Country Club on January 2 (Chris Morris) and two were in Whittier at Rose Hills Memorial Park on February 10 (Larry Schmahl).

Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers included one continuing at Legg Lake in South El Monte through January 7 and another at DeForest Park in Long Beach from February 1-10 (Kim Moore, Merry Edelstein).

Scarce in the lowlands were Williamson’s Sapsuckers at Griffith Park on January 16 (Andrew Birch) and continuing at Veteran’s Park in Sylmar through January 18.

Northern “Yellow-shafted” Flickers were at Mountain View Cemetery in Altadena on January 7 (Becky Turley), at Madrona Marsh in Torrance on January 12 (Tracy Drake), at Rosedale Cemetery in Los Angeles from January 20-February 10 (Brad Rumble) and continuing at Hahamongna Watershed Park in Pasadena through January 21.

The Estates condominiums on the Palos Verdes Peninsula hosted a Hammond’s Flycatcher on December 23 (Philip Carnehl) and about seven Gray Flycatchers were found during the period. 

Pacific-slope Flycatchers included one continuing at Bonelli Regional Park in San Dimas through January 27, one at Hopkins Wilderness Park in Redondo Beach from December 23-January 25 and another at O’Melveney Park in Granada Hills on January 31 (Julia Ray).

Eastern Phoebes continued at Madrona Marsh through February 17 and at Bonelli Regional Park in San Dimas through December 31.

Dusky-capped Flycatchers were at Runnymeade Park in Canoga Park from December 16-February 6 (Dick Norton), continuing at Ladera Park in Ladera Heights through February 17, at Creek Park in La Mirada through January 4 and at North Weddington Park in Toluca Lake from January 27-February 17 (Rebecca Marschall)

About equally rare in winter were Ash-throated Flycatchers at Griffith Park on December 22 (Evan Dalton), continuing at Madrona Marsh in Torrance through February 17, at Odd Fellows Cemetery in Los Angeles on January 13 (Richard Barth), at the Sepulveda Basin on February 8 (Daniel Tinoco) and at the Ballona Freshwater Marsh near Playa Vista on February 13 (Chezy Yusuf).

A Tropical Kingbird continued at El Dorado Park in Long Beach through December 24, while new birds were at Madrona Marsh in Torrance from January 17-21 (Tom Miko), at El Segundo Recreation Park on January 31 (Mike McLaughlin) and at Entradero Park in Torrance from February 7-17 (Charlie Keller).

Still quite rare in winter were Western Kingbirds continuing at Madrona Marsh in Torrance through January 2 and at Entradero Park in Torrance from February 8-10 (David Moody).

Scissor-tailed Flycatchers were along the lower LA River in Long Beach from January 6-15 and at a residence in Westchester on January 18 (John Peterson).

Extremely rare in winter were Bell’s Vireos at Angels Gate Park in San Pedro on December 23 (David Ellsworth) and at Peck Road WCP in Arcadia from December 24-January 15 (Darren Dowell, Mickey Long).

Cassin’s Vireos were at Rosie the Riveter Park in Long Beach on December 16 (Robb Hamilton), continuing at the West San Gabriel Parkway Nature trail in Lakewood through January 19, at Mountain View Park in Burbank from January 30-February 2 (Andrew Birch) and at the Village Green Condominiums in Los Angeles from February 4-10 (Don Sterba).

A number of magnitudes greater in scarcity was an apparent Blue-headed Vireo along the LA River in Atwater Village from February 14-17 (Cuyler Staplemann).  If accepted, this would be the county’s first since the Harbor Regional Park bird in 2013.  As with many CBRC review species, photos showing every angle of the bird and recordings of any vocalizations can be most helpful in establishing a record.

Rare but regular in winter, Pacific Wrens were at Hoegee’s Campground above Arcadia on December 31 (Dessi Sieburth), continuing in El Prieto Canyon above Altadena through January 27 and likewise continuing in Big Santa Anita Canyon through January 31.  The most recent reports were of birds along the San Gabriel River’s West Fork off Highway 39 on February 3 (Lance Benner, Kathi Ellsworth) and below Red Box on February 16 (DarrenDowell).

Sage Thrashers made a good showing on the coastal slope with at least eight individuals recorded.  They are typically rare away from the deserts.

An Evening Grosbeak observed flying over Angeles Crest Highway near Big Tujunga Canyon Road on January 22 was the only one of its kind reported (Janet Cupples).

Wintering Green-tailed Towhees were at Portuguese Bend Reserve on the Palos Verdes Peninsula on December 23 (Bernardo Alps) and continuing at the Huntington Gardens in San Marino through December 29 and in Altadena through January 5.

Miscellaneous sparrows included a Clay-colored Sparrow at Westchester Park from February 9-16 (Dan Cooper), a “Large-billed” Savannah Sparrow continuing at Cabrillo Beach through December 23, a Swamp Sparrow at Bonelli Regional Park in San Dimas from December 23-February 8 (Michael San Miguel) and a “Red” Fox Sparrow also at Bonelli in San Dimas on January 13 (Michael San Miguel).

Very rare in the county was a Harris’s Sparrow at a residence on the Palos Verdes Peninsula from December 20-February 16 (Peggy Gussman).  About a dozen of the closely related but far more expected White-throated Sparrows were noted during the period.

Rare dark-eyed Junco subspecies included “Pink-sided” Juncos at Gloria Heer Park on December 30 (Richard Barth) and at Chilao Flat in the San Gabriel Mountains on January 23 (Naresh Satyan).  “Gray-headed” Juncos were found at King Gillette Ranch in Calabasas on January 1 (Daniel Tinoco), at Wheeler Park in Claremont on January 20 (Tom Miko) and at Chilao Flat in the San Gabriels on February 3 (Rick Fisher, Tom Miko).

Rare in winter was a Yellow-headed Blackbird at Lake Balboa in the San Fernando Valley on February 17 (Mike Stensvold)

On the coastal slope, six Hooded Orioles were discovered over the period and two Baltimore Orioles were at the Veteran’s Administration’s Japanese Garden in West Los Angeles; an immature male present from January 27-29 (Mark & Janet Scheel) and an adult male from January 25-February 18 (Richard Barth).  A scarce visitor to the coastal slope was a Scott’s Oriole at Bonelli Regional Park in San Dimas from January 6-10 (Tom Miko).

The easy to find Rusty Blackbird continued at Almansor Park in Alhambra through February 17, but another along the LA River in Glendale adjacent to the Bette David Picnic Area on January 10 proved impossible to relocate (Andrew Birch).

A great winter find was an Ovenbird at Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden in Claremont on December 28 (Ken Watanabe).  It was reported there through February 11.

At least eight Black-and-white Warblers were present this winter.

Lucy’s Warblers were at Col. Leon H. Washington Park in Los Angeles on February 4 (Ryan Terrill, Adam Searcy, James Maley) and at North Weddington Park in Toluca Lake from February 10-17 (Sarah Ngo).  Nashville Warblers- rare in winter- were at Marine Park in Santa Monica on December 21 (Larry Schmahl) and at DeForest Park in Long Beach on February 2 (Becky Turley, Kim Moore, Merryl Edelstein).

American Redstarts included one continuing at Bonelli Regional Park in San Dimas through January 30, while new birds were at Wilderness Park in Downey from January 15-February 8 (Gjon Hazard), at El Dorado Park in Long Beach from January 28-February 13 (Brian Daniels) and in Arcadia on February 16 (Stephen Knox).

Northern Parulas continued at Peck Road WCP in Arcadia through January 11 and at Bonelli Regional Park in San Dimas through January 13.

Palm Warblers were in Wilmington on January 6 (Tracy Drake), continuing at DeForest Park in Long Beach through February 13, at Entradero Park in Torrance from January 13-February 1 (Brooke Keeney, Gabriel Gartner) and in Long Beach from January 21-February 15 (Elias Zuniga).

Pine Warblers were at Runnymeade Park in Winnetka from January 7-25 (Marc Better) and at Sherman Oaks Park in Van Nuys from February 2-15 (Rebecca Marschall).

A Magnolia Warbler continued at Peck Road WCP through January 11 and a Chestnut-sided Warbler was near Wheeler Park in Claremont from January 21-February 15 (Tom Miko).

The lone Painted Redstart recorded was the continuing bird at Culver City Park which was reported through February 11.

Over a half dozen Summer Tanagers were recorded over the period. 

The Veteran’s Administration in West Los Angeles produced a Rose-breasted Grosbeak at the Japanese Garden on January 27 (Mark & Janet Scheel) and two Black-headed Grosbeaks were there from January 28-29, with one seen there through February 10 (Chris Dean, Dessi Sieburth).  Other Black-headed Grosbeaks included a continuing bird in Sierra Madre through February 17 and one at Malaga Dunes in Palos Verdes Estates from January 25-February 7 (Philip Carnehl).  Remarkable in winter was a female Blue Grosbeak at Entradero Park in Torrance on January 24 (Chris Dean).

Whatever the remainder of winter does or doesn’t bring, in short order the landscape will turn green, birds will be streaming northward and birders will enjoy the great spectacle of spring migration once again. 

Most passerines begin to arrive in March, and numbers will increase until they peak in late April.  At the same time, waterfowl, shorebirds and many others are also on the move.  Spring is a time of constant change, and birds on the move mean that vagrants can turn up at any time and place. 

Though concerns about climate change, habitat loss and other threats to birds are fully justified, thankfully there are still a great number and variety of birds to be found in the county. 

Though Los Angeles County isn’t small, an hour and a half will get you just about anywhere within its borders- at least as long as you pick a time when traffic is light.  But if time or other constraints dictate, nearly all of us have good birding spots just a few minutes from home, many scarcely explored.  Whatever your means or preference, spring is sure to satisfy.