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By Jon Fisher

All too soon we’re nearing the end of autumn migration. As usual, this column is the longest of the year; we expect that quite a few good birds will be recorded in fall and 2018 was no disappointment in that regard. Starting at the end of August, a steady flow of vagrants made for an impressive couple of months.

The uncomfortable temperatures of August and September had subsided after September, making days in the field much more pleasant. Other good news was an early October storm that brought a half inch or more of rain following a very long dry period.   

It’s beginning to sound redundant, but San Clemente Island again this fall proved its remarkable ability to attract vagrants. So too did Santa Catalina Island which, though far more accessible to birders, actually receives much less coverage. Peck Road Park in Arcadia was a productive spot for seedeaters and coastal spots such as Sand Dune and Madrona Marsh produced a number of reportable birds. A handful other small parks and green patches proved worthy of coverage for both expected and rare migrants as did several locales on Palos Verdes Peninsula.

Increasing coverage by birders isn’t everything, but it’s a significant factor when it comes to turning up rare birds. It’s logical and correct to assume that the heavily populated coastal slope of LA County receives a large share of birding hours. Most vagrant reports come from this area. Also, in fall coastal areas tend to be the most productive to begin with.

As I’ve noted before, the norm of working Monday through Friday and birding on the weekend has become less and less prevalent. This means that more birds are being found on weekdays and that fewer of them escape detection. Despite that change, the vast majority of migrants and vagrant pass through without ever being seen. Still, we did find quite a few…

Twenty-four Cackling Geese were on Santa Catalina Island on September 24 (Neil Zhang) and ten were on San Clemente Island on October 6 (Justyn Stahl).

A Eurasian Wigeon was at Hansen Dam in Lake View Terrace from September 14-27 (Kimball Garrett) and a “Eurasian” Green-winged Teal had returned for another winter to the LA River in Glendale as of October 4 (Andrew Birch). Not far downstream, a Common Merganser that summered in the area was reported through September 22. A White-winged Scoter was near the LA River mouth in Long Beach on October 19 (Tom Miko).

The Piute Ponds on Edwards AFB hosted a Common Ground-Dove from October 9-10 (Chris Dean, John Birsner) and a half dozen White-winged Doves were found between August 23 and October 6.

Away from breeding areas was a Lesser Nighthawk at Sand Dune Park in Manhattan Bach on August 23 (Jun Wu, Bin Cao).

A Chimney Swift was along the LA River in Glendale on September 1 (Andrew Birch). Another one to two were at Sand Dune Park in Manhattan Beach on September 3 (Jun Wu, Bin Cao).

Notably rare in the county was a Broad-billed Hummingbird spotted in Los Liones Canyon on September 26 (Kathleen Waldron).

Also quite rare- at least in pure form- was an American Oystercatcher at Royal Palms Beach from August 24-October 1 (Daniel Tran).

An American Golden-Plover was on San Clemente Island on August 27 and a presumed Pacific Golden-Plover was in the east Antelope Valley at Ave, N and 50th Street East from October 13-21. One and possibly two Mountain Plovers were at Dockweiler State Beach in El Segundo on October 19 (Kevin Lapp).

A Stilt Sandpiper was at the Piute Ponds on Edwards AFB from September 2-8 (Mark & Janet Scheel) and Buff-breasted Sandpipers were on San Clemente Island on September 1 (Justyn Stahl), while two were seen over open water southwest of San Clemente Island on a pelagic trip on August 25 (Tom Benson).

Apparently the last of the fall Semipalmated Sandpipers were single birds on the LA River in Long Beach on August 26 (Dessi Seiburth) and on September 22 (Javier Vazquez, Naresh Satyan).

Normally expected only well offshore, Red Phalaropes were found in well above normal numbers inland. One was along the LA River in Long Beach from September 1-3 (Donna Bray, Fitches), another was at Peck Road Park in Arcadia from September 1-2 (Ed Stonick) and three were at the Lancaster Water Treatment Plant on September 10 (Tom Miko). Notable were ten were at Quail Lake near Gorman on September 16 (Brad Rumble), while bringing up the rear was one was along Ballona Creek on September 21 (Kevin Lapp)

A Sabine’s Gull was at the Piute Ponds on Edwards AFB on September 10 (Tom Miko) as was one on September 22 (Mark & Janet Scheel) and a rare inland Arctic Tern was present there from September 22-23 (Joe Lepisto).

A pelagic trip on August 25 recorded a Red-billed Tropicbird and eighteen Cook’s Petrels near San Clemente Island (Tom Benson, et al). Cook’s Petrels, once considered very rare, are now known to be rather common well offshore.

A close in Northern Fulmar obligingly lingered around the Cabrillo Fishing Pier in Long Beach from September 21-23 (Jonathan Nakai).

Boobies, ever more commonly encountered in southern California waters, included a

Nazca Booby in San Pedro Harbor on September 8 (Dessi Seiburth), a Brown Booby at Thirty Mile Bank on October 7 (Tom Benson). A boat trip on August 25 found a Masked Booby, a Brown Booby and a Red-footed Booby west of San Clemente Island (Tom Benson). Another Red-footed Booby was in San Pedro on October 15 (Bernardo Alps). One significant driver of these increased records are food shortages. A number of these birds have shown signs of malnutrition.

Two of the original four Brown Pelicans that turned up last summer at Bonelli Regional Park in San Dimas continued through October 2. Any occurrence of this species away from the immediate coast is unusual.

An American Bittern was at the Ballona Freshwater Marsh on October 18 (Dean Schaff). Yellow-crowned Night-Herons included up to three at the Ballona Freshwater Marsh near Playa Vista with at least one reported there through October 20, What was presumably one of these birds was on the Marina del Rey breakwater on October 11 (Bernardo Alps). Another was at the Cabrillo Salt Marsh in San Pedro from September 11-27 (David Ellsworth).

An early Ferruginous Hawk of the scarce dark morph was west of Lancaster on September 14 (Anna Von Kovn).

A Yellow-bellied Sapsucker in the Sepulveda Basin on October 20 was the first reported this season (Daniel Tinoco).

A significant find was the discovery of a Ladder-backed Woodpecker in Big Tujunga Wash on October 6 (Brad Rumble). Though there have been a smattering of coastal slope reports over the years, this is the first well-documented record away from the deserts.

Scarce on the coastal slope were Prairie Falcons over lower Zuma Canyon in Malibu on September 3 (Kimball Garrett) and at Brackett Field in La Verne on October 20 (Rod Higbie).

The Greater Pewee that spent last winter in Pacific Palisades had returned to Rustic Canyon as of October 5 (Brian Daniels) and was reported there through October 21.  

Up to eight Vermilion Flycatchers were at Oakdale Memorial Park in Glendora during the period. Others were at Ken Malloy Harbor Regional Park in Harbor City on September 14 (David Quadhamer) and at Santa Fe Dam in Irwindale on October 3 (John Garrett), with two present there on October 15. Single birds were also at El Dorado Park in Long Beach on October 16 (Joyce Brady) and a Peck Road Park in Arcadia on October 20 (Kimball Garrett).

Tropical Kingbirds were at Ken Malloy Harbor Regional Park in Harbor City from September 29-October 3 (Jonathan Nakai, Judy Matsuoka), at Colorado Lagoon in Long Beach from September 30-October 1 (Tracy Drake), at Madrona Marsh in Torrance on October 1 (Tracy Drake), one was at Entradero Park in Torrance from October 5-10 when it was joined by a second bird (Charlie Keller). Both were reported through October 24. Finally, one was along the LA River at Willow on October 6 (Jeff Boyd, Richard Barth).

Very rare in the county was a Yellow-Green Vireo photographed at Legacy Park in Malibu on September 12 (Dan Cooper, Dean Schaff).

Eight Purple Martins were recorded from September 1-16 and scarce coastally was a Bank Swallow over the LA River in Long Beach on September 29 (Jeff Boyd).

Other unusual passerines included a Pacific Wren at the LA County Arboretum from Arcadia from October 16-18 (Darren Dowell) and a Gray Catbird on San Clemente Island on October 4 (Justyn Stahl, Nicole Desnoyers).

Red-throated Pipits were on San Clemente Island on October 7 (Justyn Stahl, Nicole Desnoyers, Jimmy McMorran), in the east Antelope Valley from October 13-14 (Mark & Janet Scheel) and on San Clemente Island- two birds- on October 15 (Justyn Stahl, Nicole Desnoyers).

A Lapland Longspur was at the Toyon Landfill in Griffith Park from October 7-9 (Andrew Birch).

A Green-tailed Towhee was at the South Los Angeles Wetlands Park on September 30 (Brad Rumble).

Above average were the seventeen Clay-colored Sparrows reported during the period, most of these on the coastal slope. A Black-chinned Sparrrow- rare as a coastal migrant- was at Madrona Marsh from October 9-10 (Chezy Yusuf).

Vesper Sparrows were in Griffith Park in Los Angeles on September 2 (Andrew Birch), at Sand Dune Park in Manhattan Beach on September 21 (Jun Wu, Bin Cao), along the LA River in Long Beach on September 24 (Jim Moore) and at Colorado Lagoon in Long Beach on October 17 (Robert Hamilton).

Three Black-throated Sparrows in Tujunga Wash in Sunland on September 9 (Brad Rumble) were notable. This species is a scarce fall migrant on the coastal slope.

Lark Buntings were on San Clemente Island on September 4 (Justyn Stahl, Nicole Desnoyers) and again on October 4 (Nicole Desnoyers).

A “Large-billed” Savannah Sparrow was at the Ballona Creek mouth in Playa del Rey on October 17 (David Bell).

Grasshopper Sparrows were at Oakdale Memorial Park on August 26 (Rick Fisher), at Peck Road Park in Arcadia on September 22 (Judy Hwa), at Santa Fe Dam in Irwindale from October 5-6 (Joyce Brady, Chris Dean), again there on October 14 (Jon Feenstra and at Peck Road Park from October 14-15 (Darren Dowell).

A Swamp Sparrow was at Peck Road Park in Arcadia on October 20 (Jon Fisher).

The first White-throated Sparrow of the season was at a residence in Torrance on October 18 (Lisa & Scott Sutton).

Rare on the coast were two dark-lored White-crowned Sparrows at White Point Nature Preserve on September 27 (Brian Daniels).

A Dark-eyed “Slate-colored” Junco at Hopkins Wilderness Park in Redondo Beach on August 30 was quite early. Dark-eyed “Gray-headed” Juncos were at the Chilao Visitor’s Center in the San Gabriel Mountains on September 24 (Luke Tiller, Melissa James), at Madrona Marsh in Torrance on September 27 and at Hahamongna Watershed Park from October 10-20 (Darren Dowell).

Bobolinks were on Santa Catalina Island on September 23 (Mark & Janet Scheel), at Peck Road Park in Arcadia on September 24 (Judy Hwa) and along the LA River in the Sepulveda Basin on October 13 (Daniel Tinoco).

Baltimore Orioles were on San Clemente Island on September 9 (Justyn Stahl, Nicole Desnoyers) and at the UCLA Botanic Garden in Westwood on October 19 (Samuel Bressler).

A fairly impressive eighteen species of wood-warblers were detected during the period, in addition to the nine expected western species.

Rare anywhere in the county, but quite a surprise at nearly 6,000 feet above sea level was an Ovenbird at Mt. Wilson on September 8 (Alex Viduetsky). Others were on Santa Catalina Island from September 24-27 (Steven Munoz) and at Loyola Marymount University in Westchester on October 7 (Russell Stone).

Northern Waterthrushes were at Hahamongna Watershed Park in Pasadena from September 1-2 (Darren Dowell, Jan Long), in the Sepulveda Basin in Van Nuys on September 1 (Daniel Tinoco), in Big Tujunga wash from September 15-October 6 (Brad Rumble) and on San Clemente Island from October 13-15 (Justyn Stahl).

Over a dozen Black-and-white Warblers were found over the period, the most notable sighting being three at the Piute Ponds on September 16 (Kathy Duret).

Prothonotary Warblers were in Glendale on September 24 (Mary Freeman) and at Ladera Park in Ladera Heights on October 7 (Richard Barth).

Seven Tennessee Warblers were reported from late August through October, a Lucy’s Warbler was on San Clemente Island on September 5 (Nicole Desnoyers) and six Virginia’s Warblers were found between September 1 and October 15.

An excellent find was a Connecticut Warbler on San Clemente Island from September-5 4 (Brian Flick). Though there are over 120 records for California, this was the first recorded in LA County.

American Redstarts were at the West San Gabriel River Parkway Nature Trail from September 16-17 (Dessi Seiburth), at Madrona Marsh in Torrance on September 17 (Chris Dean) and at Pearblossom Park in the Antelope Valley on September 24 (Candice Byers).

Very rare- with fewer than ten ever recorded in the county- was a Cape May Warbler on San Clemente Island from September 19-27 (Justyn Stahl, Nicole Desnoyers).

A Magnolia Warbler was at Peck Road Park in Arcadia from September 29-30 (Darren Dowell). Blackburnian Warblers were at Bonelli Regional Park in San Dimas on September 8 (Trent Bell) and on San Clemente Island from September 19-26 (Nicole Desnoyers). A Chestnut-sided Warbler was at Ken Malloy Harbor Regional Park in Harbor City from September 28-30 (Brian Daniels).

Blackpoll Warblers were at the Piute Ponds on September 22 (Darren Dowell), on Santa Catalina Island from September 22-24 (Dessi Seiburth, Chris Dean) and at Pearblossom Park in the Antelope Valley on September 23 (Kimball Garrett). A Black-throated Blue Warbler was on San Clemente Island on October 7 (Justyn Stahl) and seven Palm Warblers were also recorded over the period.

An early Yellow-rumped Warbler was at Colorado Lagoon in Long Beach on September 6 (Robert Hamilton) and a Black-throated Green Warbler was on San Clemente Island on September 19 (Nicole Desnoyers).

Canada Warblers were on San Clemente Island on September 2 (Justyn Stahl) and at Banning Park in Wilmington from September 12-22 (Merryl Edelstein).

Summer Tanagers were at Oak Park Cemetery in Claremont on September 8 (Tom Miko), at Peck Park in San Pedro on September 9 (Philip Carnehl), at the Piute Ponds on September 29 (Trina Jones).

A half dozen Rose-breasted Grosbeaks were detected between September 3 and October 16 and an equal number of Indigo Buntings turned up in September.

Dickcissels were at Colorado Lagoon in Long Beach from October 9-16 (Robert Hamilton), at Peck Road Park in Arcadia from October 14-15 (Darren Dowell) and near Agua Amarga Canyon on the Palos Verdes Peninsula from October 20-21 (Jun Wu, Bin Cao).

 

Though passerine migration is essentially over, that doesn’t mean Neotropic migrants are gone. A number of rare and regular warblers, along with a few flycatchers, vireos, orioles and others will linger late and a handful will spend the winter.

Waterfowl will still be moving into the area for another month or so. The deserts provide good birding in fall and winter, offering a number of specialties generally difficult to find elsewhere.

The San Gabriel Mountains have held good- and sometimes quite unexpected- rare birds in past winters, though admittedly these are few and far during the colder months. One the flip side, these mountains don’t receive much coverage at this time of year.

Though not uniform in terms of temperature and food resources, the Pacific Ocean offers an environment free of physical barriers for birds. Thus the coast and offshore waters always have potential for regular and rare species.

Yet to arrive, if they do in any numbers this year, are Lewis’s Woodpeckers, Varied Thrushes and other irruptive species. Either way, it’s always interesting to see how the next few months play out. 

By the time the next Birds of the Season comes out, Christmas Bird Counts will be largely completed. Most counts could benefit from additional participants, particularly birders with experience. The counts are not only an excuse to get out birding- often somewhere new and different- but the data collected over decades is very useful. So by all means, do join a local count… or two or three.

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