Birds of the Season — August 2019

By Jon Fisher

Though late June and early July tend to be a slower time of year compared to the major rush of spring migration and the great variety that autumn provides, there were nonetheless a number of notable birds recorded in the county.  As July progressed into August, plenty of southbound shorebirds and a handful of passerines were already passing through.

The lack of rain at this time of year was no surprise, but a wet winter ensured that habitats stayed in good shape well into the summer.  As always, local birders were active.  The Piute Ponds received their fair share of attention and produced a number of noteworthy sightings.  Coastal spots and offshore waters offered some interesting water and seabirds.

The only waterfowl of note were summering Common Mergansers on the LA River in Glendale from July 4-7 (Jon Fisher) and at Quail Lake near Gorman from July 9-17 (Brad Rumble).

 A White-winged Dove at the Ballona Freshwater Marsh near Playa del Rey from August 7-18 was the only one reported (Jonathan Nakai).

 Just a bit lost was a Yellow-billed Cuckoo at the Piute Ponds from July 3-5 (Chris Dean).

Up to three Black Swifts were near Claremont Wilderness Park from June 29-August 18 (Tom Miko).  They are best observed here from Cobal Canyon Road in the late afternoon when they are heading back to their roosting sites and presumably their nests.  However none have recently been documented as breeding locally.

Two American Oystercatchers continued at Royal Palms beach from June 22-August 7 (Dave Weber).

Oddly scarce in the county, a Red Knot was at Malibu Lagoon from August 8-10 (Chris Dean).  A very early Dunlin was at the Piute Ponds on Edwards AFB from July 31-August 5 (Chris Dean) and four Wilson’s Snipes at the Piute Ponds on August 4 were early arrivals (Kimball Garrett).

Semipalmated Sandpipers were at the Piute Ponds on July 6 (Mark & Janet Scheel) and again on July 31 (Chris Dean), on the LA River in Glendale from July 24-26 (Andrew Birch) and on the lower LA River in Long Beach from August 3-7 (Nancy Salem, Ira Blitz) and in Cudahy on August 19 (Richard Barth).

Glaucous-winged Gulls, scarce in summer, were on the LA River in South Gate from August 14-19 (Richard Barth) and at Malibu Lagoon from August 2-15 (Jon Fisher).

Very rare in LA County waters, a few San Clemente Island records earlier this year notwithstanding, was a Red-billed Tropicbird off San Clemente Island on July 4 (Justyn Stahl).

There have been a spate of booby sightings in LA County waters in recent years, and this summer offered up three species.  Masked Boobies included one off the Palos Verdes Peninsula on July 19 (Gregg Gentry) and two in that general area- one off Long Beach Harbor and one off Los Angeles Harbor- on July 25 (Matt West).  What may have been one of the same birds was at Dockweiler State Beach in El Segundo on August 9 (Dean Schaff).  Also very rare was a Red-footed Booby near Avalon on Santa Catalina Island on July 14 (Justyn Stahl).  Comparatively more common- though still rare- was a Brown Booby near San Clemente Island on August 17 (Tom Benson)

Neotropic Cormorants have been appearing in the county and elsewhere in southern California with greater regularity.  One was at Malibu Lagoon from June 29-30 (Mark Scheel) and another was in Long Beach on the LA River from June 23-July 16 (Chris Dean).  Two were at the spreading ponds just south of Hansen Dam from July 8-August 20 (Brad Rumble), with three there on July 18 when copulation was observed.  This is a first record of breeding activity for the county and we should expect more to follow.  Lastly, two more were below the 5 Freeway in Glendale on July 16 (Joyce Brady).

Unusual inland was a Brown Pelican at Lake Balboa in the San Fernando Valley from July 16-August 9 (Mike Stensvold).  Two American White Pelicans were out of season on the LA River in Long Beach from July 28-29 (Ryan Terrill).

Rare even in winter, but much less expected in summer was an American Bittern at the Dominguez Gap Wetlands in Long Beach on July 12 (Jeff Boyd).

A Reddish Egret turned up at Malibu Lagoon on August 12 (Andrea Call).  This species’ occurrences in the county have been typically been ephemeral.  They appear visit only briefly as they traverse the coastline between Orange and Ventura Counties where they are more regular.

Also increasing in the county, two Yellow-crowned Night-Herons continued to be reported regularly at the Ballona Freshwater Marsh through August 12.  Two others were at Sims Bio Pond in Long Beach on July 1 with one continuing there through August 19.

Passerine vagrants continued to be found through most of the period.  One of these was a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher at the Sepulveda Basin on July 14 (Jon Fisher).

A Willow Flycatcher at the Piute Ponds on June 21 was a late spring migrant, but one there on July 6 was between expected dates for both spring and fall migrants (Mark & Janet Scheel, Curtis Marantz).  Very early for a fall migrant was a Hammond’s Flycatcher at Big Rock Creek on the north side of the San Gabriel Mountains on July 28 (Kimball Garrett).  They do not breed in southern California, where the very similar Dusky Flycatcher is the predominant Empidonax in the mountains in summer.

A Plumbeous Vireo was at Big Rock Creek on the north side of the San Gabriel Mountains on July 28 (Kimball Garrett).  This species has nested here in the past and breeding behavior should be watched for.  Also of note was a Red-eyed Vireo at the Piute Ponds on July 6 (Mark & Janet Scheel).

Three Purple Martins were at the Piute Ponds on July 3 where migrants are somewhat regular (Chris Dean), though overall this species is quite scarce in the county.

A Hermit Thrush at Big Rock Creek on the north side of the San Gabriel Mountains on July 28 (Kimball Garrett) was not far from known breeding areas high in the San Gabriels, yet this was a low elevation record for this time of year.  Four more- perhaps dispersing breeders from higher in the San Gabriels, or potentially local breeding birds- were near Big Santa Anita Canyon and Winter Creek above Arcadia on July 19.  At least one was still in that area on August 16 (Darren Dowell).  This species is known to breed in limited numbers usually above 8,000 feet in the county, but additional field work may prove their range is not so restricted.

Fall migrant Lucy’s Warblers were at Madrona Marsh in Torrance from July 18-25, at Hahamongna Watershed Park in Pasadena from July 21-August 9 (Darren Dowell) and on Edwards AFB on July 23 (Jon Feenstra).

A Chestnut-sided Warbler was at Madrona Marsh in Torrance from July 22-27 (Christine Jacobs).  The Sepulveda Basin produced a Yellow-rumped “Audubon’s” Warbler on July 4 (Mike Stensvold).  This species is very unusual in the lowlands at this time of year, not being expected until mid-September.

Summer Tanagers were at the Sepulveda Basin from June 26-July 7 (Mike Stensvold), at King Gillette Ranch near Calabasas on July 6 (Marie Barnidge-McIntyre).

Seedeaters were poorly represented thus far- but expect that to change soon- by single Indigo Buntings along the San Gabriel River in Pico Rivera from July 14-August 4 (Larry Schmahl) and on San Clemente Island on July 25 (Vincent Weber).  Hopefully September will rectify that deficiency.

Now that breeding has essentially ended and fall migration is well underway for many species, there is much in the offing for birders.  The end of summer signals shorter days and also brings increasing numbers of songbirds and a greater chance for passerine and other vagrants, from the merely scarce to the ultra-rare.  Early waterfowl will be arriving soon and shorebirds will continue to be plentiful.

Los Angeles County has more than its share of birders, and they continue to expand our base of knowledge of patterns of occurrence, distribution and breeding.  And yes they also find a lot of vagrants.  With any luck the next couple of months will be very productive in that regard.