By Jon Fisher
It was a long and fairly cool spring, with the benefits of a wet winter being obvious through the season and throughout the county. Several waves of a major migration of Painted Ladies, originating on the deserts of Mexico, added another dimension and splash of color. Many of these butterflies ended up as extra food for migrating birds as did countless other insects.
Beginning in January, even the lengthy five months of spring migration seemed to pass far too quickly. Thankfully there were plenty of regular migrants and a host of rare birds to focus the attention of birders.
The last of our regular migrants had passed through by early June, but late or lost vagrants kept turning up throughout the month. Though numbers of spring vagrants on the mainland were not overwhelming, some truly excellent birds were found. There was an obvious push of vagrants in early June, as amply demonstrated by a number of reports from San Clemente Island.
Our America’s Birdiest County event, held for Los Angeles County at the end of April, netted 257 species in three days. Quite respectable, but still well below our high of 277 in 2011 and below the counts of many other years as well. It’s unlikely this was due to a lack of effort or coverage however.
Here’s a look at the highlights from late April through June.
Waterfowl of interest included a sizable flock of fifty Brant at Bonelli Regional Park in San Dimas on May 11 (Chuck Burt). A potentially summering Long-tailed Duck was at Cabrillo Beach from June 13–18 (Eva Cicoria).
A Hooded Merganser at the Ballona Freshwater Marsh through May 11 was later than normal for this species. Likewise were Common Mergansers at Quail Lake near Gorman on May 11 (Brad Rumble) and along the LA River in Glendale on June 16 (Jon Fisher). A Red-breasted Merganser at Ken Malloy Harbor Regional Park in Harbor City on May 5 (Ed Griffin, David Quadhamer).
A Horned Grebe near the Ballona Creek Mouth in Playa del Rey on June 8 was rather late (Jonathan Coffin).
At least one Inca Dove continued at Lake Los Angles through April 26, and a Common Ground-Dove was at the reliable spot along the San Gabriel River in Bellflower from April 27–May 4 (Becky Turley).
White-winged Doves were along the Santa Clara River in Valencia on May 11 (Dan Maxwell), at Peck Road Water Conservation Park in Arcadia on May 18 (Jon Fisher), at Ken Malloy Harbor Regional Park in Harbor City on May 25 (Bob Schallmann) and at Madrona Marsh in Torrance on June 2 (Calvin Bonn).
American Oystercatchers are being increasingly reported of late, though it can be difficult to tell how many of these records represent the same bird or birds moving from one coastal location to another. One was at White Point on the Palos Verdes Peninsula between May 3 and May 19 (James Bland), with two there on June 18 (Becky Turley) and at another was at the Cabrillo Beach Fishing Pier on May 25 (Bob Schallmann).
The Piute Ponds on Edwards AFB produced a Whimbrel on June 4 (Jon Feenstra) and a rare Sharp-tailed Sandpiper from May 29–30 (Jon Feenstra). Also of interest was a Pectoral Sandpiper observed there from April 26–May 2 (Frank & Susan Gilliland).
A Laughing Gull was south of Long Beach on May 18 (Bernardo Alps) and a Franklin’s Gull was at Malibu Lagoon from May 19–20 (Tom Miko). Quite unusual inland was a Black Skimmer at Bonelli Regional Park in San Dimas on May 14 (Rod Higbie).
Late inland Common Loons were at the Piute Ponds on May 10–June 6 (Chris Dean, Joe Lepisto, Jim Moore) and at Bonelli Regional Park in San Dimas from May 13–20 (Chuck Burt).
Three Red-billed Tropicbirds were off San Clemente Island on June 8 and another was recorded there on June 9 (Justyn Stahl).
Increasingly recorded in southern California waters, Cook’s Petrels included one southeast of Catalina Island on May 19 (Robert McNab) and three off San Clemente Island on June 8 (Justyn Stahl).
The Neotropic Cormorant at MacArthur Park in Los Angeles was seen through April 22. Other sightings were at Bonelli Regional Park in San Dimas from May 22–29 (Chuck Burt), with two there on May 27 (Catherine McFadden), and one on the LA River in Glendale as of June 21 (Andrew Birch).
The waters over Redondo Canyon northwest of the Palos Verdes Peninsula produced a Brown Booby on April 23 (Jon Feenstra).
A lone American White Pelican was lingering late along the LA River in Long Beach on June 15 (Merryl Edelstein).
Definitely increasing in the county, Yellow-crowned Night-Herons were at Sims Bio Pond in Long Beach through June 14—with two there from June 15–16—and at Alamitos Bay in Long Beach on May 23 and from June 4–6 (Cindy Crawford). One to two were seen off and on at the Ballona Freshwater Marsh near Playa Vista from June 3–21 (Chris Lory, Neysa Frechette), and what were likely the same birds were reported from nearby Ballona Creek and Del Rey Lagoon.
A California Condor was over the I-5 near Gorman on June 15 (Alexander DeBarrios).
Late Northern Harriers were at the Ballona Wetlands on May 26 (David Haake) and at Colorado Lagoon in Long Beach on May 27 (Angie Trumbo).
Rare in fall but more so in spring, a Broad-winged Hawk was at the Sepulveda Basin in the San Fernando Valley on May 7 (Mike Stensvold). The Zone-tailed Hawk that spent much of the winter and spring near Grand Park in Monrovia continued there through April 23.
A Flammulated Owl at Kratka Ridge in the San Gabriel Mountains on April 19 was rather early (Nick & Mary Freeman) and a very rarely encountered spring migrant Flammulated Owl got stuck inside a house in Manhattan Beach on June 4. It was taken to South Bay Wildlife Rehab to be released at a later date.
A highly probable Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher was at Ken Malloy Harbor Regional Park in Harbor City on May 13 (Bobby Trusela). The description of this bird essentially rules out all other similar species. There are only a couple of June records of this species for the entire state, with most coming in September and October.
A Tropical Kingbird remained at Entradero Park in Torrance through May 10 and another wintering bird stuck around at Ken Malloy Harbor Regional Park in Harbor City through May 27. An Eastern Kingbird was detected on San Clemente Island on June 22 (Justyn Stahl).
Plumbeous Vireos were along Big Rock Creek Road on June 2 (Lance Benner) and at Big Rock Campground on June 9 (Kimball Garrett). Breeding has been documented here in the past and evidence should be watched for. Also of note was a Red-eyed Vireo on San Clemente Island on June 6 (Vincent Weber).
Five Purple Martins were at the Piute Ponds on May 10 (Chris Dean, John Birsner) and one was reported there on June 6 (Chris Dean).
A handful of Red Crossbills were found in the San Gabriel Mountains in June (Norm Vargas, Lance Benner). This species is erratic in occurrence and complex in its distribution in our local mountains.
A Cassin’s Sparrow was on San Clemente Island on April 30 (Vincent Weber). Given the reports of this species in the eastern Mojave Desert this spring following a favorable wetter than average season, it’s not surprising that at one or two would reach coastal California or adjacent islands.
Clay-colored Sparrows were at the West San Gabriel River Parkway Nature Trail in Lakewood on April 27 (Brian Daniels), at Hahamonga Watershed Park in Pasadena on May 10 (Darren Dowell) and at the Kenneth Hahn SRA in Baldwin Hills on May 29 (Bobby Trusela).
A White-throated Sparrow was at the Ohara Nursery in Carson on April 28 (Vincent Lloyd). The Harris’s Sparrow that spent the winter at Hahamongna Watershed Park in Pasadena was seen through April 25 and an injured White-crowned Sparrow was at UCLA on June 2 (Samuel Bressler).
Baltimore Orioles were at Wardlow Park in Long Beach on April 29 (Mark Scheel), at the Piute Ponds on May 1 (Chris Dean) and on San Clemente Island from May 3–4 (Justyn Stahl, Nicole Desnoyers).
It was a decent spring for warblers and some truly rare species were found. Ovenbirds were at the West San Gabriel River Parkway Nature Trail on May 25 (Joyce Brady) and on San Clemente Island on June 6 (Vincent Weber).
Black-and-white Warblers included a continuing bird at DeForest Park in Long Beach through April 22, one on San Clemente Island on June 5 (Justyn Stahl, Nicole Desnoyers) with another there on June 22 (Justyn Stahl) and one at Veteran’s Park in Bell Gardens on June 22 (Richard Barth).
A nice find was a Prothonotary Warbler at Sand Dune Park in Manhattan Beach from May 3–7 (Mike Coulson). San Clemente Island held a Tennessee Warbler from June 17–18 (Justyn Stahl, Nicole Desnoyers).
An American Redstart was on San Clemente Island from June 4–6 and another was at Wardlow Park in Long Beach on June 19 (Kim Moore, Becky Turley). A very rare Cape May Warbler was on San Clemente Island on June 4 (both Nicole Desnoyers). This is the third Cape May recorded there in as many years.
Northern Parulas were at Banning Park in Wilmington on May 23 (Bobby Trusela) and on San Clemente Island from June 7-9 (Justyn Stahl).
Magnolia Warblers were on San Clemente Island on May 31 (Richard Hepner) and from June 5–6 (Justyn Stahl). Chestnut-sided Warblers were there on June 6 (Vincent Weber) and at the Piute Ponds on June 11 (Jon Feenstra). A wintering Palm Warbler continued at Entradero Park in Torrance through April 23.
Grace’s Warblers– still a CBRC review species- were at the Chilao Visitor’s Center in the San Gabriel Mountains from April 23–30 (Tomoe Maness) and at nearby Charlton Flat from April 30–June 14 (David Coates).
Quite late was a Townsend’s Warbler at Valhalla Memorial Park in North Hollywood on June 9 (Andrew Birch).
Wardlow Park in Long Beach produced a very rare Red-faced Warbler that many birders ticked on its two day stay from April 27–28 (Kim Moore, Becky Turley). This very scarce warbler is recorded less than annually in the state, though it is fairly common in the mountains Arizona, not all that far away.
Summer Tanagers were at DeForest Park in Long Beach on May 11 (Dick Barth, Merryl Edelstein), at Madrona Marsh in Torrance on May 17, at Bear Divide in the western San Gabriel Mountains on May 20 (Ryan Terrill), at Sycamore Flat Campground near Valyermo from May 27–June 9 (Kimball Garrett) and at Hopkins Wilderness Park in Redondo Beach from June 4-7.
Rose-breasted Grosbeaks were at Hopkins Wilderness Park in Redondo Beach from May 10–12 (Mark Rubke), on San Clemente Island on May 28 (Vincent Weber) and again from June 6–9 and on June 19 (Justyn Stahl, Nicole Desnoyers), at El Dorado Park in Long Beach on June 1 (Brian Daniels) and at the Piute Ponds on June 10 (Chris Dean). An Indigo Bunting on San Clemente Island on June 5 was the only one reported (Vincent Weber).
July marks the first month that southbound shorebirds start passing through the region in numbers. July and August are a great time to be out birding and we’re fortunate to have some excellent spots in the county for shorebirds. The Piute Ponds, LA River and Malibu Lagoon are among the best and tend to attract good numbers of regular as well as most of the rarer species. But shorebirds can be found in any number of other places with suitable habitat and there are plenty of lesser known locales worth checking.
August will see migrant passerines appear. Any good patch of grass and weeds on the coastal slope can produce numbers of seed-eaters. Flood control basins and river channels typically provide the most suitable habitat for these birds.
The mountains can be excellent as well. Though breeding activity will be winding down, the San Gabriels are heavily used by passerine migrants in August and September. There are perhaps a half dozen or so well-known and well covered mountain birding spots, but much of this area receives virtually no attention. The opportunity for exploration and discovery is substantial.
As always, LA County’s extensive coastline has potential. Any number of pelagic birds can and do occasionally wander close to shore, though patience and persistence is often required to spot them. Yet even with a very respectable number of active local birders, we barely scratch the surface of this aspect of birding.
Autumn offers the potential not only for more expected vagrants, but also for remarkable rarities from Asia and elsewhere. A few reverse migrants from Mexico and Arizona should also make an appearance. I’d argue that fall migration, with all of its variety and the chance for the unexpected, is the most intriguing part of the bird year.
This article was originally published in the Western Tanager, July/August 2019, Vol. 85 No. 6.