Category: Species (Page 2 of 8)

L.A. County Lifer: Stilt Sandpiper

Stilt Sandpipers, L.A. River, Los Angeles, CA

Stilt Sandpipers, L.A. River, Los Angeles, CA

L.A. County Lifer: Stilt Sandpiper

After a Friday night earthquake, I didn’t manage to get up and out for a bird walk this Saturday (though I wasn’t as lazy as my 11-year-old, who slept until 11:30am). Sometimes, a delay turns out to be an advantage. As I was eating breakfast, I checked the L.A. County birds listserv. It’s the time of year when vagrants abound. There was a 20-minute old report of a Stilt Sandpiper on the L.A. River. It was found, of course, by Richard Barth. (Who knows what the twitchers would do if he wasn’t out there hustling all year finding birds for them). I’d only seen Stilt Sandpiper twice, five years ago in Texas. Sensing an easy L.A. County lifer, I grabbed a mask and headed out.

When I arrived at the spot (the L.A. River at Slauson Ave), I was surprised that no one else was there. I double-checked that I had the location right. I did. Along with several hundred gulls, dozens of Black-necked Stilts, some Avocets, and a bunch of Least Sandpipers, I found the target group of dowitchers. But the river is wide, and even walking down to the water’s edge, the birds were far off on the other shore. I didn’t see anything amongst the dowitcher flock, but I did see three birds off to themselves that looked promising. With the report not indicating the number of Stilt Sandpipers seen, I figured they were probably Yellowlegs.

I crossed over the bridge to the other side of the river and scanned the dowitcher flock again. Still nothing. Another birder showed up and agreed there wasn’t a Stilt Sandpiper amongst the dowitchers. I decided to walk a bit upstream. I passed that same group of 3 long-legged sandpipers I’d seen earlier from afar, and gave them a closer look. They all looked pretty similar, and weren’t quite right for Lesser Yellowlegs. The eyebrow (birders say “supercilium”) was prominently white, and the bill was too long. I could convince myself the bill drooped down at the end. But because there were three of them, and not one, and thinking the report was of a single Stilt Sandpiper, I decided to wander a bit further up the river.

I hadn’t walked 20 feet when the other birder called me back. He was looking at the group of 3. We stared through our binoculars. He fired off shots with his mega-lens. We exchanged bird-nerd (“bnird”) references to field marks (“” was my runner-up choice for website name). And we agreed that we were looking at three Stilt Sandpipers. It never feels good to stare at the rare birds and have the guy behind you ID them. But it’s better than misidentifying a regular bird as a rarity.

More From the Week: Pectoral Sandpiper on Ballona Creek

The magic of the barren concrete section of Ballona Creek between Centinela and Inglewood continued this week. One afternoon, I spotted a Pectoral Sandpiper amongst the peeps. It wasn’t my first 5MR Pectoral sighting. A few years back one showed up at the Ballona Freshwater Marsh. But it was a pleasant surprise. They only get reported every 3-4 years on the west side, and only once previously on the Ballona Creek. Maybe a Sharp-tailed Sandpiper will wander into my 5MR before the year is up.

Pectoral Sandpiper, Ballona Creek, CA

Pectoral Sandpiper, Ballona Creek, CA

The birds apparently get their name from a puffed-up chest display they do on the breeding grounds involving an inflatable sac on their chest. There’s a good picture at the bottom of this article about Pectorals on their breeding grounds. 



Pectoral Sandpiper, Ballona Creek, CA

Showing off those namesake pecs?

Pectoral Sandpiper, Ballona Creek

Hooded Warbler in the 5MR

Hooded Warbler LMU

Hooded Warbler on the LMU Campus

5MR Lifer – Hooded Warbler

On Saturday, a report for a Hooded Warbler on LMU’s campus showed up. LMU is in my 5MR circle, and Hooded Warbler would be new for the list. It’s not the rarest warbler for L.A. County, but they aren’t reported annually. It’s on the short list of really good finds. I’d seen one at Sand Dune Park in Manhattan Beach in 2018, which is 6 miles as the crow flies from my living room, just outside my 5MR.

The report was from an out of town birder making a mad dash around L.A. searching for rarities and exotics. He started at dawn at the parrot roost in Pasadena, headed to the Ballona area (Pacific-Golden Plover), and then made short stops at Madrona Marsh (European Goldfinch), Compton (Spotted Doves) and other spots. I’m not sure what he was doing walking the LMU campus, which is closed to the public and had only 1 eBird report in the past two months. Maybe he was searching for the Rose-ringed Parakeets. In any event, I had no reason to doubt the sighting, which included a photo.

Hooded Warbler LMU

They aren’t all in award-winning shots. Some aren’t even in focus.

I happen to be employed by LMU, so I logged in to LMU’s system to get my campus clearance for the day. With that in hand, I headed over. Within ten minutes of arriving at the reported spot (many thanks to the reporter for including GPS coordinates!), the Hooded Warbler appeared. It was darting around in a tangle of bushes, with about a dozen other warblers. Most were Orange-crowned Warbler, but there were a couple of Wilson’s Warblers and Common Yellowthroats in the flock, as well as a MacGillivray’s Warbler. A nice warbler haul, and a clear sign that it’s September.

MacGillivray's Warbler LMU

A MacGillivray’s Warbler working the same tangle

The Hooded Warbler was gone 30 seconds after it appeared. About ten minutes later, it returned. And it did the same thing – move quickly amidst the branches and bushes, avoid any possible photograph, and disappear. The third time it showed up, I was ready with my camera. It wasn’t easy, and I didn’t get any great shots, but I managed two identifiable photos. 

This quick turn of events on a Saturday afternoon illustrates a couple of the main wonders of birding to me. First, there are great birds to be found if you just get out there and look. Who knows how long this warbler was hanging around at LMU. All summer? Had it shown up that morning? Whatever the answer, someone had to be walking around and looking to find it. As I tell my kids in my best imitation of a Dad from the movies, “you can’t find the birds if you don’t go out birding.” On top of that, all the good birds are not just at the same old spots where everyone else goes to find good birds. They can be, and are, anywhere. We all love a successful chase, but nothing compares to finding a good bird all by yourself. So keep checking spots in your 5MR that might be hiding a good vagrant. It’s migration season, and who knows what’s waiting to be found.

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