Month: January 2022 (Page 2 of 2)

101-species day in the 5MR

Painted Bunting Inglewood California

This beautiful Painted Redstart has wintered in the very same tree for 3 straight years

An unplanned Big Day in the 5MR

The new year is a fresh start for birders. All the lists we’ve been keeping–year list, county year list, 5MR year list–reset to zero. And since the new year is usually a day off of work, many of us head out on January 1st to start the new lists. I did a little birding on January 1st. But the next day was the Los Angeles Christmas Bird Count (CBC). I live in the LA CBC circle, and my 5MR is within the LA CBC circle. I’ve often been out of town when the LA CBC happens (which is usually held on a Sunday around New Year’s day). But I was in town this year. And I was assigned by the amazing organizer, Dan Cooper, to bird some local parks. Up just after dawn,  I headed out to my assigned parks. By noon, I’d completed my rounds and was at 47 species. It was hardly an impressive list. But I did see Painted Redstart, Band-tailed Pigeon, and Western Tanager (though I struck out on a pair of Red-lored Parrots that have been hanging out in a nearby park for months). 

One benefit of having a CBC overlap with your 5MR is you get a bunch of good birders into your circle, and they find some good wintering birds. That certainly happened, with birders producing an impressive total of 185 species found in the count circle. Curiously, many of the top listers (from eBird) were nowhere to be seen in the LA CBC circle on count day. Maybe it’s because L.A. is so big (there are, I believe, at least 10 different CBCs that take place at least partly in L.A. county) and they’d participated in CBCs closer to home. It certainly wasn’t because they were out of town, because many of them were out birding L.A. on January 2nd.

Common Goldeneye Ballona Creek

A sharp-looking Common Goldeneye has been on the creek since Thanksgiving

But instead of birding the LA CBC circle, LA’s top listers were chasing Lucy’s Warblers at the Huntington Botanical Garden (outside the LA CBC circle), or Laughing Gulls at the Rio Hondo Spreading Grounds (outside the LA CBC circle) or Lesser Black-backed Gulls at Bonelli Park (outside the LA CBC circle) and Black-throated Green Warblers in Long Beach (outside the LA CBC circle) and Greater Pewees in the Pacific Palisades (outside the LA CBC circle) and American Redstarts in the Sepulveda Basin (outside the LA CBC circle). Those are cool birds for LA birders. But they were also birds the listers had seen in 2021. Some of them (like the Laughing Gull) were birds they’d seen the week before. And they were all known wintering birds that all were likely to be hanging around past Jan 2nd. In fact, if I’m right, not a single birder who saw 300 species or more in Los Angeles County last year went birding inside the LA CBC circle on count day. To each his own. And any birding is probably better than no birding. But it would’ve been great to have more folks participating in the wonderful tradition of the LA CBC.

After I was done with my assigned parks, I got the fancy idea that I could maybe make it to 100 species by the end of the day if I headed to the marsh and the beach, and got a little lucky. So I went to Playa del Rey, where I picked up some ducks (including Greater Scaup and Northern Pintail) at the lagoon, snagged a quartet of gulls at the beach, and a couple turnstones (Black and Ruddy) and some surfbirds at the jetty. Then I took a walk around the freshwater marsh, where I added more ducks (including Canvasback and Redhead), some white birds (American White Pelicans, White-tailed Kite, White-throated Swift) and a Belted Kingfisher, among other things. By this time, I was starving for lunch, and sitting at 91 species.

Pacific Golden-Plover Ballona Creek

This Pacific Golden-Plover, back for its 4th winter in my 5MR, brought my count to 99 species for the day

I went home, planning to fuel up and figure out what I needed to see to get to 100. But I was also tired, and fell asleep on the couch. When I woke at 3:30pm, I had a little over an hour of sunlight left. There was no time to plot out some stops. Instead, I headed to the creek and crossed my fingers.  At the 90 overpass, I added Greater Yellowlegs, Osprey, and Lincoln’s Sparrow.  Between the 90 and Lincoln, I added a Common Goldeneye, Long-billed Dowitcher, a Great Blue Heron, and Savannah Sparrow.  It was 4:30, the sun was getting close to the horizon, and I was at 98 species. But the creek wasn’t done yet. I kept walking west, and found the wintering Pacific Golden-Plover, along with a Herring Gull and a Glaucous-winged Gull. I was at 101 species for the day! I could’ve stuck around and probably snagged a Barn Owl, but my legs were tired from being out most of the day.   

101 species is not bad for an unplanned big day. If I was strategic about it, I think I’d have a chance at 150 species (Darren Dowell saw 140 species on the CBC count day, and he did all his birding, as far as I can tell, in my 5MR). Speeding around while ticking off species is not really my cup of tea–I’d rather enjoy a walk and see what I see. But it was a fun little experiment.

American White Pelican Ballona Creek

This yawning American White Pelican was unimpressed by my tally for the day




5MR: 2021 Recap and 2022 Targets

California Gnatcatcher Culver City California

California Gnatcatchers appeared in multiple spots in the 5MR in 2021

5MR 2021 Recap

Neverending pandemic aside, it turned out to be a pretty productive year for birds in my 5MR. Despite far-from-enthusiastic birding, I ended the year at 226 species. That was just 3 off my 2018 record. While I didn’t surpass the total species record, I did manage to add 10 species to the 5MR life list during 2021. That was more than I added in either 2020 or 2019. Here are the birds I added to my 5MR list in 2021:

  1. California Gnatcatcher – These have always been in my 5MR, but a breeding population in the dunes near LAX is not publicly accessible. Still, I figured I’d stumble upon one someday, probably in early summer during dispersal, and probably around the Ballona Freshwater Marsh. Instead, Don Sterba found a pair during the 2021 CBC on oil land next to West LA Community College. A couple of days later, I found them. During the year, others reported California Gnatcatchers at Ballona Freshwater Marsh, the Playa Vista Riparian Corridor, and the Baldwin Hills. As 2021 came to a close, I found a California Gnatcatcher on the slope just south of the marsh, so maybe we’ll get some actual breeding this spring for this range-restricted and declining species.
  2. Swainson’s Hawk – I spotted this bird soaring high above a cemetery while I was looking for a Vermilion Flycatcher. The views were fleeting, but that’s all it takes.
  3. Tropical Kingbird – This was the third of the trio of new birds I added in a single week in January. And this one was about as close to my actual living room couch as you can get. Andy K. had spotted this bird around a middle school 2 blocks from my house. I went out wandering the neighborhood and I saw it 5 houses down the street from our front door. It may have made a return trip this winter. On December 31st, I saw 2 kingbirds perched on electrical wires around our backyard. One was giving the familiar call of Cassin’s Kingbirds, but the other was twittering. A closer look showed a forked tail and a yellower belly on the twitterer. I didn’t snap a picture, but I’m confident it was a Tropical Kingbird.
  4.  Canvasback – The only new duck added in 2021, I found this bird at the Ballona Freshwater Marsh. Not a surprising find, though they aren’t reported annually in my 5MR.  More were back in the winter, so maybe they’ll now become regulars in the 5MR.
  5. Neotropic Cormorant – A birder named Randy lives in a condo complex called Raintree, and he submits eBird reports almost daily. The complex has a pond, and he’s spotted some nice ducks there in the past. In late February he posted pictures of the first-ever Neotropic Cormorant in my 5MR. Not only that, there were a pair present. I didn’t notice the sighting until March, and was lucky to see one when I did. Randy told me later that the bird apparently left after I saw it.
  6. Cattle Egret – This sighting was the result of true birder comraderie. Instead of finding out about it via eBird, the kind birder who found a Cattle Egret on Ballona Creek texted me to let me know. I happened to see the text right away. My Dad was in town, so we hopped in the car and drove one mile to find it still there. I was happy to finally get this on the list. They’re reported every year somewhere near the marsh, but they never stick around and I’ve always missed them.
  7. Purple Martin – The first new sighting that I wasn’t able to photo-document. I was walking the Playa Vista Riparian Corridor in late April when I noticed an all-dark swallow flying amongst some smaller swallow and swifts. It’s size and notched tail set it apart as a 5Mr lifer. It circled high and floated off to the north. My camera lens was in the shop at the time, sadly, but I have the credibility to have this report confirmed without a picture.
  8. Red-lored Parrot – This pair was a total surprise. Not because it’s a Central American species of humid lowland tropics. Here in L.A., we’ve got all kinds of parrots and parakeets flying around. But because Red-lored Parrots, when seen, are usually in Pasadena, But as I was walking around Ladera Park in June, the loud barking of some kind of parrot caught my ear. When I finally found them in some palm trees, I had a new bird for my 5MR. They looked a little ragged when I first found them, so I imagined they were ex-pet parrots. But they’ve proven to be survivors, as they were seen as recently as Dec. 23rd.
  9. Red-whiskered Bulbul – These non-native birds have been slowly moving west from the Pasadena area, and this year they were showing up in multiple places in my 5MR. I finally found one (actually 4) at a small little park near Castle Heights Elementary School. I wouldn’t be surprised if this species became a yearly one for the 5MR list very soon. And at some point they may even become “countable” according to the listing police.
  10. Northern Cardinal – Another Don Sterba find. After hearing a couple “tink” calls, I only got a fleeting glimpse of this male Cardinal as it flew across the Playa Vista Riparian Corridor walking path into a thick tangle of shrubs. Despite my patience, and it’s bright red color against a mostly brown hillside, I couldn’t find it. Don eventually got pictures around Thanksgiving, but it hasn’t been reported since.
Neotropic Cormorant

Neotropic Cormorants are expanding in the southwest, and into my 5MR

2022 Targets

After an intense 2018 5MR Big Year, and then 2 years of pandemic shutting down big trips, I think I need a little break from my 5MR in 2022. I’ll still do most of my birding close to home, and will hopefully stumble upon some new birds for the circle.  Here are 10 species that wouldn’t surprise me to see:

  1. Grasshopper Sparrow – These secretive sparrows are undoubtedly present in my 5MR, probably every year. The Ballona flatlands and Kenneth Hahn SRA/Baldwin Hills are two spots with good habitat for them. Quite a few have been spotted in L.A. this winter, and I tried in November to find one in my 5MR, but came up empty.
  2. Horned Lark – I feel like Horned Larks should be regular in the Ballona flatlands. But they don’t get reported. Maybe they don’t like the coast. My best bet may be ID’ing a fly-by, but I don’t know the flight call well enough to do that.
  3. Rose-breasted Grosbeak – A regular enough vagrant in L.A. County that a park in my 5MR is bound to host one.
  4. Common Murre – They’re out in Santa Monica Bay. One of these days a tired one us going to fly onto the jetty for some rest and I’m going to be there looking for it.
  5. Painted Bunting – I’d love to find a rainbow male, but I’ll take a green female. Not sure the marsh has enough of the right habitat to attract them, but the riparian corridor probably does.
  6. Gray Catbird – This may be a stretch, since they seem to like tangle-thick bushes, and that’s the kind of habitat that’s harder to find in my 5MR. But it wouldn’t surprise me to find one, maybe at Cheviot Hills park.
  7. Canada Warbler – One of several warblers I don’t have on my 5MR list, along with Lucy’s Warbler, Magnolia Warbler, Canada Warbler, and Ovenbird, that surely stumble through. After a totally dead year for stray warblers in 2021, I’ve got hopes that 2022 will bring something exciting. 
  8. Wilson’s Plover – My 5MR has several miles of coastline, with both sand and rock jetty, so there’a always a chance of a good shorebird showing up. Last year I put Rock Sandpiper on my target list, but I’m thinking that a Wilson’s Plover wandering north from Baja California in the spring is more likely.
  9. Broad-winged Hawk – There isn’t anything that anyone would call a forest in my 5MR, but there are trees, and maybe a Broad-winged Hawk will try out the 5MR for a few days this year.
  10. Chimney Swift – This one is all about ID skills. Each spring, the Vaux Swifts move through, and amongst them is surely a Chimney Swift or two. Do I have the patience to bird every bird and pick out the rarity? That’s the premise of this whole exercise, isn’t it?



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