Cape May Warbler LMU campus

Cape May Warbler in my 5MR!

Instead of getting up this morning and heading to Bear Divide to check out some early spring migration, I slept in. My reward (beyond the extra sleep) was being 5 minutes away from a reported mega-rarity for Los Angeles: a Cape May Warbler. Not only was I close, but I had something even more important: legal access to the spot where the bird was found – the still-closed campus of Loyola Marymount University. So I grabbed my binoculars and camera, my LMU ID card, and headed over. The report was one of those incredibly generous ones that includes GPS coordinates for the bird. And after parking and heading to the spot, I was delighted to see a guy underneath a tree “pishing” and holding up a smartphone.  This was going to be one of those easy ones.

The bird at first glance could be mistaken for a Yellow-rumped Warbler. It was grayish, with some chest streaking, a white throat like a Myrtle Yellow-rumped, and a yellow rump. But a closer look showed a bunch of important differences. It had a thin bill, a single white wing bar, a hint of yellow behind a gray cheek patch, a more prominent white eyebrow with a touch of yellow, a bit of yellow on its grayish back, and a short little stubby tail. It lacked yellow at the shoulder, and the undertail didn’t show the same bolder white pattern as a yellow-rumped. The bird also gave occasional high-pitched, short “seep” calls that were not close to the yellow-rumped call.

Cape may warbler Los Angeles California

The bird was active, but stayed in the same tree for all but 5 seconds of the 45 minutes I stood under the tree. And after I wandered campus for 45 minutes and came back to the tree, the Cape May Warbler was still there. So for those who are able to get on campus, this will hopefully be just as easy a find (assuming it has been wintering here, because it seems early for a wayward spring migrant).

It wasn’t a life Cape May Warbler, but it was an LA County first and a 5MR lifer.  Cape May Warblers are an eastern U.S. warbler that nests in Canada and winters in the Caribbean and the Yucatan. They’re super rare in Los Angeles. Indeed, legend has it that Kimball Garrett has never seen a Cape May Warbler in LA County (Kimball Garrett hasn’t seen one?! It boggles the mind). That means, for at least the time being, this is the one birding metric on which I outperform the legend of L.A. birding.

Cape May Warbler