Month: January 2023 (Page 1 of 2)

5MR: 2022 recap and 2023 targets

2023: Another Good Year in my Bountiful 5MR

It’s been 5 years, now, and I can’t quit my 5MR. I saw 220 species in my 5MR circle in 2022. That’s not a record, but it was my 3rd highest total ever. I added 8 new birds to my list, bringing my grand total to 304. That is right about the number of new birds I’ve been adding to the total list for each of the last few years. I keep thinking that the number will get smaller, but so far it hasn’t. But surely this can’t keep up. 

  1. Common Merganser – Since they prefer fresh water, Common Merganser are more likely to be found inland on lakes and rivers than in my coastal 5MR. nevertheless, one showed up at the Del Rey Lagoon in February. Despite the shallow water in the lagoon, it hung around for a couple of weeks, sometimes in the creek. This year’s duck addition.
  2. Cape May Warbler – An out-of-town birder was on LMU’s campus for his kid’s guitar recital in March. While he stood outside taking a break, and without binoculars, he recognizes the chip call of a Cape May Warbler. This is one of the rarest warblers in LA County. When I showed up, he was standing under the tree pointing his cellphone camera at it. The same bird (presumably) returned to LMU for the winter. This year’s warbler addition.
  3. Northern Fulmar – I stopped by Playa del Rey in April to check the beach near the jetty during a bike ride. While I was scanning some Western Grebes trying to pick out a Clark’s, I noticed an all-dark bird flying up the beach from the south. Honest to goodness, I thought (as I’ve thoughts many times before) “wouldn’t it be cool if that juvenile Heerman’s Gull was actually a Northern Fulmar.” And then the bird flew right up to the surf break, settled in the water, and it was a fulmar! I found several more of these tubenoses on the beach over the year, but they were all dead.
  4. Hammond’s Flycatcher – Honest to goodness, I didn’t know this was a 5MR lifer when I saw it at the Village Green in April. They are unusual, but not rare, in LA County, and it didn’t register to me that I hadn’t ever seen one in my circle. In fact, I don’t think I realized I’d added it to my list until June. 
  5. Common Tern – This bird was a reminder to double-check big flocks. During a July visit to Dockweiler Beach, I found a big flock of Elegant Terns. They were skittish, flushing and settling multiple times. On the 6th or 7th time I scanned through the flock, I found a smaller tern with a black bill and a dark smudge at the shoulder. It turned out to be an LA County and 5MR lifer Common Tern. A surprising first record for Dockweiler Beach, given the year-round tern presence there.
  6. Pigeon Guillemot – The third beach find on the list. This bird had been spotted a couple of times, off shore but outside of my 5MR circle. A couple of weeks after it was first seen, someone reported seeing it from Dockweiler Beach, meaning it had wandered into my circle. I dipped a couple of times on it before finally spotting it one gray day. Given their preference for rocky coastline, this seems like a pretty unlikely bird for my circle.
  7. Grasshopper Sparrow – I’ve been looking for a fall Grasshopper Sparrow in my 5MR for years. Indeed, this was the only new 5MR addition that I had on my 2022 target list. The likeliest spot was somewhere in the fenced-off Ballona Ecological Reserve. At long last, in October, while birding a fenced edge of the reserve along the 90 freeway, I found one. Conveniently (for this usually skulky species) it popped up in a bush and then perched on the fence.   
  8. Baltimore Oriole – I was not expecting any kind of oriole at Ladera Park when I visited in mid-November, much less a Baltimore Oriole (which winters in Central and South America). Surprisingly elusive in the trees despite it’s bright-orange color and deliberate movements. In a crazy coincidence, another Baltimore Oriole was found the same morning in Elysian Park. A post dedicated to the last three additions is here.

Skulky Grasshoppers Sparrows may be hiding in your 5MR

2023 Targets

I usually treat this target list as those birds I think are likely to show up in my 5MR. This year, I’m going with a combo list. The first five are birds I think are in my 5MR but i haven’t found them yet. The last five are unlikely birds that I’d love to find close to home.

  1. Rose-breasted Grosbeak A regular enough vagrant in L.A. County that a park in my 5MR is bound to host one.
  2. Lesser Black-backed Gull – Increasingly spotted in L.A. County, but only once along the coast (2014). It’s time for me to spot one.
  3. Horned Lark –  I feel like they 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.
  4. 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?
  5. Northern Waterthrush – There are several warblers I’d like to add to my 5MR list. My target is a Northern Waterthrush in the Playa Vista Riparian Corridor or at the Ballona Freshwater Marsh. The habitat is potentially good, especially in a wet year.
  6. Brown Creeper – On this list because I like creepers, and they’re sporadically seen in the basin during winter. There’s aren’t that many fir trees in my 5MR, but Cheviot Hills and LMU campus could host a Brown Creeper.
  7. Red-billed Tropicbird – Not reported in Santa Monica Bay, but it’s been seen near shore in Ventura and Orange and San Diego counties. Maybe one will be loafing around one day while I’m out on a boat.
  8. Painted or Varied Bunting – the habitat is right in a couple of spots. Finding one of these colorful birds would be awesome.
  9. Gray Hawk – One of a couple of different raptors (Mississippi Kite, Broad-winged Hawk) that don’t regularly migrate through, but wanderers can be anywhere. Gray Hawk seems the least likely of the three, so it gets named here.
  10. Elegant Trogon – Putting Snowy Owl on the list brought one to LA County, so why not press my luck with something equally exotic that’s never been reported in California?



Another Arctic vagrant in California

Yellow-billed Loon: The Canyonero of divers

Yellow-billed Loon in San Diego

It’s not rare for birds that breed in the high Arctic to show up in Southern California. It happens by the thousands every year. Dunlin and Ruddy Turnstones, Sanderlings and Western Sandpipers, Red-throated Loons and Peregrine Falcons and many more species are all Arctic breeders that are common in Los Angeles in the winter. That said, it has been a notable winter in Southern California for Arctic vagrants. The most famous has been the Snowy Owl, which is still roosting on residential rooftops in Orange County. But there has also been a Snow Bunting in Oceanside, and a pair of King Eiders at the Ventura County pier. I didn’t see either of those two, but I did take a trip to San Diego to catch an additional Arctic rarity.

A couple of days before Christmas, a Yellow-billed Loon showed up in Mission Bay in San Diego. I didn’t learn about it until we were away in New Mexico. For whatever reason, I’m still reluctant to drive more than an hour, especially if it requires leaving L.A. County, just to see a bird. But there are only scattered reports of this species south of Monterey. eBird shows 3 different sightings in L.A. (1977, 2010, 2013), one in Orange County, and this first-ever San Diego bird. The Audubon Field Guide says that “its great size, remote range, and general rarity give the Yellow-billed Loon an aura of mystery for many birders.” Since it appeared that this bird had settled in to a spot, I decided to make the drive down.

The size difference compared to Common Loon was apparent

I pulled up to the parking lot at Quivira Basin at 8:25am, and had the giant loon in my binoculars within 5 minutes. The bird was farther away than I’d wish, and never came close. Another birder graciously let me peer through his scope at it. It’s bigger size was apparent with the naked eye, especially when it was near a Common Loon.  I came back early in the afternoon to see if it was swimming closer to shore, and it wasn’t. 

After the loon, I toured a couple of spots to see what other good birds I could see. My first stop was a residential neighborhood where a population of Burrowing Parakeets has taken up residence sometime during the pandemic. They are large parakeets that are native to Argentina, with some spillover in Chile and Uruguay. As the name suggests, they nest in burrows in cliffs. The highest count I noticed in eBird was 50 birds. There’s been talk that some birds seem to be trying to make nesting cavities in palm trees. For now, this seems like a non-breeding population. They were easy to find. I drove up to a spot in eBird where they’re regularly reported, got out of my car, and there were 18 of them in the trees directly above me. A couple of them flew down to check me out. And then they moved across the street to a yard where someone has set up feeders. Fun sighting, even if they don’t “count.”

From there, I headed to the south end of San Diego bay. There’s been a Little Stint wintering there for a few years. I struck out. You really need a scope at this spot, and I don’t own one. The odd highlight here was a Golden-crowned Sparrow. That’s not because it’s rare. Instead, it’s because it turned into a lifer for someone else. The dude with the scope at the loon spot at the beginning of the day mentioned he needed Golden-crowned for his already-substantial life list. As I was entering a note in my eBird checklist, on the hopes he might get an alert, he walked up. We promptly re-found it.

That basically did it for my quick day-trip. There weren’t any other potential lifers or California lifers in town. There was the possibility of bumbling into a pair of escapee American Flamingos that are seen around the bay occasionally. I checked a couple of spots, but didn’t see them. The rain was coming, so I headed back to Quivira Basin to check on the loon. From there, I drove back to Los Angeles.  





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