Category: Hikes/Walks (Page 1 of 4)

Great Crested Flycatcher in the 5MR

L.A. & 5MR Lifer: Great Crested Flycatcher

A “promotion” at my job has led to more work, and less birding. That’s what you get for a raise, I guess. Less birding means fewer posts, because I’ve got less to write about and no time to do it.  But I made sure to get out this Saturday morning to see if I could find any good migrants. And rather than chase the rarities that have already been found, I stayed faithful to my 5MR and hoped I could find something good near home.

My chosen spot was the campus of Loyola Marymount University (LMU). It’s an infrequently birded spot with a good number of trees that has produced some decent vagrant warblers in the past (Hooded, Canada, and Cape May). I didn’t get out at the break of dawn, but was walking around by 8:30am.  The most interesting thing I found during the first half hour was fellow birder Russ Stone. He had a similar report as me – few migrants. I moved on without much hope, headed for a spot in the NE part of campus where there are a bunch of tall eucalyptus trees that often attract migrants. To my delight, I found a Summer Tanager. It’s not much of a rarity. There’s one or more in my 5MR just about every year. But I hadn’t found one yet this year. A Red-breasted Nuthatch in the same spot was actually rarer for my 5MR. Nothing to blog about, but a good walk.

Summer Tanager

Just after lunchtime, word went out on WhatsApp that one of the young birders taking LA County by storm, Henry Chiu, had found a possible Great Crested Flycatcher at LMU. It was reported near the NE parking lot, just the place I had found the Summer Tanager that morning. When the GPS coordinates went out for the flycatcher, it was in the very same stand of eucalyptus. I definitely hadn’t seen anything that looked like a myarchus flycatcher while I stood in the parking lot watching the trees for 20 minutes. But since this would be not just a 5MR, but an L.A. County lifer, I decided to head back

Henry was still there when I showed up. Delightfully, it wasn’t 5-10 minutes before we found the flycatcher. It had a bright yellow belly and a dark gray chest and head that made it clear it wasn’t an Ash-throated Flycatcher. The bird was generally cooperative and stayed in view for the next 30 minutes as other birders started to arrive. With just a half dozen prior reports for LA County (the last a one-day wonder in 2020), this was a bird that was likely to draw a crowd. The ID of Great Crested Flycatcher was confirmed by birders better than I (the white-edged tertials, for the nerds out there, is a key field mark, as it the pale base of the bill). I left before the crowd arrived, happy for only my second 5MR lifer of the year.


Great Crested Flycatchers are found in the eastern half the country, from Maine to Florida, and east to the Great Plains. Despite their name, the bird doesn’t show much of a crest. Preferring the canopy of trees, it’s not always easy to see. I’d seen it in 5 different states before today, including in NYC this summer, and a couple of times in Costa Rica, where it winters.

The story is another reason why it’s good to bird your 5MR. It turns out that Henry was at LMU, in the northeast parking lot, looking for the Summer Tanager I had found that morning when he found the Great Crested Flycatcher. That’s the wonderful thing about birding. One person finds one good bird, other birders head to that spot, and more good birds are found.


Red-necked Stint in L.A.

Red-necked Stint Malibu Lagoon

Red-necked Stint in the distant muck at Malibu Lagoon

Lifer Red-necked Stint in Malibu

Nothing puts a stop to regular birding walks like throwing out your back. And I threw out my back a couple of weeks ago. So I’ve been largely stuck at home, on a couch or my bed, doing my best not to twist, bend over, or god-forbid sneeze. Until recently, it was a significant accomplishment, achieved through suffering and very awkward positioning, to put on socks and shoes. So when word went out Monday that a Red-necked Stint was at Malibu Lagoon, I confronted a dilemma that I’m pretty sure I’d never faced before: was I physically able to go birding? 

All it required was a 15 mile drive and a walk down a dirt path and down a beach. But driving has been the worst activity, and walking was no picnic either. Balanced against that was the chance to add a lifer, and a bird that had only been seen in L.A. county twice before. I didn’t have to go into work on Tuesday, so I could drop off my kid at school, and drive out to the Malibu Lagoon and see it. I was hoping word would go out before I made the drive that the bird was present. Happily, someone posted on the LACO Birds listserv at 7:45am that the bird had been found. Confident it wouldn’t be gone by 8:30 when I’d arrive, I decided to risk my well-being and head out there. 

Red-necked Stint Malibu Lagoon

Too rufous to be a Least Sandpiper; too delicate and small to be a Western Sandpiper

As with all good super-rarities, there was a group of birders peering through optics when I made my way to the beach. I lined myself up with one of the guys with a scope, and picked out the Red-necked Stint amongst the peeps working the mire in the lagoon. It was pretty far away, so the binocular looks (and the photos) weren’t great, but the red neck was easy to make out. It spent its time feeding, occasionally flying short distances but never coming close. 

Red-necked Stints breed in Siberia and and the Russian Far East, and winter in Australia and southeast Asia. They don’t regularly appear in the lower 48. You can find them in Nome, Alaska, but there’s maybe one a year found somewhere along the west coast. 

I can’t say that it was a thrilling outing. Indeed, it might’ve been the least exciting lifer I’ve added in a long while. But I blame my back for that, and not the bird. There had been a juvenile Black Tern at the lagoon the night before that I was hoping had stuck around (that would’ve been another lifer). But I didn’t see it, and no one reported it during the day. 

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