Category: Listing (Page 1 of 5)

Playback gets me a county lifer

Scott's Oriole Los Angeles CA

Scott’s Oriole visits the west side of Los Angeles

It wasn’t me playing the tape, but….

Today I saw a new L.A. County lifer: Scott’s Oriole. They’re uncommon but regular in the southern edge of the Antelope Valley (less frequent in winter). But that’s over an hour from my house, and I rarely get out there. They’re rare in the L.A. basin. As happy as I was to finally add it to my L.A. County list, if it wasn’t for playback, I wouldn’t have seen it. This made me both delighted (close looks at a bright male Scott’s Oriole just 20 minutes from my West L.A. home) and a little penitent. I’m on record as opposing the use of playback to add a rarity to your life list. It’s hard to convincingly explain why, but it’s some combination of it feeling like cheating, of it disturbing birds, and it being the behavior of someone whose priority is the list. So the fact that this sighting benefitted from playback will forever tar the memory.

A week ago, Jared Diamond found a Scott’s Oriole in the Bel Air neighborhood near UCLA. (I’m assuming this is the Guns, Germs, and Steel author, New Guinea bird researcher, and UCLA professor Jared Diamond, but I don’t know for sure.) A couple other folks went up Stone Canyon Drive in the days following and found the bird. Most recently, it was reported 4 days ago. I decided I’d go take a look this morning and see if it was still around. Some big winds had moved into town, which didn’t bode well, but it was worth the short trip.

The bird has been seen in cape honeysuckle bushes along a fence line. I parked at the spot, and walked up and down the hill a couple of times. I saw no oriole. Occasionally I heard a very oriole-like “chek” coming from the bushes, but never saw any movement. When a mockingbird flew out of the bush, I figured I’d been deceived. Later, I noticed that a nearby “no parking” sign was loose and blowing in the wind, occasionally making a similar sound. After 40 minutes, I decided to sit still for 10-15 minutes and see if it emerged. If not, I’d leave.

Scott's Oriole Los Angeles CA

While I sat on the curb, a trio of birders showed up. They were pleasant folks, and very determined to find the bird. They asked if I’d played its call. I told them I hadn’t and said no more. They split up to look for the bird, and I made one last walk up the hill. As I returned to my car, I heard the the oriole-like “chek” again. This time, it wasn’t a mockingbird, and it wasn’t the no parking sign. Nor was it the Scott’s oriole. It was one of the birders playing a Scott’s Oriole call with his smartphone. But then an oriole-like “chek” call came in response from the bushes. The playback continued, and the bird kept calling back. But we couldn’t find it. At one point, I got a quick glimpse at a yellow belly and black back on a robin-sized bird. The bird, frustratingly, stayed deep or at the back of the bushes. Astoundingly, despite the bird frequently calling and us standing 10 feet away with a direct view into the bushes with the sun at our back, it took us 15 minutes before we finally got a clean look at the bird.  The looks were worth the wait, and maybe worth the use of playback.

With Scott’s Oriole now in the bag, there aren’t that many birds readily seen in L.A. County that I haven’t seen. According to eBird’s target feature, the most frequently seen bird in L.A. County I’ve yet to see is Gambel’s Quail. But all of those sightings are from San Clemente Island, which is 65 miles off the coast and owned and operated by the U.S. Navy. Justyn Stahl and others work out there with Loggerhead Shrikes, and report the Gambel’s Quail. Next most frequent is Golden Eagle (0.233% of all reports include Golden Eagle). That requires more hiking in the San Gabriel mountains, which I intend to do over the next couple of years. The rest are either pelagic species, owls, or rare migrants.

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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