Category: Species (Page 2 of 13)

Cape May Warbler in the 5MR!

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


(Not very) Bay-breasted Warbler in L.A.

Bay-breasted Warbler Los Angeles, CA

Spread your wings and fly, little buddy

Cheating on my 5MR for some spice-y warbler action

I’ve been bored birding my 5MR recently. There, I said it. It’s not that it hasn’t been a good year in the 5MR. To the contrary, it has. It’s going to end up being my #2 year for species seen by the time the year is up. And I’ve added more 5MR lifers this year than I did last year. But I haven’t been enjoying it. Part of it has been the lack of vagrants – or, more likely, my inability to find the vagrants. While the gas guzzlers are chasing Manx Shearwater and Ruff and Bobolinks and Painted Buntings, I’m wandering my 5MR finding nothing. It’s been particularly disappointing for warblers. While folks are reporting megas like a Dusky Warbler in addition to Chestnut-Sided and Blackpoll and Lucy and Blackburnian and Magnolia and Virginia and Palm and Prothonotary and Canada Warblers, I’m stuck with endless Yellow-rumpeds and some Townsend’s Warblers.

So when a report came in Friday of a Bay-breasted Warbler near Long Beach, I decided that I needed the trip. I’d only ever seen one before, during a trip to Texas, so it would be a L.A. County lifer. I couldn’t go on Saturday because my son’s 13th birthday party was scheduled, and there was a bunch of prepping and shopping to do (and I wasn’t missing out on laser tag). I rose early on Sunday (the clocks fell back, and the eight thirteen-year-olds “sleeping” in tents in our backyard were up at the crack of dawn, hungry for pancakes), checked the listserv for a report of the Bay-headed that morning (check!), and headed out. 

Finding the bird was delightfully easy. I parked in the area where the bird had been seen, and saw 2-3 birders spread out scanning the trees. Figuring it wasn’t  in someone’s sights at the moment, I walked toward a couple tall leafy trees, and there it was. 

Bay-breasted Warbler Los Angeles

There are benefits to being a split-second slow on the shutter

It was a hyper-active bird, constantly in motion. It was mainly moving through the trees, in an area about the size of a football field. A couple of times, it went to the ground and fed, allowing for some nice close looks. 

Bay-breasted Warbler Los Angeles, CA

Bay-breasted Warbler blending in with Yellow-rumpeds

Bay-breasted Warblers summer in Canada and winter in Cuba and South America, and are mainly seen during migration in the eastern United States. The breeding makes look nothing like this bird: they’ve got a grayish back, a brick red cap, throat, and wash on the sides, and a creamy collar.

Sometimes it takes a little spark to get the birding mojo back. Hopefully this Bay-breasted Warbler was that spark. Like magic, during an afternoon bike ride to Playa del Rey beach the same day, I spotted a Long-tailed Duck that had been reported once a week ago. They’re pretty rare in Santa Monica Bay. Hoping the next few weeks includes more good finds. 

Long-tailed Duck Playa del Rey, CA

Long-tailed Duck at Playa del Rey beach

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