Tag: 5MR (Page 2 of 3)

Hooded Warbler in the 5MR

Hooded Warbler LMU

Hooded Warbler on the LMU Campus

5MR Lifer – Hooded Warbler

On Saturday, a report for a Hooded Warbler on LMU’s campus showed up. LMU is in my 5MR circle, and Hooded Warbler would be new for the list. It’s not the rarest warbler for L.A. County, but they aren’t reported annually. It’s on the short list of really good finds. I’d seen one at Sand Dune Park in Manhattan Beach in 2018, which is 6 miles as the crow flies from my living room, just outside my 5MR.

The report was from an out of town birder making a mad dash around L.A. searching for rarities and exotics. He started at dawn at the parrot roost in Pasadena, headed to the Ballona area (Pacific-Golden Plover), and then made short stops at Madrona Marsh (European Goldfinch), Compton (Spotted Doves) and other spots. I’m not sure what he was doing walking the LMU campus, which is closed to the public and had only 1 eBird report in the past two months. Maybe he was searching for the Rose-ringed Parakeets. In any event, I had no reason to doubt the sighting, which included a photo.

Hooded Warbler LMU

They aren’t all in award-winning shots. Some aren’t even in focus.

I happen to be employed by LMU, so I logged in to LMU’s system to get my campus clearance for the day. With that in hand, I headed over. Within ten minutes of arriving at the reported spot (many thanks to the reporter for including GPS coordinates!), the Hooded Warbler appeared. It was darting around in a tangle of bushes, with about a dozen other warblers. Most were Orange-crowned Warbler, but there were a couple of Wilson’s Warblers and Common Yellowthroats in the flock, as well as a MacGillivray’s Warbler. A nice warbler haul, and a clear sign that it’s September.

MacGillivray's Warbler LMU

A MacGillivray’s Warbler working the same tangle

The Hooded Warbler was gone 30 seconds after it appeared. About ten minutes later, it returned. And it did the same thing – move quickly amidst the branches and bushes, avoid any possible photograph, and disappear. The third time it showed up, I was ready with my camera. It wasn’t easy, and I didn’t get any great shots, but I managed two identifiable photos. 

This quick turn of events on a Saturday afternoon illustrates a couple of the main wonders of birding to me. First, there are great birds to be found if you just get out there and look. Who knows how long this warbler was hanging around at LMU. All summer? Had it shown up that morning? Whatever the answer, someone had to be walking around and looking to find it. As I tell my kids in my best imitation of a Dad from the movies, “you can’t find the birds if you don’t go out birding.” On top of that, all the good birds are not just at the same old spots where everyone else goes to find good birds. They can be, and are, anywhere. We all love a successful chase, but nothing compares to finding a good bird all by yourself. So keep checking spots in your 5MR that might be hiding a good vagrant. It’s migration season, and who knows what’s waiting to be found.

L.A. County Lifer: Semipalmated Sandpiper

Semipalmated Sandpiper Ballona Creek

Semipalmated Sandpiper stretching its wings

Semipalmated Sandpiper on Ballona Creek

Every spring and fall for the past 4 years, I’ve scanned the small groups of sandpipers on Ballona Creek east of Centinela Ave. My goal: turn one of the regular Western Sandpipers into a rare Semipalmated Sandpiper. For reasons I can’t explain, the creek doesn’t get many migrating shorebirds. Maybe it’s the smaller size of the creek (compared to the L.A. River). Maybe it’s the lack of vegetation (this part of the creek gets essentially vacuumed at least twice a year, and the bushes that grow alongside it are cut down). Or maybe the creek runs too much east-west instead of north-south. Whatever it is, the peep flocks never get much bigger than 20-30 birds. But I was convinced that careful, patient eyes could eventually find a Semipalmated Sandpiper some day. And after years of hunting, my search is over. 

Semipalmated Sandpipers breed on the Arctic tundra. They travel through the United States on their way to wintering grounds on the South American coasts. Some of the eastern-most birds are thought to make a non-stop flight from New England to South America over the ocean. One tagged (less-than-two-ounce) bird made a 3,000 mile non-stop flight. They are regular migrants on the east coast of the United States. On the west coast, they are fewer and farther between. They apparently prefer to migrant a bit inland, rather than along the coast. They get reported on the L.A. River every year, but had never been seen in my 5MR on Ballona Creek. 

Semipalmated Sandpiper Ballona Creek

There were very few birds on the creek today, which is pretty usual. As the creek turned north just past the Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook, I spotted about a dozen peeps (an unusual spot for them). Dutifully, I looked through the group. Most were Least Sandpipers. Two were obvious Western Sandpipers. A final bird was short-billed, dark-legged, and showed no rufous in the scapulars. I studied it for 10 minutes. Usually, these birds morph into Westerns the longer I look at them. The bill lengthens and droops. A hint of rufous appears on the back. But this one stayed the same. I took some fuzzy photos with my pocket zoom. I posted them to LACO Birds, and received several replies that agreed with the ID of a Semipalmated Sandpiper.

Sandpiper Trifecta Ballona Creek

Sandpiper Trifecta on Ballona Creek: Least, Western, Semipalmated

Semipalmated Sandpiper is a new L.A. County lifer, and even better a new bird for my 5MR. Other than a 2010 bird at Malibu Lagoon, it’s also the first eBird report west of the L.A. River for L.A. County. I’m sure this isn’t the first that’s ever stopped on the creek, but it’s nice to have finally picked one out.

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