Tag: Cape may Warbler

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?



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