Tag: Grasshopper Sparrow

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?



Catching Up on 5MR Action

Believe it or not, this is a color photograph of a Pigeon Guillemot

A trio of new birds for the 5MR life list

It’s been a crazy year for vagrants in Los Angeles County this year. Most of them are birds I’ve already seen in the county, so I don’t chase after them. Instead, I stay faithful to my 5MR circle. And while it gets harder and harder to add new birds to my 5MR life list each year, vagrants are always out there waiting to be found. Thus, while many birders slavishly continued their never-ending LA County big years, chasing birds they see every year,  I was able to add 3 new species to my 5MR list.

The first of the fall trio is (you’ll have to trust me) pictured above. That black dot just below the center of the photograph is a Pigeon Guillemot lounging off Dockweiler Beach. This bird had probably been around for about a month when I saw it. But I’ve become increasingly uncertain about my bike’s ability to hold itself together, so I haven’t been taken long rides to the beach that often. In the wake of a close encounter with Tropical Storm Kay in Septemebr, I decided to check out Dockweiler Beach and see if anything unusual was around. Happily, the Pigeon Guillemot was offshore. It was closest when I first arrived. Once I put the binoculars down and got the camera out, it was further offshore. The result is the sorry documentation photo posted above. But, you know what? For all its shortcomings, that picture is actually one of my favorite shots from the whole year. There’s something about its monochromatic fuzziness that demands you give it a close, careful look.

The second of my trio was one I’d been hoping to find. In my 2021 5MR recap post, I identified Grasshopper Sparrow as my #1 target for my 5MR life list. In that post, I wrote that “these secretive sparrows are undoubtedly present in my 5MR, probably every year.” In early November, I proved myself right. And the one I found was just where I thought it would be – the Ballona flatlands. Much of the Ballona ecological reserve, which is full of great habitat, is fenced off. Since you can’t walk through it, hoping to flush a Grasshopper Sparrow, you’ve got to walk its edges. One such edge is along the very beginnings of the 90 “Freeway” where it crosses Culver Boulevard. I say “freeway” because, at 3 miles long, it can be driven from end to end quicker than you can read this blog post. Anyhoo, you can walk along the northwest edge of Area C of the Ballona Ecological Reserve right where the 90 freeway starts. I’ve done it a few times, getting looks at Loggerhead Shrike and White-tailed Kite, but never a Grasshopper Sparrow. Until I did. Amongst a group of White-crowned Sparrows, I noticed a skulkier sparrow with more brownish coloring. I pished, and a Grasshopper Sparrow popped up into view, first in a bush and then along the fence. According to eBird, it was only the third Grasshopper Sparrow found in West LA Basin. the first was 2012, then 2017. With mine in 2022, it may mean the next one won’t be found until 2027.


The third of the trio was found in one of my favorite parks to bird in my 5MR – Ladera Park. It’s a rectangular shaped collection of tall trees just south of Kenneth Hahn Park and the Inglewood Oil Field. Thanks to the tall trees, it’s a good spot for songbirds. In the past, it’s hosted Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Prothontary Warbler, Varied Thrush, and is maybe the best spot in my circle for wintering Plumbeous Vireo. I was not expecting any kind of oriole at Ladera Park when I visited in mid-November (orioles clear out by the end of September around here), much less a Baltimore Oriole. But I was definitely looking at an oriole high up in the sycamores. I first thought an odd, late Hooded Oriole. But that ID wasn’t adding up as I watched this bird deliberately move through the upper canopy. The top of the tail was orange, not black, and there was a patch of black on the birds lower neck that was not in the right place for Hooded. I next thought Bullock’s Oriole, but they usually show a lot more white on the lower belly and a stronger eyeline.

That left Baltimore Oriole. But I struggled to get good, unobstructed looks. The bird was surprisingly elusive despite its orange color and deliberate pace. As a result, I wasn’t sure until I got home and took a closer look at my photos. Some streaking on the head and a scaly upper back (together with the black growing in on the head) sealed the ID. Pretty cool, given that these birds are supposed to winter in Central and South America.

So it’s been a nice fall in the 5MR. We’ll see if December brings another addition to the list.