California Gnatcatcher Culver City California

California Gnatcatchers appeared in multiple spots in the 5MR in 2021

5MR 2021 Recap

Neverending pandemic aside, it turned out to be a pretty productive year for birds in my 5MR. Despite far-from-enthusiastic birding, I ended the year at 226 species. That was just 3 off my 2018 record. While I didn’t surpass the total species record, I did manage to add 10 species to the 5MR life list during 2021. That was more than I added in either 2020 or 2019. Here are the birds I added to my 5MR list in 2021:

  1. California Gnatcatcher – These have always been in my 5MR, but a breeding population in the dunes near LAX is not publicly accessible. Still, I figured I’d stumble upon one someday, probably in early summer during dispersal, and probably around the Ballona Freshwater Marsh. Instead, Don Sterba found a pair during the 2021 CBC on oil land next to West LA Community College. A couple of days later, I found them. During the year, others reported California Gnatcatchers at Ballona Freshwater Marsh, the Playa Vista Riparian Corridor, and the Baldwin Hills. As 2021 came to a close, I found a California Gnatcatcher on the slope just south of the marsh, so maybe we’ll get some actual breeding this spring for this range-restricted and declining species.
  2. Swainson’s Hawk – I spotted this bird soaring high above a cemetery while I was looking for a Vermilion Flycatcher. The views were fleeting, but that’s all it takes.
  3. Tropical Kingbird – This was the third of the trio of new birds I added in a single week in January. And this one was about as close to my actual living room couch as you can get. Andy K. had spotted this bird around a middle school 2 blocks from my house. I went out wandering the neighborhood and I saw it 5 houses down the street from our front door. It may have made a return trip this winter. On December 31st, I saw 2 kingbirds perched on electrical wires around our backyard. One was giving the familiar call of Cassin’s Kingbirds, but the other was twittering. A closer look showed a forked tail and a yellower belly on the twitterer. I didn’t snap a picture, but I’m confident it was a Tropical Kingbird.
  4.  Canvasback – The only new duck added in 2021, I found this bird at the Ballona Freshwater Marsh. Not a surprising find, though they aren’t reported annually in my 5MR.  More were back in the winter, so maybe they’ll now become regulars in the 5MR.
  5. Neotropic Cormorant – A birder named Randy lives in a condo complex called Raintree, and he submits eBird reports almost daily. The complex has a pond, and he’s spotted some nice ducks there in the past. In late February he posted pictures of the first-ever Neotropic Cormorant in my 5MR. Not only that, there were a pair present. I didn’t notice the sighting until March, and was lucky to see one when I did. Randy told me later that the bird apparently left after I saw it.
  6. Cattle Egret – This sighting was the result of true birder comraderie. Instead of finding out about it via eBird, the kind birder who found a Cattle Egret on Ballona Creek texted me to let me know. I happened to see the text right away. My Dad was in town, so we hopped in the car and drove one mile to find it still there. I was happy to finally get this on the list. They’re reported every year somewhere near the marsh, but they never stick around and I’ve always missed them.
  7. Purple Martin – The first new sighting that I wasn’t able to photo-document. I was walking the Playa Vista Riparian Corridor in late April when I noticed an all-dark swallow flying amongst some smaller swallow and swifts. It’s size and notched tail set it apart as a 5Mr lifer. It circled high and floated off to the north. My camera lens was in the shop at the time, sadly, but I have the credibility to have this report confirmed without a picture.
  8. Red-lored Parrot – This pair was a total surprise. Not because it’s a Central American species of humid lowland tropics. Here in L.A., we’ve got all kinds of parrots and parakeets flying around. But because Red-lored Parrots, when seen, are usually in Pasadena, But as I was walking around Ladera Park in June, the loud barking of some kind of parrot caught my ear. When I finally found them in some palm trees, I had a new bird for my 5MR. They looked a little ragged when I first found them, so I imagined they were ex-pet parrots. But they’ve proven to be survivors, as they were seen as recently as Dec. 23rd.
  9. Red-whiskered Bulbul – These non-native birds have been slowly moving west from the Pasadena area, and this year they were showing up in multiple places in my 5MR. I finally found one (actually 4) at a small little park near Castle Heights Elementary School. I wouldn’t be surprised if this species became a yearly one for the 5MR list very soon. And at some point they may even become “countable” according to the listing police.
  10. Northern Cardinal – Another Don Sterba find. After hearing a couple “tink” calls, I only got a fleeting glimpse of this male Cardinal as it flew across the Playa Vista Riparian Corridor walking path into a thick tangle of shrubs. Despite my patience, and it’s bright red color against a mostly brown hillside, I couldn’t find it. Don eventually got pictures around Thanksgiving, but it hasn’t been reported since.
Neotropic Cormorant

Neotropic Cormorants are expanding in the southwest, and into my 5MR

2022 Targets

After an intense 2018 5MR Big Year, and then 2 years of pandemic shutting down big trips, I think I need a little break from my 5MR in 2022. I’ll still do most of my birding close to home, and will hopefully stumble upon some new birds for the circle.  Here are 10 species that wouldn’t surprise me to see:

  1. Grasshopper Sparrow – These secretive sparrows are undoubtedly present in my 5MR, probably every year. The Ballona flatlands and Kenneth Hahn SRA/Baldwin Hills are two spots with good habitat for them. Quite a few have been spotted in L.A. this winter, and I tried in November to find one in my 5MR, but came up empty.
  2. Horned Lark – I feel like Horned Larks 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.
  3. Rose-breasted Grosbeak – A regular enough vagrant in L.A. County that a park in my 5MR is bound to host one.
  4. Common Murre – They’re out in Santa Monica Bay. One of these days a tired one us going to fly onto the jetty for some rest and I’m going to be there looking for it.
  5. Painted Bunting – I’d love to find a rainbow male, but I’ll take a green female. Not sure the marsh has enough of the right habitat to attract them, but the riparian corridor probably does.
  6. Gray Catbird – This may be a stretch, since they seem to like tangle-thick bushes, and that’s the kind of habitat that’s harder to find in my 5MR. But it wouldn’t surprise me to find one, maybe at Cheviot Hills park.
  7. Canada Warbler – One of several warblers I don’t have on my 5MR list, along with Lucy’s Warbler, Magnolia Warbler, Canada Warbler, and Ovenbird, that surely stumble through. After a totally dead year for stray warblers in 2021, I’ve got hopes that 2022 will bring something exciting. 
  8. Wilson’s Plover – My 5MR has several miles of coastline, with both sand and rock jetty, so there’a always a chance of a good shorebird showing up. Last year I put Rock Sandpiper on my target list, but I’m thinking that a Wilson’s Plover wandering north from Baja California in the spring is more likely.
  9. Broad-winged Hawk – There isn’t anything that anyone would call a forest in my 5MR, but there are trees, and maybe a Broad-winged Hawk will try out the 5MR for a few days this year.
  10. 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?