An unplanned Big Day in the 5MR
The new year is a fresh start for birders. All the lists we’ve been keeping–year list, county year list, 5MR year list–reset to zero. And since the new year is usually a day off of work, many of us head out on January 1st to start the new lists. I did a little birding on January 1st. But the next day was the Los Angeles Christmas Bird Count (CBC). I live in the LA CBC circle, and my 5MR is within the LA CBC circle. I’ve often been out of town when the LA CBC happens (which is usually held on a Sunday around New Year’s day). But I was in town this year. And I was assigned by the amazing organizer, Dan Cooper, to bird some local parks. Up just after dawn, I headed out to my assigned parks. By noon, I’d completed my rounds and was at 47 species. It was hardly an impressive list. But I did see Painted Redstart, Band-tailed Pigeon, and Western Tanager (though I struck out on a pair of Red-lored Parrots that have been hanging out in a nearby park for months).
One benefit of having a CBC overlap with your 5MR is you get a bunch of good birders into your circle, and they find some good wintering birds. That certainly happened, with birders producing an impressive total of 185 species found in the count circle. Curiously, many of the top listers (from eBird) were nowhere to be seen in the LA CBC circle on count day. Maybe it’s because L.A. is so big (there are, I believe, at least 10 different CBCs that take place at least partly in L.A. county) and they’d participated in CBCs closer to home. It certainly wasn’t because they were out of town, because many of them were out birding L.A. on January 2nd.
But instead of birding the LA CBC circle, LA’s top listers were chasing Lucy’s Warblers at the Huntington Botanical Garden (outside the LA CBC circle), or Laughing Gulls at the Rio Hondo Spreading Grounds (outside the LA CBC circle) or Lesser Black-backed Gulls at Bonelli Park (outside the LA CBC circle) and Black-throated Green Warblers in Long Beach (outside the LA CBC circle) and Greater Pewees in the Pacific Palisades (outside the LA CBC circle) and American Redstarts in the Sepulveda Basin (outside the LA CBC circle). Those are cool birds for LA birders. But they were also birds the listers had seen in 2021. Some of them (like the Laughing Gull) were birds they’d seen the week before. And they were all known wintering birds that all were likely to be hanging around past Jan 2nd. In fact, if I’m right, not a single birder who saw 300 species or more in Los Angeles County last year went birding inside the LA CBC circle on count day. To each his own. And any birding is probably better than no birding. But it would’ve been great to have more folks participating in the wonderful tradition of the LA CBC.
After I was done with my assigned parks, I got the fancy idea that I could maybe make it to 100 species by the end of the day if I headed to the marsh and the beach, and got a little lucky. So I went to Playa del Rey, where I picked up some ducks (including Greater Scaup and Northern Pintail) at the lagoon, snagged a quartet of gulls at the beach, and a couple turnstones (Black and Ruddy) and some surfbirds at the jetty. Then I took a walk around the freshwater marsh, where I added more ducks (including Canvasback and Redhead), some white birds (American White Pelicans, White-tailed Kite, White-throated Swift) and a Belted Kingfisher, among other things. By this time, I was starving for lunch, and sitting at 91 species.
I went home, planning to fuel up and figure out what I needed to see to get to 100. But I was also tired, and fell asleep on the couch. When I woke at 3:30pm, I had a little over an hour of sunlight left. There was no time to plot out some stops. Instead, I headed to the creek and crossed my fingers. At the 90 overpass, I added Greater Yellowlegs, Osprey, and Lincoln’s Sparrow. Between the 90 and Lincoln, I added a Common Goldeneye, Long-billed Dowitcher, a Great Blue Heron, and Savannah Sparrow. It was 4:30, the sun was getting close to the horizon, and I was at 98 species. But the creek wasn’t done yet. I kept walking west, and found the wintering Pacific Golden-Plover, along with a Herring Gull and a Glaucous-winged Gull. I was at 101 species for the day! I could’ve stuck around and probably snagged a Barn Owl, but my legs were tired from being out most of the day.
101 species is not bad for an unplanned big day. If I was strategic about it, I think I’d have a chance at 150 species (Darren Dowell saw 140 species on the CBC count day, and he did all his birding, as far as I can tell, in my 5MR). Speeding around while ticking off species is not really my cup of tea–I’d rather enjoy a walk and see what I see. But it was a fun little experiment.