Tag: Pigeon Guillemot

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.

Add Pigeon Guillemot: LA County Life List

Pigeon Guillemot Point Dume

Pigeon Guillemots glide in grayscale at Pt. Dume (Malibu)

Pigeon Guillemots at Point Dume

On Father’s Day, I often get to go out birding by myself. It is a gift to have alone time in nature. I’d honestly prefer it if my boys or my entire family came along with me. But they’re hard to rouse at 6:30am on Sunday mornings. They’re especially hard to rouse if the reason they’d be getting up is to search the June gloomy horizon for something called a Pigeon Guillemot.

Which is not to say that Pigeon Guillemots aren’t worth it. They are. Pigeon Guillemots are alcids: web-footed diving birds of the ocean. They’re related to puffins. Pigeon Guillemots are jet black from bill to tail, with the exception of red-orange legs and a white patch on the wings. They prefer rocky coasts, and are exclusively West Coast birds. (This video doesn’t involve Pigeon Guillemots, but it’s a stark introduction to how rough life can be for a baby alcid. Jump from a cliff having never flown before, land without really knowing how to put on the brakes, and if you don’t make it to the water, run for your life from the foxes.)

Los Angeles county waters are the southern end of the Pigeon Guillemots’ expected annual summer range. Not sure if it’s water temperature or our lack of rocky coastline that keeps them from going further south. This June, a handful of Pigeon Guillemots have been spotted along L.A. County’s western-most coast and at Palos Verdes. I decided to use my Father’s Day morning on a shot at adding a lifer to my LA County list.

I got up at 6:30am and made the drive to Pt. Dume in Malibu. The coast at Point Dume runs west-east, and Pt. Dume juts out into the ocean. Birds and whales migrating along the west coast often make a line from Pt. Dume to Palos Verdes. A friend had seen 4 Pigeon Guillemots there the day before. The biggest challenge of birding Pt. Dume is probably the parking. Next to the short trails atop the bluff, where the best seawatching happens, is a 9 car parking lot. You can park down on the beach in a large parking lot, but you’ve got to pay for that one. Being both cheap and hoping for some pelagic species, I headed to the bluff-top parking lot. When I pulled up at 7:10am, it was full.  I decided to give it until 7:30am before driving down to the beach. Happily, in 10 minutes, a surfer returned from his morning ritual. After he took off his wet suit, and changed his clothes, and poured water on his head, and then dried his hair with his towel, and then stowed his surfboard, and then chatted with his surfer dude friend, and then checked his phone, I had my parking spot. 

It’s a short walk out to a couple wooden viewing platforms at the point. Upon arrival, I immediately saw a pair of Pigeon Guillemots swimming together maybe 100 yards off shore. They drifted a bit before flying over to some exposed rocks. A birding couple that had joined me at the platform with scopes pointed out a third Pigeon Guillemot on the rocks.

Pigeon Guillemot Pt. Dume Malibu

I stayed for another half an hour watching the sea. The viewing conditions were great despite the lack of sun. The ocean was super calm, and any bird in the air or water stood out easily. The birders spotted a flock of shearwaters way out, but I couldn’t ever find them with my binoculars. A loon flew by, as did a tiny Least Tern, an oystercatcher moved around on the rocks below, and a Wrentit popped up in the bushes right below the viewing platform. But no good pelagic birds.

Wrentit Point Dume Malibu

Wrentits may spend their whole life in a 2 acre plot of land


On the way back home, I stopped at Malibu Lagoon. A breeding-plumaged Wilson’s Phalarope was hanging around, and an adult Song Sparrow was feeding a begging Brown-headed Cowbird chick. Then I walked up the lower part of Tuna Canyon just off PCH. That looks like a great spot that I plan to check out again in the early morning some day.