Tag: Summer Tanager

Great Crested Flycatcher in the 5MR

L.A. & 5MR Lifer: Great Crested Flycatcher

A “promotion” at my job has led to more work, and less birding. That’s what you get for a raise, I guess. Less birding means fewer posts, because I’ve got less to write about and no time to do it.  But I made sure to get out this Saturday morning to see if I could find any good migrants. And rather than chase the rarities that have already been found, I stayed faithful to my 5MR and hoped I could find something good near home.

My chosen spot was the campus of Loyola Marymount University (LMU). It’s an infrequently birded spot with a good number of trees that has produced some decent vagrant warblers in the past (Hooded, Canada, and Cape May). I didn’t get out at the break of dawn, but was walking around by 8:30am.  The most interesting thing I found during the first half hour was fellow birder Russ Stone. He had a similar report as me – few migrants. I moved on without much hope, headed for a spot in the NE part of campus where there are a bunch of tall eucalyptus trees that often attract migrants. To my delight, I found a Summer Tanager. It’s not much of a rarity. There’s one or more in my 5MR just about every year. But I hadn’t found one yet this year. A Red-breasted Nuthatch in the same spot was actually rarer for my 5MR. Nothing to blog about, but a good walk.

Summer Tanager

Just after lunchtime, word went out on WhatsApp that one of the young birders taking LA County by storm, Henry Chiu, had found a possible Great Crested Flycatcher at LMU. It was reported near the NE parking lot, just the place I had found the Summer Tanager that morning. When the GPS coordinates went out for the flycatcher, it was in the very same stand of eucalyptus. I definitely hadn’t seen anything that looked like a myarchus flycatcher while I stood in the parking lot watching the trees for 20 minutes. But since this would be not just a 5MR, but an L.A. County lifer, I decided to head back

Henry was still there when I showed up. Delightfully, it wasn’t 5-10 minutes before we found the flycatcher. It had a bright yellow belly and a dark gray chest and head that made it clear it wasn’t an Ash-throated Flycatcher. The bird was generally cooperative and stayed in view for the next 30 minutes as other birders started to arrive. With just a half dozen prior reports for LA County (the last a one-day wonder in 2020), this was a bird that was likely to draw a crowd. The ID of Great Crested Flycatcher was confirmed by birders better than I (the white-edged tertials, for the nerds out there, is a key field mark, as it the pale base of the bill). I left before the crowd arrived, happy for only my second 5MR lifer of the year.


Great Crested Flycatchers are found in the eastern half the country, from Maine to Florida, and east to the Great Plains. Despite their name, the bird doesn’t show much of a crest. Preferring the canopy of trees, it’s not always easy to see. I’d seen it in 5 different states before today, including in NYC this summer, and a couple of times in Costa Rica, where it winters.

The story is another reason why it’s good to bird your 5MR. It turns out that Henry was at LMU, in the northeast parking lot, looking for the Summer Tanager I had found that morning when he found the Great Crested Flycatcher. That’s the wonderful thing about birding. One person finds one good bird, other birders head to that spot, and more good birds are found.


A Summer Summer Tanager in the 5MR

A Summer Tanager at Kenneth Hahn SRA

Small-group outdoor social activities are slowly becoming a part of our lives these days. The other afternoon, we were hanging out at “the bowl” in Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area with family friends. The bowl (officially called Janice’s Green Valley, which is too much for me) used to be a reservoir behind Baldwin Hills Dam. The dam breached in December 1963 and flooded the neighborhood below, killing five people. Now, it’s a grassy play area with a bunch of oak and eucalyptus trees. A frisbee golf course is set-up in the bowl amidst hundreds of pocket gopher holes. The bowl can be a good spot for birds, like the Ferruginous Hawk that showed up there back in 2013.

As I was waiting for a frisbee golf game to get organized, I noticed a bird flush from a tree about 20 yards away. The bird flew directly away from me, and it looked to have been all red. Given its size, I immediately thought Summer Tanager. The bird landed in the middle of a tall eucalyptus tree. Since a Summer Tanager would be a nice summer find in my 5MR, I decided to walk over and see if I could get a better look. It didn’t take long. As I walked up to the target tree, I found a male Summer Tanager – all red, with a pale yellowish large bill – sitting perfectly still. I took a couple of pictures with my phone that are crap, but good enough to support the ID. 

Summer Tanagers are not super rare in Los Angeles. But if we were naming the bird, we’d call it a Winter Tanager. It is much more regularly seen in these parts from October to March. I had seen a Summer Tanager in my 5MR before (a pair, actually, that used to return each winter to West LA Community College, plus a female that wintered at Village Green for a couple of years). But this was only the 4th summer Summer Tanager ever reported in eBird in my 5MR, and my first summer sighting. Between this bird and the red Red Phalarope on Ballona Creek a few weeks ago, the names of my rarer sightings have been unusually accurate recently.

Birding Credibility

I wasn’t carrying a camera when I saw the Summer Tanager. Thanks to clear views and camera-phones, I was able to document the sighting, however poorly. But what if I hadn’t? Have I built up enough credibility with fellow L.A. birders and eBird reviewers that a photo-less sighting would have been considered legit? More importantly, how do you build up your birding credibility? Quick answer – ID cautiously (the birds you see are likely to be expected birds, not rare ones), observe carefully and describe what you saw, and document your sightings with photos. Finding rare birds on your own helps, too. More thoughts on credibility in an upcoming post.