Tag: Townsend’s Solitaire

5MR: 2023 Recap and 2024 Targets

Great Crested Flycatcher on LMU’s campus, Sept. 23, 2023

2023: In a Year of Travel, the 5MR Still Delivers

For the first time since COVID appeared in spring 2020, I traveled a bunch last year. Trips to Spain, Puerto Rico, Italy, and Baja California highlighted my birding for the year. Nevertheless, I spent most of my time at home, and most of my birding close to home. I don’t think I’ll ever quit prioritizing my 5MR. All told, I ended up seeing 216 species in my 5MR in 2023. That’s an average year for my circle. 

With each passing year, it gets a little harder to add new birds to my 5MR list. This year I only managed to add three. And only one was a bird I found by myself. The new additions to the list are:

  1. Townsend’s Solitaire – This is a higher elevation thrush that rarely strays to the LA basin. Between the Santa Monica mountains and Palos Verdes, and the coast and downtown LA, there are only a half dozen reports in eBird. The day we left for our spring break trip to Spain, word went out that a Townsend’s Solitaire was found on LMU’s campus. Luckily for me, it decided to stay around for a couple of weeks. I was able to see it when we returned. As I mentioned in my post about the find, the bird is named after John Kirk Townsend, a 19th century naturalist and phrenologist who dug up Native American burial sites to bring skulls back to his racist skull-studying friends. Maybe “buff-winged solitaire” is a better option for a name?
  2. Great Crested Flycatcher- This new 5MR lifer was found at LMU as well. Funny story – I had been at LMU that morning, and stood in the spot the Great Crested Flycatcher was later found, for 20 minutes. If it was there at the time, I didn’t see it. But 5MR birding played a role in its find. I’d seen a Summer Tanager that morning in the NE corner of LMU’s campus and reported it. A young birder saw the report and came to add Summer Tanager to his 5MR list. While he was there, he saw the Great Crested Flycatcher. It’s a familiar story of how one bird find leads to another.
  3. Brown Creeper – Brown Creeper is one of the birds I put on my 2023 Targets list. And I predicted that it’d likely be one of 2 locations in my 5MR. Sure enough, in November, while birding Cheviot Hills Park, I finally stumbled upon a Brown Creeper in my 5MR. I had just discovered a Painted Redstart at the park and was following it through the trees when I saw the creeper working its way up a trunk. The only photo I got almost missed the bird. I love watching these birds work the trees. They start near the bottom of the trunk, and head up, hunting for insects along the way. Then, they fly to another tree, and start the process again.
2024 5MR Targets

I’m keeping most of my target list from last year for this year, because I think most of the birds are findable if I’m in the right place at the right time. But I’ve added a couple that aren’t likely, but would be awesome to see so 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 past time for me to find 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. Little Blue Heron / Reddish Egret – There are so many egrets and herons in the Ballona area that one of these two species is bound to show up some time. If we’d get more rain, or “they” would manage the wetlands so that there were more shallow pools for birds like these to feed in, the chances would go up.
  7. Crested Caracara – One of these desert raptors was spotted at the Ballona Freshwater Marsh in June 2023 while I was birding in Puerto Rico. (There was a Laughing Gull present at the same time, which would have also been a new bird for my 5MR. The double-miss was , admittedly, a little painful.). It was a one-day wonder, and I may have missed my chance. But this would be a cool addition to the list.
  8. Painted Bunting – The habitat is right in a couple of spots. Finding one of the colorful male birds would be awesome.
  9. Eastern Phoebe – The eastern complement to our Black Phoebe. These birds seem to show up every year somewhere in LA County, and the Playa Vista Riparian Corridor seems like a great spot for one to spend the winter.
  10. Magnificent Frigatebird – The last couple of big storms to come up from Baja have blown frigatebirds into L.A. County. They didn’t seem to make it past Palos Verdes, but I’m optimistic that it won’t be that long before one of the long-winged flyers soars along Dockweiler Beach.





5MR Lifer: Townsend’s Solitaire

5MR Lifer: Townsend’s Solitaire

I just got back from a vacation to Spain, which I’ll write up soon (hoopoe! chiffchaff! jackdaw! firecrest! flamingo!). But it turns out there was a decent bird to find here at home. A possible 5MR lifer had showed up the day we left for Europe, and it had apparently stuck around. So after I dropped my kid off at school, I drove over to the LMU campus to see if the Townsend’s Solitaire was still around. It had been hanging out in a little grove of oak trees near the library that I’ve often scanned for vagrants to no avail. When I walked up, it didn’t take me 2 minutes to see the solitaire moving around the trees. After racking up a string of lifers during our fantastic adventure to Spain, it was icing on the cake to add a 5MR lifer the day after I returned. 

Townsend’s Solitaire is a gray, slender thrush that darts about and often perches on middle-level branches. It shows a flash of buffy yellow in its wings when it flies. It is typically a higher elevation mountain bird. I’d seen them multiple times up in the San Gabriel Mountains above Los Angeles (above 5,000 feet each time), in Madera Canyon in Arizona (4,900 feet elevation), and in Santa Fe, New Mexico (7,000+ feet). This bird atop the Westchester bluff was at approximately 150 feet above sea level. They’re pretty unusual in the L.A. basin. There seem to be more around this winter, perhaps because of all the snow we’ve had this year. 

Townsend’s Solitaire, Madera Canyon, Arizona 2019

The bird gets its name from John Kirk Townsend, a naturalist who traveled the American West in the 1830s. In addition to the solitaire and Townsend’s Warbler, he’s got several mammals named after him. Townsend apparently died of arsenic poisoning, on account of the secret ingredient he used to prepare his taxidermy specimens. He’s often noted as one of the examples behind the bird names for birds movement, which seeks to rename birds who are named after people. It’s an effort I generally support. Most of the honorific bird names do not recognize the first person to ever find or identify a particular species of bird. Instead, they recognize the first white male to do so. Surely native residents all over the globe knew about the birds before the white guys they are named after ever saw them. It’s also a weirdly possessive practice. And many of these 19th century white guys may not deserve the honor. The problem with Townsend, apparently, is that he was a phrenologist who dug up Native American burial sites to bring skulls back to his racist skull-studying friends.