Yes, I know the featured image is not of a Gray Catbird. Unfortunately, I was unable to photograph it. A Gray Catbird was this morning, however, my 290th lifetime species for the state of California and 268th lifetime species for the County of Los Angeles. I have observed 69 species for the year so far.
While I have probably seen tens of thousands of Gray Catbirds in my lifetime, I have never observed one in California. As an eastern species it is rare here, though it seems a few of them pop up here and there every winter. Chasing this bird this morning (it was found by someone else several days ago) fit into my stated goal this year of adding to my lifetime state and county lists, and the drive to Monte Verde Park was not expected to be too onerous, perhaps allowing me to see the bird and get back in time for the normal start of the work day.
Unfortunately, the bird didn’t want to follow my plan. I arrived at 7:45 AM. Unfamiliar with the area, I wandered down the bike path and headed south for awhile. Upon realizing I could walk south, perhaps all the way to the ocean, I pulled up the original LACoBirds post which had a GPS coordinate. I found out that I had bypassed the location. I headed back north and walked into the fenced area that is Monte Verde Park proper. I observed another birder standing outside of the fence looking in. I tried to see what he was looking at but my view was obscured by shrubbery. Once it was apparent what he was looking at was gone, I walked in that direction and talked to another birder that had just walked over to join him before he walked away. She told me he was, indeed, watching the Gray Catbird. I had missed it. So had she.
She eventually joined me on my side of the fence. We wandered around. We photographed things. Those things include the Say’s Phoebe that headlines this post, an Orange-crowned Warbler, as well as a Pacific-slope Flycatcher. The flycatcher is abundant in southern California in the breeding season, but a pretty rare find in the winter.
While we saw quite a few species for such a little park (my ending tally was 31), neither of us were able to locate the catbird through two hours of searching a couple of small thickets. This may seem surprising, but Gray Catbirds have a tendency to stay well-hidden in dense brush and can be very difficult to find if not vocalizing, and they don’t ever seem to have much to say in the winter.
As it got close to 10AM, I was lamenting that I really should have been back to my desk at that point. I always hate the internal questioning of how long to wait for a bird that may or may not show up again. It is generally true, however, that when you are chasing a bird with other birders and can’t find it, the bird will always (ALWAYS) show up for the remaining birders in the minutes after you leave. This time, it was the other birder that left. As she walked away, I meandered back over to the path on the east side of the shrubs where the bird had been seen before. I see a flash of gray in the low bushes to my left. I stop. I try to find what I had just glimpsed. Another flash of gray and the Gray Catbird pops up, completely in the open, on a tree branch about ten feet away. No binoculars even needed. I fumble for my camera that is around my neck, but it is in sleep mode. I get it to wake up. I struggle to find the catbird in the viewfinder. There it is! I try to focus, finger on the shutter button, and… it flies away. It flies away! Perhaps a millisecond before I was to press the button. Damn it!
I looked around for a few minutes more, but with a conference call looming, I really needed to go.