Bird Notes: January 2019

Los Angeles County Life List

As noted in my end of the year blog post, it is a goal of mine (likely an impossible one) to boost my Los Angeles County life list of bird species observed to 400. I started the year at 302. I brought the total to 310 by the end of January. Here are the species I added this month.

303: Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

A Scissor-tailed Flycatcher along the Los Angeles River south of Willow Street on January 4, 2019.

On January 4, I chased reports of a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher along the Los Angeles River south of Willow Street. This was my second time going after what was presumably the same bird, which has wintered at this location before. On this trip, I finally saw it and even managed some photographs.

304: Clay-colored Sparrow

A Clay-colored Sparrow at Madrona Marsh on January 4, 2019.

After observing the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, I headed to Madrona Marsh to chase reports of a Clay-colored Sparrow. While I am certain I have seen Clay-colored Sparrows in the county before, that was prior to the era of eBird and I didn’t keep a really organized life list. After spending a bit of time combing through the numerous sparrows in a flock on the west side of the reserve, the Clay-colored Sparrow came from somewhere and landed no more than ten feet away from me in a tumbleweed and posed for a picture. I wish they all were that easy.

305: LeConte’s Thrasher

A LeConte’s Thrasher at Rancho Sierra Golf Club on January 7, 2019.

On January 7, I was working in Palmdale and took that as an opportunity to chase a couple of new county species in the area. After missing a Long-eared Owl at Apollo Park in Lancaster (a bird that is still reported there almost daily as of this day), I headed to the west side of the Rancho Sierra Golf Club, where a LeConte’s Thrasher was reported the previous day. The bird was easily found. I have seen plenty of LeConte’s Thrashers over the years, but never in Los Angeles County. I don’t go birding recreationally in the desert often, and most of my desert species sightings are associated with work.

306: Harris’s Sparrow

A Harris’s Sparrow at Hahamongna Watershed Park on January 18, 2019.

January 18 was my second day looking for a previously-reported Harris’s Sparrow at Hahamongna Watershed Park, and the first without rain. Along with a half dozen or so other birders, we finally located a flock of White-crowned Sparrows (which it had been associating with) and watched for quite awhile to no avail. I wandered around and found a larger mixed flock of White-crowned Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos (the bird was usually reported within a flock of both), got the other birders to join me, and another member of my group found the bird. It foraged in the open long enough that everyone got good looks.

307: Northern Pygmy-Owl

A Northern Pygmy-Owl in the San Gabriel Mountains on January 19, 2019 during a trail run.

On January 19, I was running (not birding) on the Angeles Crest 100 course between Red Box and Newcomb Saddle. Near West Fork, a Northern Pygmy-Owl flew low and just a couple of feet in front me, landing in a nearby tree where I got really crappy – but identifiable – cell phone photos. This was my second pygmy-owl in two weeks, the other being observed during a survey in the southern Sierra.

308: Zone-tailed Hawk

A Zone-tailed Hawk over Monrovia’s Grand Avenue Park on January 21, 2019.

While I have seen Zone-tailed Hawks plenty of times in the tropics (where they are supposed to be), January 21 was the first I’d seen one in Los Angeles County. The bird had been present and observed by many over multiple days at multiple locations in the area. I tried for the bird on January 20 and, along with many other birders that were present, failed. I returned the next day to Monrovia’s Grand Avenue Park and, after several hours, finally observed a Turkey Vulture flying along a distant ridgeline that didn’t quite look like a Turkey Vulture. As it got closer, I could eventually make out the feathered head. I then reeled off a bunch of shots with my camera for documentation.

309: Mitred Parakeet

Mitred Parakeet is an exotic species that is not countable by American Birding Association rules. It is, however, countable within eBird. While I am certain I have seen them a number of times, I never paid a whole lot of attention to them. With my effort to increase my county list, and with a flock being reported in my neighborhood on January 21, that changed. On January 22, I observed a flock of 20 fly over my house. Unfortunately, my camera was not ready. I have since seen what is probably the same flock fly over my house several times, including yesterday morning.

310: Grace’s Warbler

It was happenstance that I was working in Long Beach on January 26, the day after a Grace’s Warbler and a Pine Warbler (both of which would be new for the county) were reported at Long Beach Recreation Park. After spending some time looking alone, then with another birder, the other birder frantically motioned for me to come over. He found the Grace’s Warbler at the top of a tall pine. It was calling repeatedly. I got a variety of non-satisfactory looks at different parts of the bird at different times (the head, the tail, the chest, etc.) always shrouded by pine needle clumps. Fortunately, I have seen the species plenty of times elsewhere. It was good enough to count for my county list. I didn’t manage to turn up the Pine Warbler.

List Summary

The following summarizes my life list species totals in different regions as of today:

  • Global: 1,111
  • North America: 912
  • AOU Area: 924
  • ABA Area: 535
  • USA Lower 48: 525
  • United States: 544
  • California: 344
  • Los Angeles County: 310
  • Home: 113

Expanding the Home List

I am trying to answer eBird’s challenge to submit at least one “complete checklist” every day in 2019, the reward being the chance at a pair of Zeiss binoculars. The only way to really do that, when you have a lot of non-birding days, is to do things like ten minute observations at your home or work. Doing so many home observations has gotten me thinking about my yard list, which currently sits at 113, which is good for the 82nd largest yard list in the state of California and 2nd largest in Los Angeles County.

In order to expand that list, it is useful to understand what new species are most likely to be found, which helps focus you in on when to look and even where to look (focusing on the sky for flyovers during migration, for example). The following is a list of things most likely to be found for my yard:

  1. Any waterfowl besides Canada Goose and Mallard (a variety of waterfowl occur along the LA River near my house, so could occur as flyovers)
  2. Costa’s Hummingbird (watch hummingbirds closely during migration)
  3. Any Larid besides Western Gull & California Gull (most likely to get Ring-billed Gull, as they occur along the nearby LA River)
  4. Double-crested Cormorant (common along the river and I have observed them as flyovers from the park next to my house)
  5. Any Heron (I am certain I have seen Great Blue Heron and Great Egret from my house prior to the era of eBird, so I guess I need to find them again)
  6. White-tailed Kite (I have seen them in my neighborhood before)
  7. Northern Harrier (would be during migration as a flyover)
  8. Bald Eagle (another I have seen as a flyover at my house, I am certain, while doing yardwork… but I don’t have a written pre-eBird record. Oddly, one was photographed perched in a tree a block from my house last week as reported in a local paper).
  9. Red-breasted Sapsucker (seen by me a number of times in the park adjacent to my house)
  10. Lilac-crowned Parrot (associates with Red-crowned Parrots, which are seasonally common here)
  11. Red-lored Parrot (same as above, but far less frequently observed)
  12. Horned Lark (common in some years at Rio de Los Angeles park on the other side of the hill from me… would be a flyover)
  13. Tree Swallow (would be an uncommon occurrence in the large swallow flocks that I sometimes see over my house)
  14. Violet-green Swallow (same as above, most likely observed while they are migrating, which is when I got them last year at the park next to my house)
  15. Barn Swallow (I am not sure how this isn’t on my yard list. I just need to find one. This will likely be one of the first birds added this year during migration).
  16. Red-breasted Nuthatch (sporadic winter lowland visitor which I recorded once in the neighboring park not even a tenth of a mile up the hill behind my house)
  17. American Pipit (extremely common in winter at Rio de Los Angeles park and calls frequently while flying… should be obtainable as a flyover)
  18. Chipping Sparrow (sporadic winter visitor, most likely to occur in the mess of pines and shrubs just over my backyard fence where the juncos hang out)
  19. Western Meadowlark (like pipits, also extremely common at Rio de Los Angeles in the winter)
  20. Red-winged Blackbird (flocks occur along the Los Angeles River. Just need a happenstance flyover while I’m looking, like the Brewer’s Blackbirds I added to my yard list last year).
  21. Great-tailed Grackle (occurs sporadically in the area)
  22. Pin-tailed Whydah (occurs sporadically in the area)

Edit: Right after I wrote this, I went outside to do my eBird list for the day and had two Great Blue Herons fly over less than a minute after walking out on my patio. That brings the yard list to 114.

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