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It seems that each fall report starts by stating that some spectacular birds were seen and this recent fall is no exception. The fall season for birds extends primarily from August through November when most of the birds are heading south but a few begin in Jun (e.g. shorebirds) and finish in Dec (e.g. hawks and warblers).

This fall was noteworthy as three species new to the county list were found, a few very rare species were seen, a sprinkling of rare species as well as an invasion into the lowlands of mountains species rounded out the exciting season.

On 14 Aug, Judy Wickman and Mike Prather of Lone Pine and Bob Hudson of Independence were conducting one of their regular shorebird surveys on Owens Lake near Keeler when they discovered a Pacific Golden-Plover, the first ever for the county. Many observers saw and photographed the bird thanks to Judy and her cell phone.

One month later to the day, 14 Sep, Jon Dunn of Rovana, was leading a birding tour at the same location and discovered Inyo County's first ever Western Gull. This is a strictly coastal species usually seen within a few miles of shore but this juvenile wandered far inland. The bird remained through the month and many were able to see and photograph it.

On 2 Oct, Noah Hamm from Bishop found a different looking plover at the Bishop Sewer Ponds. He and Chris Howard identified it as an American Golden-Plover a species long overdue for the county as this species has been found north and south of Inyo. It remained into the next day and most local birders had great views of this beautiful juvenile.

All three of these sightings were accepted as scientific records because the initial observers followed the protocol necessary to meet the higher standards by calling other observers, writing descriptions, and photographing the birds. A century from now there will be no doubt in researchers minds as to the authenticity and correctness of the identification.

On 12 Sep, Jo Heindel found an immature male Ruff at Owens Lake near Keeler, the 2nd ever recorded in Inyo. It remained for six days to the delight of many. A Field Sparrow was reported from Furnace Creek Ranch in Oct and, if accepted, could become the 2nd county record. This is a one observer only sighting which makes acceptance a little more difficult. Hopefully the documentation will be excellent. On 14 Oct, Jerry Zatorsky and Chris Howard both of Bishop found the only Pacific Loon for the fall at North Haiwee Reservoir. Recently the species has proven to be of annual occurrence with one or two found each fall. Two Red Knots were reported with one at Tinemaha Reservoir 27 Aug found by Chris Howard and Rosie Beach and one at Keeler 24 Sep found by Judy Wickman, Bob Hudson, and Mike Prather. It was a good fall for the rare Sabine's Gull with seven reported because in some years we have no reports. On 15 Sep at Deep Springs College Jon Dunn found a Least Flycatcher, the first in a decade for the county, and a Prothonotary Warbler. On 9 Oct, Jo Heindel found a Philadelphia Vireo at China Ranch that was later refound by a group of birders visiting from northwest CA. On 3 Oct, Debby Parker from Bishop, Judy Wickman, and Bob Hudson found a Blackpoll Warbler at North Haiwee Reservoir. During a nine-day period in late August, five Painted Buntings, 4 females and 1 male, were reported with two together in a Big Pine backyard!

And, finally, it has been an exceptional fall for mountain species moving into the lowlands. Observers from all over the Owens Valley are reporting Mountain Chickadees, Steller's Jays, Western Scrub-Jays, Pine Siskins and Cassin's Finches at their feeders.

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Most birders enjoy woodpeckers. In fact, many can relate a favorite birding experience that involves a woodpecker. In a conversation with Roger Tory Peterson, a decade before his death he recounted to us that the first species that really got him hooked on birds was the Yellow-shafted (now Northern) Flicker. He said that it was still one of his favorite birds.

Woodpeckers are usually easy to watch due to their habits. They are not small or obscurely colored birds. They are not hyperactive, in view for a second and gone the next. In addition, they are not secretive, perching in plain view often for many minutes allowing a leisurely observation.

An even dozen species have been reliably documented for Inyo County and three-fourths of these are resident birds and relatively easy to find. The LEWIS´S WOODPECKER is an erratic visitor in the county. It is primarily a spring and fall migrant although it has nested rarely. Some years they winter at Furnace Creek Ranch and this past winter 15 were regularly reported. In 1973, two hundred spent the winter there feeding on dates.

The ACORN WOODPECKER is a casual visitor, that is, it is not reported every year. Most records are from the oak belt in the Sierra foothills at or south of Oak Creek Canyon. However, there are a handful of records scattered over the county. The most reliable site, when they are in town, is at the Mt. Whitney Fish Hatchery.

WILLIAMSON´S SAPSUCKER, an uncommon resident, breeds high in the Sierra and has recently been documented as a Breeder in the Inyo Mountains. There are also summer records for the White Mountains but there is no proof of breeding. In fall, many depart and move to lower elevations for the winter where the sap will continue to flow. They have been reported on the Death Valley Christmas Count a few times.

THE YELLOW-BELLIED SAPSUCKER is an eastern and northern species represented in Inyo County by two dozen records. One was a late January record from Furnace Creek Ranch; the rest were in October and November. Almost all sightings are of juveniles and great care must be taken to eliminate the more expected and very similar looking female Williamson´s and Red-naped sapsuckers. Any report requires solid documentation to verify it as a record.

The RED-NAPED SAPSUCKER is most often recorded in small numbers almost any day during fall migration. In winter, it is an uncommon visitor in the towns and riparian lowlands. There are but a few Breeding records at Whitney Portal and in the White- Mountains.

The RED-PEASTED SAPSUCKER is a fairly common summer breeding bird in the riparian canyons of the Sierra. During the rest of the year, it is uncommon in Owens Valley towns and along the Owens River. Interestingly the 1891 Death Valley Expedition did not record it even though they conducted many surveys of the east slope of the Sierra.

The LADDER-BACKED WOODPECKER is an uncommon species most often found in the south and east part of the county. Their preference for Joshua tree and desert riparian limits their distribution. They have nested north to Olancha and 27 miles east of Big Pine at Joshua Flat. Rarely is the species found along the Owens River. Great care must be taken to separate it from the very similar Nuttall´s Woodpecker. Hybrids have been found exhibiting characters of both species. The most reliable location in the county to see this bird is China Ranch, southeast of Tecopa.

NUTTALL´S WOODPECKER is a fairly common breeder in riparian habitat of the Owens Valley and the lower canyons of the Sierra. It is also found in towns throughout the valley. It was not discovered here until 1933 even though experienced ornithologists had conducted fieldwork. After nesting, a few wander to higher elevations in the Sierra.

The DOWNY WOODPECKER, smallest of all, is uncommonly found in the same locations and habitat as the Nuttall´s. There are just a few reports to the east of the Owens Valley.

The HAIRY WOODPECKER is the larger look-alike to the diminutive Downy. This species is found fairly commonly countywide in coniferous forests of all mountain ranges. A few have been found nesting on the floor of the Owens Valley.

The WHITE-HEADED WOODPECKER is a very uncommon resident of the Sierra above 8000´. It is found in fir, lodgepole and Jeffrey pine forests and has nested at Whitney Portal. This is the best location to search for this elusive species.

The NORTHERN FLICKER is probably the most familiar woodpecker as it regularly inhabits towns and often comes to feeders. It feeds primarily on suet, sunflower seeds, and in summer especially, ants. Our race, the Red-shafted Flicker, Peeds countywide in the riparian of the Owens Valley to high in the mountains. The eastern Yellow-shafted Flicker is found every fall usually from the Death Valley region. A few weeks ago, we banded an intergrade. That is, a cross between a Red-shafted and a Yellow-shafted Flicker. This is called an intergrade, as it is the offspring of two races while a hybrid is the offspring of two species.

For the most part woodpecker identification is straightforward and given good views, the observer will generally have few problems with this group. The danger zone is within the sapsucker group and separating Nuttall´s from Ladder-backed and Downy from Hairy. A little homework and a little luck will Ping you all the woodpeckers of Inyo County.

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The Orioles are arguably one of the most beautiful groups of birds in the world. Those found in the US are members of the blackbird family Icteridae. They are not closely related to the orioles of the old world, which are in the family Oriolidae and also brightly colored.

Six species of orioles have been reliably documented in Inyo County. Half are regular breeders and the others are visitors that range from fairly regular to extremely rare with only one record.

The BULLOCKS ORIOLE is the common, widespread oriole of the county. They arrive in late March, rapidly becoming fairly common until mid August when they begin to withdraw south for the winter. They prefer large shade trees in towns and parks.

The SCOTTS ORIOLE is best found in semi-arid habitats of Joshua Trees and Pinyon-Juniper woodlands. They return in early April and depart by late August. One of the best places to find this fairly common species is at Joshua Flat, east of Big Pine.

The HOODED ORIOLE is a regular summer visitor to the southeast corner of the county and is annual in the Owens Valley. Its breeding status in the valley remains unclear. They are fairly common in early spring (late March and April), but then numbers taper off. They have nested in Saline Valley, Scottys Castle, Death Valley National Park, and Tecopa. Nesting needs to be documented for the Owens Valley. They prefer palms, which are in short supply in northern Inyo County.

The BALTIMORE ORIOLE is the eastern counterpart of the Bullocks Oriole and until a few years ago, they were considered one species and called Northern Oriole. They are more common here in spring (late April to early June) than fall (mid August to early November) with about three-fourths of the 50 records in late May and early June.

The ORCHARD ORIOLE is an eastern species that has been found in the county 23 times. There are nine spring records from 14 May to 4 June and 14 fall records from 13 August to 19 November. While the adult males are very distinctive, great care must be taken to separate females and sub-adult males from the much more expected and very similar Hooded Oriole.

The STREAK-BACKED ORIOLE is a Mexican species that visited just once at Furnace Creek Ranch in Death Valley National Park from 6 November to 21 December 1977. At the time, this was only the third state record.

All of our orioles are migratory and, being insectivorous, all depart in winter for warmer climates to the south. A good way to view them is to attract them with hummingbird feeders with the bee guards removed. There are also special oriole feeders that are similar with slightly larger holes to accommodate their larger bills. These flamboyant birds are with us for only a small part of the year, so now is the time to enjoy these tropical gems.

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One of the great things about birding is that wherever you travel there is an excellent chance that you will run into old friendsand some of them may have feathers! You probably expect to see new birds as that may well be one of the reasons you travel. But seeing birds you know from back home in different surroundings or behaving differently is almost like seeing a new bird. Many of the birds we are seeing in Alaska are friends from back home. Some look and behave just as they do in the Eastern Sierra. The Spotted Sandpipers we saw in Nome in early June looked and behaved just like those back home. They have large bold spots on their underparts and run along the stream edge teetering, and then fly away with bowed wings quivering below the horizontal plane. If there hadnt been so much snow around we may have thought we were back home! When we enjoyed Spotted Sandpipers in the Bolivian Andes in the late 1970s they looked and behaved just like our Inyo birds in late fall, that is, without spots.

But many of the birds while the same species as in the Eastern Sierra look and behave quite differently on their breeding grounds in Alaska. The Lesser Yellowlegs, which is casual to rare in spring and uncommon in fall in Inyo County, is a common breeder in much of Alaska. In Inyo we dont get to see them stand in the top of a conifer (mostly spruce in Alaska) and sing. Neither do we get to see them hover, facing into the wind, while pouring forth with Toodle-doo, toodle-doo, toodle-doo. The Semi-palmated Sandpiper, casual in spring and uncommon in fall in Inyo, reminds one, in Alaska, of a hummingbird as it hovers into the wind with buzzing wings and pours forth a churring melody. Almost all of Inyos records for Horned Grebe involve fall or winter birds in drab basic plumage. In Alaska they are all in their finest go-to-meeting apparel. The same is true of the Pacific and Red-throated Loons common breeders in Alaska but very uncommon migrants in the Eastern Sierra.

It is fun seeing many of the sparrows that winter back home all dressed up and breeding in Alaska. Golden-crowneds are gorgeous with their black and gold hats, American Tree Sparrows singing from every available perch, and Lincolns still skulking but occasionally found singing from a high perch. One of the most common sparrows here is the Gambels White-crowned Sparrow, the same race that winters in the Eastern Sierra. We have strained our eyes but havent found any with bands!

So seeing old friends in different places, doing different things, and dressed fit-to-kill is just as much fun as seeing your first King, Stellers and Spectacled Eiders, Ivory Gull, and Bristle-thighed Curlew. Well, almost!

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Eleven species of gulls have been reliably documented as having occurred in Inyo County. This group of birds typically stirs strong feelings of love or hate among birders. Those who love them not always began that way, and, in fact, appreciation of the group is gained only after much work and effort.

Adults of all species are straight forward given good angles and long views. With attention paid to bill, leg, and eye colors, mantle shade, wing tip pattern and overall size of the bird, one usually can correctly assign a name.

Birds in sub-adult or heavily worn plumages are not for the faint-hearted or inexperienced. Even the experts are in disagreement over which marks are diagnostic for identification. And to complicate an already complex situation is the fact that gulls hybridize producing a myriad of muddled birds. That said, there are some sub-adults that are distinguished by marks that easily select them out from the rest.

Almost 98 percent of all Inyo gulls are either RING-BILLED or CALIFORNIA GULLS. If one spends time comparing their renderings in the two top field guides, Sibleys Guide to Birds and National Geographic Societys Birds of North America, correct identification of almost all Inyo gulls is possible. Both species are commonly seen in spring and fall and may be encountered in numbers at any time of the year.

The third most abundant species of gull in the county is the BONAPARTES GULL which is fairly common in spring and uncommon in fall. Some first summer birds, in non-breeding plumage, spend the summer in Inyo. The next most abundant is FRANKLINS GULL which is uncommon in spring and rare in fall. SABINES GULL, one of the easiest to identify because of its unique wing pattern (3 triangles: white, black, and gray), is rare to very uncommon in fall and is known only once in spring when an adult was found at Owens Lake 3 May 1995.

The remaining six species are extremely rare and have been found just a few times in the county. The HERRING GULL has been recorded about 18 times from February to June but most records are in late fall. The HEERMANS GULL has been documented only three times, twice in October and once in April. The THAYERS GULL has also been documented three times, twice in October and once in November. The GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULL has been found twice, in late November and mid December. The only GLAUCOUS GULL was at Tinemaha Reservoir 23-25 December 1990 and the only WESTERN GULL was at Owens Lake 14 - 24 September 2000.

Based on data from contiguous counties or Nevada, there are six species that could occur in Inyo County, and maybe already have. These are Laughing Gull, Little Gull, Mew Gull, Yellow-footed Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, and Black-legged Kittiwake. They are awaiting their appointment with a prepared birder who recognizes and documents their occurrence in the county. An additional be-on-the-lookout has been issued for a Red-legged Kittiwake reported once in Nevada.

Late fall is the perfect time to add to the county's complement of gulls, so spend a few hours with bird identification books and report to your nearest reservoir or sewer pond!

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