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Fall Migration, 1995 (1/'96)

As we transition into winter it is a good time to look back at our recently passed fall and reflect on some of the migrant stars that briefly blessed us with their presence.

It was a good fall for loons with one Red-throated Loon, our rarest with only 6 previous records, at Tinemaha Reservoir on 9 Oct. Also rare is the Pacific Loon so three, 2 at Tinemaha Reservoir and 1 at Intake #2, this fall is exceptional. As expected our Tundra Swans returned on schedule during the first week of Nov with 10 at Tinemaha Reservoir. Bob Hudson, of Independence, found 4 male Ring-necked Ducks at Matlock Lake (10,700') on 3 Nov to set a new high elevation record for this species. A few Hooded Mergansers were present during November with birds reported from Furnace Creek Ranch in Death Valley National Park, Klondike Lake and Deep Springs.

Bob Hudson and Andrew and Leah Kirk, also from Independence, continue to observe 2-3 White-tailed Kites in the Fort Independence area. Bald Eagles returned to Inyo on schedule in early Nov at Tinemaha Reservoir. Jim & Debby Parker, of Bishop, had an adult flying over Birchim Canyon near Pleasant Valley Dam. Floyd & Sandy Bero, Bishop, who recently presented a paper at the North American Raptor Association meeting in Minnesota, report an increase in the numbers of Red-shouldered Hawks in the eastern Sierra. A few Merlin and Peregrine Falcons were sighted, most reported from Furnace Creek Ranch and Tinemaha Reservoir.

On 5 October five Sandhill Cranes were photographed at Deep Springs. Two were near Independence in mid Oct (Kirks) and 1 was at Cottonwood Marsh in late Oct (Hudson). The only Mountain Plover was reported from Tinemaha Reservoir 25 Oct.

A few interesting sandpipers made brief appearances with Sanderlings at Owens Lake 6 Sep and Tinemaha Reservoir 28 Sep. Semipalmated Sandpipers were at Owens Lake 6 & 15 Sep. Baird's Sandpipers were reported from 16 Aug to 27 Oct. Only 2 Pectoral Sandpipers were seen with 1 at Bishop 22 Aug and 1 at Cartago 15 Sep. A rare Red Phalarope was at Keeler 26 Sep.

Two rare species of gulls were found with a Herring Gull at Tinemaha Reservoir 18 Nov and a Sabine's Gull at Haiwee Reservoir 15 Sep and 1 at Tinemaha Reservoir 9 Oct. A few rare doves were reported with a White-winged Dove at Furnace Creek Ranch 2 Oct, an Inca Dove there 24 October (Richard E. Webster) and 30 Nov, and 2 Ruddy Ground-Doves at Furnace Creek Ranch 21 Oct (Guy McCaskie) and 30 Nov.

Webster found a Burrowing Owl at Panamint Springs 25 Oct. He also found a rare Short-eared Owl at Lee Flat 25 Oct. In mid September a group of 1-7 Long-eared Owls moved back into the tamarisk grove at the northeast corner of Tinemaha Reservoir. A few Anna's Hummingbirds have persisted into December at the Wilkerson home of Larry & Ruth Blakely and in Big Pine. Woodpeckers of note include several Lewis' Woodpeckers mostly from the Death Valley area, an Acorn Woodpecker seen there 11 Oct by Mike San Miguel, and a juvenile Yellow-bellied Sapsucker at Tollhouse Springs 29 Oct.

A few Varied Thrushes were seen in the Death Valley area during late October & November. A Gray Catbird was found 2 Oct at Furnace Creek Ranch by Matt Heindel and a Brown Thrasher at Panamint Springs 26 Sep by McCaskie. These two species are from the eastern US.

Orange-crowned Warblers have lingered into December in moderate numbers. Most amazing was the latest Yellow Warbler ever seen in Inyo County! Debby Parker found this bird in north Bishop and notified others who were able to enjoy this record setting bird. It was present, at least, from 6-9 Dec. A very late Nashville Warbler was found at Furnace Creek Ranch 24 Oct by Webster. The Kirks found a tail-less Chestnut-sided Warbler at Ash Creek 22 Oct. Michael A. Patten, California Bird Records Committee secretary, found a Magnolia Warbler at Furnace Creek Ranch 23 Sep and 4 days later McCaskie saw another nearby. A Black-and-white Warbler spent 26 Aug at Deep Springs and a female American Redstart was at Birchim Canyon 30 Sep and 1 Oct (Parkers). A handful of Northern Waterthrushes were scattered at Furnace Creek Ranch, Bishop, Haiwee Reservoir & Glacier Lodge.

A Rose-breasted Grosbeak was at Panamint Springs 26 Sep (McCaskie) and another in Big Pine 9 Oct. Hudson had a Clay-colored Sparrow at Cottonwood Marsh 5 Nov and 3 Black-throated Sparrows remained at Scotty's Castle to the late date of 30 Nov. A very rare Sharp-tailed Sparrow, only the 4th county record, was found at Furnace Creek Ranch 27 Sep by McCaskie. Three Swamp Sparrows were in Death Valley during Oct. About 10 White-throated Sparrows were scattered over the county from 26 Sep and a Harris' Sparrow was at Furnace Creek Ranch 21 Oct (McCaskie)

A Lapland Longspur was at Stovepipe Wells 30 Nov and about two dozen Chestnut-collared Longspurs were reported from Death Valley, Panamint Valley, Deep Springs and the Owens Valley. The only Bobolinks reported were from Deep Springs. A Lawrence's Goldfinch was found in Independence 1 & 2 Sep by the Kirks.

So it has been a very interesting ornithological fall for Inyo County. Bring on winter!

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Spring Migration (3/'96)

To many, spring is the most exciting time of the birder's year. Severe winters bring exciting northern species south. With the mild weather of winter 1995 - 1996, temperatures near 70 F. in both Jan and Feb and no ice on the lakes, we have had a very poor winter if gauged by northern visitors. There have been no reports of Northern Shrikes or Bohemian Waxwings, and Rough-legged Hawks have been very scarce. Without these and other exciting Arctic birds to capture a birder's interest, spring is awaited with anticipation akin to "cabin fever".

A small tip of the migratory iceberg is already showing. Cinnamon Teal usually begin to appear in small groups the last week of Jan with the earliest ever recorded on the 17th. This year two were at Tinemaha Reservoir 5 Jan and 2 more seen at Owens Lake the next day by Mike Prather of Lone Pine. Turkey Vultures return in earnest during early Mar with the avant garde straggling in from mid-Feb. This year Jim & Debby Parker and Floyd & Sandy Bero, all of Bishop, had them in Bishop the first week of Feb.

We leave our hummingbird feeders up all winter and were overjoyed when an adult male Anna's Hummingbird was seen sucking down our syrup on 4 Feb! The earliest previous county record was 21 Feb 1991 at Sand Canyon in the extreme southwestern corner of Inyo. Imagine our excitement when 3 days later two adult male Anna's were fighting over who was going to get all three feeders in our backyard! A third male Anna's was heard singing just a mile south of Big Pine on 10 Feb. The earliest hummingbird ever recorded in Inyo was a Costa's on 20 Jan 1964 at Furnace Creek Ranch, Death Valley National Park, by B.B. Paige. The previous early dates are in warmer areas and as both Costa's and Anna's winter at Ridgecrest, only 15 miles from Inyo, we shouldn't be too surprised at their early arrivals.

Tree Swallows have been recorded every month of the year in Inyo and if seen from Nov to early Feb are usually lone individuals. This winter Mike Prather reported one on the Death Valley Christmas Count in mid-Dec. Richard Potashin, from Bishop, found one at Cottonwood Marsh 27 Jan and 5 were at Tinemaha Reservoir 29 Dec.

Northern "Red-shafted" Flickers have started giving their spring song, a long series of rapidly repeated monotone notes. This is not normally given at other times of the year.

On 9 Feb we banded an Orange-crowned Warbler in Big Pine. This was probably a wintering bird as they do not usually appear until mid-Mar. It is often a guess whether a late winter bird is an early migrant or a wintering bird that avoided earlier detection. While there are numerous Christmas Count records for the county it is probable that these are late fall migrants and that as Dec gives way to Jan and we get colder weather, most move on south. We have very few Jan and even fewer Feb records for this species.

By Apr shorebirds will be moving, followed at the end of the month by the masses (we hope) of land birds like flycatchers, vireos, thrushes, warblers, buntings, etc. The following is a calendar of the earliest records for selected species. If you see any of these prior to the dates given we want to hear about it. Remember that thorough documentafion and/or a recognizable photo will be required to turn an exciting sighting into a scientific record. Good luck!

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Avian Fallout (5/'96)

Many areas can experience a fallout of birds but an area famous for it is High Island, Texas. When north moving birds meet south moving storms its bad for birds but exciting for birders. The following is an account of such an experience that Jim & Debby Parker, of Bishop, and we had on 30 April 1994. On our return we had many tell us of the fallout that occurred in the Owens Valley when hundreds of tanagers and flycatchers were in all the towns.

The morning temperature differed only 6F from the previous days high; the mornings humidity differed not at all. It began as another hot and humid day. The type where you think of jumping into a sauna - to dry off! The morning passed, slowly, as birders trekked the trails knowing nothing had changed. It was still muggy, mushy and miserable and almost devoid of birds. Even the ubiquitous Catbirds had the sense to flee. High, thin cirrus clouds capped the clear blue sky above the dismal marine layer that held the heat and humidity tight to the earths bosom. Peeks at the cirrus clouds produced prognostications of better times ahead.

At noon, when it seemed that gills would be more helpful than lungs, a gentle breeze stirred the leaves. For the first time in a week it came from the north. The temperature plummeted. Wet clothing cooled and bodies chilled. Black clouds lined the leading edge of the front. Lightening and thunder formally introduced the storm. The rains came; the games began.

Soaking wet birders stood in the rain smiling, grinning, and smirking. Parkas, raincoats, and umbrellas magically appeared. Things began slowly. Six Bay-breasted Warblers together; six feathered UFOs fell out of the sky and disappeared into a tree beyond the trail. Chirps came from heretofore silent areas. Fingers pointed into trees, first one way, then another, and another. Excited voices started a litany of names, Scarlet Tanager! Rose-breasted Grosbeak! Yellow-throated Vireo! Blackburnian male! Blue-winged Warbler! With each shout the amoeboid crowd would ebb and flow towards the most recent find gathering into itself recently arrived birders. Then as quickly as they appeared the birds disappeared. The amoeba divided as different parts went out in search of a new feeding tree. Shortly a chorus came across the fields in soprano, baritone and base voices, Tennessee! Bay-breasted! Parula! Golden-winged! Cerulean female (pause) and a male! The amoeba grew again as birders converged on the new area.

The fact that it was rainy, windy, and mosquito infested bothered absolutely no one. Everything was ignored except the fallout. Soggy binoculars were dried with soggy shirts or soggy hankies or soggy scarves. Malicious mosquitoes were mashed or sprayed. The temperature continued to plunge as lightening and thunder passed over the heads of birds and birders alike. As birds who survived the arduous trip across the Gulf of Mexico hit the storm, down they dropped to join the masses below. Chestnut-sided. Black-throated Green! Black-and-White! American Redstart! Yellow! Magnolia! Blackpoll! cried the happy amoeba. While the birds feasted on mulberries and caterpillars the birders feasted on the birds.

After two hours the rain stopped, the mosquitoes disappeared, the wind ceased and the birders ran themselves ragged chasing flocks of hundreds, no, thousands of hungry birds. All the way down a row of trees they would bird just to reverse their direction and retrace their paths trying to keep up with the excited warblers, vireos, flycatchers, grosbeaks, buntings, orioles, tanagers, thrushes, and thrashers.

After another two exhilarating/exhausting hours the entire crowd looked like they could qualify for handicaped parking placards with necks, backs, and legs bent in ways for which they werent designed . One birder was overheard to say, First I was praying for rain, now Im praying for dark! 

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Summer 1996 (9/'96)

Each season brings with it an unique avian fingerprint that is unlike that of any other. This summer season in Inyo County was no exception. It began with a beautiful male Rose-breasted Grosbeak on an Eastern Sierra Audubon Society field trip to Birchim Canyon on June 1st. Steve Holland found the bird and although hed never seen the bird in real life before he knew immediately what it was. He said that while looking at his field guide he would always pause at the picture of a Rose-breasted Grosbeak and say to himself, Id love to see this one! Well, he did, and so did the rest of the group. The same trip also produced a White-tailed Kite near Brockman Lane in northwest Bishop.

The most amazing event, though, was a pair of flightless, juvenile Buffleheads at the Bishop Sewer Ponds from 3 June to at least 8 July. This species normally breeds far to the north. A conversation with Mike San Miguel of the California Bird Records Committee (CBRC) indicates this was part of a bigger picture with a smattering of breeding records reported this year from far to the south of the normal breeding range.

An adult male Painted Bunting was bathing in our Big Pine yard on June 9th. These males frequently have trouble passing review by the CBRC as they are kept as caged birds in nearby Mexico and separating escapees from disoriented wild birds is difficult. However, the date is good for a late, out-of-range migrant.

An alternate (breeding) plumaged Common Loon was seen 10 June at Haiwee Reservoir for the first INYO June record ever. Four Black Swifts were found near Big Pine 13 June and 3 more at Onion Valley on 23 June. On 20 June, Bob & Barb Toth, of Bishop, banded a male Indigo Bunting at Wyman Canyon. That evening we were all serenaded by a Saw-whet Owl. Most amazing was a singing Winter Wren at Pine Creek on 30 June. Bob and Barb Toth were able to relocate the bird the following day. This species is usually absent from our area from March to October while it is breeding in the northwest of the country. We returned 11 July to see if it was still there and were unable to find it but did hear a singing Northern Pygmy Owl.

Tinemaha Reservoir again produced good birds with eleven Brant from 1-12 July, three remained until 21 July and on 9 July an adult Peregrine Falcon was perched in a favorite tree in the northwest corner. The same day a singing Yellow-billed Cuckoo was along the Owens River just north of the reservoir. Two adult male Summer Tanagers spent the summer at Baker Meadow, west of Big Pine. This area has proven to be a favorite summering area for almost a decade.

Finally, Andrew Kirk, of Independence, photographed breeding Lawrences Goldfinches near his home from late May into July. His wife, Leah, found a nest with eggs which later was empty and thought to be a victim of predation. Adults were seen feeding many juveniles. This is the third breeding record for INYO and its most northerly one.

Now is the time for another unique fingerprintfall 1996. In fact, fall migration has been underway since late June as adult shorebirds began passing through on their long journey south. Also moving are the first Rufous Hummingbirds chasing everything, regardless of size, away from their flower or feeder. Warblers and flycatchers are beginning their trek along with tanagers, grosbeaks, buntings, hawks, ducks, swallows, sparrows, etc. Its time for us to go out and wish them bon voyage and a safe return, and document the good ones we find!

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Bird Banding (11/'96)

Someday, if you are lucky, you will see a bird marked with leg bands, wing tags, spray colored or neck-collared. All of these birds are especially important as they can be identitied right down to a specific individual. Somebody held that bird, marked it, took measurements, recorded everything, maybe photographed it and released it to continue on its travels. The information gathered is sent to the U.S. Fish and Wildilfe Service's Bird Banding Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland. The data are computerized and printouts are available to agencies, universities, and independent researchers for various studies.

Banding is the most common way of marking birds, and, in fact, all birds with other markings are also banded. Special traps or mist nets are placed in areas of bird activity. As birds move about they may go after food in a trap or fly into the almost impossible-to-see net. They are carefully removed and placed in a holding bag and returned to the banding station. There a uniquely numbered aluminum band is placed on the bird's leg with special pliers that insure a round fit that is free to rotate and move up and down on the leg. Measurements are taken of wing and tail length, weight, molt sequence, fat, and sometimes additional measurements of the length and width of the bill, length of the hind toe, etc. The bird is aged and sexed when possible. Sometimes the plumage helps age the bird. For instance, White-crowned Sparrows with brown and buff head stripes were born this spring. Black and white head stripes are on adults that were born last year or earlier. Othertimes it shows the sex as in Lesser Goldfinches where the male wears a black beret and the female doesn't. But beware, right now the young boys (born this year) have just a few, hard-to-see black feathers.

Banding birds is difficult and demanding both on the bird and on the bander. So why do it? Because it is the only way to answer many important questions that relate to the biology of the birds and the health of our environment. Do birds return to the same place in winter or in summer or to nest? Do birds follow the same migratory paths in spring as they do in fall, or from year to year? When they migrate do they reach the same area at the same time of year, year after year. How long do birds live? Where do the neotropical migrants spend most of their year? When does each species leave the wintering grounds? How many miles do they travel in a day? week? month? What is the molt sequence for each species and how can that be used to age birds? What is the status of the populations of birds? Are they increasing, declining, or remaining stable? How many different species and in what numbers use a specific habitat? Enough of the questions. Now for some of the answers.

A Red-tailed Hawk was captured 12 Nov 1994 in New Jersey. The band number was sent to the Bird Banding Lab and the return data showed that this bird was banded 21 Oct 1972 as an adult. It was at least 23 years old! House Finch populations showed a gradual increase, peaking sharply in the mid-1980s and have experienced a rapid decline since. The first record of an Allen's Hummingbird east of Louisiana was of a bird that flew into a mist net in Massachuseffs. A banded Tree Swallow successfully raised a second brood after failure of the first. A female Great Horned Owl was found 28 years 7 months after being banded. How many mousers did she raise in that time? A Common Grackle killed and ate 39 small passerines from 11 May - 1 June 1992. Sad was an overall decline between 1973 and 1988 of winter resident warblers in a Puerto Rican dry forest while the resident species showed only normal fluctuations. Almost 15,000 Swainson's Hawks were banded in North America between 1923 and 1992. Of the 81 returns of birds banded prior to 1955, 60 died from gunshot. Of the 421 returns of birds banded after 1955, 60 died from gunshot. Let's call this progress.

Thousands of banders rely on the general public for voluntarily reporting any marked birds. If you see a tagged, sprayed or collared bird(s) please write a letter to the USF&W, Washington, D.C. and give all the details of the sighting such as when and where (be as specific as possible), numbers and colors, how many, behavior, etc. If you find a dead bird remove the band and send it taped to a piece of stiff cardboard to the above address including the same information. If you don't want to remove the band you can try to read the number (9 small digits) and copy it carefully (or call us). A one digit error ruins all your effort as the wrong information will be returned to you and passed on to the bander. You will receive a certificate of appreciation with information on what the species was, where and when the bird was banded, the age and sex if determined and any other pertinent information. Over one million birds are marked in the U.S. and Canada every year. Hopefully you will be one of the lucky ones to find one and add another piece to the scientific puzzle.

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