Who among us has not paged through the field guide and said, “Boy, would I love to see that one!” only to see by the map that it resides in far off parts of this terrific country. How great it would be to journey to southeastern United States and see such gems as Painted Buntings and Hooded Warblers! Or travel to the northeast and see Rose-breasted Grosbeaks and Bobolinks! Or go further north yet to the Arctic for such beauties as Red-throated Loons, Pacific Loons, Lapland Longspurs and Tennessee Warblers!

Surprising to most is that you need not travel very far to see these beautiful birds, as all of the above, and many more, were reliably documented right here in Inyo County during the past four months! Why birds don’t do as the books say they do is one of the fascinating mysteries of bird-watching.

Fall migration, defined as August through November, has been very exciting! Three Red-throated Loons appeared during November at Tinemaha & Haiwee Reservoirs and Diaz Lake and were the 4th, 5th, and 6th records ever for the county. A Pacific Loon was at Klondike Lake in late October. Most of these loons were juveniles who obviously were flying “to their own drummer”.

Arguably the most exciting sighting was a Red-necked Grebe at Haiwee Reservoir during November which was seen by many county residents. This was only the second time in history that this beautiful apricot, brown and white grebe was seen here, and the last one was 17 years ago at Stovepipe Wells!

More Cattle Egrets (56) and Greater White-fronted Geese (134) were found than ever recorded on a single day before. At least 3 of the small Ross’ Geese were seen in November. The bright red and buff-headed Eurasian Wigeon is back to winter again at Little Lake. Three Oldsquaw’s, whitish ducks with a dark smudgy ear patch, were at Haiwee 24 Nov for only the 5th record in the county. Both Surf and White-winged Scoters, ducks usually seen in the ocean, were here along with about two dozen striking Hooded Mergansers.

Many will be glad to know that the Bald Eagles, adults and an immature, have returned to Tinemaha and Haiwee Reservoirs. Two rare Northern Goshawks were seen at Whitney Portal and Round Valley and a Peregrine Falcon was at Tinemaha Reservoir from 25 August to 11 September.

Thanksgiving weekend was appropriate timing for 3 great gull sightings at Tinemaha Reservoir. One Herring (7th record), 2 Thayer’s (2nd record) and a never before recorded Glaucous-winged Gull were eventually seen to occupy the same sand spit within 10 feet of each other. All were pale brown immature birds lost in their first winter trip.

A Common Nighthawk, common during summer but usually heading to South America by early September, was lingering over Independence on 29 September and is the latest ever recorded in the entire state! A pretty, salmon-colored female Vermilion Flycatcher spent most of the fall at Furnace Creek Ranch while Eastern Kingbirds, black and white flycatchers with a broad white tail bands, were reported from Tinemaha Reservoir and Stovepipe Wells. Varied Thrushes, striking orange and gray (male), or brown (female) birds, showed up at half a dozen places. In mid-October a bright rusty Brown Thrasher visited Furnace Creek Ranch.

Numerous exciting warblers were reported from all over the county. Best were Tennessee, Northern Parula, Palm, Blackpoll, Black-and-White, American Redstart, Ovenbird, Northern Waterthrush and Hooded Warbler. A look at your bird book will remind you of what they look like and where they belong.

Four Rose-breasted Grosbeaks were reported including one that frequented a feeder in Big Pine the last week of November. Excellent photographs were taken to document this record. There were also multiple records of Indigo and Painted Buntings and Dickcissels, the “little meadowlark.”

The less colorful sparrows were not to be outdone by the warblers as many were out of range. Eight Clay-colored Sparrows were at Furnace Creek Ranch along with three American Tree Sparrows and three Lark Buntings. Flat-headed Grasshopper Sparrows, gray and ochre-faced Le Conte’s Sparrows, rusty-winged Swamp Sparrows, White-throated Sparrows and black-bibbed Harris’ Sparrows were throughout the county, many at backyard feeding stations. All three longspurs were recorded with many Chestnut-collared, one Lapland and one very rare McCown’s in the county. Several Bobolinks and Rusty Blackbirds were also reported.

Fall migration is now history, and we look forward to the exciting events winter will bring. Today, while writing this article, we received an early morning call from Dave Shuford, ornithologist from Point Reyes Bird Observatory, who said he’d just seen 100 Bohemian Waxwings flying south over Lee Vining. Four hours later we received a call from Bob Toth of Bishop; he’d just heard and seen 15-25 in the tree in his yard and perfectly described the cinnamon undertail coverts and unique wing pattern. What a great early warning system! Keep looking up!

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