Some 400 species of birds have been reliably documented in Inyo County. Of these, twenty-three have been recorded just once and an additional eleven have been recorded twice. These thirty-four species comprise 8.5% of the total county list.
A few of these very rare species will undoubtedly occur again and, in fact, we wonder why more have not been found. Examples of expected rarities might include Glaucous-winged Gull, Pine Grosbeak and Cordilleran Flycatcher (recently separated from Western Flycatcher). But a number of these very rare species may never be seen in Inyo again. We have chosen ten as examples of the rarest of the rare.
Magnificient Frigatebird: On 8 April 1988 Gary & Joan Fellers drove near Stovepipe Wells, Death Valley National Park, and spied an immature flying into a strong headwind. This species is normally found in the warm seas of tropical latitudes. This individual probably wandered up the Gulf of California, overland to the Salton Sea where many have been found and then north to Inyo.
Garganey: Jon Dunn found this Eurasian duck at Furnace Creek Ranch, Death Valley National Park, on 12 October 1990. It remained until 1 November 1990 and was seen by many observers. What route it took is beyond speculation!
Glaucous Gull: This species normally summers in the high arctic and during the winter it is rare along the coast and very rarely wanders inland. Inyo County’s only record was an adult at Tinemaha Reservoir 23-25 December 1990 found by Matt HeindeI.
Broad-billed Hummingbird: This Mexican species, found as far north as southeast Arizona, was seen by Marge Irwin at Lone Pine Campground 12-14 September 1992. Fortunate for those able to see it, it was enticed to a feeder by Marge who recognized it from her trips to Arizona and quickly got the word out.
Thick-billed Kingbird: Mark Stacy, a high school student, was visiting his aunt in Lone Pine for Christmas, when he went for a bird walk near the north end of town. He first heard, then saw this Mexican kingbird, made drawings, wrote a description and then started putting the word out. He also recognized it from his trips to southeast Arizona where it barely occurs. It was present from 24 December 1991 until 1 April 1992 surviving temperatures in the teens. Maybe this was a thick-skinned bird as well!
Blue Jay: This eastern jay was photographed by an eastern tourist, Susan D’Vincent, as she arrived at Panamint City on 24 October 1973. She was surprised to see it as she thought these were only found back “home”. How fortunate Inyo is that she was aware of its rareness, photographed it and sent it to the California Bird Records Committee where it was accepted! Rufous-backed Robin: This west Mexican robin was found at Furnace Creek Ranch, DVNP, on 5 November 1983 by Richard Webster. Occasionally they wander in winter to southeast Arizona but what caused this individual to continue north is unknown.
Louisiana Waterthrush: This eastern ground warbler is rarely found anywhere in California but Jon Dunn found one at Deep Springs on 7 August 1985. Many Northern Waterthrushes are misidentified as Louisianas, so all the field marks must be checked. One Northern found near Bishop 7 August 1986 was more likely a misidentified Louisiana because the timing is when you would expect a Louisiana; Northerns pass through at the end of August.
Varied Bunting: This beautiful bunting is normally found in Mexico and along the southern US border. California has several records but Inyo’s only record occurred when Donna Dittman found an individual at Mesquite Springs, DVNP, on 18 November 1977. All those who made the mad dash were grateful it stayed until the twenty-first!
Streak-backed Oriole: This colorful Mexican and Central American species was found by Jon Dunn at Furnace Creek Ranch, DVNP, on 6 November 1977. Most of California’s active birding community was able to make the trip and see this bird as it lingered until 11 December 1977.
So what lessons can we learn from these few examples? First, it would appear that almost anything is possible. Keep in mind that all the above species are migratory and that would seem to be a prerequisite. Birds that don’t move around are not likely to show up here.
Second, the populations from which these birds originated are from Mexico, eastern US or far to the north. Therefore, no one factor, such as wind, can account for their appearance. Note that three of the ten records were found by one person, Jon Dunn. He is the editor of the National Geographic Society’s guide to the Birds of North America. He is a highly disciplined, very hard working field observer who is a master at documenting what he sees. He regularly carries a camera and is frequently able to document photographically what he sees. He is also great at communicating his discoveries to the active birding community so that others are able to confirm his findings. One of Jon’s passions is finding rare birds and he is excellent at it. We can all learn from and follow the example he provides.Tags: duck, flycatcher, grosbeak, gulls, hummingbird, kingbird, oriole, robin, thrush, warbler