The winter of 1999-2000 has been a relatively mild one east of the Sierra. It has also been a relatively dry season with late storms leaving the area with below normal precipitation levels but not the disaster predicted by some. Winter is ornithologically our most unpredictable season, and we are never able to say which northern visitors will arrive and in what numbers. It would be easy to try to correlate winter bird distribution to the weather, but the formula is far more complex than that. ROUGH-LEGGED HAWKS appeared in Nov, and a few were found throughout the period. One particularly interesting bird, a rare dark morph individual, was found by Jon Dunn at Fish Springs in late Nov and was seen almost every day on the same telephone pole until mid Jan. A few remained into Mar before returning to the Arctic where they breed. NORTHERN SHRIKE, another winter visitor from the far north went unrecorded. One was reported from near Lake Isabella, Kern County, but none from Inyo. They are expected in very small numbers about 75% of the winters in our area. A GREAT EGRET, found by John & Ros Gorham on the Bishop Christmas Count, apparently wintered as there were reports of this bird through Feb. They are unrecorded most winters so this was a treat. Unprecedented was a SNOWY EGRET, found by Phill Kiddoo, at Furnace Creek Ranch 2 Feb and later seen there 18-20 Feb by Chris Howard. The earliest spring migrant is 26 Mar 1991 at the Bishop Sewer Ponds. This was an amazing discovery, and Phill and Chris are to be commended for documenting this sighting well enough that it is now considered a scientific record. ROSSS GEESE put in a spectacular showing with birds all through the season remaining into spring later than ever before. Jim & Debby Parker found an amazing flock of 23 at the Bishop Sewer Ponds in Mar increasing the county maxima from eight! TUNDRA SWANS were present in very small numbers from 29 Nov until 10 Jan which is the earliest departure in recent history. A WHITE-TAILED KITE was found 29 Jan at Klondike Lake and reports indicated a pair were in north Bishop by mid Feb. At least one has been seen regularly north of Hwy 395 near Brockman Lane and the hope is that the other is incubating. If you are lucky enough to see it/them please keep your distance so as not to make them decide to breed elsewhere. This species has tried on a couple of other occasions to breed in the Owens Valley and has not yet been successful. One to two BALD EAGLES remained at Tinemaha Reservoir throughout the winter and a few sub-adults persisted into Apr at Crowley Lake. Very rare in winter was an immature PEREGRINE FALCON at Tinemaha Reservoir 24 Dec, and an adult was found at Klondike Lake 10 Jan by Bob Maurer (Bird Bob of Saline Valley). A rarely reported SHORT-EARED OWL was found by Chris Howard in northwest Bishop 11 Feb. It was reported periodically into late Mar. Because of its crepuscular habits this species may occur more regularly than the reports suggest. A SWAMP SPARROW was at Furnace Creek Ranch 29 Jan (Jon Dunn) and 20 Feb (Chris Howard) as was a WHITE-THROATED SPARROW. These are regular winter visitors but in very small numbers and almost all are from Death Valley. The last report of the NORTHERN CARDINAL at China Ranch, near Tecopa, was in late Feb, and by all accounts the bird was doing well. Finally, a GRAY FLYCATCHER was first reported at Thanksgiving at Furnace Creek Ranch by Guy McCaskie. It was reported each month since then through Feb and is the first recent winter record which is extremely unusual for a bird that usually spends its winter in the land of cerveza and frijoles. Each season brings us nuggets of excitement, and this winter was no exception. Spring migration is well underway and will, no doubt, bring a few more. Get your binocs and go out panning as you may very well find the bird of the season!

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