It is November now, and as we look at the east slope of the Sierra we cannot help but notice that the green riparian in the canyon bottoms is now gold and crimson with touches of maroon. Winter is just around the corner, but what kind will we have this year and what birds will it bring?
Winter is the most unpredictable bird season of all. Some birds would never have been prophesied as potential winter visitors. The White-winged Junco that Debby Parker found near Laws on 22 December 2000 is just such an example. It remained into March 2001 and was seen by all the local birders as well as others who came from far and wide to see only the third record for the State of this Great Plains bird.
The Snow Bunting found at Scottys Castle 14 November 1970 was another amazing visitor. Fortunately for science, one of Californias premier birders, Guy McCaskie, was there to record it and asked a tourist to photograph it and send him the picture. She did and the rest is history.
Other winter birds that are regular visitors are anticipated with avid watchfulness. Tundra Swans arrive with startling regularity the first week of November, but in 1966, 1996 and 1997, the avant-garde were recorded on 22 Oct. Barrows Goldeneye has been recorded about a dozen times in Inyo County and most birds have been found after Thanksgiving although Jon Dunn, of Rovana, found a male at Tinemaha Reservoir on 5 November 1991. Most sightings are from Furnace Creek Ranch, Tinemaha and Pleasant Valley Reservoirs.
Bald Eagles typically arrive in early November, although in 1992 an immature made an early appearance at Tinemaha Reservoir on 8 Oct.
From the far north come Rough-legged Hawks. The 1970s had many more records than the last decade. There were many days when more Rough-leggeds were seen than Red-tailed Hawks! This species typically arrives in the County about mid November but Jon Dunn found one at Furnace Creek Ranch on 27 October 1978. Some winters this beautiful hawk is seen daily in the Owens Valley and other winters it goes virtually unrecorded.
Will this be a Northern Shrike winter? This rare visitor from the far north may occur annually but it is not reported every year. The first sightings usually occur in late November but one was found by Stephen F. Bailey at Big Pine 26 October 1975.
While the colorful Bohemian Waxwing is eagerly anticipated each winter, it usually disappoints birders and is not reported. When they do visit, they are not seen until after mid November. On 13 November 1994, Dave Shuford called at 0835 from Lee Vining to tell us that he had just seen about one hundred Bohemians take off and head due south and wanted to alert us. Four hours later we got a call from Bob Toth in Bishop, who knew nothing about the Early Alert, telling us that he had about 20 Bohemians in his yard!
Will it be an Evening Grosbeak year? In 1990, we had dozens in our yard every day for the entire winter. We were thrilled that we were going to see them each winter of our retirement! It has not happened since.
If ignorance is bliss then winter is the blissful season because we cannot predict what our best birds will be, but there surely will be treasures.Tags: grosbeak, hawk, junco, swan