Birdwatchers always look forward to migration when birds move north in spring to their breeding areas and south in fall to wintering grounds. Each migration brings the unexpected. This fall was an exceptionally exciting one.

Four species found in Inyo this fall are so rare in California that the observers’ documentation must be sent to the Rare Birds Committee (CBRC) for review by ten members to determine if the report rises to the level of a scientific record. A Pine Warbler, 3rd record for Inyo, was photographed at China Ranch 16 October by Steven Myers. A Worm-eating Warbler, Inyo’s 6th record, was found at Millpond 9 November by Claus Engelhardt and Bill Mitchel. It was seen by many local birders and photographed. A Black Rosy-Finch was found at Aspendell 14 November by Susan Steele of Ridgecrest and seen again at the same feeder 18 November by local ornithologist and author Jon Dunn of Rovana. This is the 2nd Inyo record since the species was split from Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch a few years ago. There are prior records for the county but this species is not of annual occurrence. A Painted Bunting was photographed at China Ranch 2 October by Jim Pike. The county has nearly ten records and the state is close to one hundred. The Committee is discussing the removal of this species from the state review list in the future.

A number of other species that are found more regularly in the state but very rarely in the county were reported this fall. A Stilt Sandpiper, 6th county record, was photographed at Klondike Lake on 30 August by Tom Heindel. A Ruddy Turnstone was photographed at Owens Lake on 9 August by Mike Prather. There are fewer than ten county records for the turnstone. A Common Moorhen was found at Deep Springs College on 9 October by Susan Steele. This species is not reported every year. Three Sanderlings and two to three Semipalmated Sandpipers were found at Tinemaha Reservoir and Owens Lake. As identification skills are increasing these two species are being reported more often than in past decades. A juvenile Sabine’s Gull found by Susan Steele was photographed at Furnace Creek Ranch 2 October. That was only the 2nd documented record for that location. That same day Susan found a Ruddy Ground-Dove at the Ranch and it was photographed by husband Bob Steele. A Short-eared Owl was found and photographed by Tom Heindel at Klondike Lake on 9 November. Debby Parker found, photographed, and extensively documented a Calliope Hummingbird at her feeder as late as 9 October. While this species breeds here, it is astounding that one was still around then and it may be the latest record ever for the state!

A Varied Thrush was found by Vicki and Gerry Wolfe, from Death Valley, at Furnace Creek Ranch on 3 October, which is a couple of weeks earlier than they normally appear in the eastern Sierra.

Other species departed later than expected. Andrew Kirk found a Western Kingbird near the Bishop golf course on 2 November, almost a month later than the previous late date. Jim and Debby Parker found a Warbling Vireo 5 November near Bishop 18 days later than the late record. There were three Gray Catbirds this fall but the one found by Tom Wurster and Liga Auzins, southern CA birders, at Furnace Creek Ranch 21 November was a couple of weeks later than the latest record. A male Rusty Blackbird found 5 December by Tom Heindel at Tinemaha Reservoir remained for three days. This species has become increasingly rare and this is the first record for the Owens Valley.

An amazing four hybrid Ladder-backed X Nuttall’s Woodpeckers were found and well documented. The Owens Valley is one of the few locations where these two similar species occur. The Nuttall’s occupies the willow riparian along the Owens River and creeks. The Ladder-backed prefers the drier Joshua Tree habitat. The birders observed the seven distinguishing characteristics and noted that their bird had conflicting marks, that is, it shared genes of both species. Two White-headed Woodpeckers, normally found high in the mountains, were on the valley floor. A Vermilion Flycatcher, normally found in the Death Valley area, remained at the Bishop Sewer Pond for at least a month. An Eastern Kingbird, a vagrant from back east, was found at Blackrock on 30 August by Chris and Rosie Howard.

The warbler list was amazing and filled with vagrants from the east: Northern Parula, Chestnut-sided, Magnolia, Black-throated Blue, Black-throated Green, Pine, Worm-eating, two Palm, two Bay-breasted, two American Redstarts, and three Northern Waterthrushes. It was a glorious fall and one that will not be soon forgotten by those who saw the rara aves.

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