One of the wettest winters on record brought three times as much rainfall to Death Valley National Park and almost two times the expected snowfall to the Sierra. It was an interesting winter for birds as well. Many species who regularly winter in the Sierra moved to the lowlands where food was easier to find and other species who are rarely reported in winter occurred.
A Common Loon was at Pleasant Valley Reservoir (PVR) on 29 Jan (SS) and a Horned Grebe was at Tinemaha Reservoir (TR) on 5 Dec (T&JH). American White Pelicans appeared early when three were found at TR on 16 Feb (T&JH). An unexpected and early Turkey Vulture was found 11 Jan at Bishop (J&DP) followed by two more at PVR 29 Jan (SS). The most surprising bird of the winter was an immature male Eurasian Wigeon in the Bishop City Park pond 12 Jan (JZ) that has continued to 16 Apr. One to two Greater Scaup were reported by many observers at PVR and TR throughout the winter.
A very rare White-tailed Kite was found near Laws 5 Feb (AZ) and was seen there again 26 Feb (SS). A Rough-legged Hawk was at Laws 5 Feb (J&DP) and was the only one reported the entire winter. There were days in the 1970s when this species was as abundant as Red-tailed Hawks. Another exciting highlight was a Sandhill Crane found on the Bishop Christmas Count on 18 Dec (M&NP). Birders drove by the alfalfa fields along Sunland, Bishop, and regularly saw the bird until late Feb. A Black-bellied Plover at Bishop Sewer Ponds 19 Feb (J&DP) was three weeks earlier than the earliest record in a century of data.
One to three Herring Gulls were reported at TR throughout the winter. Two Northern Pygmy-Owls were found, one east of Bishop 6 Jan (JZ) and one at Power Plant #4 on 27 Feb (SS). A Costas Hummingbird at Bishop 5-21 Dec (CA) was most unusual and only the second Dec record for the Owens Valley ever. On 9 Feb a male Williamsons Sapsucker was found at Mendenhall Park, Big Pine (T&JH) and an adult male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, a vagrant from the East, was found at the Bishop County Club on 18 Dec (C&RH, JDeM). This was the first ever Dec record and only the third record ever during the winter season. White-headed Woodpeckers are very rare and usually found only occasionally in the Sierra but this winter the numbers on the valley floor were unprecedented. Birds were found at Rovana (JD, SS), Bishop City Park (KD, C&CE, MTH), Bishop Elementary (C&RH), and Independence (LK).
Also unprecedented was a Hammonds Flycatcher at Round Valley 18 Dec (JD, DH) establishing the first winter record for the county. Stellers Jays, Western Scrub-Jays and Mountain Chickadees were widely reported from feeders throughout the Owens Valley and a few Clarks Nutcrackers were found in Bishop (C&RH) and Big Pine (T&JH). Also noteworthy were a White-breasted Nuthatch in Bishop during Dec (C&RH) and a Brown Creeper at Bishop City Park all winter. The Blue-gray Gnatcatcher at TR on 5 Dec (J&DP) was a late bird and a male Wilsons Warbler at Furnace Creek Ranch 19 Dec-2 Jan (V&GW) was the first documented winter record for the county. A Swamp Sparrow in north Bishop 18 Dec (KN) and 2 Jan (J&DP) was one of very few winter records for the Owens Valley. Another surprise was a male Rusty Blackbird at TR 5-7 Dec (T&JH), one of the very few found recently in the county and the first for the Owens Valley.
It is fun to go out into the field and enjoy finding exciting and unexpected birds but it is hard work to document a personal sighting, to ensure its acceptance as a scientific record. We are extremely grateful to the following observers for their contributions to the knowledge of bird distribution this past winter season: Chris Allen, Justin DeMoss, Jon Dunn, Kathy Duvall, Claus and Connie Engelhardt, Matt Heindel, Debbie House, Chris & Rosie Howard, Leah Kirk, Kristie Nelson, Jim & Debby Parker, Mike & Nancy Prather, Susan Steele, Vicki & Gerry Wolfe, Jerry Zatorski, and Andy Zdon.
Spring has sprung and all these observers plus many others are already scouring the county for other surprising and exciting bird finds. If you decide to join us, bring, along with your binocs, a camera and/or pen and paper to document your finds. Become a part of the growing body of citizen scientists who are making significant contributions to the knowledge of the status and distribution of birds in Inyo County.Tags: blackbird, flycatcher, gnatcatcher, grebe, gulls, hawk, hummingbird, lark, loon, owl, pelican, plover, sparrow, vulture, warbler