[Originally appeared in the Sierra Wave newsletter, Vol. 25, No. 3, Jan-Feb 2007 – click here for original with photos]
While the glorious fall colors took away peoples breath, the amazing parade of rare bird species that graced Inyo County this Fall made birders breathless as they ran or drove from one to the other. Seven species found are so rare in the State that all the pictures and documentation observers submitted are on their way to the California Bird Records Committee for review. Only the 2nd Inyo record of a Wood Thrush occurred 27 Aug when Bill Deppe found one at Crystal Spring, just southeast of China Ranch in the corner of Inyo county. It lost its tail and had to remain until it molted a new one before departing. It was last seen 10 Oct by Guy McCaskie. A Common Grackle, very uncommon in the West, made a brief and memorable stop in Tom & Jo Heindels backyard on 31 Aug. These two excellent birds were forecasting a fabulous Fall but not until hindsight focused were they recognized as harbingers of a Fall to remember.
A Harris’s Hawk, usually seen in Mexico and southern AZ, NM, and TX, was found 25 Sep on Sunland Indian Reservation Road by Douglas Dunaway. Sadly, the bird had a band on its left leg indicating that it was a captive bird and will not be accepted as naturally occurring here. What a tale it could tell regarding how it got to Bishop! An Upland Sandpiper was found near Bishop by Carolyn Gann and Larry Nahm on 1 Oct just southeast of the sewer ponds. They did everything right by calling all the local birders and writing their descriptions before looking in a book. There are 6 records for Inyo but all are in spring. If accepted by the Committee it will be the first fall record for Inyo. What is fascinating about this record is that the State has only one record after Sep, a late Oct bird, so this shines a little more light on the timing of the Upland movement. The very next day, 2 Oct, Justin Hite saw a strange small bird poking in the leaf litter at Scottys Castle, DVNP. The bird teased him with bits and pieces but Justin finally got the look he needed of this walking, yellow and olive, ground-loving warblera Connecticut Warbler! There are only three Inyo records, all on 22 Sep in different years! While the State has almost 90 records they are predominantly from the coast and Southeast Farallon Island with only a few inland records in Inyo and Kern Counties. Less than two weeks later, 13 Oct, Jim Pike found a Yellow-throated Vireo at China Ranch. There were six previous Inyo records but only one was in fall , also on 13 Oct but in 1990 so it wasnt the same bird! On 21 Oct, Bob and Susan Steele found a male Rusty Blackbird at Furnace Creek Ranch. There are 55 Inyo records, all in fall, but declining occurrence nationwide since the late 1980s has resulted in this species being put back on the State Review List.
Those seven species were the rarest of the rare but the list of other rare, but not quite rare enough to require State review was amazing. Vagrants, species whose normal breeding or migratory routes do not include the Eastern Sierra, were out in force. To appreciate the bequest, curl up with your bird book and look at the range maps of the following species: Surf Scoter, Barrows Goldeneye, Sandhill Crane, White-winged Dove, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Least Flycatcher, Vermilion Flycatcher, Eastern Kingbird, Red-eyed Vireo, Tennessee Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Magnolia Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler, Prothonotary Warbler, Clay-colored Sparrow, Lark Bunting, Swamp Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Painted Bunting, Dickcissel, Bobolink, Orchard Oriole, Baltimore Oriole, and Lawrences Goldfinch. All were photographed or very well documented for Inyo County from 1 August through 30 November 2006. This year both plants and birds provided a spectacularly colorful Fall in the Eastern Sierra. How lucky we are to be their beneficiaries!Tags: blackbird, dove, finch, flycatcher, grosbeak, hawk, kingbird, lark, oriole, sandpiper, sparrow, thrush, vireo, warbler, wren