[Originally appeared in the Sierra Wave newsletter, Vol. 27, No. 3, Jan-Feb 2009 – click here for original with photos]

Barrow’s Goldeneye, Photo by Jim Pike

“Wow, I wouldn’t have put that bird on the list of what I would see today!”

“Me either!”

This conversation is repeated every season and is much of the stimulus responsible for making people want to go birding. After a time, birders know what species to expect, where to go, and what numbers are considered normal. Finding the unexpected provides the rush of choice for many. Fall 2008 did not disappoint.

Lapland Longspur, Photo by Kelli Levinson

Most of the records came from two general areas: water and oases. Luckily for Inyo County birds and birders, there are many of both habitat types. A casual species is not expected to occur in the county every year and is recorded less than 6.5 years per decade. The following are all casual species and the size of the list of unexpected visitors is staggering.
Birds found at watering holes were a juvenile blue morph Snow Goose and a Thayer’s Gull at Owens Lake (both SLS), a White-winged Scoter at Pleasant Valley Reservoir (BJK), a female Barrow’s Goldeneye at Furnace Creek Ranch (JEP), 2 Franklin’s Gulls, one at Klondike Lake (T&JH) and another at Tinemaha Reservoir (JLD), and a Lapland Longspur at the edge of Owens Lake (KHL, T&JH).

Black-throated Blue Warbler, Photo by Bob Steele

Also casual species but preferring oases were a Hutton’s Vireo at China Ranch (ADeM), a Red-throated Pipit at Shoshone (JEP), and a wealth of warblers. There were 2 Blue-winged Warblers, one at Crystal Springs (JEP, et al.) and the other at China Ranch (SLS). Three Northern Parula Warblers were found, 1 at Birchim Canyon, n. of Bishop (J&DP), 1 at Shoshone (JEP) and 1 at Furnace Creek Ranch (JMH).
A Black-throated Blue Warbler was at China Ranch (SLS), a Blackburnian Warbler in north Bishop (J&DP), a Bay-breasted Warbler in Tecopa (TEW, LLA, SJM), and a Worm-eating Warbler at Furnace Creek Ranch (C&RH).

Blackburnian Warbler
Photo by Debby Parker

Other oasis birds were an Ovenbird at Death Valley Junction (JEP), 2 Grasshopper Sparrows at Furnace Creek Ranch (JLD, C&RH), a Snow Bunting near Emigrant Pass (PJ), and a Baltimore Oriole at Furnace Creek Ranch (JLD, C&RH).

The list of rare species, annually seen in very small numbers (often one bird), was many times the number of casual species. It really was a Fall to remember. The status and distribution of Inyo bird species was greatly enhanced by the efforts of Al DeMartini (ADeM), Barb Kelley (BJK), Chris & Rosie Howard (C&RH), Jim & Debby Parker (J&DP), Jim Pike (JEP), Jon Dunn (JLD), Justin Hite (JMH), Kelli Levinson (KHL), Liga Auzins (LLA), Phil Johnson (PJ), Stephen Myers (SJM), Susan Steele (SLS), and Tom Wurster (TEW). What “Wow!” birds will excite us this Winter?

Bay-breasted Warbler, Photo by Stephen Myers

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