[Originally appeared in the Sierra Wave newsletter, Vol. 29, No. 1, Sept-Oct 2010 – click here for original with photos]
Our harsh winters are reflected in the few bird species that share the chill with us but the thought that spring will soon come, bringing the migration of birds, warms the cold cockles of our hearts. Birders follow a slightly different calendar than most people. The Spring season is March, April, and May, although some species jump-the-gun, like Cinnamon Teal which typically returns in January and the swallows by February.
Spring can start slowly with fancy birds being reported to the south of Inyo County for the first few weeks, causing the Eastern Sierra birders extreme agitation but by May the exciting gems, vagrants from the East, begin to arrive. A search of past May posts to Eastern Sierra Birds dramatically displays this annual phenomenon. This year the most exciting record was a Black Rosy-Finch that Bob & Susan Steele hosted at their feeders 7 March. They placed calls and posted the information so other birders we able to see the bird before it departed. The documentation and excellent photographs are circulating through the California Bird Records Committee, Record # 2010-022, and if accepted will be the fifteenth State record, all from either Mono or Inyo County.
This was a banner spring for Summer Tanagers with thirteen reported between 7 May and early Jun and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks with eight reported, four photographed, between 18 and 30 May. Greater Scaup, always rare in our area, were photographed at Owens Lake 1 May (C&RH) and 8 May (KHL). After a strenuous hike into Brown Lake on 15 May, six White-tailed Ptarmigan were found and photographed (B&SS). This species was introduced from Colorado into Mono County almost forty years ago and gradually spread south into Inyo County.
Bald Eagles, not expected after April, were reported from Round Valley 10 May (J&DP) and Bishop Creek 28 May (B&SS, WHM, KAD). A Common Moorhen, not at all common in the Eastern Sierra, was at Black Rock 4 Jun (DJH, CEA). A Band-tailed Pigeon, casual on the East Slope, was photographed at Division Creek 19 Apr (C&CE). White-winged Doves, casual visitors from south of here, were at Furnace Creek Ranch 8 May and two more were at Shoshone 23 May, all photographed (CGL). The only Lewis’s Woodpecker was reported at Sage Flat, southwest of Olancha, 8 May (KHL) and Acorn Woodpeckers, away from known occupied areas with oaks, were reported at Birchim Canyon 8 May (J&DP), on Hwy 168 west of Bishop at 6300ft 14 May (B&SS) and Division Creek 16 May where there are oaks (B&SS). Brown-crested Flycatchers, expected at China Ranch in the southeastern point of the county, were unexpected at Mesquite Springs 8 May (CGL) and Scotty’s Castle 29 May (AH) in Death Valley National Park.
For the third year, a singing male Bell’s Vireo returned to Big Pine 14 Apr (TSH) and a Red-eyed Vireo was photographed at Shepherd Creek, northwest of Manzanar 4 Jun (JMH). A male Purple Martin was at Haiwee Reservoir 1 May (ADeM) and was the first record since 2006.
Warblers, the most reliable vagrants, made their spectacular showing throughout May. Although
Virginia’s Warblers are regular breeders in the White Mountains, they are not often seen in migration so the one at Scotty’s Castle 8 May (CGL) was a surprise. Lucy’s Warblers are common in the southeast region of Inyo County but seen behaving territorially in the Panamint Valley 18 Apr (C&RH) and another one near Independence 19 May (JTZ) were unexpected. Three Northern Parula, two photographed, were found near Bishop, all different individuals, between 18 and 31 May (CBG, C&RH, DJH). A very rare in spring Hermit Warbler was photographed at Bishop 6 May (J&DP). Black-and-white Warblers were at Deep Springs photographed 8 May (C&RH) and east of Independence 20 May (DJH). American Redstarts were at Birch Creek 22 May (JEB, SMcL) and Shepherd Creek photographed 4 Jun (JMH). Hooded Warblers, both photographed were at Birchim Canyon 22 Apr (C&CE) and Bishop 24-28 May (J&DP, C&RH).
It was a good spring for Black-chinned Sparrows with eight singing males at Surprise Canyon, Panamint Mountains 17 Apr (C&RH), a single singing male at Division Creek 25 Apr (C&RH) and two-three singing males there 7 May (DJH) with four photographed 16 May (B&SS, ph.). The only Harris’s Sparrow was photographed at Furnace Creek Ranch 18 Mar (J&DP) and a Dark-eyed “Gray-headed” Junco was along Tinemaha Creek 13 Apr (JEB, SMcL). And last, but certainly not least, was an Indigo Bunting photographed at Shepherd Creek 4 Jun (JMH).
We have an excellent picture of what happened Spring 2010 in Inyo County because of all the people cited above. They are an amazing, special group of birders who have fully embraced the concept of citizen scientist and have gone the extra mile to provide evidence to substantiate their claims. The photographic file they provide often exceeds one hundred pictures in spring and for the rarities they can’t photograph, they write detailed descriptions to convince others, and others not-yet-born, that their claim is credible and could not have been any other species.
Our respect, admiration, and gratitude go to: Al DeMartini (ADeM), Andrew Howe (AH), Bill Mitchel (WHM), Bob & Susan Steele (B&SS), Carl Lundblad (CGL), Carolyn Gann (CBG), Chris Allen (CEA), Chris & Rosie Howard (C&RH), Claus & Connie Engelhardt (C&CE), Debbie House (DJH), Jan Bowers (JEB), Jerry Zatorski (JTZ), Jim & Debby Parker (J&DP), Justin Hite (JMH), Kathy Duvall (KAD), Kelli Levinson (KHL), Steve McLaughlin (SMcL) and Tom Heindel (TSH).Tags: dove, finch, flycatcher, grosbeak, junco, owl, pigeon, sparrow, vireo, warbler