Little Stint, photo by Jon Dunn

Some Falls can be a little slow and others can be exciting but sometimes a flood of rare species arrive inundating the record books. This season accumulated a list of highlights so lengthy that this article will only deal with the crème de la crème.

The two rarest avian visitors to Inyo County are so rare in California that the sightings must undergo review by the California Bird Records Committee to determine if there is enough evidence to convince a large majority of members that the observer(s) couldn’t be wrong. Photographs or images can make the Committee’s discussion fairly short and while both species were difficult birds to photograph, identifiable record shots were taken. An adult Little Stint was found at Owens Lake on 6 August by JLD*[photographers listed at end of article]. This is the second record for Inyo County; the first was found at Owens Lake on 29 August 2009 by CBH and JLD. This species breeds from Scandinavia to Siberia and most birds winter in southern Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and the Indian subcontinent with a few reaching Southeast Asia. Lost birds have been recorded to North Dakota and New Mexico! There are eleven State records with adults found primarily July to August and first-fall birds from September to November (Rare Birds of California 2007). This species is difficult to identify and the fact that the Committee has not accepted more sightings than it has accepted attests to that. All accepted records were photographed except one and that was validated by a specimen.

Golden-winged Warbler, Photo by Jo Heindel

An immature male Golden-winged Warbler was found at Diaz Lake 23 Oct by KHL and JAH and it was seen and photographed there the following day. This is the eighth County record ending a three decade drought since the previous seven birds were recorded between 1974-1979! This species breeds from southern Manitoba and northern Minnesota east and south to western North Carolina. Most birds winter from southern Mexico to northern South America along the Atlantic slope with strays recorded west to WA, OR, and Baja CA, south to Ecuador, and east to Great Britain (Rare Birds of California 2007). There are 72 State records with 51.5% in fall, 41.5% in spring, and 7% in winter. Inyo County’s records are evenly distributed with four in spring and four in fall.

Sprague’s Pipit, Photo by Chris Howard

A Sprague’s Pipit was photographed at Stovepipe Wells 2 Oct (CBH, RCH) for the 5th County record with all occurring in October. Two Western Gulls were seen and photographed at Owens Lake 17 Nov (RJS, SLS) representing the 6th County record. The previous five records were during this last decade, 2000-2009 with three in fall (late Aug-late Oct) and two in spring (late Mar-late May). Adults have been recorded primarily in spring and early fall while immatures usually occur in Sep and Oct. An immature male Canada Warbler was photographed at Birchim Canyon 22-23 Sep (JRP, DAP, SKB, CBH, RCH) for the 7th County record, all evenly distributed in spring (late May-mid Jun) and fall (early-late Sep). Stilt Sandpiper was recorded at Owens Lake 21 Aug (JLD, RJS, SLS, CBH, RCH) and 29 Aug (RJS, SLS); it is problematic if it was the same individual. There are eight previous records for County with all found in the Owens Valley except the two recorded at Furnace Creek Ranch; only two records occurred in spring (late May) whereas there are seven in fall (late Aug to mid Sep). A Scarlet Tanager was photographed at Birchim Canyon on 25 October (JRP, DAP), which is the tenth County record and the seventh in fall (mid Oct-mid Nov).

Red Knot on Owens Lake. Photo ©Bob Steele (all rights reserved)

A Red Knot was seen and photographed at Owens Lake on 19 Sep (RJS, SLS) for the 11th County record with nine records occurring in fall (late Aug-late Oct). A Kentucky Warbler was photographed in Deep Springs Valley 12 October (RJS, SLS, NJO) also for the 11th County record but only the second record in fall. Three juvenile Ruddy Turnstones were photographed at Owens Lake 21 Aug (RJS, SLS, SKB, CBH, RCH) for the 14th County record, all but four records occurring in fall (late Jul-late Sep). An immature female Eurasian Wigeon, photographed at Bishop City Park 27 Nov through 15 Dec (JLD, DVP, JRP, DAP, LH, TSH, JAH), is the 20th County record with a time span from mid Oct to mid May. An Eastern Phoebe was photographed at Diaz Lake 27 Oct (TSH) for the 22nd County record; all birds have been found from mid Oct to late May. An immature female Orchard Oriole was photographed at China Ranch 11 Sep (CGL, CBH, RCH) for the 27th County record with 17 occurring in fall (mid Aug-mid Nov). Two female Purple Martins were recorded at Owens Lake 17 Sep (REM) for the 29th County record, which are evenly distributed in spring (mid Apr to early Jun) and fall (early Aug to late Sep with an outlier in late Oct).

Gray Catbird, Photo by Debby Parker

Take a deep breath… the list of the best of the best continues: Gray Catbird (38th County record), Grasshopper Sparrow (47th), Ovenbird (49th), Prothonotary Warbler (50th), Pacific Loon (53rd), Surf Scoter (60th), Band-tailed Pigeon (69th), Palm Warbler (72nd), Lawrence’s Goldfinch (77th), Williamson’s Sapsucker (90th), and Ruddy Ground-Dove (100+).

Other species, not particularly rare during their normally occurring seasons, set records by lingering longer than ever before. Two Lesser Yellowlegs, photographed at Owens Lake 13 Nov (KHL) with one bird recorded there 14 Nov (SLS) were the latest ever by three weeks. An immature male Bullock’s Oriole, photographed at Diaz Lake 24 Oct (CBH), was much later than the average departure dates in mid Sep; there are only three later records: 28 Oct, 4 & 20 Dec. Early Bald Eagles usually appear in the County in mid Oct but one was reported at Lake Sabrina 5 Sep (ADK) to set an earliest ever record.

Ovenbird, Birchim Creek, Photo by Debby Parker

Two rare subspecies were recorded: The “zaboria” Red Fox Sparrow was photographed at Birch Creek 26 Nov (J&RG) and the “pink-sided” form of Dark-eyed Junco was noted at Aspendell 30-31 Oct (RJS, SLS). Irruptive species from the mountains, either nearby or northerly, found the lowlands more comfortable and there were numerous reports of Mountain Chickadees, Brown Creepers, and Golden-crowned Kinglets from Birchim Canyon and Bishop.

Lastly is the immature male American Redstart photographed at Birchim Canyon 17-18 Sep (DAP). This sighting has significance in an historical context. The first record for the County is in 1957 and from then through 1969 there were 44 additional records with many of 4-6 birds at one location on one day by one party. During the 1970s there were 122 records added with most records of 1-2 birds, many of 3-4 birds, and single records of 9 & 10 birds both found at Deep Springs College ON ONE DAY by one party! During the 1980s, when coverage took a big dip, there were 44 records added with most reports of single birds, a few of 2-4, and a single high count of 7 birds at Deep Springs College. During the 1990s, when coverage began to increase, there were 77 records added with almost all reports of single birds, a few of two, and a single record of three birds at Deep Springs College. During the 2000s, through 2009, there were 46 records added with all of single birds except one record of 2 birds. Fall reports over the years average 3.3 birds/yr and 2.9 birds/yr in spring but the steady decline since the 1970s has turned this bird from a “ho-hum, is that our 4th or 5th today” to a “WOW” species. Nationwide trends are complex with variations during different time periods and different geographic regions but on a continental scale the population has declined, primarily due to man-caused loss of riparian habitat. This acrobatic dancer and flashy dresser is an unforgettable experience as was Fall 2010 in Inyo County to all those who enjoyed the ride.

Kentucky Warbler, Photo ©“Bob Steele (all rights reserved)

Even with a cursory look at the list, a reader quickly becomes aware that almost all of the County records are substantiated with photographs. The few without are supported with convincingly written documentation. Again, our gratitude to those initialed above for the energy, physical and mental, and the aggressive caution they apply to field ornithology. (Alphabetized by first letter) ADK-Andrew Kirk, CBH-Chris Howard, CGL-Carl Lundblad, DAP-Debby Parker, DJH-Debbie House, DVP-David Vander Pluym, JAH-Jo Heindel, JLD-Jon Dunn, J&RG-John & Ros Gorham, JRP-Jim Parker, KHL-Kelli Levinson, LH-Lauren Harter, NJO-Nancy Overholtz, RCH-Rosie Howard, REM-Bob Maurer, Jr., RJS-Bob Steele, SKB-Steve Brad, SLS-Susan Steele, TSH-Tom Heindel, and WHM-Bill Mitchel. Others who supplied further records for this season and not cited individually above and to whom we are equally indebted are: Jan Bowers, Brian Daniels, Kathy Duvall, Tom Edell, Carolyn Gann, Giar-Ann Kung, Steve McLaughlin, Don Roberts, Connie Spenger, and Len Warren.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

For the benefit of humanity and the earth's biological diversity.