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Cape May Warbler,
Birchim Canyon,
Photo by Nancy Overholtz

Each season brings surprises, questions, concerns, and disappointments and this past spring was no exception. We enjoyed some major surprises with species showing up that hadn’t been recorded in decades and some major disappointments with what did not show up.

A Cape May Warbler at Birchim Canyon 14 May (J&DP, BJK) was seen by many and documented with digital images and video. Only two Cape May Warblers have been seen since 1978 with one in 1991 and the other in 1996. Two days later a male Canada Warbler was documented in Saline Valley (ADeM). This is only the second record in Inyo County in the last 20 years. A male Golden-winged Warbler was in Birchim Canyon 2 June (J&DP) and was seen by many birders and well documented. This is only the second record in the county since 1979. A Common Grackle (inappropriate name in the West!) visited a Big Pine yard 4 June, remained briefly but long enough for images to be taken (T&JH). The Golden-winged Warbler and Common Grackle are so rare in the state that the California Bird Records Committee will review the sightings and we await their decision.

Golden-winged Warbler,
Photo by Debby Parker

The surprising disappointments were that our expected eastern vagrants, species that wander out West regularly, went unrecorded. American Redstart, which in the 1970s had multiple daily counts of eight birds at one location on one day by one party, was not detected until after the spring season ended. Northern Waterthrush was not observed at all and Black-and-white Warbler failed to appear until the summer season arrived. We recall a trip to Texas in 1994 when we had Indigo Buntings everywhere. The Laguna Atascosa Wildlife Refuge manager told us that he had never seen anything like it in the decades he had worked there. When we got to Louisiana State University, we told the story to the curator of ornithology, Dr. J.V. Remsen and he was relieved, noting that they had almost none that spring. The great unknown is what causes these changes, are they permanent or just an oscillation, or the result of other unknown events.

Plumbeous Vireo,
China Ranch,
Photo by Dwight Porter

Other very rare or casual species recorded this spring were a photographed Chestnut-sided Warbler at Taboose Creek 22–23 May (J&DP), a photographed Least Flycatcher at Independence 29 May (DAB et al.) and a photographed Ovenbird the same day and place (DAB), a well described Common Moorhen at Tinemaha Reservoir (JMcK) and another individual photographed at Furnace Creek Ranch 29 May (C&RH), a photographed California Towhee northwest of Big Pine 23 May (J&DP), a female Bronzed Cowbird photographed at Shoshone 14 May (LSW, MHH), a well described male Baltimore Oriole at Birch Creek 9–12 May (JEB, SMcL), a photographed White-winged Dove in Bishop 4 June (CBH) and a first wintering record of a Plumbeous Vireo photographed at China Ranch 7 March –1 April (DSP, TSH).

Multiple Lawrence’s Goldfinches were reported from Little Lake (DBW), Independence (J&DP et al.), and Bishop (C&RH) and all sightings were photographed. Exciting was the discovery of a Vermilion Flycatcher family photographed at Furnace Creek Ranch 29 May (C&RH). This was the first documented breeding record for Death Valley National Park and only the second breeding record for Inyo County.

Chestnut-sided Warbler, Taboose Creek
Photo by Rosie Howard

Twenty-seven Swainson’s Hawks, reported near Laws 3 April (J&DP), were the only large flock reported in the county since a flock of 34 birds was discovered near Big Pine 19 June–4 July 1991. After a five-year absence, Cassin’s Kingbirds were once again nest building at Deep Springs College 14 May (C&RH). More than a dash of color was added with nine Summer Tanagers (Aspendell to Amargosa Canyon) and one well-described male Rose-breasted Grosbeak at Birch Creek 21 May (JEB, SMcL) rounding out a spectacular spring.

Again, our kudos and respect to this special cadre of birders who enjoy the challenge of providing enough evidence of their claims to turn personal sightings into reliable county records.

ADeM – Al DeMartini
BJK – Barb Kelley
C&RH – Chris (CBH) & Rosie Howard
DAB – David Bell
DBW – Doris Wartman
JEB – Jan Bowers
JMcK – JoAnne McKenzie
J&DP – Jim and Debby Parker
LSW – Len Warren
SMcL – Steve McLaughlin
T&JH – Tom (TSH) & Jo Heindel

Vermillion Flycatcher “family photo,” Furnace Creek, Photo by Chris Howard

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