Black Vulture, a first for Inyo County
photo by Jon Dunn

In the Eastern Sierra, fall migration is first noted by mid June when female Wilson’s Phalaropes reappear after turning over parental duties to the males and moving towards their wintering grounds. Confirmation of the impending arrival of fall is further indicated by late June when the first shorebirds and Rufous Hummingbirds return. Although fall migration can extend from June to January, the time designated as fall in North American Birds is 1 August to 30 November.

This was yet another exciting fall migration period for the Eastern Sierra. At the top of the list were four species considered so rare in the state that their acceptance must be reviewed by the California Bird Records Committee. All were well photographed making the reviews a little easier. First was a Black Vulture, a first record for Inyo County and 5th record for the state, if accepted by the Committee. Jon Dunn saw the bird 5 August soaring with Turkey Vultures over Hwy 395 just north of Lone Pine. He immediately began calling locals and taking images of the bird soaring directly over his head. A number of birders headed to Lone Pine and spent hours, then a couple of days, without relocating the bird.

Eastern Wood-Pewee, photo by Tom Heindel

Next was an Eastern Wood-Pewee that Jim & Debby Parker discovered in Birchim Canyon 22 October. Because Eastern and Western Wood-Pewees are incredibly difficult to distinguish, the Parkers were appropriately cautious. They notified local birders and began compiling a photographic inventory all the while listening for the clinching, characteristic call. It was not until they heard the bird that they claimed an Eastern Wood-Pewee. The bird remained to 26 October allowing most observers to learn the fine details from Jon Dunn on why it was an Eastern Wood-Pewee and some were treated to hearing it call. If accepted by the Committee, this will be the first Inyo County record and the 12th for California.

The final two CBRC review listed species were from the southeast tip of Inyo County in Shoshone. A Wood Thrush came to the pond in Len Warren’s yard on 25 October and lingered to 8 November allowing a large number of birders the opportunity to add another tick to their Inyo County list. Len took images from the first look and got the word out.If the bird is accepted by the Committee it will be the third record for Inyo County and the 27th for California.

Wood Thrush, Shoshone, photo by Curtis Marantz

Before the Wood Thrush departed, Len found a Dusky-capped Flycatcher in his yard 5 November. He took video and stills and got the word out but the flycatcher was not re-found. If accepted by the Committee, this will be the fourth record for Inyo County and the 85th for California. This event is a perfect example of why it is crucial to collect evidence to support a claim of an unexpected species. Len is well-known to the Inyo County birding community but only to a few people outside the county. A single observer of a bird species that is not an easy identification, and is not re-found by others, is a difficult record to evaluate. With unequivocal images, Len proved to all, currently and in a century, that a Dusky-capped Flycatcher occurred at this location on this date.

Least Flycatcher
photo by Debby Parker

The highlights didn’t stop with these mega-highlights! The southeast corner of the county garnered almost half of the “fancy” species with Furnace Creek Ranch hosting a Horned Grebe (KB), White-winged Dove (JLD), Ruddy Ground-Dove (JLD, C&RH), American Tree Sparrow (KB), Grasshopper Sparrow (CAM, C&RH), and Swamp Sparrow (CAM).Shoshone came in second with Northern Waterthrush (LSW), Northern Parula (LSW), Magnolia Warbler (C&RH), and Black-throated Blue Warbler (C&RH), while Tecopa had Red-eyed Vireo (CAM) and Hooded Merganser (CAM), and China Ranch a Palm Warbler (C&RH).

The Bishop area served to help balance the county’s fall records with Birchim Canyon adding Tennessee Warbler (J&DP), Chestnut-sided Warbler (J&DP), and Summer Tanager (J&DP), and Round Valley gave up a Least Flycatcher (J&DP). Owens Valley’s watering holes, Tinemaha Reservoir and Owens Lake, yielded Arctic Tern (JLD), American Golden-Plover (KH-L), Sanderlings (JLD, KH-L), Semipalmated Sandpiper (JLD), and Sabine’s Gulls (KH-L).

Saline Valley reminded birders that it is worth visiting by adding an immature Northern Goshawk, American Redstart, Clay-colored Sparrow, and White-throated Sparrow, all reported by REM.

Photo by Debbie House

Some species were discovered throughout the county with Clay-colored Sparrows at Round Valley (JLD), Saline Valley (REM), and two at Furnace Creek Ranch (JLD, C&RH); Lark Buntings at Round Valley (JLD, DJH) and Furnace Creek Ranch (C&RH); Vermilion Flycatchers at Bishop City Park ((LR), C&RH) and Death Valley Junction (C&RH); Dickcissels at Round Valley (JLD) and Furnace Creek Ranch (C&RH); Bobolinks at Pleasant Valley Reservoir (DJH) and Furnace Creek Ranch (JLD); Lawrence’s Goldfinch at Deep Springs College (C&RH) and Shoshone (ADeM); and Indigo Buntings were everywhere!

American Golden Plover
photo by Jo Heindel

The fall seasonal report is more complete because of the extraordinary effort that the following observers gave to validate sightings. Of the 65 species submitted to the editors of North American Birds in the Fall Report, 36 were supported with photographs! Our public and personal gratitude goes to: KB-Ken Burton, ADeM-Al DeMartini, JLD-Jon Dunn, KH-L-Kelli Levinson, DJH-Debbie House, C&RH-Chris & Rosie Howard, CAM-Curtis Marantz, REM-Bob Maurer, Jr., J&DP-Jim & Debby Parker, LR-Lynette Royce, and LSW-Len Warren, plus many others not cited in this article.

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Focusing on birds, other wildlife and their habitats.