Neotropical migrants are arriving daily and filling birders with excitement. Spring migration, many would argue, is the most anticipated bird event of the year. In part, this may be because it follows what is usually the least exciting season–winter–since so many species depart the eastern Sierra where insect and fruit supplies become scarce and the weather can be less than hospitable.

Kumlien’s Iceland Gull, photo by Chris Howard

That said, this winter was not unexciting! The Winter 2013-14 Inyo County Seasonal Report to North American Birds included almost 50 species that were significant records for the county submitted by almost 30 observers. What follows are the highlights of those highlights starting with the most exciting find of the winter, a Kumlien’s Iceland Gull found by Chris Howard at the Bishop City Park 23 January. Happy New Year!! The bird remained through 29 January and was seen by most local birders with some birders coming from southern CA to enjoy the event. Chris followed the protocol to a “T” and called birders immediately and got the word out.

He soon was surrounded by a small crowd with many clicking their cameras recording the gull in every position it took. Models treading the walkway are not blitzed with more flashes than this gull! This species is so rare in the state that the sighting needs to be evaluated by the California Bird Records Committee to determine if it meets this committee’s criteria to be accepted as a state record. One committee member, on seeing all the images and documentation that our local group submitted, commented that this is likely the best documented Iceland Gull in the state! This would be the first Inyo County record if accepted by the CBRC but there is one heck-of-a-mountain to surmount. There are dozens of images showing every mark one would want to view to determine what this bird “really” looked like. The various cameras, settings, lighting, positions, etc. provide almost as complete a picture as a specimen…but not quite. In this case, even DNA might not give us an unequivocal answer. With our lack of understanding of the range of variation of Kumlien’s Iceland and Thayer’sGulls, this bird may have to wait a long time before being given an official name. But for the group who absorbed this experience, the bird transcends its banal name whatever it is, since it was a species that has never occurred here before.

Long-tailed Duck at Owens Lake
Photo by Debbie House

A number of other species were of special note because of their overall rarity or rarity during the winter season. A female Long-tailed Duck, casual in the county, was photographed at Owens Lake 27 January (DJH). A casual species is recorded fewer than seven years per decade. An adult female and an immature female Barrow’s Goldeneyewere found at Pleasant Valley Reservoir 13 December (CBH). This casual pair was refound at the Bishop Sewage Ponds (Waste Water Treatment Plant) the following day (T&JH) where they remained until 16 December. A rare adult Pacific Loon, in basic plumage, was at Klondike Lake 10 December and an hour later, the same or another bird in similar plumage was at Tinemaha Reservoir (TSH).

Sandhill Crane, Furnace Creek Ranch
Photo by Ryan Gallagher

A casually occurring White-tailed Kite was found just south of Big Pine 15 February (C&RH, SLS) and a casual Sandhill Crane was photographed on the edge of the airport at Furnace Creek Ranch, DVNP, 4 December (RCG). One Greater Yellowlegs was recorded at Bishop 6 January (J&DP) when it is casual away from Owens Lake. It was found a day earlier but the original finder submitted no documentation. A Nuttall’s X Downy Woodpecker hybrid female was found in the Independence tree lot 11 February (JTZ) and likelycenterhe same bird reported there 28 October 2013 (KHL). This hybrid pairing is casual.

Vermilion Flycatcher, Independence, photo by Nancy Overholtz

An immature male Vermilion Flycatcher, rare in the Eastern Sierra, was recorded at Independence 22 January (JTZ) and photographed 26 January (NJO). A female Vermilion, photographed at Furnace Creek Ranch 5 January (C&RH) continued there through 27 February at least (T&JH). A rare Pacific Wren was found in Aspendell 26 November (WHM), refound there 20 December (B&SS, NJO), and again 2 January (WHM). Blue-gray Gnatcatcher is a casual species in winter so the two reports were real surprises. One bird was found three miles southwest of Bishop at 6055ft 6 January (WHM) and an amazing group of three birds (one male & two females) was in Redding Canyon, White Mountains 14 February (R&NO).

Curve-billed Thrasher, Starlite, photo by Penny Kehus

The truly amazing Curve-billed Thrasher continued at Starlite throughout the winter period (R&KS, PK, SLS) and is developing quite a resume of images thanks to the watchful eyes and always ready cameras of the residents there. It has accrued 21 months of residency as of this writing. One Black-throated Sparrow, casual in winter, was recorded in Silver Canyon, White Mountains 14 February (SLS) and a rare Swamp Sparrow was found at Furnace Creek Ranch 5 January (C&RH). A rare ‘Pink-sided’ Dark-eyed Junco was reported twice this past winter. One bird was at Round Valley 14 December (JLD) and another was in Big Pine 25 February (T&JH). Although this species is rare, it is recorded annually in very small numbers.

Tricolored Blackbird, Bishop, photo by Chris Howard

Totally unexpected were two Tricolored Blackbirds, not only a casual species but not recorded in the Eastern Sierra in winter. They were photographed in northwest Bishop for a week beginning 11 January with the adult lingering through 13 February (CBH, et al.). And lastly, the first winter record ever of a Hooded Oriole began at Furnace Creek Ranch 18 November (ANMcG, BPK, HSP) and was reported almost weekly through 28 February (T&JH). It bears reminding that no species are reported to North American Birds or discussed in the WAVE unless the species is well documented and/or photographed.

Kudos to the following bird data gatherers who are leaving more than wind-blown rumors of what they saw: [initials alphabetized by first name], ANMcG-A. Naomi McGraw, BPK-Bob Kiernan, B&SS-Bob & Susan (SLS) Steele, C&RH – Chris (CBH) & Rosie Howard, DJH-Debbie House, HSP- Scott Page, J&DP-Jim and Debby Parker, JLD-Jon Dunn, JTZ-Jerry Zatorski, KHL-Kelli Heindel-Levinson, PK-Penny Kehus, RCG-Ryan Gallagher, R&KS-Rick and Karen Scott, R&NO-Ron & Nancy (NJO) Overholtz, T&JH-Tom (TSH) & Jo Heindel, and WHM-Bill Mitchel.

Hooded Oriole, Furnace Creek Ranch, photo by Bob Kiernan

We solicit your help in making each seasonal report more complete so consider submitting reports of interesting and unusual sightings of rare or very rare species, along with documentation and/or images to Information on which birds need extra documentation, and how and when to submit, is on our Inyo Bird Checklist page.

Tom and Jo Heindel have contributed a vast amount of their knowledge to the Wave Newsletter over the years (from 1993 on!). Those articles have been archived for reference, here: Heindel’sarticles and season highlights.

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