Another exciting fall has come and gone and left behind many records of rare and casual species that are always a pleasant surprise. Some birds were early or late fall migrants, some were recorded at higher elevations than expected, and some are just plain rare in Inyo County. The level of evidence for unexpected species is very high and the lengthy bird list attests to the adequacy of written documentation and the volume of photographs submitted to support birders claims.
Several ducks were recorded at new high elevations with two American Wigeon at Lake Sabrina, 2784m/9132ft, 18 Oct (B&SS) and a Surf Scoter at North Lake, 2822m/9255ft, 23 Oct-2 Nov (SLS, et al.) Although the scoter is usually considered rare in the county, six were recorded this fall! Usually missing early in fall migration was a female-plumaged American Wigeon near Bishop 31 July-2 Aug (KLG) and a female Canvasback at Klondike Lake 3 Aug (KLG). A very early basic-plumaged Horned Grebe was at Klondike Lake 12 Sep (T&JH).Owens Lake on 4 Sep hosted an exciting Red Knot and Sanderling (R&NO, et al.) plus slightly more expected but easily missed Baird’s and Pectoral Sandpipers.
Some special gulls were a Sabine’s Gull at Tinemaha Reservoir 16 Sep (R&NO) and 23 Sep (C&RH) as well as a high elevation Herring Gull at Intake #2 on Bishop Creek, 2478m/8127ft, 23 Oct (C&RH, et al.)
Pacific Loons were at Klondike Lake 24 Oct (T&JH) and a high elevation record from Lake Sabrina, 2784m/9132ft, 1 Nov (B&SS) where it continued through 12 Nov (R&NO).Most unexpected was the Zone-tailed Hawk found 2 July at Edward’s Field, Lone Pine, (RDK) that lingered there through 22 July and then disappeared. It was assumed to have departed. Then one Zone-tailed was seen on Bishop Creek canal 10 August (CCM) and was very well-described. It was last seen circling up in a kettle of Turkey Vultures that were migrating south. The huge question was if this was the Edward’s Field bird? Edward’s Field is regularly surveyed by Russell Kokx (RDK) but it wasn’t until 5 September that he saw and photographed a Zone-tailed Hawk back in Edward’s Field! We poured through all the images and finally sent them and the complete story to Peter Pyle, an authority on molt in North American birds. He responded immediately and said that he is absolutely positive that the July and September sightings are of the same bird molting in the expected sequence. He also read Charlie Massieon’s description and said that there was nothing that raised a red flag that it was a second bird. Our policy is that there has to be unequivocal evidence to prove they couldn’t be the same so we are counting the July, August, and September sightings as one bird. As if that isn’t exciting enough…another Zone-tailed Hawk was photographed at Warm Spring, SE end of Death Valley, 31 August (JEP). The images indicate that this wasn’t the Owens Valley bird! Two Short-eared Owls were in the Buttermilk area, 2896m/9500ft, W of Bishop, 2 Nov (B&SS, WHM) establishing a new highest elevation in Inyo.
An almost all white (leucistic) Common Raven was hanging out at the Pearsonville gas station and minimart from 3 Oct (LH, et al.) and is still being seen there.
A Winter Wren was photographed at Crystal Spring 5-7 Nov (TAB, et al) and a Rufous-backed Robin was photographed at Shoshone 8 Nov (SLS, CAM). Both these species are so rare in California, that the state bird records committee will be reviewing the claims to determine if the birds were correctly identified. Spoiler alert!!! Look at the images!!!
Two views of a rare Rufous-backed Robin, photo by Curtis Marantz
Unexpected was a Brown Thrasher reported from Furnace Creek Ranch 26 Oct (RS).As is typical in fall, many rare eastern warblers were visiting. An Ovenbird was at Deep Springs 3 Sep (R&NO, et al.); two Northern Waterthrushes with one at Lone Pine 10 Sep (RDK) and one at Warm Springs, DVNP, 1 Sep (JEP); one Virginia’s Warbler at Warm Springs, DVNP, 7 Sep (JEP); one Magnolia Warbler at Shoshone 1 Oct (C&RH); one Chestnut-sided Warbler in Lone Pine 23 Sep (RDK); and one Palm Warbler in the Bishop City Park 28 Nov (C&RH) that continued through 12 Dec. The two American Redstarts, one at Warm Springs, DVNP, and the other at Shoshone, both 7 Sep (JEP) are an amazing change from the 1970s when up to eight were reported from a single location in Inyo County and this happened multiple times during that decade! Not anymore. White-throated Sparrows were at Furnace Creek Ranch 30 Sep (C&RH) and Lone Pine 19 Nov (RDK). A Summer Tanager was in Birchim Canyon 28 Aug (C&RH) and three Rose-breasted Grosbeaks were reported in Sep, Oct, and Nov (R&NO et al., JEP, SLS). A Painted Bunting was at Shoshone 1 Oct (C&RH) and an Orchard Oriole there 1-2 Oct (C&RH).
All of this bird data was the result of a dedicated group of bird data gatherers. They bird and then they collect evidence of what they find. It is archived forever and we will be grateful for all their energy for at least as long!
B&SS – Bob & Susan (SLS) Steele
CAM – Curtis Marantz
CCM – Charlie Massieon
C&RH – Chris & Rosie Howard
JEP – Jim Pike
KLG – Kimball Garrett
LH – Len Hunter
RDK – Russell Kokx
RS – Roger Sleeper
R&NO – Ron & Nancy Overholtz
TAB – Tom Benson
T&JH – Tom & Jo Heindel
WHM – Bill Mitchel