Southern California: Spring 2020

Spring 2020: 1 Mar–31 May

Guy McCaskie

Kimball L. Garrett

Recommended citation:

McCaskie, G., and K. Garrett. 2020. Spring 2020: Southern California. <> North American Birds.

The crescendo of the COVID pandemic through the spring period certainly changed birder behavior, though it isn’t clear how this was reflected in the record of bird sightings. Some key areas were closed to the public—for example, San Clemente Island was essentially uncovered for the first time in a couple of decades, and one of the most important interior wetlands (Piute Ponds on the Edwards Air Force Base in Los Angeles County) was off-limits to birders through the period. More intensive coverage closer to home for many birders paid off with the documentation of some spectacular early morning passerine migrant flights in late April and early May in places like Mount Soledad in La Jolla, San Diego; Bear Divide above Sylmar in the westernmost San Gabriel Mtns.; and several sites on the coastal slope of the Santa Ynez Mtns. in Santa Barbara. Rarity highlights included the region’s fifth Violet-crowned Hummingbird in interior San Diego, second Marsh Sandpiper in the San Joaquin Valley portion of Kern, and sixth Alder Flycatcher on the eastern Kern desert. As the late spring progressed it was clear that there was a significant incursion of southeastern North American broadleaf forest warblers and vireos, a minor echo of the well-known 1992 invasion; White-eyed Vireos, Kentucky Warblers, Northern Parulas, and Hooded Warblers all appeared in greater than average numbers. Red-eyed Vireos also appeared in greater than average numbers, though that was not the case in the 1992 invasion.

Some early arrival dates for key species are detailed here.

Ash-throated Flycatcher: Tijuana R. Valley, San Diego 29 Mar; Brawley, Imperial 8 Apr
Western Kingbird: S. E. S. S. 6 Mar; Lake Murray, San Diego and S. J. W. A. 8 Mar
Olive-sided Flycatcher: Irvine, Orange 4 Apr; Cerro Alto Campground, San Luis Obispo 7 Apr
Western Wood-Pewee: La Jolla and Camp Pendleton, San Diego 11 Apr
Hammond’s Flycatcher: Goleta, Santa Barbara 2 Apr; near Brawley 3 Apr; Chula Vista, San Diego 4 Apr
Gray Flycatcher
: La Jolla, San Diego 14 Apr
Pacific-slope Flycatcher: Mission Trails Regional Park, San Diego 29 Feb; Los Osos, San Luis  Obispo 8 Mar; Brawley 18 Mar
Bell’s Vireo: Sweetwater R., San Diego 6 Mar
Cassin’s Vireo: Montana de Oro, San Luis Obispo 22 Mar; Anza-Borrego Desert State Park 28 Mar
Warbling Vireo: San Diego 4 Mar; Santa Ynez Mtns., Santa Barbara 7 Mar (3)
Bank Swallow: S. E. S. S. 10 Apr (6)
Cliff Swallow: S. E. S. S. 17 Feb
Swainson’s Thrush: San Dieguito County Park, San Diego 15 Apr
Black-chinned Sparrow: Otay Mountain Wilderness Area, San Diego 27 Feb
Yellow-breasted Chat: Tijuana R. Valley, San Diego 3 Apr (2)
Hooded Oriole: Laguna Niguel, Orange 16 Feb; Huntington Beach, Orange 16 Feb
Bullock’s Oriole: La Mesa, San Diego 5 Mar; Atascadero, San Luis Obispo 7 Mar
Scott’s Oriole
: Dulzura, San Diego 19 Feb
Bronzed Cowbird: Niland, Imperial 1 May
Nashville Warbler: Anza Borrego Desert State Park 28 Mar
MacGillivray’s Warbler
: El Centro, Imperial 16 Apr
Yellow Warbler: Santa Maria R. Estuary, Santa Barbara 24 Mar; El Centro 27 Mar
Black-throated Gray Warbler
: Vallecito, San Diego 25 Mar
Townsend’s Warbler: El Centro 24 Apr
Hermit Warbler: Figueroa Mtn., Santa Barbara 3 Apr; Tijuana R. Valley 11 Apr
Wilson’s Warbler: Coon Creek Trail, San Luis Obispo 4 Mar; Vandenberg Air Force Base, Santa Barbara 7 Mar
Western Tanager: Vallecito 25 Mar
Black-headed Grosbeak: Vallecito 17 Mar; Goleta 17 Mar
Blue Grosbeak : Whale Rock Res., San Luis Obispo 16 Apr; Tijuana R. Valley 17 Apr
Lazuli Bunting: near New Cuyama, Santa Barbara 2 Apr

Cited observers (county coordinators in boldface):

Alex Abela, Christopher Adler (CAd), Jim Aichele, Eitan Altman, Chris Aquila (CAq), Gavin Aquila, Diane Baker, Richard Barth, Nick L. Belardes, David Bell, Vern Benhart, Lance Benner, Thomas A. Benson, Tom Boucher, Steve K. Brad, Alice Cahill, Larry and Sasha Cahill (L&SC), Eugene A. Cardiff, Cheryl Carlton, Jay C. Carroll, Robert P. Chapman, Nancy Christensen, Petra and Jack Clayton (P&JC), Kaia Colestock (KaC), David M. Compton (Santa Barbara), Keith Condon (KeC), Daniel S. Cooper, Sammy Cowell, Greg Cross, Art Davenport, Brad D. Dawson, Chris Dean, Nicole Desnoyers, Darren Dowell, Jon L. Dunn, Joseph Dunn, Tom M. Edell (San Luis Obispo), Elias A. Elias, Brian Elliott, Herb D. Elliott, Kathi Ellsworth, Jon S. Feenstra, Jeffrey Fenwick, Brian C. Flick, Laura Frank, Wes T. Fritz, Noah L. Gaines, Kimball L. Garrett (Los Angeles), Peter A. Ginsburg, Tito Gonzalez, David A. Goodward, Jane Griffiths, Mathew A. Grube, Aaron Gyllenhaal, Derek Hameister, Tom & Jo Heindel (Inyo), Kelli K. Heindel (Kern), Rod Higbie (RHig), Adrian Hinkle, Ron Hirst (RHir), David Hogan, Mark A. Holmgren, Debbie J. House, Chris B. Howard, Rosie C. Howard, Y. Mike Huang, Adam K. Jackson, Logan H. Kahle, Deven Kammerichs-Berke, Aaron Keller, Terry J. Kilpatrick, J. R. Kinander, Dan King, Rebecca Kitto, Russell D. Kokx, Alexander E. Koonce (San Bernardino), Carolyn P. Krueger, Kenneth Z. Kurland, Ken and Brenda Kyle (K & BK), Paul E. Lehman, Nick A. Lethaby, Douglas M. Lithgow, Scott Logan, Eric Lutomski, Barry Mantell, Samantha Marois (SMa), Eve Martin, Tanner Martin, Paul Marvin, Charlie C. Massieon, Dan Maxwell, Shannon Mendia (SMe), Guy McCaskie (San Diego and Imperial), Donna McCormick, Chet McGaugh (Riverside), J. McInnis, Robert McKernan, Jimmy McMorran, Jeff K. Miller, Kiandra Mitchell (KMi), Jeff Moore, Kim Moore (KMo), Gary Nunn, Ron and Nancy Overholtz (R&NO), Mackenzie Owen, Scott Page, Jim Pawlicki, Ella P. Pennington, Dave Pereksta (DPe), James E. Pike, Dave Povey (DPo), David Quadhamer, Hugh P. Ranson, William L. Rockey, Kerry Ross, Sean Rowe, Jim S. Royer, Mark Rubke, Brad Rumble, Matt Sadowski, Nancy Salem (NSal), Larry Sansone (LSa), Naresh Satyan (NSat), Rick P. Saval, Robert A. Schallmann (RASn), Mark and Janet Scheel (M&JS), Larry Schmahl (LSc), Peter T. Schneekloth, Roger A. Schoedl (RASl), Adam J. Searcy (Ventura), Jackie Selby (JSe), Razai Shafique-Sabir, Alison M. Sheehey, Dessi E. Sieburth, Brad C. Singer, Jenny Slaughter (JSl), Eric A. Smith, Justyn T. Stahl (San Clemente Island), Susan L. Steele, Kristie Stein (KSt), Jason St. Pierre, Russell Stone, Justin Streit (JSt), Karen Suarez (KSu), Maury L. Swoveland, Ryan S. Terrill, Robert Theriault (RTh), Millie and Pete Thomas (M&PT), Luke Tiller, Steve and Janny Tillman (S&JT), Guy Tingos, Eric Tipton, Robert Trusela (RTr), Becky Turley, Philip Unitt, Javier Vazquez, Todd J. Vogel, Howard R. Walker, Robyn Waayers, Everett Wery, Eric N. Wier, Bobby Wilcox, Mark Wilson, Ryan S. Winkleman (Orange), Loren Wright, Thomas E. Wurster, Callyn Yorke, Catherine Zinsky. Many additional observers who could not be individually acknowledged submitted reports – all have our thanks. Because most rarities in southern California are seen by multiple observers, only the observer(s) initially finding and/or identifying the bird are included.  Documentation for species on the California Bird Records Committee (C.B.R.C.) review list (see is forwarded to the C. B. R. C. and archived at the Western Foundation of Vertebrate Zoology in Camarillo.


B. S. (Butterbredt Spring at the southern end of the Sierra Nevada above Cantil, e. Kern); N. E. S. S. (north end of the Salton Sea, Riverside); P. V. E. R. (Palo Verde Ecological Reserve near Blythe, Riverside); S. E. S. S. (south end of the Salton Sea, Imperial); S. J. W. A. (San Jacinto Wildlife Area near Lakeview, Riverside); V. A. F. B. (Vandenberg Air Force Base in nw. Santa Barbara); V. C. G. P. (Ventura County Game Preserve near Pt. Mugu Naval Air Station, Ventura). Museum collections abbreviated in the text are: SDNHM (San Diego Natural History Museum).

Waterfowl through Hummingbirds

Fewer than the expected number of Brant were found at the Salton Sink, with 30 on Sheldon Reservoir, Imperial 17 Apr (GMcC) and 8 at N. E. S. S. 22 Apr (RMcK) being the largest flocks. Elsewhere inland 9 were on L. Perris, Riverside 17 Mar (GC), and single birds were at the S. J. W. A. 20 Apr–1 Jun (CMcG), Legg Lake in El Monte, Los Angeles 2 Apr (LSc) and at Harper Dry Lake, San Bernardino 20 Apr (SR). The latest of the wintering Eurasian Wigeon was one at the San Diego R. mouth staying to 16 Apr (PEL). Up to 11 Surf Scoters remained at N. E. S. S. through the season (RMcK), but one near Brawley, Imperial 3 Apr (GMcC) and a flock of 7 on L. Murray, San Diego 14 Mar (EA) were the only others reported inland. Two wintering Long-tailed Ducks at Morro Bay, San Luis Obispo remained to the late date of 25 May, with one continuing to 1 Jun (TME); another off Isla Vista, Santa Barbara 6 Apr (NLG) was the only other reported.

A Red-necked Grebe was on San Diego Bay 13–31 Mar (KR) and another was near Point Piedras Blancas, San Luis Obispo 12 Mar (HDE).

Five White-winged Doves reported from the immediate coast between 10 Mar and 27 May were fewer than expected.

A Mexican Whip-poor-will at the upper end of Noble Canyon in the Laguna Mtns. 4–7 May (DH) was only the second ever in San Diego, and another vocalizing at Green Canyon in the San Bernardino Mtns. 20 May+ (AKJ) was at a location where nesting is suspected.

The only migrant Black Swifts were 15 along the coast of San Diego 19–27 May (PEL, JP, TG) and 2 over Oceano San Luis Obispo 21 May (JCC); two at Monkeyface Falls in the San Bernardino Mtns. 21 May (TM) and 3 near Ragged Point, San Luis Obispo 23 May (S & JT) were at known nesting sites. Three Vaux’s Swifts at the Santa Ynez R. Estuary, Santa Barbara 20 Mar (WTF) and three over Goleta 24 Mar (GT) were unprecedentedly early, since the first of the spring migrants do not normally arrive before early April.

Migrant Calliope Hummingbirds were more numerous in the coastal lowlands than expected, with more than 20 in San Diego, at least 20 in Orange, greater than average numbers in Los Angeles, 23 in Santa Barbara and close to 50 in San Luis Obispo, all between 17 Mar and 9 May. A Broad-tailed Hummingbird, exceptionally rare anywhere in California away from known breeding locations in mountains along the extreme eastern edge of the state, was well photographed at Morongo Valley, San Bernardino 12–15 May (DH). A Violet-crowned Hummingbird at De Anza Springs Resort near Jacumba 20–23 May (JSe) provided the eighth record for California and the second for San Diego.

Cranes through Terns

A late staying wintering Sandhill Crane remained at S. E. S. S. (Unit 1) to 29 Mar (GMcC)—most had departed southern California by early March.

Single American Golden-Plovers, rare migrants through California, were inland at S. E. S. S. (Rock Hill) on 17 Apr (GMcC) and on the coast at the V. C. G. P. on 5 May (LSa). Five Pacific Golden-Plovers on San Clemente I. 1 Mar (JTS) had probably wintered locally. However, one in Oceano, San Luis Obispo 16–17 Apr (RPC) and another at Morro Bay, San Luis Obispo 5 May (JSR) were evidently migrants far from known wintering locations.

A Hudsonian Godwit, a casual straggler to California, was at S. E. S. S. (Wister Unit) on 30 May (GMcC). Up to 5 Black Turnstones, rare inland, were at S. E. S. S. (Young Rd) 10–15 May (JTS, GMcC). The only Ruddy Turnstones reported inland were at N. E. S. S. with one at the State Recreation Area 30 Mar–1 Apr (AH), another there 20–26 Apr with four together there on 29 Apr (RMcK). Following the first obvious migrant Red Knots on the Salton Sea at Salt Creek on 11 Mar, numbers along the east shore (Niland Marina to Salt Creek) peaked at 1,000 on 22 Apr (RMcK). A Ruff present at the V. C. G. P. since 21 Aug remained through 28 Mar (LSa), and another at S. E. S. S. (Unit 1) for a second winter since 14 Aug was last seen on 27 Mar (GMcC). Numbers of Sanderlings counted along the east shore of the Salton Sea (Niland Marina to Salt Creek) peaked at 30 on 1 Apr (RMcK). The number of migrant Stilt Sandpipers at S. E. S. S. peaked at 150 at Morton Bay 8 May (GMcC); single birds at the V. C. G. P. on 30 Mar and 16 May (LSa) were the only two reported away from the Salton Sink. A Baird’s Sandpiper, rare in spring, was at the V. C. G. P. on the early date of 9 Mar (LSa) and another was inland at Owens L. 18 Apr (JLD). A Little Stint at the South San Diego Bay N. W. R. 3 Apr (PEL) was believed to be the same bird there 2 Aug–28 Nov, having spent the winter undetected. A Pectoral Sandpiper, also rare in spring, at the V. C. G. P. 25 Mar–11 Apr (LSa) was joined by a second 30–31 Mar (LSa), and a third was at the S. J. W. S. on the late date of 8 Jun (DH). Single Semipalmated Sandpipers, rare in spring, were on the coast at the South San Diego Bay N. W. R. 6 May (PEL) and inland at S. E. S. S. (Morton Bay) 15 May (GMcC). A total of at least 28 Solitary Sandpipers between 10 Apr and 5 May, with 20 of those along the coast, was far more than expected. A Marsh Sandpiper at the Kern N. W. R. 29 Mar (WLR) was the third known to occur in California and the second for the region.

Two Marbled Murrelets off the northern part of V. A. F. B. 17 Mar (MAH) were near the southern limit of this species’ normal range.

A Sabine’s Gull at Big Bear Lake, San Bernardino 21 Mar (BCS) and another on L. Murray, San Diego 18 Mar (JP) were not only inland, but also exceptionally early for spring migrants. A Franklin’s Gull in Calipatria, Imperial on 20 Mar (GMcC) was the earliest of the spring migrants, but far fewer than expected followed, with only 7 more in Imperial through 21 May, and 2 at Salt Creek Beach 15 Apr (RMcK) in the Salton Sink. Elsewhere inland, 8 were at the Santa Fe Dam in Irwindale, Los Angeles 22 Apr (JMcI), and single birds were at Apollo Park in Lancaster, Los Angeles 24 May (VB) and Harper Dry Lake, San Bernardino 22 May (SR); and 3 in San Luis Obispo between 2 Apr and 28 May were the only ones along the coast. A Heermann’s Gull, rare inland, with nesting California Gulls near Calipatria 3–31 May+ (EAC, GMcC) was believed to be one of two here last summer. In addition, single birds were well inland on Puddingstone Res. in Bonelli Regional Park, Los Angeles 24 May (RHig) and at L. Perris, Riverside 17 Mar (CMcG). A Mew Gull on L. Perris 6 Mar (CMcG) was far inland. Only two Lesser Black-backed Gulls were reported, with one on the Los Angeles R. in Vernon 31 Mar–1 Apr (CD) and the other at the South San Diego Bay N. W. R. 22 Mar (MS). Single Glaucous Gulls at Arroyo del Corral, San Luis Obispo 9–12 Mar (TME) and on the Los Angeles R. in Vernon 31 Mar–5 Apr (RB) were the only two reported.

An Elegant Tern, a rare to casual vagrant to the Salton Sink, was near Imperial, Imperial on the exceptionally early date of 20 Mar (GMcC).

Loons through Owls

Up to two Red-throated Loons were inland at L. Perris 8–28 May (CMcG). Four Pacific Loons, rare inland, were on L. Perris 24 Mar (CMcG), and single birds were on Fig Lagoon near Seeley, Imperial 20 May (GMcC); at the S. E. S. S. 8 and 14 May (GMcC, BT); at Lake Ming near Bakersfield, Kern 25-27 Apr (K & BK); and in Bishop, Inyo 3 May (R & NO). A flock of 8 Common Loons, migrants moving northward after wintering in the Gulf of California, at Fig Lagoon on 1 May (GMcC) was an impressive number for that location.

A Wood Stork, now a casual to accidental straggler to California, was at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park near Escondido, San Diego 13–15 May (EL).

A Masked Booby was reported at Crystal Cove S. P. Orange 3 Apr (DB). An emaciated Nazca Booby in Coronado, San Diego 12 Apr was taken into captivity by Project Wildlife, but died (*SDNHM). A sub-adult Masked/Nazca Booby was over the Santa Barbara Channel (12 km south-southeast of Shoreline Park) 26 May (JSl). A Blue-footed Booby was seen flying north along the shore at Torrey Pines S. P., San Diego 17 May (DK).

Neotropic Cormorants continue to expand their range in the region, as evidenced by the presence of two at Prado Regional Park, San Bernardino 3 Apr (JEP); one at the nearby Mill Creek Wetlands in Chino, San Bernardino 28 Mar (TAB); at least 14 on the coastal slope of Los Angeles that included 8 at Santa Fe Dam 8–9 Mar (JSF); and one in Goleta, Santa Barbara 20 Mar–30 Apr (HPR).

An adult Tricolored Heron at Fig Lagoon 8–15 May (GMcC) was the first at the Salton Sink since 2012. Yellow-crowned Night-Herons are now found somewhat regularly along the coast northward from San Diego to southern San Luis Obispo, with up to 3 at Morro Bay 1 Mar–2 May (P & JC, AC) being the northernmost this spring. A Roseate Spoonbill, a casual straggler to the Salton Sink, was at S. E. S. S. (Unit 1) 3 Apr–31 May+ (GMcC).

A radio-tagged California Condor tracked moving north along the eastern Sierra Nevada to Mt. Whitney, then east across the Owens Valley to the Inyo Mtns. and back to the Sierra Nevada in May was the first known in Inyo since 1893. Single migrant Broad-winged Hawks, much rarer in spring than in fall, were near Blythe, Riverside 20 Mar (BW); at Pleasant Valley Reservoir, Inyo 22 Apr (CCM); over the Horse Ranch Creek Open Space near Pala Mesa, San Diego 19 Apr (GA); and at Pacific Beach, San Diego 3 May (GN). A Zone-tailed Hawk in Monrovia, Los Angeles 8 Apr–11 May (KSu) was considered the same bird present in the winter/spring of 2019; other reports of this species included one at Pachalka Spring in the East Mojave National Preserve 19-21 May (CY) in a general area where proven to nest, and one over the P. V. E. R. 31 Mar (BW). Two Rough-legged Hawks near Bishop 31 Mar–1 Apr (EAS) were somewhat late, as were single Ferruginous Hawks near Weldon, Kern 12 Apr (AMS) and at the Carrizo Plain, San Luis Obispo 18 Apr (RPC).

A Flammulated Owl in the San Gabriel Mtns. Los Angeles 24 Apr (BT) was the earliest this year. An Elf Owl was calling at Pachalka Spring 23 May (EAE).

Flycatchers through Vireos

Three Dusky-capped Flycatchers, all found during the period but presumed to have spent the winter in the area, were at Signal Hill, Los Angeles 23–25 Mar and Long Beach (Heartwell Park) 25 Mar–4 May (both KMo), and Baldwin Hills Recreation Center in Los Angeles 11 Apr (RB). An Ash-throated Flycatcher at Borrego Springs, San Diego 27 Feb–21 Mar (M&PT) clearly wintered locally; a good movement through Santa Barbara was illustrated by 39 in 2.5 hours above Refugio Creek Canyon in the Santa Ynez Mtns. 24 Apr (NAL). Tropical Kingbirds lingered as late as 13 May at El Dorado Park in Long Beach (NSal) and 16 May at Harbor Regional Park near San Pedro (DQ); others not noted in the Winter report were at North Island Naval Air Station, San Diego 29 Feb–28 Apr (BCF), Encinitas, San Diego 18 Mar (EM), and Ormond Beach, Ventura 8–21 Apr (SC). An impressive movement of 284 Western Kingbirds in less than 2.5 hours was noted in Santa Barbara on 17 Apr (AJS). The only Eastern Kingbird reported was near Clark Mountain, San Bernardino 21 May (CY). Scissor-tailed Flycatchers were at Westchester, Los Angeles 22–31 Mar (RS) and Pala Mesa (Horse Ranch Creek Open Space), San Diego 14 May (CAq); another at Rancho Penasquitos (Twin Trails Park), San Diego 29 Apr–23 May (EM) was first reported there in summer 2016. An Alder Flycatcher at California City 25–26 May (DES) was only the sixth for the region, but the third for Kern. Well-documented early migrant Willow Flycatchers were at Lake View Terrace, Los Angeles 2 May (BR) and Mission Viejo, Orange 5 May (MLS); of note was one (of the endangered ssp. extimus) carrying nest material at lower Deep Creek in the San Bernardino Mtns. 30 May (ET). A Hammond’s Flycatcher at Bluff Lake in the San Bernardino Mtns. 1 Jun (AEK) was a very late migrant. Twelve migrant Gray Flycatchers in Orange 14–28 April were considered more than normal (RSW). Scarce on the coast in spring, a Dusky Flycatcher was at Huntington Beach, Orange 22 Apr (TEW). Eastern Phoebes not noted in the Winter report were in Los Angeles at Hahamongna Watershed Park in Pasadena 21–27 Mar (DD); Hollenbeck Park in Boyle Heights 22 Mar (MO); and Palm Springs, Riverside 28 Mar (BM); another was in Spring Valley, San Diego 26 Feb–21 Mar (CAd). Rapidly expanding Vermilion Flycatchers were found at 24+ sites in Los Angeles during the period; an adult male with a fledgling at Seal Beach N. W. S. 2 Jun established a new breeding locality for Orange (RASn), and one was well north of the expected range at Big Pine, Inyo 7–11 Apr (HRW).

White-eyed Vireos, casual in spring but subject to rare irruptions, were at San Luis Obispo 19 May (ENW, TME) and Isla Vista, Santa Barbara 23–31 May (DSC). Bell’s Vireos continue to increase in Santa Barbara, with up to 7 territories on Santa Ynez R. near Buellton (PTS, JG) and up to 6 territories along Santa Maria R. between US 101 and Hwy 1 (AD fide JG). Gray Vireos were documented nesting in the White Mtns., Inyo for the first time 22 May (CBH, RCH). A Yellow-throated Vireo was at Dulzura, San Diego 25 Apr (DP). Plumbeous Vireos continue to be poorly understood in the region; they are regular winter visitors on the coastal slope (much rarer on the deserts), and very local summer visitors in arid montane forests, but the status of spring migration is confused by lingering overwintering birds and by the failure of many observers to appreciate how dull many Cassin’s Vireos can be in spring (and how different individual vireos can look depending on lighting and foliage reflectance). A Plumbeous at Morro Bay 28 Apr (JKM) provided the first spring record for San Luis Obispo; at least some of the 19 individuals found on the coastal slope (mostly Los Angeles and San Diego) 8 Mar–26 Apr were probably pure migrants, and one in the Laguna Mtns. (Desert View Rd.) 12–29 May (NC) appeared to be summering. A Blue-headed Vireo, casual in California, was at Ken Malloy Harbor Regional Park near San Pedro, Los Angeles 2–22 Mar (RTr); it is likely this individual wintered here, where there are other recent winter records. A Red-eyed Vireo at Point Loma (Point Loma Nazarene University) 1 May (AA) represented one of the earliest records for a spring vagrant in California; others were at Ken Malloy Harbor Regional Park 11–13 May (RTr), Apollo Park in Lancaster 14 May (RK), Refugio Creek Canyon, Santa Barbara 27 May (NAL), Juniper Hills, Los Angeles 31 May (KLG), Huntington Beach (residential) 28–29 May (RASl), Huntington Beach Central Park 2 Jun (BED), and Laguna Woods, Orange 3 Jun (EPP).

Swallows through Finches

A Bank Swallow at Tinemaha Res. 20 Mar (JLD) established the earliest spring record ever for Inyo. Late for the Salton Sink was a Tree Swallow at S. E. S. S. 22 May (DK-B). Violet-green Swallows are rare (and over-reported) spring migrants in the Imperial Valley and S. E. S. S., so one at Sunbeam Lake 20 Mar, three at Sheldon Reservoir 20 Mar and five there 27 Mar (all GMcC) were noteworthy. A handful of migrant Purple Martins trickled through the region 9 Apr–6 Jun, plus 11 at breeding locations in Swarthout and Cleghorn Canyons in the Cajon Pass area of San Bernardino 6–13 May (DAG).

Continuing a slow southward range expansion along the coast, Chestnut-backed Chickadees were at the Ventura Wastewater Treatment Plant 6 Mar (TB) and in residential Ventura 8 Mar (JMcM); at Rincon Creek on the Ventura/Santa Barbara county line, two adults and at least three recently fledged young on 8 May established the southernmost breeding record (AJS, DM) and potentially first for Ventura if the actual nest was on that side of the creek. A Brown Creeper at Camp Pendleton (Lake O’Neill) 20–28 Mar (PAG) was in the coastal lowlands where scarce. Unusual on the immediate coast was a Cactus Wren at Tijuana Slough N. W. R. 9 Apr–16 May (PM, KMi). A wandering Townsend’s Solitaire was at La Jolla (Mt. Soledad) 23 Apr (ND); one in Niland 24 Apr (GMcC) was the latest of the three ever recorded at the Salton Sink in spring. After a winter in which few were present in the region, a Varied Thrush at Randsburg, Kern 22 Apr (AK) was a surprise.

Spring vagrant Gray Catbirds were at the Canebrake Ecological Reserve along the upper South Fork of the Kern R., Kern 25 May (JM) and e. of Lancaster, Los Angeles 31 May (M&JS); wintering birds lingered at Mission Bay, San Diego 28 Feb–7 Mar (AG, DP), Walnut Creek, Los Angeles to 11 Mar (KeC), and at Big Morongo Canyon Preserve to 18 Mar (MW). Bendire’s Thrashers are scarce and declining breeders in the Mojave National Preserve in eastern San Bernardino; an early bird was encountered there 4 Mar (BE).

An alternate-plumaged American Pipit of the subspecies alticola, rare as a spring migrant, was at Rovana, Inyo 20 Apr (RCH, JLD).

It was considered a banner spring for Evening Grosbeaks in Inyo, with birds present 11 Mar–22 May; the largest numbers were all in the Big Pine Canyon area, where TJV recorded 200+ birds above Glacier Lodge. Farther south, small numbers persisted from the winter into March and early April in the Laguna Mtns., San Diego and San Bernardino Mtns., with the latest report being of 8 at Green Valley Lake Campground, San Bernardino 26 Apr (L&SC); 15 were at Garner Valley in the San Jacinto Mtns., Riverside 24 Mar (LHK).  Two Cassin’s Finches at Pala Mesa 4 Apr (CAq) were at a low elevation in San Diego where very rare. Red Crossbills roamed the Laguna Mtns., San Diego through the period, with juveniles noted at Morris Ranch Rd. 15 May (CZ) and Desert View Rd. 25 May (JRK). Lawrence’s Goldfinches were present in above-average numbers in much of the region this spring—an “irruption year” in Orange, for example—with a pair far to the north at Coso Junction, Inyo 29–31 Mar noted nest-building on the latter date (SKB, RDK).

Longspurs through Blackbirds

Late were two Chestnut-collared Longspurs at Owens L., Inyo 14 Apr (DJH). The only Clay-colored Sparrow reported was at Madrona Marsh in Torrance, Los Angeles 5 Mar–19 Apr (MR). A Black-throated Sparrow at Cerro Alto Campround 16 Apr (JKM) was the first for Santa Lucia Mtns. and first for San Luis Obispo since 2016; one in the Cuyamaca Mtns., San Diego 6 Mar was unusually high in elevation (RW). Lark Buntings, formerly more numerous, are now rare and sporadic in the region; a molting male was at Coronado, San Diego 8 Mar (PEL), and a singing male was at El Mirage Dry Lake, San Bernardino 28 Apr (AK). A White-crowned × Golden-crowned Sparrow was photographed on the Palos Verdes Peninsula, Los Angeles 24 Apr (JA), and a Golden-crowned Sparrow at Niland 30 Mar–10 Apr (AH, GMcC) was in a part of the region where rare. Some late dates for White-throated Sparrows included birds in the Antelope Valley east of Lancaster to 20 Apr (JD), La Crescenta, Los Angeles to 23 Apr (JF), and San Luis Bay Estates, San Luis Obispo 25 Apr (RPS). The only Harris’s Sparrow reported was at Bishop, Inyo 21–25 Apr (CBH, RCH). A Le Conte’s Sparrow at Hahamongna Watershed Park in Pasadena, Los Angeles 16–20 Apr (JV) had undoubtedly wintered at this site. Perhaps a spring migrant was a Swamp Sparrow in Culver City (Fox Hills Park), Los Angeles 26 Mar (RB).

The enigmatic Yellow-breasted Chat × oriole hybrid that returned to San Timoteo Canyon in Redlands, San Bernardino 25 Apr remained through the period but evaded capture (MAG). Record high numbers of Yellow-headed Blackbirds—up to 40—passed through Orange during the spring (RSW). Orchard Orioles not reported during the winter season were in Balboa Park in San Diego 29 Feb–25 Mar (PU), Torrance, Los Angeles 20 Mar (MR), Redlands 27 Mar (RMcK), Long Beach 29–30 Mar (BDD), and Huntington Beach 1–21 Apr (DML). A Bullock’s × Baltimore Oriole in Carpinteria, Santa Barbara 13 Mar–15 Apr (JSl) had likely been there since late November. A “pure” male Baltimore Oriole was at Carlsbad, San Diego 18 May (CC). Three Scott’s Orioles were on the coastal slope of San Bernardino (Redlands, Chino Hills) 14 Apr–3 May (AEK). Casual in Inyo in spring, a Tricolored Blackbird was at Bishop 20–21 Apr (CBH, RCH).

Wood-Warblers through Buntings

A Northern Waterthrush at V. C. G. P. 28 Mar (DPe, LSa) likely wintered there, as perhaps did one at Carmel Valley, San Diego 11 Apr (DK); a singing bird at Pala Mesa, San Diego 13 Apr (CAq) may have been a spring migrant, as were birds at Imperial Beach 1 May (PEL); China Lake, Kern 8 May (SLS); California City, Kern 21 May (LHK); Deep Springs, Inyo 25 May (R&NO, BJK, JLD); and Peck Road Water Conservation Park near El Monte, Los Angeles 5 Jun (DES). A Prothonotary Warbler was at the east end of Lake Isabella, Kern 6 May (KS), and another was recorded singing at the Salton Sea N. W. R. headquarters 16 May (RS-S), only the third ever found in Imperial and the Salton Sink. Eleven Black-and-white Warblers on the coastal slope in March and April were mostly birds that had wintered locally; late spring vagrants were at California City 25 May (DES); Point Loma, San Diego 26 May (PEL); and Montana de Oro S. P., San Luis Obispo 27 May (S&JT). Tennessee Warblers were at San Luis Obispo 1 Mar–13 Apr (NLB); Madrona Marsh in Torrance 17–20 May (MR); Point Loma 14 May (PEL); and B. S. 25 May (RHir). Lucy’s Warblers at Borrego Springs 21–28 Mar and 15 May (RTh) and on the Mojave R. between Victorville and Helendale 26 Apr (JSt) were at the western edge of the potential breeding range. Migrant Virginia’s Warblers were at B. S. 15 Apr (TEW) and Pachalka Spring near Clark Mt. 18 May (CY). Kentucky Warblers, very rare in the region in recent years, were at Desert Center, Riverside 10 May (JSt.P); Jacumba, San Diego 16 May (PEL); B. S. 22 May (SMa); Pachalka Spring 24 May (TAB); and Cerro Alto Campground 29–30 May (ENW, LF).

There was a small-scale incursion of Hooded Warblers this spring, with birds in the Tijuana R. Valley, San Diego 24 Apr (SMe); Point Loma 9 May (JTS) and another 21–24 May (AA, PEL); Huntington Beach 16–20 May (RASl); and San Luis Obispo 25 May (TJK) as well as an additional bird appearing in June. Six American Redstarts were on the coast and islands 15 May–12 Jun, with three more on the deserts 16–25 May; birds at the Palo Verde Ecological Reserve, Riverside 31 Mar (BW) and in Long Beach (Skylinks Golf Course) 8–15 Apr (BT) were early for spring vagrants and might have wintered locally. Northern Parulas staged an incursion into the region this spring, with at least thirteen on the coastal slope 22 Apr–28 May and, on the deserts where coverage is much more spotty, single birds at B. S. 22 May (RST) and east of Lancaster 23 May (DB, LT); several additional birds in early June will be detailed in the Summer report. A Magnolia Warbler at Huntington Beach 3 Jun (BDD), a Bay-breasted Warbler at Santa Ana, Orange 31 May (DMcC), and Chestnut-sided Warblers at Crest Ecological Preserve, San Diego 26 Apr (CZ), Beverly Hills, Los Angeles 13 May (SL), and Salton Sea N. W. R. (Unit 1) 13 May (EW) represented rare eastern wood-warbler strays that appear most springs. A Yellow-rumped Warbler in Fullerton, Orange 2 Jun (YMH) was very late. Palm Warblers at Caruthers Park in Bellflower, Los Angeles 27–28 Mar (LW) and Hahamongna Watershed Park 24 Apr (DD) were not known to have wintered. The spring’s only Yellow-throated Warbler was at Los Osos, San Luis Obispo 25–26 May (JSR). A singing male Grace’s Warbler at Charlton Flat in the San Gabriel Mtns., Los Angeles 16 Apr–30 May (NSat) was presumed to be a returning bird. Painted Redstarts not known to have wintered locally were at San Dimas Canyon, Los Angeles 4 Apr (LB, KE); in the eastern Antelope Valley 25 Apr (JD), at Cuyamaca Rancho State Park 8–15 May (JP), and Carruthers Canyon in the New York Mtns., San Bernardino 12 Apr (SP).

A Hepatic Tanager at Tierrasanta, San Diego 13–16 Mar (PEL) was likely the same bird present there in February 2019; the species was found at three locations east of Big Bear Lake in the San Bernardino Mtns. this May (AEK). Summer Tanagers were too widespread and numerous to list; over 40 individuals were reported (many of which had wintered), with most in Los Angeles and San Diego, but also 7 in San Luis Obispo and 5 in Inyo.

Rose-breasted Grosbeaks totaled some 23 birds on the coastal slope 24 Mar–12 Jun, plus 6 on the deserts 10–26 May. A Black-headed Grosbeak near El Centro 19 Mar (KZK) established the earliest spring record for the Salton Sink by eight days. An Indigo Bunting was at Morro Bay 18 May+ (CPK); nine others were in San Diego 26 Apr+, singles were at Big Morongo Canyon Preserve 23 Apr (EAC) and 15–16 May (KMi), and one was on the eastern Mojave Desert at Pachalka Spring 23 May (KaC).

Report processed by Amy Davis, 29 October 2020.

Photos–Southern California: Spring 2020
Hover or click on each image to read the caption.