Southern California: Spring 2021

Spring 2021: 1 Mar–31 May

Guy McCaskie 

Kimball L. Garrett 

Recommended citation:

McCaskie, G., and K. L. Garrett. 2021. Spring 2021: Southern California. <> North American Birds.

After a very dry winter, with near record low precipitation in some areas, the limited snowpack in the mountains melted early. The region’s creeks and lakes were drier than normal, and desert and foothill shrublands entered their summer dormancy early. On top of the drought, the impacts on birds of fall 2020’s extensive wildfires in the region’s mountains were surely substantial. It remains to be seen what the impacts of drought and wildfires were on the breeding success of terrestrial birds, but initial reports suggest that failures were widespread. 

Since much birding effort for land bird migrants takes place in urban parks, irrigated desert “oases,” and relatively mesic riparian patches, the impacts of the drought on encounters of migrants were less substantial. Some relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions and the COVID-associated pent-up “cabin fever” resulted in good coverage of the eastern desert oases this spring, certainly in comparison to 2020. Rarity highlights on the deserts included an Alder Flycatcher, two Cape May Warblers, and (at the Salton Sea), a surprising “Black-backed” White Wagtail. Morning visible migration flights of land birds were monitored closely through the spring at Bear Divide in the western San Gabriel Mountains of Los Angeles Co [see:]. Important monitoring efforts were also made in the Gorman area of extreme northwestern Los Angeles Co, at Mt. Soledad in La Jolla, San Diego Co, and at several passes and ridges in the coast ranges of Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties.

Thanks to multiple years of monitoring, Robert L. McKernan is establishing the Salton Sea as a major spring migration “re-fueling” location for Red Knots along the Pacific flyway. The ever-changing Salton Sea, shrinking from reduced inputs of agricultural water and increasingly exploited for geothermal energy and lithium extraction, continues to be surprisingly productive for shorebirds, gulls, terns, and wading birds.

We summarize below some first spring arrival dates as reported by county sub-regional editors or gleaned from eBird submissions:

Ash-throated Flycatcher: 17 Mar, north end Salton Sea, Riverside Co (Robert L. McKernan)

Western Kingbird: 6 Mar Solvang, Santa Barbara Co (Wes T. Fritz); 7 Mar Santa Ynez, Santa Barbara Co (Michael Christie); 7 Mar La Jolla, San Diego Co (Bridget Spencer)

Olive-sided Flycatcher: 1 Apr Long Beach, Los Angeles Co (Derek Hameister); 10 Apr Cerro Alto, San Luis Obispo Co (Mark A. Mushkat); 12 Apr Mission Trails Regional Park, San Diego Co (Jim Pawlicki)

Western Wood-Pewee: 10 Apr Santa Clarita, Los Angeles Co (Jon S. Feenstra)

Willow Flycatcher: 5 May near Niland, Imperial Co (Curtis A. Marantz); 8 May Long Beach, Los Angeles Co (Robert A. Hamilton); 15 May California Valley, San Luis Obispo Co (Will H. Knowlton)

Hammond’s Flycatcher: 19 Mar Lake Forest Orange Co (Thomas F. Fangrow); 1 Apr San Diego (Nick Barber); 3 Apr Santa Clarita, Los Angeles Co (Jon S. Feenstra); 14 Apr Atascadero, San Luis Obispo Co (Steve J. Tillmann)

Dusky Flycatcher: 18 Apr Fountain Valley, Orange Co (James Hecht); 19 Apr Huntington Beach, Orange Co (Thomas E. Wurster)

Pacific-slope Flycatcher: 21–24 Feb three birds in San Diego and La Jolla, San Diego Co; 1 Mar Los Osos, San Luis Obispo Co (Jim S. Royer)

Warbling Vireo: 6 Mar San Dimas, Los Angeles Co (Ethan Van Arnam); 14 Mar Brawley, Imperial Co (Guy McCaskie)

Bank Swallow: 10 Mar Sunbeam Lake, Imperial Co (Guy McCaskie)

Swainson’s Thrush: 9 Apr El Chorro Regional Park, San Luis Obispo Co (Jeff K. Miller); 23 Apr San Diego (Nathan French)

Yellow-breasted Chat: 8 Apr Bonelli Regional Park, Los Angeles Co (Rod Higbie); 10 Apr Tijuana River Valley, San Diego Co (Andrew Newmark)

Hooded Oriole: 20 Feb Mission Bay, San Diego Co (Jeremiah Stock)

Bullock’s Oriole: 9 Mar Vallecito, San Diego Co (Britta Lee Shain); 14 Mar Brawley, Imperial Co (GMcC)

Nashville Warbler: 3 Apr Niland, Imperial Co (2; Guy McCaskie); 4 Apr Descanso, San Diego Co (Chris K. Staurovsky)

MacGillivray’s Warbler: 31 Mar Templeton, San Luis Obispo Co (Steve J. Tillmann); 6 Apr Bear Divide, Los Angeles C0 (Kelsey Reckling)

Yellow Warbler: 1 Apr Oso Flaco Lake, San Luis Obispo Co (Maggie L. Smith)

Black-throated Gray Warbler: 20 Mar Agua Caliente County Park, San Diego Co (Laurel Scott); 27 Mar Atascadero, San Luis Obispo Co (Ann Stockert)

Hermit Warbler: 2 Apr Bear Divide, Los Angeles Co (2; Ryan S. Terrill); 11 Apr Laguna Mtns., San Diego Co (Chris K. Staurovsky); 11 Apr near El Centro, Imperial Co (Kenneth Z Kurland)

Wilson’s Warbler: 1 Mar Oso Flaco L., San Luis Obispo Co (4; Nick L. Belardes); 14 Mar Agua Caliente Park, San Diego Co (Beth Pearson)

Western Tanager: 22 Mar Atascadero, San Luis Obispo Co (Roger Zachary)

Black-headed Grosbeak: 17 Mar Arroyo Grande, San Luis Obispo Co (Jerri L. Edwards)

Blue Grosbeak: 2 Apr Los Penasquitos Canyon, San Diego Co (Martha Wild); 12 Apr Santa Clarita, Los Angeles Co (Jon S Feenstra)

Lazuli Bunting: 2 Apr Montecito, Santa Barbara Co (Jeff Young); 2 Apr Bear Divide, Los Angeles Co (5; Ryan S. Terrill); 7 Apr south end Salton Sea, Imperial Co (Reef Conner)

Sub-regional Compilers

David M. Compton (Santa Barbara Co), Tom M. Edell (San Luis Obispo Co), Kimball L. Garrett (Los Angeles Co), Tom & Jo Heindel (Inyo Co), Kelli K. Heindel (Kern Co), Alexander E. Koonce (San Bernardino Co), Guy McCaskie (San Diego and Imperial counties), Chet McGaugh (Riverside Co), Larry Sansone (photo editor), Adam J. Searcy (Ventura Co), Justyn T. Stahl (San Clemente Island), Ryan S. Winkleman (Orange Co).

Abbreviations: F.C.R. (Furnace Creek Ranch, Death Valley National Park, Inyo Co); N.E.S.S. (north end of the Salton Sea, Riverside Co); P.P. (Piute Ponds on Edwards Air Force Base, northeastern Los Angeles Co); S.E.S.S. (south end of the Salton Sea, Imperial Co).

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.

Waterfowl through Hummingbirds

Brant migrating northward from wintering grounds in the Gulf of California are found at the Salton Sink each spring; eight at the N.E.S.S. 4 Apr (Robert L. McKernan) were the earliest this year, and 130 at the N.E.S.S. 21 Apr (Robert L. McKernan) was the high count of the season there. Elsewhere inland, there were several reports of the species along its presumed route from the Gulf of California to Pacific Coast locations between San Diego and Los Angeles counties. These included a flock of 30 in flight over Julian, San Diego Co 7 Apr (Jeff Moore) and 12 on Mystic Lake, Riverside Co 27 Apr (Dave Goodward). There were reports of Brant to the north of this presumed route, as well, including 13 in the Antelope Valley, Kern Co 13 Apr (Kerry Ross); up to four at P.P. 22–23 Apr with one still there 7 Jun (Chris Dean); and three in flight over desert scrub near Barstow, San Bernardino Co 21 Apr (James E. Pike). The Trumpeter Swan that spent the winter near Bishop, Inyo Co was last seen 4 Apr (Jim Moore). A Tundra Swan at Mystic Lake 26 Mar–1 May (Dave Goodward, Curtis A. Marantz) was exceptionally late.

The latest of the wintering Eurasian Wigeon were single birds at the Ventura County Game Preserve 3 Apr (Larry Sansone), at the S.E.S.S. (south end of the Wister Unit) 24 Apr (Adrian Hinkle) and in Goleta, Santa Barbara Co, the latter bird continuing to the exceptionally late date of 14 May (Jay N. Bishop). A male Eurasian Green-winged Teal (A. c. crecca) was at P.P. 3–9 May (Dessi Sieburth). A flock of 200 Ring-necked Ducks on Fig Lagoon near Seeley, Imperial Co 7 Apr (Guy McCaskie) was an exceptional number for the Salton Sink. Only eight Surf Scoters were known at the Salton Sink, with the earliest of these northbound migrants at Salt Creek Beach 5 Mar (Lucas Corneliussen) and the latest at the N.E.S.S. (North Shore) 20–28 Apr (Robert L. McKernan). Single Long-tailed Ducks, rare inland, were at the S.E.S.S. (Morton Bay) 25 Apr–9 Jun (Adrian Hinkle, Curtis A. Marantz) and the N.E.S.S. (Whitewater River mouth) 19 Apr (Curtis A. Marantz). Elsewhere, up to two were at Owens Lake 20–23 Apr (Chris and Rosie Howard), and one wintering in Long Beach, Los Angeles Co remained to the late date of 8 May (James Maley). The Barrow’s Goldeneye present through the winter at Pismo Beach, San Luis Obispo Co was last reported 21 Mar (Tom D. Slater).

Late migrant Horned Grebes were inland at Baker, San Bernardino Co 15 May (Dessi Sieburth) and at the S.E.S.S. (Rock Hill) 26 May (Curtis A. Marantz). A Red-necked Grebe on south San Diego Bay 27 Apr (Logan Kahle) was unusually late and near the extreme southern limit of the species’s range. Elsewhere on the coast, single birds were at Newport Beach, Orange Co 20 Mar (Walter H. Piper), and in Santa Barbara Co near Gaviota 16 Apr (Wes T. Fritz) and Pt. Conception 25 Apr (Jamie M. Chavez).

Over 190 Lesser Nighthawks over P.P. at dusk on 20 May (Chris Dean) was an impressive concentration. The earliest of the spring migrant Common Nighthawks, unrecorded in California before mid-May, was at Diaz Lake, Inyo Co 24 May (Chris and Rosie Howard). Up to two Mexican Whip-poor-wills were vocalizing at the traditional presumed breeding site at Green Canyon in the San Bernardino Mountains, San Bernardino Co after 25 Apr (Logan Kahle). A Black Swift over Lake Murray, San Diego Co 28 Apr (Jim Pawlicki) was the earliest this spring, but the majority passed through Southern California between 10 and 27 May, with an impressive 158 reported in coastal San Diego Co. There were also 19 in Orange Co, 23 scattered throughout Los Angeles Co, 37 in Ventura Co, 35 in Santa Barbara Co, and at least 13 in San Luis Obispo Co during that period. Two Chimney Swifts, exceptionally rare as spring migrants anywhere in California, were over P.P. 21–22 May (Ryan S. Terrill), and another was at Bear Divide above Santa Clarita in the western San Gabriel Mtns., Los Angeles Co 27 May (Ryan S. Terrill). A Calliope Hummingbird on San Clemente Island 12 May (Nicole J. Desnoyers) was only the second ever on that well worked island.

Oystercatchers through Terns

An apparent “pure” American Oystercatcher was in Long Beach 14–30 May (Richard Barth), and at least six evident hybrid Black x American Oystercatchers were scattered along the coast from San Diego northward through Los Angeles County.

Five Whimbrels near Seeley, Imperial Co, along with two at Bombay Beach, Imperial Co 2 Mar (Guy McCaskie, Teresa Connell) were the earliest of the northbound spring migrants passing through the Salton Sink, and a flock of 35 at Owens Lake 24 Apr (Chris and Rosie Howard) was a large number for Inyo Co. At least 33 Ruddy Turnstones, scarce inland, were known on the Salton Sea between 21 Apr and 21 May, including a flock of 18 at the S.E.S.S. (Obsidian Butte) 2 May (Guy McCaskie). Since Black Turnstones are rare inland, a total of 14 at the Salton Sea was exceptional. This total included single birds at the S.E.S.S. (Lack and Grubel) 26–28 Apr (Adrian Hinkle), (Rock Hill) 28 Apr (Guy McCaskie), and 20 May (Wendy Miller), as well as three together at Salt Creek Beach 12 May (Robert L. McKernan), and a flock of eight at Obsidian Butte 26 May (Curtis A. Marantz), where three remained through 12 Jun (Gary Leavens). Elsewhere inland, another was at P.P. 29 Apr–1 May (John Birsner).

During weekly surveys of the Riverside Co shoreline of the Salton Sea, Robert L. McKernan found the first of the northbound Red Knots at Salt Creek Beach on 17 Mar; numbers of migrants then peaked at 810 along the east shore on 28 Apr, and the latest was there on 3 May. In addition, at the S.E.S.S, where suitable beaches (barnacles rather than mud) are scarcer, numbers of Red Knots peaked at 75 on 28 Apr (Guy McCaskie). We can only guess how many were along the west shore at this same time, but it is clear that the Salton Sea is a major stopping and “refueling” location for the west coast population of Red Knots. Elsewhere inland, a Red Knot at Mystic Lake 3 May (Dave Goodward) was the only one reported.

A Surfbird at Lake Murray 13 Apr (Jim Pawlicki) may well have come from the Gulf of California rather than from the nearby rocky shore of the Pacific; the species is exceptionally rare inland. A Stilt Sandpiper at P.P. 24–25 May (Dessi Sieburth) was the only one reported away from the S.E.S.S. The number of migrant Sanderlings along the east shore of the Salton Sea peaked at 76 on 28 Apr (Robert L. McKernan); elsewhere inland, two were at Mystic Lake 7 May (Tony Metcalf) and one was at P.P. 22–26 Apr (Chris Dean). Three White-rumped Sandpipers were in Baker, San Bernardino Co 6–7 Jun (Logan Kahle); the species is casual to California. The only Semipalmated Sandpipers reported were singles at S.E.S.S. 29 Apr (Mike Baker) and the San Jacinto Wildlife Area near Lakeview, Riverside Co 25 Apr (Curtis A. Marantz). Over 50 Solitary Sandpipers scattered throughout this Region between 29 Mar and 5 May were more than expected.

Two Scripps’s Murrelets off Shell Beach 27 May (Kai Mills) provided the earliest date for the species’s northward post-breeding movement in San Luis Obispo Co. Two Craveri’s Murrelets 53 km west of Point Loma, San Diego Co 12 May (Paul E. Lehman) established the earliest date for this post-breeding visitor from west Mexico.

Three adult Laughing Gulls at S.E.S.S. 29 May (Chris Dean) were the earliest of the expected post-breeding birds that annually disperse northward after nesting in west Mexico. One at Los Penasquitos Lagoon, San Diego Co 11 May (Hanna Zhae) was on the coast where the species is rare. Four Franklin’s Gulls at the N.E.S.S. (North Shore) 31 Mar (Robert L. McKernan) were the earliest of the expected spring migrants that pass through the Salton Sink. The species was subsequently present there in small numbers through 29 Apr (Dessi Sieburth), with a high count of 34 at the N.E.S.S. (North Shore) 21 Apr (Robert L. McKernan). Far fewer than expected were around the S.E.S.S.; there was a late migrant at the S.E.S.S. (Alamo River mouth) 26 May (Razia Shafique), and two more together near Calipatria, Imperial Co 26 May (Guy McCaskie). Elsewhere inland, up to 67 Franklin’s Gulls were near Coachella, Riverside Co 4–30 Apr (Anne Cheung); up to seven were at the San Jacinto Wildlife Area 27 Apr–17 May (David Goodward); one was at Bonelli Regional Park, Los Angeles Co 2–3 May (Keith Condon); another was at Desert Center 8–15 Apr (Frank Mayer); and up to 23 were at P.P. 24 Apr–26 May (Kathy Duret). Along the coast, where much scarcer, one at Playa del Rey, Los Angeles Co on the exceptionally early date of 15 Mar (Gregory Gladkov) was followed by a total of 25 from San Diego northward through San Luis Obispo counties between 8 Apr and 23 May, including six at Pt. Conception, Santa Barbara Co 18 Apr (Nick A. Lethaby).

An adult Heermann’s Gull inland with nesting California Gulls near Calipatria 3 Apr (Guy McCaskie) was joined by a second on 23 Apr (Adrian Hinkle) with both still present on 31 May; elsewhere inland, an adult was at Mystic Lake 7 Apr (David Goodward) and what may have been the same adult was there on 5 May (David Goodward), and another was at Bonelli Regional Park 24 May–7 Jun (Rod Higbie). A Short-billed Gull, rare well inland, especially so away from the Salton Sea, was at Tinemaha Reservoir 12 Apr (Jon L. Dunn). A Western Gull well inland at P.P. 23 Apr (Kimball L. Garrett) provides one of the few records for the Antelope Valley. Wintering Lesser Black-backed Gulls lingered into April, with a first-cycle bird in Long Beach 30 Apr (Richard Barth) being the latest.

The only Least Terns known inland were two at the S.E.S.S. (New River mouth) 21–25 Apr (Guy McCaskie, Adrian Hinkle) with one still present 5 May (Guy McCaskie), and one at S.E.S.S. (Rock Hill) on 26 May (Razia Shafique). Up to three Gull-billed Terns in Huntington Beach, Orange Co 30 Apr–1 May (Konshau Duman) were the only ones reported away from the known nesting sites on San Diego Bay and the Salton Sea. Since Royal Terns are exceptional anywhere away from the coast, two more than 16 km inland over Lower Otay Reservoir, San Diego Co 31 May (Matt Sadowski) were unexpected. Similarly, Elegant Terns are not expected inland, so a flock of 12 at Fig Lagoon on 21 Apr (Guy McCaskie), another there on 16 May (Justyn T. Stahl), two at the S.E.S.S. (New River estuary) 25 Apr (Adrian Hinkle), and two more at the S.E.S.S. (Rock Hill) 26 May (Razia Shafique) were exceptional.

Tropicbirds through Owls

A “sick” Red-billed Tropicbird was on the beach at Border Field State Park, San Diego Co 22 Apr (Robert T. Patton). A Pacific Loon on Sheldon Reservoir, Imperial Co 14 Apr (Guy McCaskie) was far inland where rare. Small numbers of migrant Common Loons are expected at the Salton Sink each spring, but 33 at the N.E.S.S. (26 at North Shore) 14 Apr (Robert L. McKernan) is the highest single-day count ever reported; one in Baker 22 May (Thomas A. Benson) was obviously lost.

A Short-tailed Shearwater 6 km off Mission Bay 10 Apr (Thomas Ford-Hutchinson) was exceptionally late for Southern California. A Manx Shearwater, rare in Southern California, was over the Santa Barbara Channel off Ventura Co 25 Apr (Joel Barrett) and another was 16 km off Imperial Beach, San Diego Co 28 May (Owen Sinkus).

An adult Wood Stork at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park near Escondido, San Diego Co 4 May–28 Jun (Fatima Lujan) is believed to be the same bird present there in May of last year. A Masked Booby at Dana Point since 29 Nov continued through 10 May (Mary Freeman). An adult Tricolored Heron near Calipatria 3 Apr (Guy McCaskie) was inland where it is considered a casual vagrant; one at Upper Newport Bay since 1 Jan remained through 8 Apr (Grant Kirchoff). A Reddish Egret present around the N.E.S.S. through the winter was last seen at Desert Shores 7 Apr (Robert L. McKernan); it was the only one reported away from the coast. Single Glossy Ibis were in Fillmore, Ventura Co 11 Apr (Christopher Kibler) and in the Riverside Co portion of the Prado Basin 25 Mar–7 Apr (James E. Pike); one on a nest, presumably paired with a White-faced Ibis, at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park 25 Mar–5 May (Joshua Lietzow) is believed to be the same bird present there during the past two summers.

A Harris’s Hawk, considered an erratic vagrant to California, was at Agua Caliente County Park in eastern San Diego Co 26 Apr (Alex Abela). The only migrant Broad-winged Hawks reported this spring were singles along Kitchen Creek in the Laguna Mountains of San Diego Co 10 Apr (Hanna Zhao) and at Tollhouse Spring in the White Mountains of Inyo Co 7 May (Rosie Howard). About 6,000 Swainson’s Hawks were counted as they passed through Borrego Springs in eastern San Diego Co between mid-February and the end of March, with 2731 there 13 Mar (Hal Cohen). In addition, Swainson’s Hawks were noticeably more numerous than expected in the Imperial Valley, Imperial Co 12 Feb–5 May, with a high count of 175 near Niland 23 Feb (Guy McCaskie); subsequently, an impressive 660 passed over Glen Helen Regional Park, San Bernardino Co 25 Mar (David Goodward). Single Zone-tailed Hawks that may have wintered locally were at Chino Hills, San Bernardino Co 1–8 Mar (Stephanie Stragier); Lake Skinner, Riverside Co 29 Mar (Shannon Lehrter); Lake Forest, Orange Co 5 Mar (Ralph M. Sugg); and in the San Gabriel Valley, Los Angeles Co 5 Apr (Judi Hwa). Individuals found along the Colorado River at the Palo Verde Ecological Reserve on 12 Apr (Carlos Gonzalez), and in California City, Kern County (Stephen Blylin) and near Gorman, Los Angeles Co (Holly Merker, Richard Crossley), both on 24 May, were likely migrants. A molting immature at the San Diego Zoo Safari 27 May–22 Jun (Mike Wittmer) may have been attempting to summer locally. One of the wintering Rough-legged Hawks at the Carrizo Plain National Monument lingered to the late date of 10 Apr (Kevin J. Zimmer). A Ferruginous Hawk in Niland, Imperial Co 23–28 Apr (Adrian Hinkle, Guy McCaskie) established the latest date for a wintering bird/spring migrant at the Salton Sink, and another in the Cholame Valley, San Luis Obispo Co remained to the late date of 5 May (Will H. Knowlton). A Flammulated Owl at Darwin Falls in Death Valley National Park 21 May (McKenna Ramsay) was far from suitable breeding habitat so an obvious migrant.

Woodpeckers through Vireos

A Williamson’s Sapsucker at Lake Elsinore (El Cariso Picnic Area), Riverside Co 19 Apr (Greg Cross) was at an unexpected location. A Merlin at the N.E.S.S. (North Shore) 5 May (Robert L. McKernan), and another at Bear Divide 8 May (Jon S. Feenstra) provided two of the latest dates for wintering birds/spring migrants in Southern California.

At least five Brown-crested Flycatchers were at four localities in the Anza-Borrego State Park/Borrego Valley area of San Diego Co, suggesting a healthy population in this area. Tropical Kingbirds not noted in the Winter 2020–2021 report were two birds at Golden Shore Park in Long Beach, Los Angeles Co 23 Apr (Richard Barth) and one at Ballona Creek in Culver City, Los Angeles Co 24 Apr–3 May (Ciaran Brewster). Cassin’s Kingbirds appear to be expanding into the desert foothills of Los Angeles Co, with birds at Crystalaire Country Club near Llano 23 Apr–23 May (Ruth Gravance) and Valyermo 30 Apr–30 May (Naresh Satyan). One at S.E.S.S. in Niland 13 Mar (Joshua Stacy) was well out of range. An impressive diurnal migration of 1295 Western Kingbirds was noted at N.E.S.S., mostly along the east shore, on 21 Apr (Robert L. McKernan). The only spring vagrant Scissor-tailed Flycatcher reported was at F.C.R. 30–31 May (Justyn T. Stahl). An Alder Flycatcher was well-studied at Primm Valley Golf Course near the Nevada border in San Bernardino Co 29 May (Adrian Hinkle, Emmett Iverson, Dessi Sieburth). Two interesting tyrannids landed on a research cruise ship on 11 May: a Gray Flycatcher 39 km west of Pt. Sal, F.C.R. Santa Barbara Co, and a Vermilion Flycatcher 30 km west of San Miguel Island (Michael Force). Eastern Phoebes are primarily wintering birds in Southern California, but a spring vagrant was at Chiriaco Summit, Riverside Co 17–23 Apr (Brad Waggoner).

A Bell’s Vireo at the Kern NWR 5 May (Bob and Susan Steele) was in the southern San Joaquin Valley where the species does not regularly occur. A migrant Gray Vireo was netted and banded at Bear Divide in the western San Gabriel Mtns., Los Angeles Co 29 Apr (Ryan S. Terrill et al.); one of the few spring migrants recorded in the region, it was only the second for that location. Yellow-throated Vireos, casual but annual in spring, were at Huntington Beach, Orange Co 2 May (Shirley A. Reynolds) and at Los Osos (Doris St. Marsh) 27 May (Jim S. Royer), the latter constituting the fifth record for San Luis Obispo Co. A Blue-headed Vireo photographed at Carlsbad, San Diego Co 7 Apr (Jane Mygatt) perhaps had wintered locally. Some impressive morning visible migration counts of Warbling Vireos included 211+ above Refugio Creek, Santa Barbara Co 2 May (Nick A. Lethaby) and 179 at Bear Divide 5 May (Ryan S. Terrill). The only Red-eyed Vireo found during the period was at Coronado, San Diego Co 14 May (Paul E. Lehman).

Swallows through Finches

The migration of Violet-green Swallows was more prolonged and widespread than usual this spring, with the magnitude of migration this year illustrated by high counts in Orange Co of 300 at Anaheim and 200 at Mission Viejo 11 Mar (Douglas R. Willick, Ryan S. Winkleman). The Salton Sink also saw exceptional numbers and late dates at N.E.S.S. 10 Mar–28 Apr (Robert L. McKernan), with a high count of 98 on 24 Mar; another unusual count was 35+ at S.E.S.S. on 24 Mar (Guy McCaskie), and two late birds were near Niland 28 Apr (Logan Kahle). The spring also saw an exceptional flight of Purple Martins through the coastal counties, with the first found 16 Mar at Sweetwater Reservoir, San Diego Co (Jonny Sperling), and counts of at least 40 in Apr and May in San Diego Co, 27 in Orange Co 13 Apr–23 May, and 80 in Los Angeles Co 1 Apr–24 May, along with two in Ventura Co 22–26 Apr and two in the coastal lowlands of San Bernardino Co 11–14 Apr. Migrant Purple Martins in the far interior included one at the Buena Vista Aquatic Recreation Area, Kern Co 30 Apr (Peter Kavouras), one at S.E.S.S. (Rock Hill) 1 May (Derek Hameister), and one at F.C.R. 31 May (Emmet Iverson).

Late lowland Ruby-crowned Kinglets were near Avila Beach, San Luis Obispo Co 25 May (Nick L. Belardes) and at Morro Creek in Morro Bay 3 Jun (Tom M. Edell), the latter establishing the first Jun record for San Luis Obispo Co. A Pygmy Nuthatch at Mojave Narrows Regional Park, San Bernardino Co 27 May (Jason St. Pierre) was well away from expected habitat. A House Wren on San Clemente Island 5 May (Justyn T. Stahl) established the latest spring record ever for the island.

Gray Catbirds were on San Nicolas Island 13 May (Sangeet Khalsa), at Ventura (Wastewater Treatment Plant) 25–26 May (Marc Better), and at F.C.R. 30–31 May (Justyn T. Stahl, Emmet Iverson, Dessi Sieburth), with two there on the latter date. Somewhat regular along the lower Colorado River, a Curve-billed Thrasher was at Needles, San Bernardino Co 14 Mar (Garrett Zipp); another was at Piute Spring in the Mojave National Preserve, San Bernardino Co 14 Apr (Kristen Hayes). A Bendire’s Thrasher at Ballarat, Inyo Co 29 May (Matt Brady) was presumed to be a migrant.

Unexpected was a Townsend’s Solitaire that landed on a research cruise ship 36 km southwest of Point Arguello in Santa Barbara Co on 11 May (Michael Force). A very late lowland migrant Hermit Thrush was at P.P. 2 Jun (Chris Dean), and one at the Salton Sea State Recreation Area, N.E.S.S. 26–29 May (Robert L. McKernan, Chris Dean) established the latest spring date for the Salton Sink. After a poor winter for the species in the region, a very late Varied Thrush was at Baker, San Bernardino Co 30 May–5 Jun (Brian E. Daniels, Curtis A. Marantz).

Completely unexpected was a male White Wagtail of the black-backed subspecies lugens at 84th Ave., N.E.S.S. 2 Jun (Robert L. McKernan); it was the first for Riverside Co and for the entire Salton Sink.

Cassin’s Finches on the southern deserts were at Vallecito, San Diego Co 29 Mar–9 Apr and 8 May (Britta Lee Shain), and at Brawley, Imperial 25 Apr (Adrian Hinkle); on the south coast one was at Mt. Soledad in La Jolla, San Diego Co SD 30 Apr (Paul E. Lehman).

Pine Siskins were common and widespread through the spring: some notable late counts included five over north Vandenberg Air Force Base in northwest Santa Barbara Co 24 May (Nick A. Lethaby); up to three still at San Clemente Island 3–7 Jun (Justyn T. Stahl); 130 at Deep Springs, Inyo Co 23 May (m. obs.); 22 at the Imperial Irrigation District Wetlands near Niland 26 May (Curtis A. Marantz); 60 at Primm Valley Golf Course, San Bernardino Co 27 May, with some carrying nest material (Adrian Hinkle, Emmett Iverson); and 15 at Laguna Dam, Imperial Co 30 May (Bobby Wilcox). Lawrence’s Goldfinches staged the largest spring irruption ever in Orange Co, with at least 418 birds reported during the period and a high count of 50 at Irvine Regional Park in Orange 29–30 Mar (Thomas E. Wurster).

Longspurs through Icterids

A Lapland Longspur at Borrego Springs, San Diego Co 14 Apr (Todd Easterla) was an unexpected spring migrant. Grasshopper Sparrows normally nest on San Clemente Island after wet winters, so nesting evidence there 7–15 May this year (Steve A. Munoz) was unexpected after a very dry winter; one in the eastern Mojave Desert at Cima Dome, San Bernardino Co 11 Apr (Jim Tietz) was at an unexpected locality. Coastal reports of Black-throated Sparrows included birds at San Juan Capistrano, Orange Co 13 Apr (Samuel A. Bressler), Rancho Palos Verdes, Los Angeles Co 29 Apr (John Sterling), and Manhattan Beach, Los Angeles Co 14 May (Bob Shanman). Lark Buntings were at the Sedgwick Reserve near Los Olivos, Santa Barbara Co 24 Mar (Peter T. Schneekloth) and at the Carrizo Plain National Monument, San Luis Obispo Co along Elkhorn Road 21–25 Apr (Kathanne J. Lynch) and Soda Lake Road 22 Apr (Alexey Tishechkin). Tying a new latest-of-spring record for the Salton Sink were Chipping Sparrows on 26 May at the Salton Sea State Recreation Area, N.E.S.S. (Robert L. McKernan) and Niland (Curtis A. Marantz). Late spring Clay-colored Sparrows were at P.P. 3–9 May (Chris Dean) and Peck Road Water Conservation Park near El Monte, Los Angeles Co 18 May (Steven Kurniawidjaja). A Black-chinned Sparrow at Wilderness Gardens in Pala, San Diego Co 8 Mar (Aedyn Loefke) was either a very early spring arrival or had wintered locally.

The only Harris’s Sparrow of the period was at Big Pine, Inyo Co 24–30 Apr (Kelli K. Heindel, Jo Heindel). Several White-throated Sparrows not noted during the winter season were reported in April and May, with the latest being one at Watson Wash in Mojave NP, San Bernardino Co 22 May (Jim Tietz). Anecdotal reports suggest that Bell’s Sparrows on the western Mojave Desert (subspecies canescens) largely failed to breed this spring in places such as the Antelope Valley of Los Angeles Co.; dispersing family groups are expected in the San Gabriel Mtns. in May and June every year, but no juveniles were reported this year. The presence of three canescens individuals netted and banded out of range at Bear Divide in the westernmost San Gabriels 28 Apr–11 May (Ryan S. Terrill) perhaps suggests that breeding was not even attempted after a historically dry winter. A Lincoln’s Sparrow at Salt Creek on the northeast shore of the Salton Sea 15 May (Brian E. Daniels) established the latest spring record for the Salton Sink. Swamp Sparrows not previously noted in winter were at the Ventura County Game Preserve, Ventura Co 18 Mar (Larry Sansone), Desert Center Riverside Co 1 Apr (Frank Mayer), and Paso Robles (Golf Club), San Luis Obispo Co 13 Apr (Jessica L. Griffiths). A Green-tailed Towhee at Palm Springs, Riverside Co 8–9 Jun (Curtis A. Marantz) was exceptionally late for the low desert.

The enigmatic Yellow-breasted Chat x oriole hybrid returned for a third summer at San Timoteo Canyon in Redlands, San Bernardino Co 25 Apr+ (Matthew A. Grube) and was finally captured, measured and sampled for blood in Jun; stay tuned for an eventual publication detailing the bird’s parentage. Two different male Bobolinks were at F.C.R. 23 May and 31 May (Chris and Rosie Howard, Adrian W Hinkle), and another was at a residence in Inyokern, Kern Co 17 May (Sherry Thornburg). A second-year male Orchard Oriole at Wilson Cove, San Clemente Island 5–8 Jun established the first spring record for the island (Nicole J. Desnoyers); another Orchard was at Clairemont, San Diego Co 6 May (Hanna Zhao). Baltimore Orioles included a likely local winterer at Pismo Beach, San Luis Obispo Co 14 Mar (iNaturalist submission by “chickadeebanditry”). Others were at Huntington Beach, Orange Co 25 Apr (Andrew B. Lazere); Diaz Lake, Inyo Co 17 May (Chris and Rosie Howard); and Bonelli Regional Park, Los Angeles Co 2 Jun (Keith Condon). A Bronzed Cowbird at Baker, San Bernardino Co 10 May (Gary McLarty) was a bit north of its expected range.

Wood-warblers through Dickcissel

Coastal Ovenbirds were at Huntington Central Park in Huntington Beach 23–24 May (Thomas E. Wurster) and San Clemente Island 5 Jun (Sue T. Meiman). Four more were on the deserts at Yermo, San Bernardino Co 11 May (Kristin Hayes); Agua Caliente County Park, San Diego Co 19–20 May (Kathryn Wendel); California City, Kern Co 26 May (Dessi Sieburth); and Afton Canyon, San Bernardino Co 3 Jun (Matt Brady, Ryan S. Terrill). The wintering Northern Waterthrush at Huntington Central Park was joined there by a second bird 25 Apr–2 May (Derek J. Hameister); another coastal bird was in Los Osos (Pecho Road willows), San Luis Obispo Co 30 May (Jay C. Carroll), and five additional birds were on the deserts 9 May–7 Jun. Spring vagrant Black-and-white Warblers were at DeForest Park, Long Beach 14–17 Apr (Joyce Brady); Poway, San Diego Co 18–19 Apr (Bryan Williams); Del Mar, San Diego Co 9 May (Dan King); and San Nicolas Island 13 May (Sangeet Khalsa). Others were on the deserts at S.E.S.S. (Wister Unit headquarters) 15 May (Chezy Yusuf); Barstow, San Bernardino Co 22 May (Brittany O’Connor); and Big Morongo Canyon Preserve 22–23 May (Larry Schmahl). Three Tennessee Warblers on the coastal slope were at Chino Hills, San Bernardino Co 5 May (Luke Tiller), Point Loma 26–29 May (Alex Abela), and Lower Otay Reservoir, San Diego Co 31 May–1 Jun (Jim Pawlicki), with others on the deserts at Big Morongo Canyon Preserve 24 May (Eve Martin) and California City, Kern Co 28–29 May (Ryan S. Terrill). An impressive morning flight of 237+ Orange-crowned Warblers was tallied at Painted Cave in the Santa Ynez Mountains, Santa Barbara Co on 23 Mar (Brad Hacker). An out-of-range Lucy’s Warbler was at Oakdale Memorial Park in Glendora, Los Angeles Co 3 Apr (Richard Fisher). Casual as a spring migrant, a Virginia’s Warbler was well-documented with a written description at West Cuesta Ridge, San Luis Obispo Co 28 Apr (Kevin J. Zimmer).

A male Hooded Warbler was at Silverado Canyon, Orange Co 26 Apr (Edana L. Salisbury) and a female was at Butterbredt Spring 15–21 May (Dessi Sieburth). American Redstarts were at Lower Arroyo Park, Pasadena 17 Apr (Jane Yocom) and Pismo State Beach Campground in Oceano 26 May–19 Jun (Will H. Knowlton), and there were seven more on the northern deserts 27 Apr–17 Jun. Less than annual in spring, a male Cape May Warbler was at F.C.R. 31 May–4 June; it was joined there by a second male on the last date (Ryan S. Terrill et al.), and one bird remained to 6 Jun. Northern Parulas appeared in only modest numbers this spring: singles were at the Long Beach Civic Center 22 Apr (Robert A. Hamilton) and Benedict Canyon in Beverly Hills, Los Angeles Co 25 Apr (Daniel S. Cooper, Nurit Katz), and two were in the Santa Ynez Mtns. above Refugio Creek Canyon, Santa Barbara Co 2 May (Nick A. Lethaby). Others were on the deserts at Vallecito, San Diego Co 19 Apr and 13 May (Britta Lee Shain), Big Morongo Canyon Preserve 18 May (Gary Gray), and Barstow 3 Jun (Matt Brady, Ryan S. Terrill). Very rare Bay-breasted Warblers were at F.C.R. 31 May (Ethan Monk) and Huntington Central Park in Huntington Beach on 3 Jun (Brian E. Daniels). The lone Chestnut-sided Warbler to appear in the region this season was at Primm Valley Golf Course, San Bernardino Co 30 May (Thomas A. Benson), and a Blackpoll Warbler, casual in spring, was at Baker, San Bernardino Co 7 Jun (Loren Wright). Palm Warblers appearing prior to mid-late Apr had likely wintered locally: this was the case with one at Cambria, San Luis Obispo Co 20 Mar (Rebecca Marschall) and possibly the one at Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo Co 14 Apr (Jessica L. Griffiths); spring vagrants were on the deserts at Kelso, San Bernardino Co 1 May (Jim Tietz) and F.C.R. 31 May (Naresh Satyan). A Hermit Warbler at the Imperial Irrigation District Wetlands near Niland 9 Jun (Guy McCaskie) was exceptionally late. Not detected until 3–8 Apr was a Black-throated Green Warbler at Col. Leon Washington Park in south Los Angeles (Richard Barth) that had undoubtedly wintered there. An odd hybrid involving Yellow-rumped Warbler and another undetermined parulid species was at Birchim Canyon north of Bishop, Inyo Co 26 Apr (Ron and Nancy Overholtz). A Painted Redstart near El Centro 4–5 May (Kenneth Z. Kurland) was the first ever in spring at the Salton Sink.

First seen on 14 May, a male Pyrrhuloxia was photographed in Palm Springs on 8 Jun (ph. Barry Mantell); it represents the first for Riverside Co. Rose-breasted Grosbeaks were well-represented this spring. Three near the coast 5 Mar–17 Apr may have wintered locally, and another dozen spring vagrants were on the coastal slope 15 May–13 Jun; 18 more were on the deserts 7 May–6 Jun, and another was in the mountains at Lake Arrowhead, San Bernardino Co 14–16 May (Brad C. Singer). An adult male Black-headed Grosbeak at Rovana, Inyo Co 23 May (Jon L. Dunn) was thought to represent the interior nominate subspecies which breeds locally in the Great Basin ranges of Inyo Co but is virtually unknown as a migrant in California. The male hybrid Blue Grosbeak x bunting sp. returned to Big Morongo Canyon Preserve 24 May+ (Eve Martin, Susan Smith) and on 6 Jun appeared to be paired with a female Lazuli Bunting. Coastal slope Indigo Buntings included a returning male in the Tijuana River Valley 29 Apr+ (Andrew Newmark) with two males and a female there 22 May. Elsewhere, individuals were at San Clemente Island 15 May and 3 Jun (Nicole J. Desnoyers, Justyn T. Stahl); Point Loma 11 May (David Trissel); Quintana Rd. in Morro Bay 18–19 May (Carolyn P. Krueger); San Timoteo Canyon in Redlands 22 May (Eugene A. Cardiff); and Solana Beach, San Diego Co 28 May (Jimmy McMorran). Another 13 were on the deserts 10 May–5 Jun and one was at Alta Sierra in the Greenhorn Mountains, Kern Co 8 May (Evan Lipton). A male Painted Bunting was at Thousand Palms, Riverside Co 11 May (Ginny Short). A coastal Dickcissel was at Huntington Central Park in Huntington Beach 8 May (Roger A. Schoedl), and the second one ever for Imperial Co and the Salton Sink was at the Salton Sea NWR headquarters 12 May (Curtis A. Marantz, Chris Dean).

Report processed by Amy Davis, 20 Oct 2021.

Photos–Southern California: Spring 2021

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