Southern California: Winter 2016–2017

Winter 2016–2017: 1 Jan–31 Mar

Guy McCaskie

Kimball L. Garrett

Recommended citation:

G. McCaskie and K. L. Garrett. 2021. 2016–2017: Southern California. <> North American Birds.


fter several years of well-below normal precipitation during the region’s winter rainy season, a series of wet Pacific troughs passed through in December, January and February, bringing greater than average rainfall to most of Southern California. Temperatures were at, or below, normal throughout the region, and the only significant Santa Ana wind events occurred in early December and again in late January. There were few avian highlights; perhaps most interesting was the continuation, from the fall, of a lack of irruptive wintering birds such as Pine Siskins, Red Crossbills, Varied Thrushes, and Red-breasted Nuthatches. One species that did move into the coastal lowlands in greater than average numbers was the Mountain Bluebird. Two probable second-cycle Slaty-backed Gulls would, if accepted, establish the first records for San Diego and Los Angeles. Other highlights include a one-day Wood Thrush in San Diego and a week-long stay for a White Wagtail in Orange.

Cited observers (county coordinators in boldface):

Armand Aispuro, Bernardo Alps, Dorian Anderson, John and Linda Baker (J&LB), Larry R. Ballard, Nathan Barkley, Robert Battagin (RBa), Sonja Beeve (SBe), David Bell, Thomas A. Benson, Jean Booth (JBo), Steve Brad (SBr), Jeff M. Bray, Richard Breisch (RBr), John Bruin (JBr), John Callender (JCa), Eugene A. Cardiff, Steven W. Cardiff, Barbara L. Carlson, Nancy Christensen, Ross Christie, Paul Clarke, Hal Cohen, David M. Compton (Santa Barbara), Rebecca Fagan Coulter, Jill Coumoutso (JCo), Chris Dean (CDe), Bill Deppe, Henry Detwiler, Colin Dillingham (CDi), Dean DiTommaso, Daren Dowell, Jacob Drucker, Jon L. Dunn, Manuel Duran, Tom M. Edell (San Luis Obispo), Wyatt Egelhoff, Jon S. Feenstra, Hugh David Fleishmann, Brian Flick, Mary Freeman, Caleb Frome, Liz Garney, John F. Garrett (JFGa), Kimball L. Garrett (Los Angeles), Thomas Gilg (TGi), Mike Goldhammer (MGo), Tito Gonzalez (TGo), John and Roz Gorham (J&RG), Gary Gray, John F. Green (JFGr), Mathew Grube (MGr), Skye Haas, Charity Hagen, Jeff Hanson (JHa), Alexander Harper (AHa), Gjon C. Hazard, Richard Hedley, Darren P. Heindel

Cited Observers (cont.)

Kelli Heindel (Kern), Tom & Jo Heindel (Inyo), Alison Hiers (AHi), Michael Hilchey (MHi), Jim Hodgson (JHo), Mark A. Holmgren, Nicole Housel, Chris B. Howard, Rosie C. Howard, Andrew Howe (AHo), Mike Huang (MHu), Aaron Hulsey (AHu), Terry Hurst, Theresa Hyde, Christine Jacobs, Craig Kelleheim, Jay Keller (JaK), Joan Kent (JoK), Glenn Kincaid, Howard B. King, Russell D. Kokx, Alexander E. Koonce (San Bernardino), Karl Krause, Kenneth Z. Kurland, Denise LaBerteaux, Andrew K. Lee, Paul E. Lehman, Max Leibowitz, Pete Leichtfuss, Vic and Louann Leipzig (V&LL), Nick A. Lethaby, Barry Mantle (BMa), Curtis A. Marantz, Jesse D. Martinez, Paolo Matteuci, Guy McCaskie (San Diego and Imperial), Cathy McFadden, Chet McGaugh (Riverside), Robert McKernan, Robert McMorran, Sherry Meddick, Tony Metcalf (ToM),Terri Middlemiss (TeM), Bob Miller (BMi), Tim Miller (TiM), Tom Millington (TMi), Eddie Monson, Jen Moonjian (JMo), John Mueller (JMu), Stephen J. Myers, Richard Norgaard (RNd), Richard Norton (RNn), Gary Nunn, Katrine Olthoff (KOl), Kurt Ongman (KOn), Robert T. Patton, Jim Pawlicki (JPa), Dave Pereksta (DPe), Kaaren L. Perry, Nick Peterson, Jason Pietrzak (JPi), James E. Pike, Dave Povey (DPo), Dale Powell (DaP), David Rankin, Hugh P. Ranson, Janet Rayner (JRa), Steve Ritt, Kerry Ross, Jonathan Rowley (JRo), Tuck Russell, Matt Sadowski, Michael J. San Miguel, Ken Schneider, Roger Shoedl, Brad K. Schram, Adam J. Searcy (Ventura), Alison M. Sheehey, Christopher K. Smith, Eric Smith, Maggie L. Smith, Susan E. Smith, Sam Sphire, Justyn T. Stahl (San Clemente Island), Susan L. Steele, Andy Stepniewski, John C. Sterling, Frank Sterrett, Darcy Stumbaugh, Jim Tietz (JTi), Ed Thomas (ETh), Eric Tipton (ETi), John Topp (JTo), Tom Unsicker, David Vander Pluym, Pat and Ann Vaughan (P&AV), Kenneth Weaver, Cris Whetstone, Martha Wild (MaW), Jonathan Wilkinson, Douglas R. Willick (Orange), John C. Wilson, Ron Wilson, Step Wilson, Ryan S. Winkleman, Mike Wittmer (MWi), Michael Woodruff (MWo), Roger H. Zachary. Many additional observers who could not be individually acknowledged submitted reports – all have our thanks.


C.L. (China Lake Naval Air Weapons Station, extreme northeast Kern); F.C.R. (Furnace Creek Ranch, Death Valley National Park, Inyo); N.E.S.S. (north end of the Salton Sea, Riverside); P.M.N.A.S. (Point Mugu Naval Air Station, Ventura); P.P. (Piute Ponds on Edwards Air Force Base, northeast Los Angeles); S.E.S.S. (south end of the Salton Sea, Imperial); S.J.W.A. (San Jacinto Wildlife Area near Lakeview, Riverside); S.Y.R.E. (Santa Ynez River Estuary, Santa Barbara). 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 (CBRC) review list (see is forwarded to the CBRC and archived at the Western Foundation of Vertebrate Zoology in Camarillo.

Waterfowl through Hummingbirds

Tundra Swans were a little more numerous and widespread this winter than in recent years with the southernmost on the coast at Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve, Orange 11 Jan (CF) and inland at S.E.S.S. with one (Garst Rd) 14 Dec (KLG), five (Refuge HQ) 20 Dec (JFGa, JTi) and one (Unit 1) 28 Dec–23 Feb (PM, GG), along with one farther south near Imperial (Dogwood & Keystone) 24 Dec (SS) and four near Seeley (Fig Lagoon) 1 Jan (HBK). At least 30 Eurasian Wigeon were known wintering in the region, with most along the coast as expected. A Mallard showing the characteristics of a “Mexican Duck” was at F.C.R. 25 Dec–15 Jan (JLD, CBH, RCH). The only Eurasian Green-winged Teal were one in Carpinteria, Santa Barbara 17 Dec–30 Jan (JCa) and another in Pico Rivera, Los Angeles 26 Dec–12 Feb (JFGa). A Tufted Duck in Goleta, Santa Barbara 19 Dec–13 Apr (JoK) was the same bird present during the past three winters, and another in Anaheim, Orange 19 Nov–28 Mar (MHu) was the same bird present last winter. An impressive 2100–2500 Greater Scaup on south San Diego Bay 13 Feb (MS) was far more than expected since Unitt (San Diego County Bird Atlas 2004) lists this duck as “uncommon to rare”. Four Harlequin Ducks along the San Luis Obispo coast were in the only area in Southern California where expected.

A Surf Scoter on the Colorado R. at Parker Dam, San Bernardino 7 Dec (KS), another at N.E.S.S. (Salton Sea State Rec. Area) 15 Jan (WE), a White-winged Scoter at N.E.S.S. (Whitewater R. mouth) 12 Dec (RMcK) and up to two more on Lake Arrowhead, San Bernardino 10 Jan–25 Feb (ETi), were the only five scoters reported inland. A total of 22 White-winged Scoters were found along the coast south of Pt. Conception, but 20 of these were concentrated at Dockweiler State Beach in Los Angeles. Of the 30 Black Scoters known along the entire coast, 12 were at Dockweiler State Beach and six were on south San Diego Bay. Single Long-tailed Ducks at P.P. 9–15 Dec (JSF), N.E.S.S. (Whitewater R. mouth) 12 Dec (RMcK) and at nearby North Shore 21 Dec (TGi), along with up to three on the All-American Canal north of Bard, Imperial 17–21 Dec (BMi, HD), were inland, where rare, and an additional nine were found along the coast. An apparent male Bufflehead x Common Goldeneye along the east shore of the Salton Sea (Salt Creek) 18 Jan (RMcK) was an interesting hybrid. A Barrow’s Goldeneye at Hart Park near Bakersfield 19–20 Dec (TMi) was only the fourth found in Kern. Up to 16 White-tailed Ptarmigan, an introduced gamebird rarely reported in this region, were at North Lake west of Bishop, Inyo 2–15 Feb (SLS, CBH, RCH).

A Horned Grebe at Diaz L. south of Lone Pine, Inyo 21–24 Dec (RDK, JDM) was noteworthy because the species is considered casual in Inyo in winter. A Red-necked Grebe at Castaic Lagoon, Los Angeles 31 Dec–21 Jan (KLG) was inland, and one in Oceanside, San Diego 15 Dec (DS) was the southernmost of the four found along the coast.

A Ruddy Ground-Dove, now considered a casual straggler to California, was with Inca Doves at Newberry Springs, San Bernardino 3 Dec (EAC), and another was in Bishop 11 Dec (CBH, RCH). The presence of at least 30 White-winged Doves in Brawley, Imperial 19 Dec (PEL) illustrates the recent change in status of this dove at the Salton Sink from very rare to common in winter. One at C.L. 15 Dec–20 Feb (SLS) and another at Twentynine Palms, San Bernardino 22 Feb (CK) were in areas where unexpected in winter. In addition, six were reported from along the coast, where rare at any time of the year. A Broad-billed Hummingbird, a casual straggler to California, was in El Cajon, San Diego 26 Dec–9 Mar (CKS) and another visited a feeder in Goleta 7–28 Jan (JHa).

Plovers through Terns

Three Pacific Golden-Plovers at Seal Beach Orange 3 Dec–11 Feb (RSW), one at the Tijuana River mouth, San Diego 25 Aug–7 Apr (RTP, MS) and up to seven on San Clemente I. 23 Dec–26 Apr (BF) were the only ones known wintering in Southern California. Noteworthy shorebirds well inland included a Red Knot at S.E.S.S. (Lack Rd) 1 Jan (CDi), single Ruffs at N.E.S.S. (Ave 84) 20 Nov–30 Dec (CMcG) and S.E.S.S. (Barth Rd) 13 Dec (KLG), and up to 100 Sanderlings along the east shore of the Salton Sea at the Salt Creek mouth after 25 Jan (RMcK). A Stilt Sandpiper around south San Diego Bay 21 Dec–4 Jan (MS, GN) was on the coast, where rare, especially so in winter.

A Pigeon Guillemot at Morro Bay, San Luis Obispo 1–18 Jan (P&AV) was evidently wintering locally, while another at San Simeon, San Luis Obispo 27 Feb (MLS) was the earliest of the summering birds. Single Marbled Murrelets at Montana de Oro S.P. 17 Dec (BKS) and San Simeon 30 Jan (MLS) were the only two reported. About 10 Ancient Murrelets off San Diego 25 Feb–4 Mar (PEL, ML) were the only ones reported south of San Luis Obispo. A Tufted Puffin, rare in Southern California waters, was off Morro Bay 14 Jan (CAM).

Black-legged Kittiwakes were scarce south of San Luis Obispo, with only 13 reported from Santa Barbara southward through San Diego. Unprecedented was an alternate-plumage Sabine’s Gull well inland in Atascadero, San Luis Obispo 21 Feb (P&AV). An adult Black-headed Gull near Oasis, Riverside 30 Dec–9 Mar (CMcG, RMcK) may well have been the same bird present in this area 8–14 Jan 2014 (NAB 68:275-278). Single Laughing Gulls at N.E.S.S. (North Shore) 1–7 Dec (RMcK), near Oasis 30 Dec–31 Jan (CMcG) and at S.E.S.S. (Lack & Lindsey) 4 Jan (GMcC) were the only three at the Salton Sink this winter; a long-staying bird in Goleta 16 May 2016–15 May (GK) and on south San Diego Bay 19 Feb–5 Mar (DDiT) were on the coast, where rare. A Heermann’s Gull in Atascadero 21 Feb (TME) was the only one reported inland. Single Mew Gulls at Lakeview, Riverside 26 Feb (MF), N.E.S.S. (Ave 84) 16 Jan (HBK), on the east shore of the Salton Sea at the Salt Creek mouth 7 Dec (RMcK), S.E.S.S. (seawall) 19–20 Dec (PEL, GMcC) and near Brawley 21 Dec (SWC) were all well inland, where rare. The presence of 78 Western Gulls around N.E.S.S. this winter, including 39 at the Whitewater River mouth on 12 Dec (RMcK), well documents the increase in the abundance of this gull at the Salton Sea in recent years.

A Yellow-footed Gull in the area around Pico Rivera 26 Dec–22 Feb (JFGa, MGr), then in nearby Long Beach 9–12 Mar (JFGa), provides one of a very few records away from the Salton Sink. Thayer’s Gulls were scarce along the coast, and one at N.E.S.S. 7 Dec (CMcG) was the only one reported at the Salton Sea. A first-cycle gull in Pico Rivera 18 Feb (JLD) best matched an Iceland Gull of the nominate form glaucoides. The number of Lesser Black-backed Gulls found wintering in Southern California increases every year, with four in the Lake Perris/Lakeview area of Riverside, and 15 at the Salton Sink inland, along with one at the S.Y.R.E. 26 Feb (NAL), 5 around Los Angeles, and 3 more around south San Diego on the coast. A large second-cycle gull in Pico Rivera 31 Jan–11 Feb (JFGa) and nearby Long Beach 19 Feb (BA), and another at Lower Otay Lake, San Diego 16–21 Jan (JPa), were both believed by some to be Slaty-backed Gulls. The only Glaucous Gulls known this winter were three in San Luis Obispo and one at Bolsa Chica/Seal Beach 15–26 Jan (MHu). A Common Tern over the 9-Mile Bank off San Diego 25 Feb (PEL) likely wintered locally as spring migrants are not expected before mid-April.

Tropicbirds through Woodpeckers

A Red-billed Tropicbird at the 9-Mile Bank off San Diego 8 Jan (MS) provided one of only a few winter records. A Red-throated Loon on Lake Perris, Riverside 23 Dec–6 Jan (RMcK), and single Pacific Loons at Quail Lake, Los Angeles 11 Dec (DB), on the San Bernardino side of Lake Havasu 18 Jan (DVanP) and Lake Perris 6 Dec (RMcK) were inland. A Common Loon near Calipatria, Imperial 19 Dec (PEL) and another at N.E.S.S. (State Recreation Area) 15 Jan (WE) are two of a very few known at the Salton Sink in winter. A Laysan Albatross, the first known in Orange waters, 8 km off Dana Point, along with at least two Black-footed Albatross 19 Feb (TAB) in the same area, were unusually close to shore. Two Flesh-footed Shearwaters, rare off Southern California, were off Morro Bay 14 Jan (BKS, CAM), one was off Dana Point 19 Feb (TAB), and another was 10 km off La Jolla 4 Dec (DPo). Two Leach’s Storm-Petrels at La Jolla 21 Jan (PEL) provide one of only a few records of this species from shore in Southern California.

Brown Booby numbers continued to decline as ocean water temperatures dropped, with only one each reported in San Luis Obispo at Point Piedras Blancas 21–22 Dec (V & LL), Santa Barbara at Pt. Conception 7 Jan (KOl), and in Orange at Oil Drilling Platform Edith 19 Feb (TAB). A Red-footed Booby was off Imperial Beach 13 Dec (PEL). Neotropic Cormorants returned to the Salton Sink in mid-December, with up to seven near Seeley (Sunbeam Lake) after 19 Dec (GMcC), four at S.E.S.S. (Lack & Lindsey) 18 Jan (GMcC), and two at N.E.S.S. (Ave 81) 26 Feb (CAM). A Tricolored Heron in Imperial Beach 17 Dec–15 Mar (MGo, MS) was only the sixth in California since 2010. Up to two Reddish Egrets at P.M.N.A.S. were the only ones north of San Diego and Orange. Up to seven Yellow-crowned Night-Herons in Carpinteria 1 Jan–28 Feb (LRB, JCa) and one at Bolsa Chica 1 Dec–2 Jan (JEP) were away from the resident populations around P.M.N.A.S. and San Diego.

A Black Vulture over San Luis Obispo, San Luis Obispo 17–18 Dec (JMo, KLP) was believed to be the same bird present in this area during the past four winters. A Harris’s Hawk at Borrego Springs, San Diego 27 Dec–18 Jan (SW, AS) was the only one known in California. It is difficult to categorize reports of Swainson’s Hawks at this season—single birds over Alhambra, Los Angeles 6 Jan (JFGa) and near Bakersfield 21 Jan (JCS) could be wintering birds, but a flock of 31 over Fallbrook, San Diego on 26 Dec (KW) suggests migrants are still present in late December. One at Otay Lake 1 Feb (JPa) and four together at Borrego Springs 10 Feb (HC) would appear to be the earliest of the spring migrants, and 498 moving northward over Borrego Springs 19–20 Feb (HC) were clearly migrants. At least seven Zone-tailed Hawks were believed wintering in the coastal lowlands of San Diego and Orange, but one near Blythe, Riverside 28 Jan (JPi) was the only one known inland. The number of Rough-legged Hawks reaching Southern California has declined markedly in recent years, so up to two at Bitter Creek N.W.R. Kern 10–30 Dec (JD, TAB), and one at Lake Cuyamaca 9 Dec (TH), the first well documented occurrence in San Diego since the early 1990s, were noteworthy.

At least 15 Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers found scattered throughout this region would appear about average. Up to two Williamson’s Sapsuckers at Veterans Park in Sylmar, Los Angeles from Nov to 8 Mar (NB) were in the coastal lowlands, where rare (though regular at this locality).

Flycatchers through Vireos

Our three regularly wintering Empidonax flycatchers were present in roughly equal numbers this year. Nine Hammond’s Flycatchers were on the coastal slope, with others in west Bakersfield, Kern 7–8 Jan (AMS, JCW) and a returning winterer nearby in Bakersfield 19 Jan–13 Feb (KH). At least nine Gray Flycatchers were in Los Angeles and San Diego, with another on the desert at Desert Center, Riverside 4 Dec–3 Feb (CAM). Only nine Pacific-slope Flycatchers were reported, all from Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego. Several Eastern Phoebes remained from the fall period into or through the winter, with additional birds at Santa Ynez, Santa Barbara 5 Dec (MAH), San Luis Obispo 17–18 Dec (TME), Ventura 17 Dec–21 Jan (RMcM), S.J.W.A. 18 Dec (CH), and Lake Arrowhead, San Bernardino 19 Dec (ETi). Vermilion Flycatchers continued their spread and increase in numbers, as evidenced by a very northerly male at Diaz Lake south of Lone Pine, Inyo 28 Jan–5 Feb (RDK) and an impressive CBC count of 36 at N.E.S.S. 30 Dec (HBK). Five Dusky-capped Flycatchers, a good total for this rare but regular wintering species, were found, at La Mirada Creek Park, Los Angeles 1 Dec–22 Mar (a returning bird; JRo), Encinitas, San Diego 3 Jan–1 May (AHi, SES), Pismo State Beach, San Luis Obispo 12 Jan–8 Mar (LG, JBo), Cucamonga-Guasti R. P., San Bernardino 21 Jan–21 Apr (HBK, MWo), and Bell Gardens, Los Angeles 10–15 Mar (JFGa).

Five Ash-throated Flycatchers along the coast was roughly an average total. Most of the 14 Tropical Kingbirds during the period had arrived in the fall. Nearly all were along the coast, except for a returning wintering bird at Prado R. P., San Bernardino which remained to at least 26 Feb (HBK). The returning Thick-billed Kingbirds reported last period remained to 6 Mar at Horsethief Canyon Park in San Dimas, Los Angeles (ES) and 8 Apr at Chula Vista, San Diego (RNd). Western Kingbirds, casual in winter, were at Fallbrook, San Diego from November to 26 Dec (RS), Yucaipa R.P., San Bernardino 17 Dec (CMcG), Chula Vista, San Diego 29 Dec–2 Jan (KOn, MWi), and Madrona Marsh in Torrance, Los Angeles 27 Jan–12 Feb (MD). Scissor-tailed Flycatchers were found only in San Diego, with two at Otay Valley R.P. 3–9 Dec (RBr, JW), with one moving to Chula Vista 22 Dec–19 Feb (RNn) and the other to Nestor 10 Jan–4 Feb (BF, DPo).

Up to five Loggerhead Shrikes each at Seal Beach and Bolsa Chica, Orange during the period (DRW) is an encouraging uptick in winter numbers for a species that has declined greatly on the coast. Three Bell’s Vireo subspecies occurred this winter: a returning pusillus found at Huntington Beach 18 Sep was not seen after 4 Dec (RS)—a bright “eastern” bird was at Oceanside 30 Dec–21 Feb (TGo), and a yellowish bird at Cucamonga-Guasti R. P. 24 Jan (DR) was possibly eastern. One at Brawley 18 Jan–25 Feb (GMcC) was felt to be arizonae, as was an exceptionally northerly bird at Millpond County Park near Bishop 17–27 Dec (JLD). A Hutton’s Vireo at Brawley 8 Feb–4 Mar (GMcC) was only the second to be recorded in the Salton Sink. Some 34 Plumbeous Vireos on the coastal slope far exceeded the 12 Cassin’s reported—another Plumbeous was on the desert at Borrego Springs 18 Dec (PEL), and bright Cassin’s/Blue-headed were in San Diego at Ocean Beach 15 Oct–21 Jan (JBr), and Bonsall 21 Dec (SES). A Warbling Vireo returning for its fourth winter remained at Santa Barbara from 19 Nov–31 Dec (HPR).

Corvids through Sparrows

Steller’s Jays were considered “widely reported” in lowlands of Inyo, especially after heavy snows of late Jan—up to nine were in a Big Pine yard 25 Feb (T&JH)—one at Big Morongo Canyon Preserve, San Bernardino 28 Feb (BMa) was well away from breeding habitat. A wandering Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay was at Brawley 27 Dec (EM). Out of range Clark’s Nutcrackers were on Santa Cruz I. 15–16 Feb (AHu) and on the northern desert at Inyokern, Kern 2 Feb (TeM).

Unseasonal Bank Swallows were at N.E.S.S. 7 Dec (RMcK), 30 Dec (ToM), and 9 Feb (SJM). Violet-green Swallows winter erratically in some coastal areas, but birds at Fig Lagoon near Seeley, Imperial 6 Dec (GMcC), S.J.W.A., Riverside 20 Dec (3; CMcG), and N.E.S.S. 30 Dec (SJM) were unexpected. Early-arriving Cliff Swallows were at Hansen Dam, Los Angeles 3 Feb (KLG), El Monte, Los Angeles 4 Feb (JFGa), Lake Hodges, San Diego 4 Feb (RW), and Prado R.P. 5 Feb (TAB). A Barn Swallow on San Clemente I. 25 Dec–4 Jan (JTS) was the first in mid-winter for the island—one in Amargosa Canyon 14 Jan (CBH, RCH) was a January rarity for Inyo.

A Verdin at Balboa Park in San Diego 31 Jan (NC) was on the coast, where rare. Barely a dozen Red-breasted Nuthatches were found anywhere in the region’s lowlands this winter, indicating a lack of any irruptive flight. One irruptive species—Mountain Bluebird—did occur in greater-than-average numbers. Some notable records on the coast included nine at Los Osos, San Luis Obispo 9–18 Dec (MLS), up to 13 at Harmony, San Luis Obispo 13 Dec–1 Mar (TME), 19 in the Tijuana R. Valley 17 Dec (BLC), and a high count of 40 on San Clemente I. 25 Dec (JTS, NJD). These bluebirds were even more abundant in the interior valleys—e.g. high counts in the Santa Ynez Valley, Santa Barbara of 66 on 19 Feb (DMC) and 40 on 16 Dec (HDF), 16 east of Santa Maria, Santa Barbara 30 Dec (JMC), 38 at La Verne, Los Angeles 13 Dec (MJS), 20 in Rialto, San Bernardino 7 Dec (TMi), and 23 at Loma Linda, San Bernardino 28 Jan (AEK), along with large numbers in expected sites such as the Carrizo Plain, the Cuyama Valley, and the west Mojave Desert.

A Wood Thrush, casual in California, was photographed at Oceanside 18 Dec (JaK) for only the second winter record for the region. Fewer than twenty Varied Thrushes were reported during the period, with only one on the deserts at Primm Valley, San Bernardino 24 Jan (AHa). A Gray Catbird remained in Lakewood, Los Angeles from November to 17 Dec (TEW), with others at Encinitas, San Diego 3–28 Jan (PEL) and Riverside 6 Nov–11 Feb (JFGr). The only Brown Thrasher reported was near El Centro 27 Dec–16 Mar (KZK). A midwinter Sage Thrasher was at Santa Barbara 26–27 Dec (HPR)—one at Lake Casitas, Ventura 24–31 Jan (KK) was possibly an early migrant, as this species is routine as a migrant by early February.

A White Wagtail on the Santa Ana River in Anaheim, Orange 1–7 Feb (NH, JCo) appeared to be M. a. ocularis. A Scaly-breasted Munia at Templeton 14 Dec (JRa) was only the second in San Luis Obispo east of the Santa Lucia range. Some 100 Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches appeared after a snowstorm in Rovana, Inyo 5 Jan (JLD), a site well below typical high mountain habitat. Pine Siskins were nearly absent from the region during the winter. For example, one at Atascadero 19 Feb (RHZ) was the only report for San Luis Obispo, and only some seven individuals were reported in San Bernardino during period (AEK).

A Lapland Longspur was at Seal Beach N.W.S. 3–17 Dec (RSW, JMB), and up to seven were on San Clemente I. 13 Dec–6 Feb (JTS). Some eight Green-tailed Towhees were found in coastal Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego. The season’s only American Tree Sparrow was at Bishop 20 Feb (RBa). In addition to at least three Clay-colored Sparrows continuing from fall into the winter period, birds were at Riverside 29 Jan (DR) and Exposition Park in Los Angeles 8 Feb–9 Mar (KLG). Singing Black-chinned Sparrows in San Diego at Alpine 22 Feb (DDiT) and Lakeside 25 Feb (TH) were presumably exceptionally early spring migrants. Ten Black-throated Sparrows in Indian Joe Canyon in the Argus Mtns. 8 Feb (SLS) were the earliest spring arrivals in Inyo. Up to two Nelson’s Sparrows were found at each of two of their regular wintering sites: Seal Beach N.W.S. 3 Dec–11 Feb (RSW, JMB, TAB) and the Tijuana R. estuary 14 Nov–29 Jan (JTo).

“Red” Fox Sparrows, rare but regular in winter, were at Arroyo Grande, San Luis Obispo 19 Dec (SH) and in Los Angeles at Porter Ranch 9 Dec–4 Feb (ETh), Pasadena 17 Dec (DD), and Bonelli R. P. 8 Jan (MJS). Ten Swamp Sparrows were in coastal areas, with another at S.E.S.S. 20 Dec (JTi). Some 54 White-throated Sparrows were in the coastal counties during the period, but only four south of Los Angeles. Others were in Thousand Palms, Riverside 10 Dec (DR), Hole-In-The-Wall, San Bernardino 14 Dec (TU) and Mt. Baldy Village, San Bernardino 17 Dec (PC, CMcF). A Harris’s Sparrow continued from November to 15 Feb at Desert Center, Riverside (DG), and others were at Weldon, Kern 7 Dec (DLaB), S.E.S.S. 20 Dec–12 Feb (GMcC), Inyokern 22 Dec (CDi), Ventura 5–15 Jan (KK), and Claremont, Los Angeles 18 Feb–28 Apr (J&LB).

Icterids through Buntings

Yellow-headed Blackbirds, rare on the north coast in winter, were in Santa Barbara at Guadalupe 26 Dec (TME) and Goleta 21 Dec–18 Feb (JHo). Orchard Orioles were poorly represented, with singles at Solana Beach, San Diego 3 Jan (PEL) and Arcadia, Los Angeles 8–27 Feb (TEW), along with one continuing from September to 14 Apr in Fountain Valley, Orange (CW). Wintering Hooded Orioles away from the southern coast included one at Cayucos, San Luis Obispo 25 Dec–7 Jan (TME) and one in Bakersfield 29 Jan (DPH). Males in San Diego 4 Feb (MaW) and Palm City, San Diego 5 Feb (PEL) may have been the earliest spring returning migrants, and early northern arrivals included birds at Carpinteria 25 Feb (LRB) and Goleta 27 Feb (RFC). The dozen Baltimore Orioles during the period included five from Ventura south to Orange and seven more in San Diego. About 100 Bullock’s Orioles were found through the coastal counties (with a peak of 35 in San Diego), with two at Fairmount Park in Riverside 23 Dec (SWC) being well inland. A Rusty Blackbird, casual and declining in California, was at Santa Ana, Orange 6 Jan–26 Feb (JEP).

The season’s lone Ovenbird was at Otay Valley R. P. 22 Jan–5 Feb (MHi). Separate Northern Waterthrushes were at P.M.N.A.S. 26 Dec (JMu) and 1 Jan (DPe), with others at Huntington Beach 7–29 Dec (JEP) and S.E.S.S. 17–31 Dec (DA). At least 42 Black-and-white Warblers were found in all coastal counties, with one farther inland in Riverside 8 Feb (DR). A Tennessee Warbler was at Goleta 31 Dec–29 Jan (DMC). An Orange-crowned Warbler of the Channel Is. subspecies sordida photographed at Morro Bay 16 Dec (CAM) is indicative of how this subspecies can disperse well north up the coast (even to northern California) in fall and winter. The 23 wintering Nashville Warblers were all along the coast. A MacGillivray’s Warbler was at Carlsbad, San Diego 18 Jan–4 Feb (SBr). Surprisingly, this common western species is only about the 15th to 20th most numerous winter wood-warbler in the region. Coastal slope American Redstarts were at Carlsbad 2 Dec–13 Jan (GCH), Lake Hodges, San Diego 2–4 Jan (SBe), Lake Skinner, Riverside 4 Jan (CH), La Jolla 13–24 Jan (RC), and Irvine 29 Jan–3 Feb (CJ). Two others were near Niland 23 Sep–04 Jan (GMcC) and 20 Dec (JTS). Singles of the following eastern North American species were noted this winter: a Northern Parula at Escondido 11 Dec (GCH), a Magnolia Warbler at Palm City 13 Dec–22 Jan (PEL), a Bay-breasted Warbler at Los Osos 18 Dec–27 Feb (JSR; the first winter record for San Luis Obispo), a Blackburnian Warbler at Hansen Dam, Los Angeles 17–19 Dec (KLG), a Yellow-throated Warbler at Willowbrook, Los Angeles 3 Dec–12 Mar (CDe), and a Prairie Warbler at Goleta 27 Dec–8 Jan (AA; only the third mid-winter record for Santa Barbara).

Chestnut-sided Warblers were at Carlsbad 26 Nov–18 Feb (TGo) and Chula Vista 9–17 Dec (SR). There was something of a northerly skew to the Palm Warblers this winter, with 11 in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara (one near Santa Ynez 28 Dec was the first inland winter record for the latter county; GK), but only nine in coastal counties south of there, and none in San Diego. Astonishingly, one at Bishop City Park 28 Nov–15 Mar (RCH) survived one of the coldest and snowiest winters on record in Inyo! A Pine Warbler at Santa Fe Dam in Irwindale, Los Angeles 17–29 Dec (AKL) was likely a returning bird—another was at Fountain Valley 28 Dec–3 Jan (JEP). Hermit Warblers were scarce this winter, with only 11 reported and none north of Los Angeles. A Black-throated Green Warbler in San Diego 20 Oct–26 Feb (DDiT) had returned for its fourth winter—another was at Santee 4 Dec (NC). About 48 Wilson’s Warblers were reported in coastal areas, with birds further inland at the San Jacinto Valley, Riverside 20 Dec (NP) and at San Bernardino 23 Dec (TAB). A returning Painted Redstart at Mar Vista, Los Angeles 11 Feb was apparently present for “weeks” prior (RH), and another returned for its 3rd winter 19 Nov–25 Feb at Silverado Canyon, Orange (SM). Others were on the Palos Verdes Peninsula, Los Angeles from Nov to 21 Feb (m. ob.), and in San Diego at Tierrasanta 18 Oct–14 Jan (PEL), Mission Bay 11 Jan–5 Mar (DPo), and Mission Hills 18 Jan (PEL).

A Hepatic Tanager at Balboa Park in San Diego 4 Nov–22 Mar (TR) had returned for its sixth winter. Thirty-nine Summer Tanagers in the coastal counties were augmented by inland birds at Borrego Springs, San Diego 18 Dec (PEL), Corvallis Park in west Bakersfield 6 Jan (BD), Palm Desert 11–12 Jan (FS), and Riverside through 23 Feb (AHo). A female Scarlet Tanager near Santa Ynez 4–5 Dec (WTF) was at the tail end of this species’ late fall window of vagrancy. A Western Tanager at Brawley 18 Dec (DA) was very late for the desert-Eight Rose-breasted Grosbeaks and 12 Black-headed Grosbeaks, all in the coastal counties except for a Rose-breasted at Riverside 27 Feb (DaP), made for a fairly typical species ratio, although some winters Rose-breasteds are more numerous. Indigo Buntings were at Escondido, San Diego 13–25 Jan (PL) and Millpond Co. Park west of Bishop 22 Dec–7 Jan (JLD). An adult male Painted Bunting at Birch Creek south of Big Pine 15 Dec (J&RG) was well away from urban areas where escapees are most likely.

Report processed by Alex Meilleur, 9 Feb 2020.

Photos–Southern California: Winter 2016–2017

Hover or click on each image to read the caption.