Southern California: Winter 2020–2021

Winter 2020–2021: 1 Dec–28 Feb

Guy McCaskie

Kimball L. Garrett

Recommended citation:

McCaskie, G., and K. L. Garrett. 2021. Winter 2020–2021: Southern California. <> North American Birds.

The winter period was generally very dry and relatively warm, with rainfall totals well below average and little persisting snowpack in the mountains. But we note that a great deal of winter field effort, and perhaps even a greater percentage than usual this winter due to COVID-related restrictions, takes place in well-irrigated urban parks, residential areas, agricultural areas, and artificial wetlands which are somewhat immune to the immediate impacts of drought and may be disproportionately attractive to some birds in the driest winters. Rarity highlights during the winter included the region’s second Purple Sandpiper at the northeast shore of the Salton Sea, Riverside Co; a returning wintering Little Stint at south San Diego Bay; a Broad-tailed Hummingbird in the Coachella Valley of Riverside Co; California’s first winter period Elf Owl, also in the Coachella Valley; a Philadelphia Vireo in Ventura, Ventura Co; and a Streak-backed Oriole through the winter in coastal San Luis Obispo Co.  Warbler highlights included a Cape May Warbler and “Yellow” Palm Warbler in San Diego Co.

The late fall and winter saw a moderate movement of Red-breasted Nuthatches, but more significant lowland incursions of finches, including Cassin’s and Purple Finches, and a major movement of Pine Siskins.  On the other hand, relatively few Lewis’s Woodpeckers, Golden-crowned Kinglets, and Varied Thrushes were found in the region.

Sub-regional Compilers

David M. Compton (Santa Barbara Co), Tom M. Edell (San Luis Obispo Co), Kimball L. Garrett (Los Angeles Co), Kelli K. Heindel (Kern Co), Chris & Rosie Howard (Inyo Co), Alexander E. Koonce (San Bernardino Co), Guy McCaskie (San Diego and Imperial Cos), 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.M.N.A.S. (Pt. Mugu Naval Air Station, Ventura Co); P.P. (Piute Ponds on Edwards Air Force Base, ne. Los Angeles Co); S.C.R.E. (Santa Clara River Estuary in Ventura, Ventura Co); S.E.S.S. (south end of the Salton Sea, Imperial Co).

Because most rarities in s. 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 Grebes

A Trumpeter Swan near Bishop, Inyo Co 19 Dec–28 Feb+ (Tressa Gibbard) was the same bird present during the past 3 winters, and a flock of six at P.P. 3 Dec (Chris A. Dean) was a large number for Southern California. A Tundra Swan in flight over Mission Bay in San Diego on 13 Dec (MAG) and three at S.E.S.S. (Wister Unit) on 4 Dec (Christina Vojta) were the southernmost this winter.

The female Garganey at N.E.S.S. (Varner Harbor at North Shore) 19 Oct remained through 10 Mar (Robert McKernan). The number of Blue-winged Teal at N.E.S.S. peaked at 850 on 13 Jan (Robert McKernan), with an impressive 411 at Varner Harbor alone on 6 Jan (Robert McKernan). At least 33 Eurasian Wigeon along the coast and six more inland was more than expected. A Mexican Duck in Huntington Beach 25 Jan–8 Mar (James E. Pike) was the first in Orange Co. A male Eurasian Green-winged Teal in Irvine, Orange Co 27 Dec–5 Jan (James E. Pike), one at the San Gabriel Coastal Basin Spreading Grounds in Pico Rivera, Los Angeles Co 9 Jan–15 Mar (Steven Kurniawidjaja), and another on south San Diego Bay (Chula Vista) 15 Mar (Dan Jehl) were the only three reported.

A Tufted Duck in Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara Co 22 Dec–4 Feb (Hugh P. Ranson) was the same bird present during the past seven winters. Noteworthy was a hybrid male Tufted Duck x scaup well photographed at F.C.R. 1 Feb (Chris and Rosie Howard). Numbers of Greater Scaup, formerly considered rare at the Salton Sink, peaked at 84 at N.E.S.S. on 23 Dec (Robert McKernan) and at 44 at S.E.S.S. on the late date of 31 Mar (Curtis A. Marantz), indicating a major change in the species’ status at the Salton Sea. A female Harlequin Duck at Estero Bluffs State Park and a male at Port San Luis, San Luis Obispo Co, both present through the winter (Petra and Jack Clayton, Tom M. Edell), were at the southern limit of this species’ range on the Pacific coast. A total of 18 Surf Scoters at N.E.S.S. (North Shore and Ave 81) 9 Dec (Robert McKernan) probably included some late fall migrants since the number dwindled through January, with only three still present on 28 Feb (Robert McKernan); single Surf Scoters on Lake Havasu, San Bernardino Co 2–23 Jan (Rob Klotz) and at S.E.S.S. (Young Rd) 5 Feb (Guy McCaskie) were the only others reported well inland. Up to two White-winged Scoters at N.E.S.S. (Ave 81) 2–16 Dec (Robert McKernan) and another at N.E.S.S. (North Shore) 23 Dec–17 Feb (Robert McKernan) were the only three inland. Single Long-tailed Ducks, rare inland, were on Tinemaha Reservoir, Inyo Co 1 Jan (Jon L. Dunn), Lake Havasu 2–23 Jan (Rob Klotz), Big River, San Bernardino Co 14 Feb (Matt Farley), N.E.S.S, (North Shore) 21–28 Jan (Stuart Angerer), and at Salt Creek Beach on the east shore of the Salton Sea, Riverside Co. 10–23 Feb (Robert McKernan); up to four Long-tailed Ducks in Long Beach, Los Angeles Co 13 Nov–8 May (Richard Barth) were the southernmost of the seven found along the coast. A young male Barrow’s Goldeneye in Pismo Beach, San Luis Obispo Co 1 Dec–16 Mar (Tom M. Edell) and an adult male in Littlerock, Los Angeles Co 9 Jan–17 Feb (Lance Benner) were the only two known in Southern California.

 A flock of up to 41 Common Mergansers at N.E.S.S. (Ave 81) 20 Jan–10 Feb (Robert McKernan) is the largest number known at the Salton Sink. A count of 54 Red-breasted Mergansers at N.E.S.S. on 17 Feb was also a large number for the Salton Sea.

A Red-necked Grebe on the California Aqueduct south of Lost Hills, Kern Co 19 Jan (Alex Single) was inland where exceedingly rare, and one on San Diego Bay 28 Nov–2 Mar (Nancy Christensen) was the southernmost of the five known on the coast. A peak of 100,000 Eared Grebes at N.E.S.S. 6 Jan (Robert McKernan) was short-lived, with that number dropping to 15,000 a week later suggesting most moved out of the Salton Sink.

Doves through Hummingbirds

A White-winged Dove near Casmalia, Santa Barbara Co 22 Dec (John Deacon) was the northernmost of the nine found on the immediate coast. Two Lesser Nighthawks in the Tijuana River Valley, San Diego Co. 27 Jan (Caleb Villar) and one in Goleta, Santa Barbara Co 16 Jan (Dan Fontaine) were most likely wintering locally.

It is next to impossible to determine if the Vaux’s Swifts in central Los Angeles 7 Dec–9 Mar involved a wide-ranging group, or scattered flocks, but included 14 over Exposition Park 7 Dec (Kimball L. Garrett), 18 over Silver Lake Reservoir 3 Jan (Ryan S. Terrill), and up to 30 over North Atwater Park 13 Feb–9 Mar (Andrew Birch, Michael Peralez).

A female Broad-tailed Hummingbird at Desert Hot Springs 1 Feb–12 Apr (Andrew Spencer, Curtis A. Marantz) was the first to be documented in Riverside Co. A Rufous Hummingbird near El Centro, Imperial Co on 3 Feb (Kenneth Z. Kurland) establishes the earliest date for a spring migrant at the Salton Sink. An Allen’s Hummingbird, presumed to be of the resident form sedentarius, in Rosamond, Kern Co 19 Oct–28 Feb+ (Mickey Dyke) and another in Victorville, San Bernardino Co 27 Dec (William R. Deppe) establish the northeasternmost records for this taxon’s expanding range. The only Broad-billed Hummingbirds this winter were single birds frequenting feeders near Ojai, Ventura Co 9 Nov–6 Feb (Janine Conahey) and in Pasadena 21 Nov–11 Mar (Tom Mills).

Cranes through Terns

Two Sandhill Cranes at the S.C.R.E. 18 Jan–13 Mar (Eric Shaphran) along with one in the area of Winchester/San Jacinto/Hemet, Riverside Co 7 Dec–20 Feb (Greg Cross) and another near Del Mar, San Diego Co. on 16 Dec (Dan King) were all far from any location where expected, but five over San Bernardino 23 Feb (Sharif Uddin) were most likely northbound migrants.

Single Pacific Golden-Plovers at Point Sierra Nevada, San Luis Obispo Co 1 Dec–28 Feb (Tom M. Edell), the Santa Maria River mouth, San Luis Obispo Co 9 Feb (Herb D. Elliott), and Playa del Rey, Los Angeles Co, 1 Sep–17 Mar (Steve Rudeen), along with up to four at Seal Beach, Orange Co through the period, and up to three near Imperial Beach, San Diego Co 8 Aug–1 Apr (Robert T. Patton, Paul E. Lehman) were at known coastal wintering sites, but one at S.E.S.S. (Unit 1) 17 Jan (Loren Wright) was inland where exceedingly rare. The number of Mountain Plovers wintering in this Region continues to plummet, likely due to changes in agricultural practices and the installation of solar fields eliminating suitable habitat, with no more than 5 near the Kern N.W.R. 4 Dec–15 Jan (William L. Rockey), a high count of 196 at the Carrizo Plain National Monument, San Luis Obispo Co 12 Feb (Andrew Spencer), up to 60 east of Palmdale, Los Angeles Co 31 Oct–3 Mar (Dubi Shapiro), 80 near Westmorland, Imperial Co 8 Feb–18 Mar (David Ferry, Judy Howell), and 100 near Calipatria, Imperial Co on 7 Mar (Andrew Fisher) being the only reports at traditional wintering localities where formerly much more numerous. A Mountain Plover in Huntington Beach, Orange Co 11 Nov–28 Feb+ (Roger A. Schoedl) and two at Imperial Beach, San Diego Co 26–31 Jan (Dan Jehl) were on the coast where now exceedingly rare.

A Red Knot at S.E.S.S. (Niland Boat Landing) on 21 Feb (Steve Dougill) likely wintered locally. Five Stilt Sandpipers that remained at the Tulare Lake Drainage District evaporation ponds, Kern Co through the winter (Mark Stacy) were the only ones known away from the S.E.S.S. At least one Sanderling at the Tulare Lake Drainage District evaporation ponds 10 Jan–27 Feb (Mark Stacy) and up to six at Salt Creek Beach on the east shore of the Salton Sea during January and February (Robert McKernan) were the only ones known wintering inland. A Purple Sandpiper at N.E.S.S. (North Shore) 30 Dec–17 Feb (Robert McKernan) was the second to be found in California, the first being present 13 km to the southeast at Salt Creek Beach 25 Mar–17 Apr 2016. The adult Little Stint at south San Diego Bay since 4 Jul was last reported 4 May (Matt Sadowski). Solitary Sandpipers, exceedingly rare in winter, were in Goleta 12–27 Dec (Ron P. Hirst), near Santa Maria, Santa Barbara Co 16 Jan (John Deacon), and at the Mill Creek Wetlands, San Bernardino Co 25 Dec (Kitty Blassey). A Red Phalarope at N.E.S.S. (North Shore) 13 Feb (Lucas Stephenson) was inland where unexpected.

A first-winter Black-legged Kittiwake, a casual straggler inland, was at N.E.S.S. (North Shore) 20 Jan (Robert McKernan). A Franklin’s Gull at S.E.S.S. (Young Rd) 30 Dec (Guy McCaskie) and another at N.E.S.S. (North Shore) 21–29 Jan (Brian Sandstrom) are two of only five ever to be found at the Salton Sink in winter. The only Mew Gulls reported well inland were single birds in Bakersfield, Kern Co 19 Dec (John C. Wilson), Prado Regional Park, San Bernardino Co 3 Jan (Paul Clarke), at N.E.S.S. (Ave 84) 2–23 Dec (Chet McGaugh), and at S.E.S.S. (Alamo R. mouth) 30 Jan (Nathan Pieplow). The number of Lesser Black-backed Gulls found wintering in Southern California continues to increase with at least 20 reported this winter, including an adult in Lompoc, Santa Barbara Co 19–26 Dec (Lisa Walker-Roseman) and a first-cycle bird at Quail Lake, Los Angeles Co 6–30 Dec (Mark and Janet Scheel). The only Glaucous Gulls reported were one at Oso Flaco Creek mouth, San Luis Obispo Co 5 Jan (Herb D. Elliott) and another at the Santa Maria River Estuary, Santa Barbara Co 5 Jan (Liam and Killian Hampl). An Elegant Tern in Carpinteria, Santa Barbara Co 9 Feb (John B. Callender) adds to the ever increasing number found in winter.

 Loons through Herons

A Pacific Loon on Quail Lake 6 Dec–2 Jan (Mark and Janet Scheel) was at an unexpected location and 13 on Lake Perris, Riverside Co 22 Dec (Chet McGaugh) was a large number for an inland location. Three Common Loons at N.E.S.S. (North Shore) 13 Jan (Robert McKernan) and another at N.E.S.S. (Ave 84) 20 Jan (Robert McKernan) were on the Salton Sea where unexpectedly absent in winter.

A Flesh-footed Shearwater, rare in Southern California pelagic waters, was over the 9-Mile Bank off San Diego 11 Dec (Gary Nunn). Three Short-tailed Shearwaters, scarce in Southern California pelagic waters, were at the 9-Mile Bank off San Diego 11 Dec (Gary Nunn) and another was photographed from shore at La Jolla, San Diego Co 25 Jan (Gary Nunn). A Manx Shearwater photographed from shore at La Jolla on 12 Feb (Jim Pawlicki) and another 10 km west of La Jolla on 19 Feb (Matt Sadowski) were the only two reported this winter.

Single Masked Boobies were at La Jolla, San Diego Co 25–26 Jan (Katherine Clemens), Dana Point, Orange Co 29 Nov–28 Feb+ (Mary Freeman), and captured at Bolsa Chica State Beach, Orange Co 28 Jan (Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center, fide Debbie McGuire). The only Red-footed Booby was one frequenting the bait tanks at the entrance to San Diego Bay 23 Oct–9 Jan (Markus Medak). The range of Neotropic Cormorants continues to expand north and westward, with one as far north as Ventura 23 Aug–26 Mar (Deven Kammerichs-Berke) and two at the Mill Creek Wetlands, San Bernardino Co 25 Feb (Robert Packard), along with up to 10 at Bonelli Regional Park in San Dimas, and as many as seven at eight other locations within the Los Angeles Basin, as well as one in Huntington Beach 28 Feb–6 Mar (Roger A. Schoedl) and another in San Diego 9-10 Dec (Jay Desgrosselier). 

Single Little Blue Herons at Bolsa Chica 17 Oct–12 Jan (Rebecca May), Upper Newport Bay 13 Feb–14 May (David A. Ornellas), and Cabrillo Beach 17 Oct–5 Mar (Manuel Duran) were the only three known north of San Diego. Three Tricolored Herons around San Diego, along with single birds in Huntington Beach 2 Oct–9 Jan (Paul D. Thomas), Upper Newport Bay 1 Jan–28 Feb+ (Grant Kirchhoff), and P.M.N.A.S. 25 Nov–16 Mar (Deven Kammerichs-Berke) were on the coast where now rare but regular in winter, but one S.E.S.S. (Rock Hill) 27 Dec–7 Apr (Elizabeth Hodas) was inland where decidedly rare. A Reddish Egret at various locations around the N.E.S.S. through the winter (Robert McKernan) was the only one away from the coast.

Hawks through Woodpeckers

Since Northern Goshawk is rare in Southern California, an immature at Sage Flat south of Olancha, Inyo Co 25 Jan (Russell D. Kokx) and an adult near Big Pine Jan 31 (Aaron Johnson) were of note. Single Broad-winged Hawks at the South Coast Botanic Gardens in Palos Verdes, Los Angeles Co 4 Dec–11 Feb (John Ivanov), Mission Viejo, Orange Co 16–18 Feb (Scott A. Palladichuk) and at Nestor, San Diego Co 22 Jan (Eve Martin) were wintering locally. The winter status of Swainson’s Hawk in Southern California is hard to determine, with what was believed to be a late fall migrant near Santee, San Diego Co on 20 Dec (Brennan Mulrooney), but 15 near El Centro, Imperial Co on 24 Jan (Kenneth Z. Kurland) clearly being early spring migrants; however, at least three Swainson’s Hawks at Seal Beach/Los Alamitos military bases, Orange Co through the season (Steve G. Morris) were clearly wintering. An adult Zone-tailed Hawk at Morro Bay State Park, San Luis Obispo Co 15 Dec–5 Jan (Tom M. Edell) was the northernmost of at least 20 believed wintering in the coastal lowlands, while one at Winterhaven, Imperial Co 6 Feb (Nancy Christensen) was the only one far inland. The only Rough-legged Hawks to be reported were single birds in Round Valley, Inyo Co 28 Dec (Keith Condon), Diaz Lake, Inyo Co 8 Feb (Russell D. Kokx) and Atascadero, San Luis Obispo Co 7 Dec (Kevin J. Zimmer), up to two at the Carrizo Plain National Monument, San Luis Obispo Co 2–23 Jan (Will H. Knowlton) with one still there on 7 Mar (Jeff K. Miller), and one or two at Quail Lake/Gorman, Los Angeles Co 13 Dec–5 Mar (Kimball L. Garrett).

An Elf Owl photographed near Indio, Riverside Co. 10 Dec (Brett Daniels) was not only west of the species’ range, but the first in winter for California.

A Williamson’s Sapsucker at Oak Park near Thousand Oaks, Ventura Co 23 Nov–23 Feb (Cameron Tescher) and three at different locations along the base of the mountains in Los Angeles were the only four known wintering in the coastal lowlands. At least 28 Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers at scattered location throughout Southern California were more than expected.


The Dusky-capped Flycatcher found at Camino Real Park, Ventura 28 Nov remained until 24 Jan (David Pereksta); others were in the Clairemont district of San Diego 7 Dec–24 Jan (Matt Sadowski), Heartwell Park in Long Beach, Los Angeles Co 9 Dec–28 Mar (Kim Moore) where it had returned for its second winter, Balboa Park in San Diego 19 Dec–19 Feb (Mark Stratton),  and a bird at Runnymeade Recreation Center in Canoga Park, Los Angeles Co 22–23 Mar (Richard Barth) which undoubtedly had wintered and may be the same individual present there in winter 2017–2018; one at Lake Balboa, Los Angeles Co 20 Mar (Amy Worell, Jane Stavert) might have been the same individual found 0.5 mi to the east in the Sepulveda Basin on 19 Dec (Kris Ohlenkamp); one was at Palo Verde Ecological Reserve near Blythe, Riverside Co 14 Feb–12 Apr (Connor Cochrane). Three wintering Brown-crested Flycatchers included a returning small-billed bird at South Coast Botanic Garden, Palos Verdes Peninsula, Los Angeles Co from Nov to 21 Feb (John Ivanov), another returning bird at Mission Viejo, Orange Co 26 Nov–28 Apr (Mohan U. Shenoy), and a new, bedraggled bird Michigan Park in Whittier, Los Angeles Co 25 Dec–23 Feb (Eddie Monson). Tropical Kingbirds were restricted to the coastal counties, as expected, with 25 birds total through the winter period. A Cassin’s Kingbird, rare in the Imperial Valley, was at Sunbeam Lake near Seeley 31 Jan (Guy McCaskie). Aging Thick-billed Kingbirds returned for their eleventh winter at Chula Vista San Diego Co 26 Oct–16 Mar (Dan Jehl) and eighth winter at Horsethief Canyon Park in San Dimas, Los Angeles Co 8 Dec–1 Feb (Keith Condon); one at Laguna Niguel Regional Park 6 Dec–7 Apr (Joan and Brett Rubin, Janet Phillips) was the first for Orange Co since 1993. Traditionally considered casual in winter but somewhat regular in recent years, Western Kingbirds were at Point Loma, San Diego Co 19 Dec (Michelle Haglund), Chula Vista 1–5 Jan (Rick Grove), Tijuana River Valley 3 Jan–21 Feb (David Trissell), La Sierra University, Riverside Co 30 Jan–10 Feb (Andrew Howe), and Tecolote Canyon, San Diego 4 Feb (John Bruin). Overwintering Scissor-tailed Flycatchers included one returning for its fourth winter at Chula Vista, San Diego Co 24 Nov–13 Mar (Will Anderson) and up to two in the Tijuana River Valley 23 Dec–22 Mar (Dan Jehl); others with briefer stays were at Camarillo, Ventura Co 20–27 Dec (Carol Langford) and Ballona Freshwater Marsh, Los Angeles Co 14 Jan–18 Feb (Celeste Jones). 

Casual in winter, an Olive-sided Flycatcher was at University City, San Diego 1 Jan–8 Apr (Charley Herzfeld, Jay Desgrosselier). The “expected” Contopus in winter is Greater Pewee; returning birds were at Balboa Park, San Diego 22 Sep–6 Feb (Jim Pawlicki, Paul E. Lehman) and Pacific Palisades, Los Angeles Co 6 Oct–2 Jan (Mark and Janet Scheel), and another was at Lacy Park, San Marino, Los Angeles Co 19 Dec–26 Mar (Jack Wickel). Along with the expected 30 to 40 Gray and “Western” flycatchers, Hammond’s Flycatchers were at Huasna Road, San Luis Obispo Co 18 Dec (Killian Hampl) and Santa Barbara 2 Jan–3 Mar (Gage Ricard), with at least 14 others during the winter in Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego Cos. Far scarcer in winter were Dusky Flycatchers at Goleta 2 Jan–14 Feb (Ken Hollinga) and Willow Springs Park in Signal Hill, Los Angeles Co 9 Dec–20 Feb (Brad Dawson) plus one in the Antelope Valley at Lake Los Angeles, Los Angeles Co 21 Nov–19 Jan (Dessi E. Sieburth, Kimball L. Garrett). Thirteen Eastern Phoebes were noted on the coastal slope during the period, as well as one returning for its fourth winter at Bishop, Inyo Co 20 Oct–18 Mar (Kerry M. Lozito) and another at Twentynine Palms, San Bernardino Co 7 Feb (Brian Sandstrom).

Vireos through Thrashers

Bell’s Vireos, all apparently of the subspecies pusillus, were at the Creekside Villas Apartments in San Diego 14 Dec (Paul E. Lehman), the South Coast Botanic Garden on the Palos Verdes Peninsula 16 Dec–24 Jan (Teresa Palos), and Anaheim Coves Park in Anaheim, Orange Co 1–2 Jan (Doug R. Willick); a very early spring arrival for Los Angeles Co was at Rio de Los Angeles State Park 24 Feb (Marcus Trinidad). Plumbeous Vireo, the predominant “solitary vireo” in the region in winter, outnumbered Cassin’s Vireo about 45 to 17 during the period. Five Warbling Vireos were more than expected for a species that normally winters well to the south; birds were at Santa Barbara 11 Nov–2 Jan (Hugh P. Ranson), Aztec Park in San Diego 17 Dec (Eitan Altman), the Hillcrest district of San Diego 8 Jan (Tuck Russell), Atwater, Los Angeles Co 10 Feb (Andrew Birch), and La Jolla 10 Feb–23 Feb (Derek Hameister, Eve Martin). A Philadelphia Vireo at Camino Real Park in Ventura 31 Jan–2 Feb (Spencer Seale) furnished one of the few winter records for California and the first for Ventura Co.

Unseasonal was a Bank Swallow near Niland, Imperial Co 28 Nov, with two there 2 Dec (Guy McCaskie). Violet-green Swallows are rare spring migrants at the Salton Sea, so three on 23 Jan near Niland (Robert Packard) and birds at Sunbeam Lake near Seeley 31 Jan and 13 Feb (Guy McCaskie) were of note; another at S.E.S.S. (Lack and Grubel) 27 Feb (Jeremiah Stock) was followed by several more in the general area in March. A Northern Rough-winged Swallow at Jameson Lake in the mountains above Carpinteria 19 Dec (Peter A. Gaede) was the first ever in winter for Santa Barbara Co away from the south coast. 

The southerly-sojourning Chestnut-backed Chickadee found at Camino Real Park in Ventura in July 2020 continued to at least 17 Mar (m. ob., Joe Beck). Verdins straying coastward from their expected haunts included Ventura County’s first at Ormond Beach 5 Dec–14 Feb (Spencer Seale) plus singles at Carlsbad SD 23–26 Dec (Peter A. Ginsburg), Chula Vista 13 Jan (Michelle Haglund), Redlands, San Bernardino Co 26 Dec (Thomas A. Benson, Brittany O’Connor), and nearby San Timoteo Canyon through the period (Matthew A. Grube). A flock of 16 Bushtits at Borrego Springs, San Diego Co 6 Dec (Robert Theriault) was on the low desert east of the known range.

A Red-whiskered Bulbul at California State University Channel Islands in Camarillo 6–14 Dec (Spencer Seale) is presumed to have dispersed from the species’ introduced range to the east in Los Angeles Co.

Western Bluebirds were much more numerous than normal at Salton Sea, with a high count of 75 at S.E.S.S. 31 Jan; ten were still at Sunbeam Lake 14 Mar (Guy McCaskie), and two at N.E.S.S. (North Shore) 31 Mar (Robert McKernan) established the latest date for the species in the Salton Sink. A Townsend’s Solitaire at Barstow, San Bernardino Co 17 Dec–11 Jan (Arthur and Linette Davenport) was at a noteworthy locality. 

A California Thrasher at Borrego Springs SD 25 Feb–14 Mar (Robert Theriault) was on the low desert a bit east of the species’ expected range. At least 7 Sage Thrashers were found on the coastal slope of Los Angeles Co during the period, well above the expected one or two.

Munias through Finches

A Scaly-breasted Munia at Borrego Springs 29 Dec (Robert Theriault) adds to the recent sightings at this locality and hints at the species’ potential to expand its range into desert regions. 

A “Black-backed” White Wagtail (subspecies lugens) was along the Los Angeles River in Vernon, south of downtown Los Angeles 27 Feb–21 Mar (Brad Rumble); remarkably, its missing right foot exactly matched the condition of the individual found 19 Nov 2020 at the Santa Ynez River mouth, Santa Barbara Co.

Purple Finches were far more common and widespread through the coastal lowlands than usual, e.g., 90+ in coastal San Diego Co through the period, and 80+ in the eastern San Bernardino Valley with up to 30 at one residence in Redlands (Thomas A. Benson, Brittany O’Connor); 12 in the Victorville area of San Bernardino Co was a good number for the desert, and three were in Bishop, Inyo Co 15–18 Jan (Eric A. Smith, Jr.). Similarly, Cassin’s Finches had a good showing in the lowlands, with significant records including one in Los Osos, San Luis Obispo Co 13–19 Dec (Jim S. Royer), up to four in Buellton SBA 5 Dec–12 Feb, and one near Los Olivos 13 Jan (Peter T. Schneekloth) in Santa Barbara Co, up to 10 in the Ventura Co lowlands 13 Jan–30 Mar (m. ob.), singles in the coastal slope foothills of Los Angeles Co at Glendora 1 Dec (Jake Xia) and Altadena 26 Feb–12 Mar (Jon S. Feenstra), and one in Yucaipa, San Bernardino Co 26 Dec (John McCallister), with 5 there 27 Dec–23 Jan (Gary McLarty). Pine Siskin numbers were far greater than average, with high counts including 150 near Los Olivos, Santa Barbara Co 26 Jan (Peter T. Scheekloth) and 80 in Claremont, Los Angeles Co 6 Feb (Thomas G. Miko); up to 40 were near El Centro 6 Nov–19 Mar+ (Kenneth Z. Kurland), and at least five were found elsewhere in Imperial Valley. Up to 20 Lawrence’s Goldfinches at S.E.S.S. 27 Feb–2 Mar (Michael and Tera Ray, Guy McCaskie) were the first found locally in ten years. There was no flight of Evening Grosbeaks this winter, though one was seen in Upper Agua Dulce Creek in the Laguna Mtns., San Diego Co 1–3 Jan (C. K. Staurovksy).

Longspur through Icterids

A dozen Lapland Longspurs and six Chestnut-collared Longspurs were found during the period, with a Chestnut-collared at Fiesta Island in Mission Bay, San Diego Co remaining exceptionally late to 12 Apr (Gary Nunn). A Thick-billed Longspur was at Fiesta Island in Mission Bay, San Diego Co 31 Oct–21 Mar (Alison Hiers, Gary Nunn) and another was at Chula Vista 12 Nov–2 Dec (Robert T. Patton).

Black-throated Sparrows on the north coast, where unexpected, were at Islay Creek Campground, Montana de Oro State Park continuing from 28 Oct to 6 Jan (Jeff K. Miller) and near Sisquoc, Santa Barbara Co 14 Dec–26 Feb (Steven P. Courtney). The only Lark Bunting reported was at Mira Mesa, San Diego Co 27 Dec (Jeff Spalding). Following a fall with greater than average numbers of Clay-colored Sparrows in the region, some 36 were found during the winter period on the coastal slope, with another on the desert at Vallecito, San Diego Co 18 Dec (Britta Lee Shain). Black-chinned Sparrows, scarce in both winter and migration, were at the Sedgwick Reserve near Los Olivos, Santa Barbara Co 2 Dec (Peter T. Schneekloth), Moreno Valley, Riverside Co 6 Feb (Anthony E. Metcalf), and on the low desert at Vallecito I Nov–3 Jan (Britta Lee Shain). A Brewer’s Sparrow at Morro Bay 13–23 Jan (Jim S. Royer) established the first winter record for coastal San Luis Obispo Co. The only three Harris’s Sparrows reported were at Furnace Creek, Death Valley NP, Inyo Co 3 Dec­–6 Apr (Mike Brossart), El Cajon, San Diego Co 15 Dec (Susan Mahr), and Jacumba, San Diego Co 8 Jan (Paul E. Lehman). Seven Swamp Sparrows in the coastal counties during the winter were augmented by birds on the desert at the China Lake sewage ponds, Kern Co 20 Dec (Susan L. Steele) and Desert Center, Riverside Co 22 Feb–1 Apr (Brooks Hart, Frank Mayer).

Casual in winter, a Yellow-breasted Chat was at Montecito 8 Jan–19 Feb (Joan E. Lentz) for the fourth winter record for Santa Barbara Co.

Orchard Orioles are regular in winter, and this year birds were at Los Osos, San Luis Obispo Co 15 Dec–19 Jan (Jim S. Royer), Carpinteria, Santa Barbara Co from fall to 11 Feb (John B. Callender), Port Hueneme, Ventura Co 6–8 Feb (Sangeet Khalsa), Ventura 10 Feb–11 Mar (David Pereksta; a returning bird), Nestor, San Diego Co 29 Nov–30 Dec (Bridget Spencer, Paul E. Lehman; its fourth winter here), and Encinitas, San Diego Co 10 Dec–28 Feb (MaryAnne Bache), plus another in Encinitas 19 Mar–14 Apr (Gjon C. Hazard) that was likely wintering locally. About 25 Hooded Orioles in the coastal counties was a bit below normal; one remained in Bakersfield, Kern Co from fall to 6 Dec (Kelli K. Heindel). The Streak-backed Oriole first found at Islay Creek Campground in Montana de Oro State Park 4 Nov continued to 28 Mar (Jeff K. Miller), although it was not seen at all during the month of December. At least 112 Bullock’s Orioles were reported on the coastal slope during the period, a high count that is more reflective of the ease of entering and gleaning data in eBird than any true increase in numbers; in any case, the number far exceed the ten Baltimore Orioles reported this winter, again all from coastal counties. A Scott’s Oriole at Orcutt 27 Dec (Jamie M. Chavez) was on the north coast of Santa Barbara Co, where casual.

The Rusty Blackbird found 29 Nov at Lemon Tank on San Clemente I. remained to 18 Mar and was singing on the last date (Justyn T. Stahl); others were at Lake Murray, San Diego Co 1–5 Jan (Jim Pawlicki) and Camarillo, Ventura Co 2 Jan–7 Mar (Linnea S. Hall). A Bronzed Cowbird at Rancho Bernardo, San Diego Co 11–30 Mar (Sean Buchanan) was the third ever on the region’s coast in winter. Declining as a vagrant to the region, a Common Grackle was at the China Lake sewer ponds, Inyo Co 20 Dec (Susan L. Steele).

Wood Warblers through Buntings

Northern Waterthrushes continued from the fall to 8 Mar in Carpinteria (Noah Arthur), to 15 Jan in Ventura (Adam J. Searcy), and to 27 Feb in Huntington Beach (Thomas E. Wurster); another four were recorded in San Diego Co. Twenty-seven Black-and-white Warblers were on the coastal slope, with another at Borrego Springs, San Diego Co 20 Dec (Anza Borrego Christmas Bird Count). Tennessee Warblers were at Goleta 30 Nov–27 Feb (Hugh P. Ranson) and Long Beach, Los Angeles Co 24–26 Feb (Robert A. Hamilton). About half of the ~50 Nashville Warblers recorded during the period were in San Diego Co. A Virginia’s Warbler was in San Diego 8 Feb–29 Mar (Barbara Wise). Six Lucy’s Warblers were along the coast at Goleta 3 Nov–2 Jan (Nick A. Lethaby), Ventura 2–13 Jan (Robert McMorran), Long Beach 22 Feb–1 Mar (Robert A. Hamilton), Bixby Marshland in Harbor City, Los Angeles Co 27 Dec (Tracy Drake), Mission Valley in San Diego 5–10 Dec (Paul E. Lehman), and Solana Beach, San Diego Co 22 Dec–27 Jan (Paul E. Lehman). A MacGillivray’s Warbler at Goleta 11 Oct–10 Feb (Kevin Schwartz) represented the third record of an overwintering bird in Santa Barbara Co.

Fifteen American Redstarts on the coastal slope included two as far inland as Lake Perris, Riverside Co – a male on 4 Jan and a female on 28 Jan (Chet McGaugh). A Cape May Warbler, casual in winter, was at Lake Murray, San Diego Co 29 Nov–18 Apr (Jim Pawlicki). Northern Parulas were noted only at Mission Valley in San Diego 5–8 Dec (Paul E. Lehman) and Goleta 31 Dec–2 Jan (John B. Callender). The only Chestnut-sided Warbler was on the U. C. San Diego campus in La Jolla 16 Feb–6 Apr (Emily Davis). Ten Palm Warblers near the coast through the period all represented the nominate subspecies, as expected, but a Yellow Palm Warbler (subspecies hypochrysea) in the Tijuana River Valley Community Gardens, San Diego Co. 10 Nov–18 Mar (Paul E. Lehman) was among the few ever recorded in the region. Single Pine Warblers were in San Diego Co at Chula Vista 19 Dec (Nancy Christensen) and in the Mission Hills/Hillcrest district of San Diego 21 Jan–14 Feb (Paul E. Lehman).

Coastal San Diego Co was graced with five Grace’s Warblers, including returning birds at Del Mar 8 Oct–27 Jan for its fourth winter (Alex Abela, Paul E. Lehman), Encinitas 17 Oct–21 Mar for its third winter (Susan E. Smith), Point Loma 20 Jan–26 Feb (Sara B. Mayers), Colony Park in La Jolla 3 Feb–1 Apr (Jay Desgrosselier), and Vacation Island in Mission Bay 6 Mar–15 Apr (John Bruin). Away from more regular wintering areas, Black-throated Gray Warblers were in the Imperial Valley at Cattle Call Park in Brawley 17 Jan (Loren Wright) and El Centro 4 Feb (Kenneth Z. Kurland). The only Black-throated Green Warbler this winter, following a poor fall for the species, was at Long Beach, Los Angeles Co 31 Jan–17 Feb (Rebecca Barton).

About 120 Wilson’s Warblers on the coastal slope reflects this species’ regular winter status in the region. Continuing Painted Redstarts from the fall were at Arroyo Verde Park in Ventura 25 Sep–16 Mar (Adele Fergusson) and University City, San Diego Co 20 Nov–22 Mar (David Holway); others were at Inglewood Park Cemetery in Inglewood, Los Angeles Co 12 Dec–14 Mar (John Chapple), Tierrasanta 5–22 Jan (Paul E. Lehman; its second winter), and Ontario, San Bernardino Co 23 Jan–19 Mar (Mario Pineda).

Wintering Hepatic Tanagers, all in San Diego Co, were at Tierrasanta 12 Nov–7 Apr (Paul E. Lehman; its third winter), Del Mar 11 Dec–18 Jan (Dan King, Paul E. Lehman; its second winter), and Clairemont 18 Dec–20 Mar (Michelle Haglund; its second winter); another, undoubtedly having wintered locally, was at Cliffridge Park in La Jolla 9–16 Mar (Jim Pawlicki). All but six of the 42 Summer Tanagers reported on the coastal slope during the period were in Los Angeles, Orange, and San Diego Counties; additional birds on the southern deserts were two near El Centro, Imperial Co 25 Nov–19 Mar (Kenneth Z. Kurland) and one at Borrego Springs, San Diego Co 20 Dec–15 Feb (Paul E. Lehman). One of the few Scarlet Tanagers to occur well into the winter period in California was one at Ventura 1–10 Jan 2021 (David Pereksta, Sammy Cowell). It is well known that Western Tanagers winter regularly on the coastal slope, with at least 145 reported this winter, but one at Holtville, Imperial Co 1 Dec (Mike Baker) was in an area with few winter records. Rose-breasted Grosbeaks at Horsethief Canyon Park in San Dimas 10 Dec (Keith Condon), Murrieta, Riverside Co 17 Dec (Julie Szabo), Pacific Palisades, Los Angeles Co 12–15 Feb (Caren Caty), and Goleta 19 Feb (Kurt Nguyen) were joined during the winter period by 12 Black-headed Grosbeaks, all on the coastal slope. Exceptionally late was a Blue Grosbeak along the Lower Los Angeles River in Long Beach 1 Dec (Richard Barth). Casual in winter, an Indigo Bunting was in Redlands, San Bernardino Co 9 Jan–21 Feb (John Tveten).

Report processed by José Ramírez-Garofalo, 10 Jun 2021

Photos–Southern California: Winter 2020–2021

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