Los Angeles Raptors

20 11 2016
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Ferruginous Hawk – Luke Tiller

When people think about Los Angeles I’m betting most of them aren’t thinking about raptors, and yet the deserts of Los Angeles County boast perhaps some of the better winter raptor watching in the country? Though Southern California generally isn’t great for witnessing raptor migration, beyond Borrego Valley Hawkwatch (see post here), winter does almost make up for it with plenty of stunning wintering raptors. Possibly the jewel in that crown is just an hour and a half or so from downtown Los Angeles: The Antelope Valley.

The Antelope Valley, though now sadly mainly devoid of the Pronghorn that gave the area its name, hosts a wealth of exciting winter raptors, among them a large number of highly prized Ferruginous Hawks.

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Ferruginous Hawk – Luke Tiller

While out birding today looking for Mountain Bluebirds and Mountain Plovers we managed to see at least ten of these impressive and beautiful buteos without much effort at all, which gives you some idea of there abundance. Most of them were light morphs, like the bird above, but one was a stunning dark bird (top) which is in keeping with the idea that about 10% of this species are dark. To find numbers of these birds all one needs do is drive backroads looking in the farm fields (they often perch on the ground) and atop the many telephone poles.

The mix of high desert scrub and agricultural habitat out in the valley seems to provide plenty of food for all including huge flocks of Horned Larks and mixed blackbird flocks. These in turn provide for plenty of prey items for falcons like the beautiful Prairie Falcon that we ran into below. This one had just plowed through a flock of Horned Larks before alighting just behind our vehicle.

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Prairie Falcon – Luke Tiller

American Kestrel are easily the most common Antelope Valley falcon, but Merlin, Prairie and Peregrine are all usually quite find-able in a day’s birding. Excitingly, as well as your standard “Taiga” Merlin it is sometimes possible to find a couple of other subspecies of these feisty little falcons Southern California. Though both are rare one can find both “Black” Merlin, generally on the coastal plain, and “Prairie” Merlin, like the one below, out in the deserts.

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Merlin (Richardson’s) – Luke Tiller

Ferruginous Hawks are certainly up there with my favorite raptors and and in January I am looking forward to sharing these wonderful birds with some fellow members of the Hawk Migration Association of North America and with a tour group from Sunrise Birding. Let’s hope the birds are being as cooperative then!

OK one more Ferruginous Hawk photo before we go, just because. Samuel Pepys was quoted as saying that “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.” I think one can safely say the same about Ferruginous Hawks too!

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Ferruginous Hawk – Luke Tiller

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Patch Grasshopper Sparrow

8 11 2016
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Grasshopper Sparrow – Luke Tiller

When I picked my new patch out in Pasadena, CA it was based on the site providing an area of open ground among a patchwork of wooded suburban yards, gardens and parks. It was also home to a dog park which is what first took me there. Though Possum doesn’t like the off leash area there he does like walking around on a leash and getting a bunch of cookies for vague signs of good behavior.

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Grasshopper Sparrow – Luke Tiller

My thought was that this open area would provide good opportunities to find a bunch of sparrow species (which along with raptors are up there with my favorite families). So far I haven’t been disappointed with at least fifteen species found at the park, with potential for more if they ever split the Fox Sparrows. The park checklist now boast about 140 species including a wealth of good birds: Eastern Phoebe, White and Black-throated Sparrows, Lewis’s Woodpecker, Broad-winged Hawk, Vermilion Flycatcher and more (eBird Hotspot list here).

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Grasshopper Sparrow – Luke Tiller

The thing I like about sparrows is that they offer a level of ID that is challenging but not impossible for most birders (so it’s fun to help people learn to ID them) and that they are often beautiful but in a subtle way. It would be hard to accuse the Grasshopper Sparrow of being a “Little Brown Job”.

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Grasshopper Sparrow – Vina Vieja

It’s actually been a slow year so far at Vina for me in terms of new birds. In fact it was only yesterday that I added my first new species for the year. Today’s Grasshopper Sparrow was a little more exciting to me than yesterday’s Double-crested Cormorant. Grasshopper Sparrow is pretty uncommon in LA County generally with this seemingly just the third record for the county this year in eBird.