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Christmas Bird Count 2016

Pasadena / San Gabriel Valley Christmas Bird Count Turns 70

After a lengthy anticipation, it’s hard to believe that another Christmas Bird Count has come and gone. We’ve now seen the completion of a remarkable seventh decade for the Pasadena CBC. That substantial period of time has generated a great deal of useful data, many good rare birds, and resulted in countless hours in the field. It’s also been a lot of fun for the many participants over the years.

For an inland count, the Pasadena-San Gabriel Valley does quite well, consistently turning in a species count well into the 160s. This year it was no surprise that we broke the 160 barrier, although not by much (162). Even the Los Angeles CBC, which includes coastal habitats that we lack, doesn’t exceed us by too much.

The count is traditionally held on the first Saturday of the count period and we’re stuck with whatever weather we get on count day. Even the worst case for the San Gabriel Valley isn’t bad compared to much of the country, but this year we were fortunate. We missed the rain by a day or so and temperatures were pleasantly cool but not cold.

We know that development and urbanization has had a negative impact on many native species, but in some ways it’s also had a positive one. Ornamental and other non-native plantings have attracted rare wintering flycatchers, warblers and orioles over the years and this count was no exception.

Irruptive species such Varied Thrushes, Pine Siskins, Red-breasted Nuthatches and Lewis’s Woodpeckers were essentially absent on the 2016 count. Numbers of American Robins were also notably low.

Waterfowl highlights included a Snow Goose at Lincoln Park and a Cackling Goose, a Ross’s Goose and a Greater White-fronted Goose at Legg Lake. Single Common Goldeneyes- rather rare on the count— were at Peck Road Water Conservation Park in Arcadia and along the San Gabriel River.

In addition to our usual Ring-billed, California and Western Gulls, both Thayer’s Gulls and Herring Gulls were found along the San Gabriel River on count day. Also of note was a Mew Gull at Legg Lake.

An early morning start at Legg Lake produced a Least Bittern. This species is regular there, but generally difficult to locate by sight or sound after sunrise.

Allen’s Hummingbirds were unknown historically on the Pasadena CBC, but in recent decades have expanded inland and are now common in the lowlands throughout the year. As usual, many were recorded on this year’s count.

During a spell of warm weather just prior to count day, a Common Poorwill was recorded on the Mt. Wilson Toll Road within the count week period.

Owling efforts tallied a small number of Western Screech-Owls and Great Horned Owls. The real prize however was a Northern Saw- Whet Owl in Big Santa Anita Canyon. They are probably present in the circle every winter, but it requires determination and a bit of luck to find them.

The release of non-native species both here and elsewhere has resulted in well-established local populations. A variety of parrots and parakeets thrive today in the San Gabriel Valley and environs. Whichever camp you’re in as far as the desirability of these introduced birds, they appear to be here to stay... and of course we count all of them. We recorded five species of parrots and parakeets this year. Red-crowned Parrot, Yellow-chevroned Parakeet, White-winged Parakeet, Mitred Parakeet and Blue-crowned Parakeet.

Fairly common as a spring migrant but rare in winter was a Hammond's Flycatcher at the Huntington Gardens in San Marino.

Moist foothill canyons with tangled undergrowth are great places to look for Pacific Wrens, yet they are scarce and often missed on the count. This year we were fortunate that one turned up in Monrovia Canyon.

The continuing Black-and-white Warbler was present at Legg Lake on count day. In a departure from most recent counts, this was the only unusual warbler recorded.

Sparrows of interest included a Vesper Sparrow at Santa Fe Dam, a White-throated Sparrow at Legg Lake and a rare for us "Red" Fox Sparrow at Hahamongna Watershed Park.

All too often missed on count day was a Northern Cardinal at Whittier Narrows. One would think the bright red males at least would be hard to overlook, but when not singing they can be difficult to find.

Wrapping things up was a pair of rare in winter Hooded Orioles and a scarce but more expected Bullock’s Oriole at the Huntington Gardens in San Marino. These birds are generally attracted to the various flowering plants found at the north end of the desert garden.

It was another rewarding count, though we were a few species below the recent average. Each year we miss a few expected birds, but this year the misses were few. Mountain Quail, Pine Siskin and Wilson’s Warbler were about it.

For now there’s a great bird year to enjoy before the next count, with spring migration for some species already underway. At our latitude migration is nearly a year round phenomenon. One intriguing aspect of this is that it’s hard to predict what changes we’ll see throughout the year and of course by next December, but that is part of
the fun of birding and the CBC.

Thank you to all who participated and helped make it such a success. I hope to see everyone back for the 2017 count as well as a few new faces.

(Article written by Jon Fisher)