The 2018 count was held on December 15 and enjoyed pleasant dry weather and enough participants to ensure adequate coverage. One hundred and seventy-two species were recorded on count day, a record high. It’s notable that the Legg Lake area alone recorded eighty-two of those species and the San Gabriel River area tallied nearly ninety. Most of these species were also seen elsewhere, but these figures illustrate just how productive these two locales are.
Contributing to the high species count were very few misses of expected species and a good number of unusual birds, many discovered prior to the count. Rare birds and species counts tend to get a lot of attention, but these are not the main goal of the count. However, it should be noted that a high species count does reflect good coverage of the count circle.
What we’re really attempting to record are the numbers of regular species and how they vary from year to year and over the long term. In comparing the results of the 1946 count to those from 2018 we are clearly doing that. In the process our data has demonstrated significant changes in the early winter avifauna of the San Gabriel Valley and environs.
Here’s a look at the highlights of the 2018 effort:
Five Greater White-fronted Geese and three Cackling Geese were at Legg Lake and two Snow Geese and another Cackling Goose were found along the San Gabriel River. Otherwise, waterfowl numbers were somewhat low. Some common species were represented by only a few individuals. This isn’t necessarily an indication of declining numbers overall, as plenty were nearby (but outside the count circle) at the spreading basins in Pico Rivera and elsewhere.
Larids of interest were a Mew Gull found at Legg Lake and a single Glaucous-winged Gull along the San Gabriel River. This was a far cry from 2008 when seventy-nine Glaucous-winged Gulls were recorded. That however was an unusual year that saw large numbers of this species occur-ring at many inland locations.
A first for the count was a Neotropic Cormorant at Lincoln Park in the extreme southwestern corner of the circle. This bird and recent records from the Los Angeles River in Glendale and Echo and MacArthur Parks may well pertain to a single individual. We were fortunate that it was present in the circle on count day. At one time, Double-crested Cormorant was the default species away from the immediate coast, but as Neotropic Cormorants expand their range that is starting to change.
A Least Bittern was at Legg Lake where they are regular but can be tough to find. It’s best to start before sunrise if you want to see or hear one of these elusive birds.
Easy to miss on the count was a lone White-tailed Kite spotted along the Rio Hondo. Two Northern Harriers were found at Santa Fe Dam, the only location in the circle where they are fairly reliable in winter.
Nocturnal coverage along the old Mt. Wilson Toll Road produced a Northern Saw-Whet Owl and later in the day a Northern Pygmy-Owl. A good bird for the count was a Burrowing Owl at Santa Fe Dam. The count week period (the three days before and three days after the count) produced a Barn Owl.
A continuing Lewis’s Woodpecker at Hahamongna Watershed Park in Pasadena was the only one recorded on the count. Two hundred and twenty-eight Acorn Woodpeckers was quite a good number and a total of three White-headed Woodpeckers were found at multiple locations in the mountains.
Rare in winter was a Pacific-slope Flycatcher at the Huntington Gardens in San Marino. Still scarce but more expected at this time of year was a Gray Flycatcher continuing at Hahamongna Watershed Park in Pasadena. Legg Lake held a continuing stunning adult male Vermilion Flycatcher. This species has been increasing on the coastal slope in recent years, thus its appearance on the CBC wasn’t too surprising.
Three Loggerhead Shrikes was slightly better than the recent average. Still, this is only about ten percent of the numbers we recorded decades ago.
Other interesting passerines included a Cassin’s Vireo at San Jose Creek, a Brown Creeper (scarce in the lowlands) at Legg Lake, a Pacific Wren (rare but regular locally in winter) along Winter Creek above Arcadia and a Townsend’s Solitaire along the Mt. Wilson Toll Road.
A count of two hundred and thirty-two Cedar Waxwings and seventy-nine American Robins indicated that both species were present in lower than normal numbers.
Two Vesper Sparrows were a nice addition at Santa Fe Dam and a continuing Dark-eyed “Gray-headed” Junco was at Hahamongna Watershed Park in Pasadena.
A previously discovered Hooded Oriole was found on count day at the Huntington Gardens in San Marino. This species is quite rare locally in winter, but the Huntington has proven to be a fairly reliable spot for one or two each winter.
Legg Lake also produced the count’s only Tricolored Blackbirds, with seven tallied there. This is the only spot they can be reliably found in the circle.
Scarce on the count was a Hermit Warbler at San Gabriel Cemetery, while a Wilson’s Warbler at San Jose Creek was surprisingly the only one recorded on the count.
Additional count week birds included a Greater Scaup (rare on the count), Long-eared Owl (very rare on the count) and Barn Swallow at Peck Road Park in Arcadia. A excellent count week bird was the continuing Painted Redstart at Brookside Park. Also found during this period were a Red-breasted Nuthatch and Yellow Warbler.
These count week birds don’t add to the species total, but CBC rules allow us to include birds that were missed on count day with the notation “CW”. This helps create a more accurate picture of what birds are actually present.
As already noted, we missed virtually no expected species and picked up quite a few unusual and not so expected birds in 2018. Conspicuously absent this year were irregular irruptive species such as Varied Thrush, Pine Siskin and Lewis’s Woodpeckers (save for the lone bird at Hahamongna).
Overall it’s hard to complain when we had pretty full coverage of the count circle and over 170 species recorded, including the requisite number of rare birds.
Finally, a sincere thank you to all of the participants who helped make this a successful event. Many CBCs suffer from a shortage of counters, but we are fortunate in this regard. Being located in a densely-populated area does come with the advantage of greater numbers of birders.
I’ve now been coordinating and compiling the Pasadena count for over a quarter of a century, having taken over from our own venerable Mickey Long. It continues to be a fun and rewarding experience each year.
Published for Jon Fisher