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Antelope Valley Raptor Search, January 16, 2016

January 19, 2016

As we left LA, it looked as if the weather would be favorable for our Antelope Valley raptor search. Fittingly, the first bird we saw as we approached the Palmdale Blvd. exit from the 14 Fwy was a Red-tailed Hawk which was perched on a light pole along the freeway. During a brief stop in Palmdale, we saw a single Yellow-rumped Warbler that was foraging in some shrubbery, a few Western and California Gulls, some Common Ravens and some typical urban species, including Rock Pigeons, American Crows, European Starlings and House Sparrows.

After our stop, we drove east on Palmdale Blvd. and turned north on 10th St. E, where we stopped to look at some perched Mourning Doves. We saw a flock of House Finches and had scope views of some perched Eurasian Collared-Doves.

When we reached Rancho Sierra Vista (Ave. P), we turned east. It was apparent that the recent rain had not eased the drought. The unirrigated land looked very dry and we saw very few birds other than the occasional Red-tailed Hawk as we drove toward our next stop, the Desert Aire Golf Club. When we reached the Club, we pulled off the road and scanned for birds. The section of the Club that was visible from the shoulder of the road was dry and birds were scarce, both at the Club and on the undeveloped land across the road. The highlights were a pair of Red-tailed Hawks that was perched near a large stick nest and a single Great Egret that flew through.

When we left the Golf Club, we drove north on 40th St. E, stopping briefly to check the area just north of the settling ponds. We stopped again just before the road turns right and becomes Ave. N because we saw several flocks of Horned Larks. One small flock was especially easy to see because it was close to the road at the edge of the sod farm. However, our attention quickly turned from the larks to a Loggerhead Shrike that was perched on a shrub on the other side of the road. As we watched, we realized that it was displaying. It repeatedly lifted and spread its wings as it alternately perched on top of a shrub, then flew to the ground, ran a few feet, paused and ran again before flying up and landing on top of another shrub, all the while flaring its wings and tail. Its plumage was crisp and bright so the behavior was eye-catching. Since we did not see another shrike in the immediate area, we suspected that it was defending a territory, which male Loggerhead Shrikes are known to do outside of the breeding season.

Since the next area we planned to check was the cultivated land along 40th St. E, we went around the perimeter of the airport (north on 50th St. E, west on Columbia Way) and turned north on 40th St. E. The farm fields on the east side of the road have been productive in past years but, to our disappointment, we saw few birds other than 8 Canada Geese that were standing in one of the fields. We continued north and turned right (east) on Ave. L where we stopped near some houses. That stop paid off. We found 4 species of raptors: an immature Cooper’s Hawk that disappeared into some dense shrubbery next to a house, 3 Red-tailed Hawks, 1 male or sub-adult Northern Harrier and a Peregrine that landed on top of a power pole. It stayed there for some time so we were able to see it well in the telescope. There were at least 50 Killdeer in one of the fields. We saw at least 30 Mourning Doves, a Say’s Phoebe, a Northern Mockingbird and approximately 50 House Finches. The highlight was a flock of 15 Mountain Bluebirds, brilliantly illuminated by the morning sun.

Killdeer, Mei Kwan, 1/16/16

Killdeer, Mei Kwan, 1/16/16

We continued east along Ave. L, stopping to scan a field of sheep. There were large numbers of Brewer’s Blackbirds but no Mountain Plovers with the sheep so we drove on. When we reached the intersection with 50th St. E we could see flocks of birds on both sides of the road to the south so we turned right, drove a short way and stopped. In addition to more Killdeer, we saw 2 American Kestrels, numerous Western Meadowlarks and more than 50 Tricolored Blackbirds. The best bird, however, was a Ferruginous Hawk that was perched on the ground in one of the fields. The views through the scope were good enough that we were able to see the long gape that is characteristic of this species.

Ferruginous Hawk, Mei Kwan, 1/16/16

Ferruginous Hawk, Mei Kwan, 1/16/16

With better views of more Ferruginous Hawks in mind, we turned around and drove north and east. Our objective was Ave. I between 110th St. & 120th St. E where the farms have been reliable sites for wintering Ferruginous Hawks in past years. When we reached that area, we saw that the farms were active and raptors were plentiful, though most of the buteos we saw were Red-tailed Hawks. Fortunately, we saw 4 Ferruginous Hawks. There were sheep in a pasture but the flock was so far from the road that even with the scope, we could not tell if there were any Mountain Plovers with the sheep. As we scanned the fields for small birds, we did not find very many, though the land was under irrigation and appeared to be in good condition. We did see some Killdeer, blackbirds and a few flocks of Horned Larks.

Since it was after noon, we decided to go to Apollo Park to have lunch. During the drive, we saw a Northern Harrier, numerous Common Ravens but no large flocks of small birds. Apollo Park, however, was very birdy. In addition to the usual Park birds such as Canada Geese, Mallards (and assorted Mallard-types), American Coots, Ring-billed & California Gulls, Brewer’s Blackbirds and House Sparrows, there were Greater White-fronted, Snow and Ross’s Geese, Northern Shovelers, Red-breasted Mergansers, Yellow-rumped Warblers and Dark-eyed Juncos. While we were eating, a Turkey Vulture passed overhead, a lone Tree Swallow flew through, a single Red-breasted Nuthatch landed in a tree near the back of the Park and a Great-tailed Grackle perched on a nearby picnic table and appeared to watch us as we ate.

Snow Goose, Mei Kwan, 1/16/16

Snow Goose, Mei Kwan, 1/16/16

After lunch, we drove north on 60th St. W. In past years, the area has been productive but the fields were mostly dry and we saw few birds other than a few Red-tailed Hawks and one American Kestrel. At Gaskell Ave. we turned and drove west. Land that had been under cultivation in past years was fallow and we saw some new solar developments. Birds were less abundant than in past years. Although we saw fewer species and fewer individuals of those species, some of our sightings were memorable.

At one point we stopped near a house because we had noticed some Eurasian Collared-Doves on a power line. While we were looking at those birds, we heard a bird singing from a tree in the yard and realized that it was a Loggerhead Shrike. Unfortunately, it was difficult to hear. The wind had increased and the dogs in the yard were barking at us so we left.

There were several Red-tailed Hawks on the power poles and 2 American Kestrels on the wires along Gaskell. We stopped when we saw 2 Ferruginous Hawks. While we were watching them, we noticed a Prairie Falcon soaring in the distance. At the same time, a Northern Harrier flew over the same field, momentarily confusing us as we followed one bird or the other with our binoculars. For a time, the falcon “hung” on the wind, holding itself in one spot without flapping its wings. While we were discussing the raptors, a Savannah Sparrow emerged from the brush and approached us. We stayed quiet and it came so close that we could see the fine details of its plumage.

Red-tailed Hawk, Mei Kwan, 1/16/16

Red-tailed Hawk, Mei Kwan, 1/16/16

Since we had seen no Merlin and only 1 Prairie Falcon, we decided to go home by crossing the Valley toward Quail Lake instead of returning on the 14 Fwy. In past years, we have seen raptors along that route, either flying over the fields or perched on the power poles. As we drove over the aqueduct, noticed some Bufflehead on the water but the only raptor we saw as we drove was a Northern Harrier that was flying low over the shore at Quail Lake. We decided against stopping at Quail Lake and continued on our way back to LA.

It was a good day, despite the ongoing drought and paucity of birds. We missed some species we had hoped to see but found many target species, including Northern Harrier, Ferruginous Hawk, Prairie Falcon, Mountain Bluebird and Tricolored Blackbirds.


SMBAS, Antelope Valley 1/16/2016
# location
Greater White-fronted Goose 5 Apollo Pk
Snow Goose 2 Apollo Pk
Ross’s Goose 2 Apollo Pk
Canada Goose 25 40th St N north of Columbia Way; Apollo Pk
Mallard 30 Apollo Pk
Northern Shoveler 2 Apollo Pk
Bufflehead 2 in aqueduct, seen from Rt 138
Red-breasted Merganser 6 Apollo Pk
Great Blue Heron 1 Quail Lake
Great Egret 1 Desert Aire Golf Club
Turkey Vulture 1 Apollo Pk
Northern Harrier 5 scattered sites
Cooper’s Hawk 1 Ave L x 40th St E
Red-tailed Hawk 40+ widespread
Ferruginous Hawk 7 50the St E south of Ave L; Ave J x E110th; Gaskell Ave
American Coot 30 Apollo Pk
Killdeer 50 widespread
Ring-billed Gull 10 Palmdale; Apollo Pk
Western Gull 10+ Palmdale
California Gull 25 Palmdale; Apollo Pk
Rock Pigeon   [I] 35 Palmdale
Eurasian Collared-Dove [I] 10 Palmdale; scattered sites
Mourning Dove 6 scattered sites
Northern Flicker 2 Apollo Pk
American Kestrel 6 scattered sites
Peregrine Falcon 1 Ave L x 40th St E
Prairie Falcon 1 Gaskell Ave
Say’s Phoebe 10 scattered sites
Loggerhead Shrike 6 scattered sites
American Crow 4 Palmdale
Common Raven 100+ widespread
Horned Lark 100+ 40th St N x Ave N
Tree Swallow 1 Apollo Pk
Red-breasted Nuthatch 1 Apollo Pk
Mountain Bluebird 15 Ave L x 40th St E
Northern Mockingbird 2 Palmdale; Ave L x 40th St E
European Starling   [I] 30 Palmdale Blvd; E 40th x Ave P
Yellow-rumped Warbler 20 Palmdale; Apollo Pk
Savannah Sparrow 8 scattered sites
White-crowned Sparrow 5 Ave L x 50th St E
Dark-eyed Junco 6 Apollo Pk
Tricolored Blackbird 50+ 50th St E south of Ave L
Western Meadowlark 100 widespread
Brewer’s Blackbird 200 widespread
Great-tailed Grackle 1 Apollo Pk
House Finch 200+ widespread
House Sparrow  [I] 60 Palmdale; Apollo Pk & scattered sites

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