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Fine birding in the fields of Madrona Marsh: 10 December, 2016

December 13, 2016

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Orange-crowned Warbler, yellower in the west than in the east (J. Waterman 12-10-16)

Orange-crowned Warbler, yellower in the west than in the east (J. Waterman 12-10-16)

Although many of our members regularly visit Madrona Marsh Preserve in nearby Torrance, we have not taken many chapter field trips there in recent years. Perhaps that’s because we do visit it individually, and because many of the unusual birds who visit there appear unpredictably. You can’t plan months ahead on irregularly-appearing and unreliable birds being present.

A vernal pool in winter (J. Waterman 12-10-16)

A vernal pool in winter (J. Waterman 12-10-16)

That said, Madrona Marsh, located a few miles south of I-405 and a mile west of Crenshaw Blvd., is a great spot to know about and visit. It regularly hosts odd birds attracted to this restored coastal scrub oasis amid the malls and housing tracts of South Bay. Spring rains, if and when they occur, fill vernal pool basins, and dragonflies and waterfowl proliferate. Before this area was domesticated by millions of people, it was part of an extensive coastal terrace lying just inland of the coastal dune system. There were innumerable potholes, cienegas and vernal pools, and early settlers report winter waterfowl numbering into the millions. That’s hard to imagine today. Madrona Marsh is a small remnant of this vanished habitat, and the Tongva people enjoyed its abundance for millennia.

American Kestrel female, a marsh resident (R. Ehler 12-10-16)

American Kestrel female, a marsh resident (R. Ehler 12-10-16)

We hung out at the preserve’s front gate for a while, watching a large flock of beige-colored American Goldfinches work the sycamore seedballs and occasionally scattering when a Sharp-shinned Hawk ripped through. A few Lesser Goldfinches and House Finches were among them, and a flock of twenty Cedar Waxwings dropped out of the sky and into sycamore treetop, but we couldn’t find any red-faced European Goldfinches that often travel with this goldfinch flock. This latter species has successfully nested at the preserve for several years. We also couldn’t find the Eastern Phoebe which has been frequently seen there.

Golden-crowned Sparrow with an exceptionally golden crown (J. Waterman 12-10-16)

Golden-crowned Sparrow with an exceptionally golden crown (J. Waterman 12-10-16)

Preserve Manager Tracy Drake, who knows each bird and plant on a personal basis, showed us around the preserve, pointing out not just birds, but the larger insects, field mice, valued native plants and the towering trees. José, a handsome young man, assisted her, and pointed out highlights to those who straggled at the rear of the group. Water levels are currently low and ducks are few. Seeds are abundant, however, and sparrows and finches were numerous and not particularly shy. At one spot which replicates a medium-tall grass prairie, we found nine sparrow species, from the expected and abundant wintering White-crowned Sparrow, to the uncommon Brewer’s, Lincoln’s and Golden-crowned.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (J. Waterman 12-10-16)

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (J. Waterman 12-10-16)

Nearby, in the trees and brush, we found a mixed flock of Bushtit, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, and five warbler species including one Black-and-white Warbler, a vagrant visiting from the east. As expected, the Black-and-white was gleaning the limbs and trunk of a small tree. Unlike most warblers, they are not leaf-gleaners.

Black & White Warbler, twirling on a twig (Randy Ehler 12-10-16)

Black & White Warbler, twirling on a twig (Randy Ehler 12-10-16)

Out in the fields the various flycatchers perched and shagged flies: Black and Say’s Phoebes and Cassin’s Kingbird. Ash-throated Flycatchers have normally left our area by mid-October, but one has taken up residence in the brushy area adjoining the large pool at the bottom of the “sump.” Ducks, Coots and two Red-winged Blackbirds were also living the low-life in the sump.

Everyone's favorite sparrow - the female Red-winged Blackbird (J. Waterman 12-10-16)

Everyone’s favorite sparrow – the female Red-winged Blackbird
(J. Waterman 12-10-16)

The large pool in the "sump" (J. Waterman 12-10-16)

The large pool in the “sump”
(J. Waterman 12-10-16)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By 11am, the fog had dissipated, rain had failed to appear, and the day had warmed. We checked out a peculiar American Goldfinch with a mostly-white head, then made one more pass across the fields, coming across another perched American Kestral along the way.

American Goldfinch: the peculiar white on the crown had the same pattern on the other side of his head (J. Waterman 12-10-16)

American Goldfinch: the peculiar white face and crown feathers had the same pattern on the other side of his head (J. Waterman 12-10-16)

Western Meadowlarks prefer feeding in breast-high grass so they can pop their heads up and scan across the grass for predators. We lingered a few more minutes, taking last desperate scans for the uncooperative Eastern Phoebe, then thanked José and Tracy for their friendly and informative leadership and headed out.

Western Meadowlard spyhopping over the grass (J. Waterman 12-10-16)

Western Meadowlard spyhopping over the grass (J. Waterman 12-10-16)

As always, many thanks to our photographers: Randy Ehler and Joyce Waterman.
Thanks again to Randy Ehler for his contributions to the following checklist totals.
[Chuck Almdale]

Madrona Marsh Trip List 12/10/16
American Wigeon 6
Mallard 6
Ring-necked Duck 1
Sharp-shinned Hawk 1
Red-shouldered Hawk 1
Red-tailed Hawk 2
American Coot 5
Ring-billed Gull 2
Western Gull 4
California Gull 2
Rock Pigeon 8
Mourning Dove 50
Anna’s Hummingbird 3
Allen’s Hummingbird 9
Downy Woodpecker 1
Northern Flicker 2
American Kestrel 3
Black Phoebe 6
Say’s Phoebe 1
Ash-throated Flycatcher 1
Cassin’s Kingbird 6
American Crow 4
Common Raven 2
Bushtit 50
House Wren 1 Heard
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 13
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 12
Hermit Thrush 1 Heard
European Starling 8
Cedar Waxwing 20
Black-and-white Warbler 1
Orange-crowned Warbler 6
Common Yellowthroat 3
Yellow-rumped Warbler 10
Townsend’s Warbler 1
California Towhee 2
Chipping Sparrow 6
Brewer’s Sparrow 2
Savannah Sparrow 4
Fox Sparrow 1
Song Sparrow 2
Lincoln’s Sparrow 3
White-crowned Sparrow 60
Golden-crowned Sparrow 2
Red-winged Blackbird 2
Western Meadowlark 10
House Finch 20
Lesser Goldfinch 3
American Goldfinch 45
Scaly-breasted Munia 45
Total Species 50

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One Comment leave one →
  1. ethanski permalink
    December 13, 2016 7:58 pm

    very nice pictures!!  Cheerio!!

    Like

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