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Antelope Valley Raptor Search Trip Report, 1/14/17

January 21, 2017

After the recent rain and wind storms in LA, we were delighted to find that the weather in the Antelope Valley was ideal for our raptor search.  It was cold but the skies were clear and the winds were calm as we exited Hwy. 14 on Palmdale Blvd.

After a brief stop near the 14, we went east on Palmdale Blvd and then north on 10th St. E.  When we reached Rancho Sierra Vista (Ave. P), we turned east.  Although there were numerous puddles of water beside the road, the uncultivated fields looked dry and we did not see many birds along the road.  Our first stop was at the Desert Aire Golf Club.  As we got out of our cars we were a bit disappointed to see that the Club grounds were quiet.  A Loggerhead Shrike perched on a Joshua Tree across the road drew our attention to the undeveloped land on the north side of Sierra Vista so we crossed the road and began scanning the area.  We saw some of the expected species such as White-crowned Sparrows and then we spotted 2 Cactus Wrens moving around in a Joshua Tree.  They were very active so it wasn’t easy to get scope views but were able to see them with our binoculars.  At one point, one of the wrens landed on the ground in the open, giving us clear views of its peach-colored flanks.  A Verdin appeared briefly and many of us were able to see it as it moved away.

img_5490-croppedCactus Wren, 01/14/17, Ted S.

As we went back to our cars, we spotted a Red-tailed Hawk carrying a stick into a nest in one of the trees on the Golf Club property.  It looked as if the nest was the same one we saw being “remodeled” by a pair of hawks when we stopped by the Golf Club during last year’s raptor trip.

When we left the Golf Club, we turned north on 40th St. E and stopped to scan the fields.  We saw a few Horned Larks, some White-crowned Sparrows, a large number of House Finches and the first Mountain Bluebirds of the day.  The sun was behind us and the bluebirds were stunning in the morning light.

img_5574-2-croppedMountain Bluebird, 01/14/17, Ted S.

_r8a4532-croppedMountain Bluebird, 01/14/17, Patrick McCaffrey

We finally tore ourselves away from the bluebirds but we pulled onto the shoulder almost immediately because we surprised to see some Bufflehead and 3 American Coots on a small artificial pond on the west side of the road.

Our next stop was alongside the road just after 40th St. E turns right and becomes Ave. N.  In past years we have seen large flocks of Horned Larks on the sod fields.  This year we saw a single California Gull, some Common Ravens and large flock of Horned Larks in the distance.  Unfortunately, they were too far away for good looks.  The sight of a small V of Canada Geese flying overhead was not unexpected but the “ringer” in the flock certainly was a surprise: a single Snow Goose was flying with the Canada Geese.

_r8a4644Snow Goose & Canada Geese, 01/14/17, Patrick McCaffrey

We turned north on 50th St. E.  After we drove passed an American Kestrel that was perched on a power line we decided to double back because the views would be better if we approached it from the south.

_r8a4808American Kestrel, 01/14/17, Patrick McCaffrey

When we reached Ave. L, we turned and drove east, passing a Red-tailed Hawk that was perched on a telephone pole near the corner.

_r8a4492Red-tail Hawk, 01/14/17, Patrick McCaffrey

There were Western Meadowlarks and Brewer’s Blackbirds in the fields and House Finches in the trees along Ave L but the best bird was a Ferruginous Hawk, our first of the day.  It flew away before we could get scope views but it was a good omen for the day.

We turned around and went west on Ave. L, crossing 50th St. E with the intention of scanning the fields along that portion of the road.  We didn’t get far, however, because we noticed a Prairie Falcon perched on a telephone pole.  It flushed from its initial perch but only flew a short distance before perching again.  Once it had settled, we quietly got out of our cars for scope and camera views.  The light was perfect because the sun was behind us and, although the bird watched us, it did not flush so we were able to see it very well.

_r8a4848

_r8a4762Prairie Falcon, 01/14/17, Patrick McCaffrey

That Prairie Falcon prompted us to look for more Ferruginous Hawks so we left the area and drove northeast toward the farms that are east of 110th St. E north of Ave. J.  This has been a reliable site for wintering Ferruginous Hawks in past years.  After we crossed 110th St. E we drove east along Ave. J so we could scan the telephone poles along the road and look into the fields from the south.  We saw several Ferruginous and Red-tailed Hawks, though the fast-moving traffic on Ave. J made for less than perfect viewing conditions.

After we had scanned the fields and poles, we decided to get away from the traffic and view the farm from the north so we drove around the block and stopped along Ave. I.   We saw several Ferruginous and Red-tailed Hawks, a number of Common Ravens, another Loggerhead Shrike, and some White-crowned and Savannah Sparrows.

img_5865-croppedCommon Raven harassing a Ferruginous Hawk, 01/14/17, Ted S.

By then it was after 12pm so we headed to Apollo Park for lunch.  While we were driving, some of us got a quick look at a female or immature Northern Harrier that was flying over one of the fields.  It flew out of sight so we kept going.

We ate lunch while keeping an eye on the birds, which included typical park birds such as Mallards (some of which appeared to be hybrids), Canada Geese, American Coots, Brewer’s Blackbirds and House Sparrows.  We saw one Ross’s and one Snow Goose, some Northern Shovelers and a few Ruddy Ducks and a single American White Pelican.  There were very fewer passerines than in past years but we saw or heard some Yellow-rumped Warblers and a pair of Great-tailed Grackles stayed close to the picnic tables.

img_6042American White Pelican, 01/14/17, Ted S.

After lunch, some of us decided to bird along Gaskell Ave. which, despite a recent decline in habitat quality, has been a wintering site for Ferruginous Hawks and other raptors and we were not disappointed.  We found another Prairie Falcon (which flew away as our cars approached) and 3 Ferruginous Hawks, one of which puzzled us at first.  It was perched facing us with only the breast and head visible.  We stopped to look, viewed through the scope and discussed the ID.  After a few minutes, we walked slowly toward it and, in the end, were able to identify it as a pale-morph immature Ferruginous Hawk.

While we were standing near our cars, we saw a number of birds, including Mountain Bluebirds, Savannah Sparrows, House Finches and the only Red-winged Blackbird of the day.  We also watched 2 Coyotes that were moving around in one of the fields.

In the end, it was apparent that bird numbers and species diversity were low but we had excellent views of many of our target species and there were several memorable sightings that made this a rewarding trip.

SMBAS, Antelope Valley  # 1/14/2017  Location
Snow Goose 2 NE of Palmdale Airport; Apollo Pk
Ross’s Goose 1 Apollo Pk
Canada Goose 100+ in flight near Desert Aire Golf Club & area; Apollo Pk
Mallard 30+ Apollo Pk
Northern Shoveler 6 Apollo Pk
Bufflehead 7 along 40th St. E north of Golf Club
Ruddy Duck 6 Apollo Pk
Double-crested Cormorant 1 Apollo Pk
American White Pelican 1 Apollo Pk
Great Blue Heron 1 Apollo Pk
Turkey Vulture 5 50th St E north of Ave L; near Gaskell Ave
Northern Harrier 2 Ave H east of 90th St E
Red-tailed Hawk 15 widespread
Ferruginous Hawk 8 50th St E south of Ave L; Ave J x 110th E; Gaskell Ave
American Coot 25 along 40th St. E north of Golf Club; Apollo Pk
Killdeer 2 along 40th St. E north of Golf Club
Ring-billed Gull 20 Apollo Pk
California Gull 2 Palmdale; Ave N east of 50th St E
Rock Pigeon   [I] 35 Palmdale & several sites
Eurasian Collared-Dove  [I] 1 Apollo Pk
Mourning Dove 40 Gaskell Ave
American Kestrel 7 scattered sites
Prairie Falcon 2 Ave L x 50th St. E; Gaskell Ave
Black Phoebe 2 Palmdale; Ave L x 50th St E
Say’s Phoebe 10 scattered sites
Loggerhead Shrike 11 scattered sites
American Crow 4 Palmdale
Common Raven 100+ widespread
Horned Lark 100+ Ave N east of 50th St E
Verdin 1 near Desert Aire Golf Club
Cactus Wren 2 near Desert Aire Golf Club
Mountain Bluebird 45+ Ave L x 40th St E & environs; Gaskell Ave
Horned Lark 100+ Ave N east of 50th St E
European Starling    [I] 65 several sites
Yellow-rumped Warbler 20 several sites
Savannah Sparrow 20 along 40th St. E north of Golf Club; Ave J x 110th St E
White-crowned Sparrow 30+ scattered sites
Red-winged Blackbird 1 Gaskell Ave
Western Meadowlark 75+ several sites
Brewer’s Blackbird 50 several sites
Great-tailed Grackle 2 Apollo Pk
House Finch 200+ widespread
House Sparrow     [I] 60 Palmdale; Apollo Pk & scattered sites
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