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Antelope Valley Raptor Search Trip Report, 01/13/2018

January 18, 2018

Antelope Valley Raptor Trip Report

Saturday, 13 January 2018

It was sunny, cold and calm when we arrived in the Antelope Valley on Saturday morning.  We drove to a convenient location on Palmdale Blvd where the group assembled before we set out for the day.

We drove east on Palmdale Blvd. and turned north on 10th St. E.  We had only gone a short distance when we stopped to look at some Mourning Doves that were perched in a tree.  While we were looking at them, we noticed a Cooper’s Hawk perched nearby.  The hawk was back-lit so the view was poor but we were able to identify it by its long, broadly-banded tail, short wings and large head.  We looked at it we looked around for a moment in the hope of finding other birds nearby.  When we looked back, the hawk was gone.

From there, we crossed Rancho Sierra Vista (Ave. P) and stopped to scan the scrub land on either side of the road.  Initially, we were disappointed because it was very quiet.  The only birds we saw were a couple of Red-tailed Hawks that were perched on distant power poles.  After several minutes, however, a Cactus Wren flew up and perched atop a Joshua Tree.  It was back-lit so we could not see the subtle details of its plumage but we were easily able to see the stout, slightly down-curved bill and long tail.  The only other birds we saw were a few White-crowned Sparrows so we returned to Ave. P and drove east.  We tried to keep an eye on the Joshua Tree where the Cactus Wren had been perched in the hope that the view would be better from the shoulder of Ave. P but it disappeared into the scrub so we did not stop.

When we reached the Desert Aire Golf Club we pulled off and parked on the shoulder.  We scanned the parts of the Club grounds that can be seen from the road but saw very few birds.  There were some European Starlings, Brewer’s Blackbirds and House Sparrows but little else so we crossed the road to check the scrub land.  It looked very quiet at first but then we we saw 2 Loggerhead Shrikes foraging together.  They stayed close to one another as they moved through the scrub, dropping to the ground, flying up and perching and dropping to the ground again.

When we left the Golf Club, we went north on 40th St. E.  We saw very few birds as we drove so we didn’t stop until just after we went around the corner where 40th St. E turns right and becomes Ave. N.  In past years, there have been large flocks of birds on the sod fields on the south side of Ave. N.  Not so this year.  All we saw were a few birds in the distance.  We had better luck when we turned our attention to the scrub land across the road.  We saw a small flock of House Finches and some distant Western Meadowlarks.  The best bird was a Horned Lark that was just across the road from us.  It was quiet, moving little and “posing” several times thereby giving us ample time for good scope views and photographs.

Horned Lark, Randy Ehler, 01/13/2018

Just as we were getting ready to leave, one observer spotted a male Northern Harrier.  We immediately got out of our cars and watched the handsome gray and white bird as it flew slowly over the scrub land.  A second Northern Harrier, probably a female or juvenile, was flying in the distance.  It was far enough away that only a few of us saw it before it disappeared from sight.

From there we drove to the next intersection and went north on 50th St. E.  We turned left onto Ave. M and right onto 40th St. E.  Since traffic is usually light on 40th St., we planned to drive slowly and stop when we found some birds.  As we turned the corner, however, we were disappointed to find poor habitat.  There is a large solar farm on the west side of the road and the farm field on the east side was fallow.  We saw a few birds as we slowly drove north toward Ave. L.  There were some House Finches and several Western Meadowlarks but we did not see any raptors other then red-tails perched on the power poles.

The farmland near the corner of Ave. L was under cultivation so we turned right, pulled off the road and birded from our cars.  There were birds around the houses to our left, in the fields to our right and on the wires along the road.  We saw a Black Phoebe, 2 Say’s Phoebes that were sparring with one another and a Loggerhead Shrike.

Loggerhead Shrike, Randy Ehler, 01/13/2018

There were many Common Ravens and some Savannah Sparrows in one of the fields.  We heard some Yellow-rumped Warblers and saw 3 Red-winged Blackbirds near one of the houses.  A large flock of blackbirds flew toward us and perched on the wires.  Most were European Starlings but there were some Brewer’s Blackbirds among them.  An enormous cloud of black birds wheeled about in the sky in the distance but the flock was too far away for us to identify those birds.

As we drove farther east on Ave. L we spotted a Prairie Falcon perched on a power pole in front of us.  It suddenly flew from the pole and plunged to the ground in the middle of one of the fields.  At first, we were able to see its head above the grass but, although we watched for a time, we did not get a good look at it.  There were a few Red-tailed Hawks in the area and many Western Meadowlarks in the fields.

We continued along Ave. L and crossed 50th St. E.  In past years, the quiet, dead-end portion of Ave. L east of 50th St. has been productive.  This year it was not.  We saw very few birds and no raptors so we decided to leave this part of the valley and drive to an area that has been a reliable wintering site for Ferruginous Hawks in the past.

Our destination was a farm between Ave. J and Ave. I east of 110th St. E.  We did not stop during the drive because we did not see many birds.  There were no large flocks of passerines along the road though we did see a few small groups of sparrows and finches as well as some Red-tailed Hawks and numerous Common Ravens.

We were on Ave. J as we approached the farm so we decided to stay on Ave. J and check the power poles along the road and scan the fields from the south.  There were numerous Red-tailed Hawks perched or in flight.

Red-tailed Hawk, Randy Ehler, 01/13/2018

Best of all, there were several Ferruginous Hawks perched on the ground or on the irrigation pipes.  Unfortunately, none were close to the road.  One was visible in the distance, alternately flying and perching but it was too far away to be seen well, even with the scope.

Ave. J is a main thoroughfare where traffic moves at high speed so we decided to move to a better location.  We turned around, went back to 110th St. E, went 1 block north and turned onto Ave. I.  Ave. I is a quiet road with farm fields on both sides.  We pulled off, got out of our cars and scanned the area.  We were able to count at least 6 Ferruginous Hawks but, unfortunately, most were some distance away.  We had good views of one that soared overhead before slowly drifting off but the others were too far away for us to see the fine details of the plumage of these handsome birds.

It seemed as if there were fewer passerines in the fields than in past years.  We saw 2 large flocks of Horned Larks in one field but we only saw a few American Pipits, Savannah Sparrows and House Finches, though there may have been birds hidden in the grasses.

Since it was nearly noon we decided to make our way to Apollo Park for our lunch break.  As we left the farm, we turned right on 110th St. E and drove north.  At first, we saw only Red-tailed Hawks on the power poles but we soon noticed a buteo that was perched with its back to us.  At a distance, its proportions looked different from those of a Red-tailed Hawk; it appeared to be less “broad-shouldered” and longer-bodied than a red-tail.

Ferruginous Hawk, Randy Ehler, 01/13/2018

As we got close enough to see its plumage, we recognized that it was a Ferruginous Hawk.  We stopped and quietly got out of our cars.  It turned its head and looked toward us but did not flush so we had time to use our binoculars to look at the pale tail, rufous-tinged plumage, large bill and long gape.  We got excellent scope views and photos.

Ferruginous Hawk, Randy Ehler, 01/13/2018

Although the hawk watched us, it did not seem alarmed by our presence.  After several minutes, it stirred, slowly flew from the pole and landed on a pole a bit farther away.  This time it perched facing us.  We moved a bit closer and took our time enjoying binocular and scope views of its throat, breast and feathered legs.  We couldn’t have asked for a better way to wrap up the morning’s birding.

Ferruginous Hawk, Randy Ehler, 01/13/2018

Once everyone was ready, we resumed the drive to Apollo Park.  We didn’t stop along the way because we didn’t see many birds other than Red-tailed Hawks and Common Ravens.  A few of us got a glimpse of a female or immature Northern Harrier that was flying over a field but it was moving away so we kept going.  After passing over the section of Ave. G that is called the Musical Road, we turned into the park.

Just after we parked we saw the only Turkey Vulture of the day.  It was soaring overhead and being mobbed by 3 Common Ravens.   Although we did not “bird” the park, we kept an eye on the birds while we had lunch.  We saw fewer species and fewer individuals of the species that were present than in past years.  The only ducks we saw were either Mallards or probable  Mallard hybrids.  We saw the usual assortment of Canada Geese and exotic geese, a few Double-crested Cormorants and numerous American Coots.  The most impressive birds on or around the pond were American White Pelicans.  We saw few passerines other than a small flock of Dark-eyed Juncos, some Brewer’s Blackbirds and House Sparrows.  As we prepared to leave, one person spotted a Great Blue Heron on the scrub land outside the fence that encloses the park.

After lunch, the group split up.  One family went home and the rest of us resumed birding.  When we left the park, we went west and turned north on 60th St. W.  The habitat quality in this area has declined during the recent drought and conditions this year were not good.  Most of the agricultural land was fallow and the scrub land looked very dry.  We saw a few birds, including a Northern Mockingbird, a flock of Yellow-rumped Warblers, some Red-tailed Hawks, 2 American Kestrels and a stunning Prairie Falcon.

Prairie Falcon, Randy Ehler, 01/13/2018

Unlike the Ferruginous Hawk we saw just after we left the farm, the Prairie Falcon flew from its perch as soon as we slowed down and pulled off the road.  It flew farther along the road and perched on a more distant pole.  We drove toward it, stopping some distance from it.  To avoid spooking it, we stayed in our cars while we watched it.  It seemed wary and vigilant though it remained on its perch for a short time before flushing and flying rapidly away.

Prairie Falcon, Randy Ehler, 01/13/2018

We continued north and turned left onto Gaskell Ave.  Since there is rarely any traffic along this road we were able to drive slowly and watch for birds.  One of the first birds we saw was a Loggerhead Shrike that was perched on a wire beside the road.  As we drove, we saw more Common Ravens and Savannah Sparrows.  As we passed a house we heard bird vocalizations so we stopped a short distance away and got out of our cars.  The birds we had heard turned out to be European Starlings but we soon noticed other birds in the scrub land.  There were at least 20 Mountain Bluebirds moving around in one of the fields.  The sun was behind us so the bluebirds looked gorgeous in the afternoon light.  There were some Savannah Sparrows, White-crowned Sparrows and House Finches in the same area.

As we neared the corner of 100th St. W & Gaskell Ave. a keen-eyed spotter called out “Roadrunner”.  We stopped, got out of our cars and looked for it.  By then, it had disappeared at the back of the fencing that surrounds a small, unmanned service building.  We walked around the outside of the fence but did not see it again.  We got into our cars and drove across 100th St with the intention of resuming our drive along Gaskell.  We had just crossed the street when our spotter called out “Roadrunner”.  We stopped immediately and got out in time to see the bird disappear into the trees beside the road.  We waited but it did not reappear so we got back into our cars.  As we drove farther along Gaskell, we were a bit surprised by the sight of about 30 Western Meadowlarks walking through an orchard.

When we reached the end of Gaskell, we turned around and started back.  We were pleased to see yet another Northern Harrier cruising over the scrub land but the best was yet to come.  As we approached the trees at the intersection with 100th St. W, our spotter called out “Roadrunner” for the third time.  We stopped and got out of our cars in time to see it go into the trees.  It went through the trees and across the road toward the area where we had initially seen it.  Everyone had all seen it well and we did not disturb it again so we did not follow it.

Greater Roadrunner, Randy Ehler, 01/13/2018

With that, we decided to call it a day and return to LA.  Although we thought we’d finished birding, the birds weren’t quite finished with us.  As we drove south on 100th St. we were treated to the sight of a flock of Mountain Bluebirds beautifully illuminated by the sun.  As we were nearing Hwy. 14 we saw a male Northern Harrier flying low over the scrub land.   It seems fitting that a raptor should be the final bird of a memorable day.  Many thanks to everyone who came on the trip and to Randy for sharing his photographs.

SMBAS, Antelope Valley 1/13/2018
# location
Canada Goose 40 Apollo Pk
Mallard 25 Apollo Pk
Rock Pigeon     [I] 35 Palmdale & several sites
Eurasian Collared-Dove     [I] 1 Desert Aire Gold Club
Mourning Dove 2 10th St. E, Palmdale
Greater Roadrunner 1 Gaskell x 100th St W
American Coot 25 Apollo Pk
California Gull 10+ Palmdale
Double-crested Cormorant 6 Apollo Pk
American White Pelican 25 Apollo Pk
Great Blue Heron 1 Apollo Pk
Turkey Vulture 1 Apollo Pk
Northern Harrier 6 scattered sites
Cooper’s Hawk 1 10th St E north of Ave Q
Red-tailed Hawk 50 widespread
Ferruginous Hawk 7 Ave J, L & 110th St. E & environs
American Kestrel 2 scattered sites
Prairie Falcon 3 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 12 scattered sites
Common Raven 100+ widespread
Horned Lark 150+ Ave N east of 50th St E; Ave I east of 110th St E
Cactus Wren 1 10th St E north of Ave. P
Mountain Bluebird 35 Gaskell Ave; 100th St W south of Gaskell
Northern Mockingbird 1 60th St W
European Starling    [I] 150 Ave L x 40th St. E; Gaskell Ave
House Sparrow     [I] 30 Palmdale; Desert Aire Gof Club; Apollo Pk
American Pipit 30 Ave I east of 110 St E
House Finch 60+ several sites
Savannah Sparrow 30+ scattered sites
White-crowned Sparrow 30+ scattered sites
Dark-eyed Junco 30 Apollo Pk
Western Meadowlark 100+ several sites
Red-winged Blackbird 3 Ave L east of 40th St E
Brewer’s Blackbird 40+ several sites
Yellow-rumped Warbler 20 several sites

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