Tag Archives: Hermit Warbler

2014 Orange County Spring Bird Count

The Spring Count

California Quail on the Orange County Spring Count

Male California Quail on the Orange County Spring Count

May 9th-11th, was the weekend of the 2014 Orange County Spring Bird Count. This event attempts to cover the entire county within a 3-day period. It  is conducted in synchrony with hundreds of such counts on the weekend of International Migratory Bird Day (IMBD), IMBD is always the second weekend of May. Annually, birders census birds on as many of the county’s birding hotspots as possible. Coverage of the entire county is not a feasible objective. Each count area submits data to eBird, so they are available to birders and researchers across the country almost instantaneously. The Orange County Spring Count is managed by Sea & Sage Audubon each year.


This year’s Count featured many interesting hits and misses. Owing to the drought conditions, we saw few non-urban raptors, Many experienced pairs simply aren’t even attempting to nest. Owl numbers were way down. Even though nesting boxes are available, Barn Owls are failing to nest. We had low numbers of Western Screech-Owls and Great Horned Owls, and couldn’t raise a single Barn Owl in areas where they are usually numerous. Thus the most numerous night bird in Silverado Canyon was the Common Poorwill.

Western Toad

Western Toad

In Limestone Canyon (access granted by the Irvine Ranch Conservancy and Orange County Parks), the most common night bird was the Western Screech-Owl. We did have at least five of the large California subspecies of the Western Toad (Anaxyrus boreas halophilus) crossing the road in front of us. This is the middle of their breeding season, but with water levels so low everywhere, one wonders how much success they will have. In any case, there were plenty out and about.

High Counts

Pacific-slope Flycatcher

Pacific-slope Flycatcher

But it wasn’t all about what was missing either. There were still plenty of vireos, flycatchers and warblers about in both the foothill canyons and coastal green spaces. This Pacific-slope Flycatcher (Empidonax difficilis) is a common resident breeding species in much of Orange County. Some areas like Serrano Creek Park hosting multiple pairs within a short distance. It seems to be a big year for Canyon Wrens (Catherpes mexicanus) down on the coastal plain. We had three singing birds on a 7-mile hike through Laurel Canyon of the Laguna Coast Wilderness, and another one near Tucker Wildlife Sanctuary in Modjeska Canyon.

Hermit Warbler

Hermit Warbler

Wilson’s and Orange-crowned were the most numerous warblers, in that order, but there were good numbers of Hermit Warbler (Setophaga occidentalis) still moving through, including some in unlikely locations. This handsome male was one of a group of 3 driven into scrubby vegetation by powerful winds on the Harding Canyon truck trail on Sunday. All photos were taken with a Canon EOS Rebel T3 camera using a Canon 100-400 mm zoom lens.

Mid-April Migrants

Mid-April migrant - Ash-throated Flycatcher

Mid-April migrant – Ash-throated Flycatcher

Recently, we took a trip to one of the local canyons in the Santa Ana mountains in search of mid-April migrants. We hit the jackpot almost immediately. Right away, this handsome Ash-throated Flycatcher (Myiarchus cinerascens) greeted us in the parking lot. Surprisingly, he was pretty cooperative too. We stopped in a dry foothill canyon to listen for sparrows. First, Lazuli Bunting, Black-chinned Sparrow, Rufous-crowned Sparrow, Lesser Goldfinch, Western Tanager rewarded us. Typically, California Thrasher, Bewick’s Wren and both Blue-gray and California Gnatcatchers were there, along with California Towhee, Phainopepla and a distant Coastal Cactus Wren.

Silverado Canyon

Orange-crowned Warbler

Orange-crowned Warbler

Next, we went to our target destination: Silverado Canyon. The reported MacGillivray’s Warbler, a much sought-after mid-April migrant, ultimately called loudly enough to be heard over the stream. Mountain Quail were calling from all over everywhere. Pacific-slope Flycatchers worked the under story over the creek. Following that, a wave of common warblers came through: Wilson’s, Townsend’s, Black-throated Gray, and a few Nashville Warblers. A handful of late Yellow-rumped Warblers of the Audubon’s race also showed up. Some of the Orange-crowned Warblers (Oreothlypis celata) annually stay and breed here. And the morning light was perfect for photography too.

Other Migrants

Male Hermit Warbler

Male Hermit Warbler bathing

Surprisingly, the vireos put in a good showing too, with half a dozen migrant Warbling Vireos and at least two singing Cassin’s Vireos. Perhaps the most common vireos were the vocal resident Hutton’s. An early Western Wood-Pewee sang its distinctive song in the distance, a perfect complement to the activity in front of us. Later, at a stream crossing with shallow pools, we found migrants coming in to bathe and drink. Hermit Thrushes stood by shyly as the warblers boldly splashed about. This lovely male Hermit Warbler (Setophaga occidentalis) gave us quite a show. Some of these bathing birds were so busy, they let us approach quite closely. Thus, even small birds like these warblers were huge in the 10×42 Zeiss Victory SF binoculars we were lucky to be using. It’s pretty hard to beat that kind of frame-filling view of such beautiful birds!

Lastly, I shot these photos with a Canon EOS T3 equipped with a 100-400 mm zoom lens.