Saturday, January 31, 2009

How to Find a Rare Bird

Seeing a rare bird in Orange County, California is not as hard as you might think. First, you have to know the birds that are Orange County Residents or who regularly spend part of the year here. Why do rare birds end up in Orange County or anywhere for that matter? Well, although we may not know all the answers, we do know some reasons for rare birds landing in places we don't expect them to be. Some rare birds like the American Bittern winter here in small numbers and can be seen if you look in areas like the places they are normally found. Some birds get off schedule and touch down in a place they don't usually stop off at and just stay. Some touch down for a few days on the way to somewhere else like South America or Canada. Some like the Eurasian Wigeon (who starts migration up north were North America and Russia are close together) get on the wrong flyway and just end up in the wrong place. In addition, stormy weather, extreme heat, or strong winds can send a bird off course away from its usual stomping grounds. Some birds like the Cattle Egret wander and appear sporadically in areas with little rhyme or reason. It may be food, weather, or something we do not even understand.

If you want to see a rare bird, follow these steps:

Bald Eagle from the OC Zoo at Irvine Regional Park in Orange, California.

1) Check the rare bird alert. See what's flying into Orange County. Go to those places it has recently been seen and see if it is still there.

Eurasian Wigeon at Huntington Central Park in February--either wintering or headed south.

2) If you have a rare bird that you want to see, then do an advanced search for the species on the Orange County Rare Bird Alert. Discover where and when it has appeared in the past. Try to be there in similar times. For example, Snow Geese and Bitterns most often appear in winter. So if you want to see them, the best bet is in winter. Find out its preferred food and habitat. If it is a wetlands bird, then look in wetlands habitats. In other words, look for places that are very much like its normal habitat.

Ross's Goose in the San Fernando Valley

4) Pray. There are no guarantees with rare birds. Persistence is what pays off. If you are out in the field often birding, you will most likely see more rare birds than if you are watching videos.

Reddish Egret at Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve .

Spotting a rare bird is I would say 60% knowledge about the species and 40% serendipity.

There is great birding out there even if you are looking at really familiar birds. Don't become immune to the beauty of a Spotted Towhee or a Willet. They are just as amazing in their own ways as a Redstart or an American Bittern. No matter what birds you see, whether resident birds or rare birds, have fun birding in Orange County!

OC Birder Girl Links

Reddish Egret--A Rare Bird

The Rose-breasted Grosbeak--A Rare Bird

Birding Hot Spots in Orange County, California

Beginning Birders in Orange County

Birding Code of Ethics from American Birding Association

About Binoculars

Orange County Bird Checklists

Parts of a Bird


Bird Guide Reviews

External Links


Online real-time checklist from Cornell.

Orange County Rare Bird Alert

Sea and Sage Audubon: Information on Rare Bird Alerts

List of rare bird alert resources.

What to Do When You See a Rare Bird: Reporting Your Observations to the IBRC

This is a great article by Portneuf Audubon Society in Idaho that has practical application for all birders. Just make sure you report to the rare bird alert in your area and not in Idaho.

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