Western Bird News – Autumn 2021

The fall season in 2021 was somewhat of a mixed bag in western North America: excellent for many “mid-level” rarities in coastal California, but slower farther north, in the deserts, and farther east in states like Colorado. That being said, autumn is always an exciting time of year, and plenty of top-shelf rarities, including a number of first and second state records, were discovered. Some “eastern” warblers and other species were found in especially high numbers along California’s coast, with some “spillover” to other states, headlined by Blackburnian, Tennessee, Magnolia, Bay-breasted, Chestnut-sided, Pine, and Canada. Unfortunately, almost all regions in the West reported mediocre to poor numbers of many western migrants. And although it was cold in Alaska and stormy in the Pacific Northwest, most areas farther east and south were relatively mild late into the season. Late-lingering migrants were also a recurring theme in a number of states. Covid concerns continued to keep a few of the most popular migrant traps off-limits to birders, at least in Washington and Alaska. 


A Spotted Redshank was in Southeast Alaska at Gustavus on 23 Oct. An adult Brown Booby was in the northeast Gulf of Alaska on 11 Sep. Two Gray Catbirds were in Sitka during Sep. In western Alaska, at Shemya Island in the western Aleutians, a Cedar Waxwing on 22 Sep was a real shocker, whereas the Garganey, Baikal Teal, Willow Warbler (first Aleutian record), and Kamchatka Leaf-Warbler there that month seemed almost pedestrian by comparison. A Belted Kingfisher wandered far west to Adak Island in the central Aleutians, Sep–Nov. Gambell, St. Lawrence Island, hosted an unusually cooperative Middendorff’s Grasshopper Warbler on 4 Sep, that site’s 5th or 6th in fall, as well as season totals of one Willow Warbler, one or two “Siberian” Chiffchaffs, four Dusky Warblers, seven Siberian Accentors, and four Little Buntings, as well as its first Mountain Bluebird. A Steller’s Sea-Eagle was near King Salmon on 6 Nov, and the long-staying individual at St. Paul Island continued. A record irruption of American Coots occurred virtually statewide. (Nat Drumheller, Sulli Gibson, Paul Lehman, Gus Van Vliet)

Middendorff’s Grasshopper Warbler; Gambell, AK; 4 Sep 2021. Photo: Hal & Kirsten Snyder

Adult Brown Booby; northeast Gulf of Alaska, AK; 11 Sep 2021. Photo: Robin Corcoran

Siberian Accentor; Gambell, AK; 7 Sep 2021. Photo: Hal & Kirsten Snyder

Little Bunting; Gambell, AK; 3 Sep 2021. Photo: Hal & Kirsten Snyder

British Columbia

On 14 Nov, two Oriental Turtle-Doves were found in Prince Rupert, the 5th record for BC. There was a single Oriental Turtle-Dove in the same town at a different location on 15 July. On 18 Nov, a Eurasian Skylark (pekinensis group) was photographed at Sandspit in Haida Gwaii, the 3rd confirmed record involving an Asian subspecies in the province. A White Wagtail at Queen Charlotte City in Haida Gwaii 18–29 Oct was the 17th record for BC. A Brambling was in Revelstoke on 19 Nov. An Orchard Oriole was banded at Rocky Point Bird Observatory in Metchosin on 28 Sep, the province’s 10th. (Melissa Hafting)

Orchard Oriole; Rocky Point Bird Observatory, BC; 28 Sep 2021. Photo: David M. Bell

White Wagtail; Queen Charlotte City, BC; Oct 2021. Photo: Carey Bergman


The state’s 5th Philadelphia Vireo, but first to be photo-documented, was in Adams Co. on 22 Sep, while the state’s 2nd Canada Warbler was in Grant Co. on 5–6 Sep, the 10th Blackburnian Warbler graced Skamania Co. 15–19 Nov, and a Prothonotary Warbler, Washington’s 6th, was in Spokane Co. on 6 Sep.  (Brad Waggoner)

Canada Warbler; Grant County, WA; 5-6 Sep 2021. Photo: Matt Yawney

Philadelphia Vireo; Adams County, WA; 22 Sep 2021. Photo: Will Brooks

Blackburnian Warbler; Skamania County, WA; Nov 2021. Photo: Will Brooks


For the second straight fall, Oregon added a new Phylloscopus to its state list: a Dusky Warbler inhabited Stonefield Beach State Wayside, Lane Co., 7–9 Oct. This species has been near the top of the list of “what’s next” predictions for years. It was otherwise a quiet autumn for top-shelf rarities. Emperor Goose staged a mini-invasion of sorts, with three single immatures: at Beaverton, Washington Co., 12–28 Oct; on Sauvie Island, Multnomah Co., 26 Oct; and at McNary Wildlife Area, Umatilla Co., 26 Oct–12 Nov. Vagrant “eastern” warblers were scarce, exemplified by the nearly complete absence of Palm Warblers along the outer coast. Highlights included Oregon’s 13th Canada Warbler at Malheur NWR, Harney Co., on 2 Sep; its 18th Prairie Warbler at Wedderburn, Curry Co., on 7 Sep; and the state’s 16th Blackburnian Warbler at Cannon Beach, Clatsop Co., on 7 Oct. Although Mottled Petrels are known to occupy Oregon’s deep offshore waters, live birds are almost never seen from shore; thus, one spotted from Silver Point, Clatsop Co., 15 Nov, was exceptional. The only other pelagic bird of interest was the Brown Booby that took up residence on a channel marker in Coos Bay, Coos Co., from Aug through Nov. (Shawneen Finnegan, David Irons)

Immature Emperor Goose; Beaverton, OR; Oct 2021. Photo: Dave Irons

Dusky Warbler; Stonefield Beach State Wayside, OR; 7 Oct 2021. Photo: Anne Heyerley

Blackburnian Warbler; Cannon Beach, OR; 7 Oct 2021. Photo: Diana Byrne


A potential 1st state record Eastern Towhee was in Jacumba, San Diego Co., 6–8 Nov. Appearing like a pure, young male Eastern, the bird, however, gave calls ranging from Eastern-like to rather Spotted-like, generating much debate over potential hybrid origins. A Tundra Bean-Goose was in Humboldt Co. from at least 14 Oct to 3 Nov. Rare shorebirds included a Common Ringed Plover in Del Norte Co. in Sep and a Lesser Sand-Plover in Santa Cruz Co. also in Sep. But perhaps the shorebird highlight of the season was the exceptional single-site accumulation of rare shorebirds at Lake Tolowa, Del Norte Co., centered around 10 Sep, with the simultaneous presence of Hudsonian and Bar-tailed Godwits, Ruff, and up to two Sharp-tailed Sandpipers. Another Bar-tailed Godwit was in Monterey/Santa Cruz Cos. Single Dusky Warblers were in Marin Co. 4–8 Oct and in Los Angeles Co. 9–16 Oct. Two Rufous-backed Robins were together in eastern Riverside Co. during Nov, and two separate Red-faced Warblers were in San Diego Co., in Sep and Oct. A Great Crested Flycatcher in Santa Barbara Co. from at least 9 to 21 Nov was the latest ever for California and might conceivably winter locally. A good multi-species booby show off Southern and Central California included a Red-footed Booby well to the north in Humboldt County, its first. Also well north in Humboldt was a Broad-billed Hummingbird in mid-Oct, whereas a northerly Thick-billed Kingbird was in San Mateo Co. on 29 Oct. A Nelson’s Sparrow was especially unusual as to location and early date at Lake Tahoe 11–13 Sep. One of the highlights of the season in much of coastal California was the relatively large numbers of many “mid-level” vagrants, especially warblers. For example, some 18 Yellow-green Vireos included especially unusual birds in Humboldt (two) and Lake Cos.; several Grace’s Warblers in Southern California were eclipsed by a northerly bird establishing Santa Cruz County’s first on 18 Sep; an incredible 12+ Pine Warblers were discovered statewide (including especially unusual in Humboldt and Riverside Cos.); and a particularly large number of Blackburnian Warblers were headlined by San Diego County’s impressive total of 18 individuals. Returning and continuing rarities included a Garganey at the Salton Sea for its 3rd winter, a Mexican Duck in Orange Co. for its 2nd, a Curlew Sandpiper back for its 3rd winter in Kings Co., the long-staying Northern Gannet in San Francisco/San Mateo Cos., and single Black Vultures in both Marin and Inyo Cos. (Paul Lehman, John Sterling)

Immature male Eastern-type Towhee; Jacumba, San Diego County, CA; 6 Nov 2021. Photo: Larry Sansone

Great Crested Flycatcher; Goleta, Santa Barbara County, CA; Nov 2021. Photo: David Levasheff

Nelson’s Sparrow; Lake Tahoe, CA; 12 Sep 2021. Photo: Martin Meyers

Tundra Bean-Goose; Humboldt County, CA; Oct–Nov 2021. Photo: Derek Hameister

Juvenile Lesser Sand-Plover; Santa Cruz County, CA; 22 Sep 2021. Photo: Curtis Marantz

Grace’s Warbler; Santa Cruz County, CA; 18 Sep 2021. Photo: John Sterling

Thick-billed Kingbird; San Mateo County, CA; 29 Oct 2021. Photo: John Sterling


A Great Crested Flycatcher found in the northeastern corner of the state on 9 Sep was a record late date for Montana. A Philadelphia Vireo banded near Florence, Missoula Co., on 8 Oct provided one of the few well-documented records from west of the divide and by far the latest occurrence in the state. Other record late dates were an Orange-crowned Warbler in Missoula on 24 Nov, a Chestnut-sided Warbler near Florence on 7 Nov, and a Palm Warbler in the Mission Valley, Lake Co., on 22 Nov. Montana’s 2nd Wood Thrush specimen was killed by a cat near Havre on 15 Oct. Also noteworthy was a male Brambling, Montana’s 9th record, that occurred at a feeder in Great Falls on 16–17 Oct.  (Jeff Marks)

Philadelphia Vireo; Florence, MT; 8 Oct 2021. Photo: Tricia Rodriguez

Brambling; Great Falls, MT; 16–17 Oct 2021. Photo: Sharon Dewart-Hansen


A Nelson’s Sparrow at Las Vegas Bay, Lake Mead, on 5 Oct established the long-awaited 1st state record. Nevada’s 2nd endorsed record of Magnificent Frigatebird was over Henderson on 2 Sep, and the state’s 2nd Barred Owl was bordering the Black Rock Desert during Nov. The state’s 6th Ruff, a juvenile, was at Pyramid Lake on 11 Sep. The Tropical Kingbird at Miller’s Rest Stop on 25 Sep was only the state’s 4th, and a Rufous-backed Robin at Corn Creek, near Las Vegas, during late Oct–early Dec was merely the state’s 3rd; whereas a Blue-winged Warbler at Fletcher Spring, Mineral Co., on 11 Sep was the 7th, and a Canada Warbler at Cactus Springs, Clark Co., on 20 Sep established the 10th. (Martin Meyers)

Nelson’s Sparrow; Lake Mead, NV; 5 Oct 2021. Photo: Brandon Miller

Juvenile Ruff; Pyramid Lake, NV; 11 Sep 2021. Photo: Joe Tuvell

Barred Owl; near Black Rock Desert, NV; Nov 2021. Photo: Ned Bohman

Magnificent Frigatebird; Henderson, NV; 2 Sep 2021. Photo: Chris Aquila

Rufous-backed Robin; Corn Creek, NV; Oct–Dec 2021. Photo: Jeanne Tinsman

Tropical Kingbird; Miller’s Rest Stop, NV; 25 Sep 2021. Photo: Ben Zyla


The state’s 1st American Woodcock was in Cave Creek Canyon 6–15 Nov. The second-ever Yellow-footed Gull was at Lake Havasu (on both Arizona and California sides) 10 Sep–19 Nov. Arizona’s 8th Sharp-tailed Sandpiper was near Winslow on 29–30 Sep. Lake Havasu hosted its somewhat-expected single Parasitic and Long-tailed Jaegers in Sep, and two Long-taileds were at Roosevelt Lake 8–15 Sep and a Pomarine Jaeger was at San Carlos Reservoir on 8 Oct. Four Black-legged Kittiwakes in the state were an exceptional total. A Wood Thrush was in Mohave Co. on 22 Oct. Other miscellanea included two Ruffs, a Lesser Black-backed Gull, two Least Flycatchers, and a Canada Warbler. (Gary Rosenberg)

American Woodcock; Cave Creek Canyon, AZ; 6 Nov 2021. Photo: Harriet Marble

Juvenile Sharp-tailed Sandpiper; near Winslow, AZ; 29 Sep 2021. Photo: Chris McCreedy

Adult and juvenile Long-tailed Jaegers; Roosevelt Lake, AZ; 9 Sep 2021. Photo: Chris McCreedy

First-cycle Yellow-footed Gull; Lake Havasu, AZ; 11 Sep 2021. Photo: Chris McCreedy

Juvenile Black-legged Kittiwake; Tucson, AZ; 6 Nov 2021. Photo: Gary Rosenberg

New Mexico

Headlining an active season for rarities were two state firsts: a Yellow-footed Gull at Sumner Lake, De Baca Co., 10 Sep, and a Blue Mockingbird at Rattlesnake Springs, Eddy Co., 14 Nov. Both birds continued through Nov and together brought the state’s confirmed list to 551 species. An Ancient Murrelet that was found debilitated at Placitas, Sandoval Co., 17 Nov, and died soon thereafter (specimen to Museum of Southwestern Biology), provided New Mexico’s 2nd record. Other rare seabirds included a Pomarine Jaeger at Ute Lake, Quay Co., 24 Sep; a Long-tailed Jaeger at Eagle Nest Lake, Colfax Co., 17–23 Sep; and a Black-legged Kittiwake at Albuquerque 22 Nov. Three Brant at Albuquerque, first seen 4 Nov, comprised the largest “flock” ever found in New Mexico. A vocal Tropical Kingbird far north at Clines Corners, Torrance Co., 22 Sep–8 Oct, provided the state’s 6th record. Single Sedge Wrens were at Santa Rosa, Guadalupe Co., 7–9 Oct and near Las Cruces 9 Oct, the latter a Doña Ana Co. first. A Canada Warbler was an Albuquerque crowd-pleaser at the University of New Mexico 7 Sep; there are fewer than 20 state records. (Sandy Williams)

Adult Blue Mockingbird, with very blue color and red iris; Rattlesnake Springs, NM; Nov 2021. Photo: Jonathan P. Batkin

Adult Pomarine Jaeger; Ute Lake, NM; 24 Sep 2021. Photo: Dan Robinson

First-cycle Yellow-footed Gull; Sumner Lake, NM; Sep–Nov 2021. Photo: Matthew J. Baumann

—Paul E. Lehman


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