Tropical Storm Kay blew frigatebirds north to L.A., self-glorification birders’ minds

Magnificent Frigatebird in Los Angeles

There’s been an historic outbreak of Magnificent Frigatebird sightings in Los Angeles in the past week. The birds live in the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean, and withal the Pacific tailspin of Mexico, including Baja California well south of San Diego. Rarely, often congruent with storms, they wander north wideness the verge into California waters. The recent outbreak started on Sunday, September 4th, when word went out that two frigatebirds had been spotted together withal the tailspin in Torrance, California. I happened to be lounging on a sailboat in Santa Monica Bay at the time I saw the alert. It was too far, and too long into our ride, to requite chase. The birds didn’t fly our way. A few lucky folks gave ventilator and saw them surpassing they disappeared and weren’t seen again.

If these were normal times, that would’ve been it. Surpassing that day, the last eBird sightings of Magnificent Frigatebirds in L.A. County were 1979, 2012, and 2018. Each of those were one-day wonders. When they’re here, Magnificent Frigatebirds are moving through, not lounging around. Yet, just a few days later, Tropical Storm Kay was set to move up the tailspin from Baja California. The storm was promising upper winds. And upper winds self-glorification from the south promised to push birds that normally live in Baja north of the border. In a land where we have little heady weather, and whimsically overly any storms, this was exciting. Depending on the wind direction, stray birds can end up off and withal the tailspin or on lakes far inland. It was like January 1st in the middle of September as birders plotted their tropical storm strategy for the weekend. 

The view was fleeting, but magnificent

The outer wind bands arrived Friday afternoon. I had in-laws coming to visit, and was feeling a little sick, so I wasn’t going out Friday night. The winds weren’t that high, and they were mainly self-glorification offshore, so expectations started to dwindle. Still, Magnificent Frigatebirds were spotted in San Diego and Orange County Friday evening, but nothing in Los Angeles. Saturday morning, I decided to bird the waterfront in my 5MR and hope something rare was lounging at the waterfront or flying off shore. The waterfront trip turned out to be mostly a bust. Winds were calm, the bay looked empty. I did spot a Pigeon Guillemot that’s been off Dockweiler Waterfront for a couple of weeks for a 5MR lifer.

Later Saturday afternoon, frigatebirds were spotted again. And again, it was a pocket cove in Palos Verdes near Torrance where they were seen. I considered a momentum lanugo there, but these simply aren’t chaseable birds, and I figured they’d be on their way south by the time I arrived. But I checked the reports, and two frigatebirds were seen as late as 7:00pm. Optimistic that they had roosted in the zone for the night, I decided to throne lanugo there early Sunday morning to see if I could spy one. I figured a tuft of other birders would be doing the same.

But when I arrived at the spot where they’d been seen the day before, no one was around. I stayed for half an hour, and decided to move to Point Vicente to combine frigatebird watching with largest views out to see, hoping for some storm-petrels. When I arrived at Point Vicente, a birding friend was there with a scope. We scanned the ocean for 45 minutes. Besides the thousands (and may tens of thousands) of Black-vented Shearwaters streaming south well off shore, there wasn’t much to see. And all the frigatebird sightings had been in the afternoon, so maybe we were in the wrong spot at the wrong time. 

This was the last frigatebird seen in L.A. from land during the outbreak

My friend decided it was time to move on. As we turned virtually to walk yonder from the ocean and when to the parking lot, I saw in the space between some trees a big woebegone bird that looked like it had been stretched out both lengthwise and wingspan wise flying over a hill directly in front of us. “Frigatebird!” My friend  dropped his telescopic and ran to get a well-spoken view. I zoomed in with my camera and fired off some shots. After scrutinizingly an hour of staring out to sea, we finally saw our target just as we turned virtually to leave. And it could hands have snuck by us had it not, by chance, been visible between a couple of trees as I happened to squint ahead. We sent out word of the sighting, and noted the direction the bird was flying. But no one saw a frigatebird then that day from land (a couple were spotted way off shore near San Clemente Island). 

I’d seen Magnificent Frigatebirds in Mexico before, but this was a United States, California, and LA County lifer. Even better, the crazy wits was shared with flipside birder who appreciated the witlessness and serendipity as much as I.





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