When you think of southern California in June there are a variety of things that could come to mind. Sunshine and surfing, deserts and wildfires, Hollywood and San Diego. What does not come to mind, even to a birder’s mind, is an Arctic Loon. Yet, somehow, on 31 May one was discovered on Puddingstone Reservoir, the large man-made lake that is the center of Bonelli Park, a nearly 2,000 acre expanse in San Dimas, just east of Los Angeles.
My arrival in southern California didn’t happen until 14 June but the bird had stuck around and was reported daily on the local birding listservs. I was chomping at the bit to get out and look for it and made my first attempt on the evening of my arrival but the bird was not to be found from my vantage point at the lower parking lot next to Sailboat Cove. The large amount of boat traffic on the lake might have had something to do with that. A second attempt was arranged for Sunday morning, 16 June, and I had high hopes of tracking it down.
But before we get into that tale let’s examine why, exactly, the Arctic Loon, aka Black-throated Diver, aka Gavia arctica, is such a cool bird to see in southern California in June. First of all, the species only occurs semi regularly in North America in a small patch of Alaska where it occasionally breeds. Most of its range is actually in the Old World so if you want to see one in North America you have to arrange a trip to western Alaska in breeding season, not exactly an easy proposition logistically. And even if you get there your odds of finding one are small.
Sometimes the birds that breed in Alaska or in western Siberia somehow end up coming down the west coast on their fall migration and it is the lucky birder indeed who connects with one of them. But by June even if a bird had been staked out all winter it should have left and headed north to breed. That this bird was discovered in late May and has shown no indication of heading north makes it not just a vagrant, but an amazingly oddly behaving one.
Anyway, Sunday morning came and I made the quick drive up to San Dimas from my in-laws house in Yorba Linda. It wasn’t even difficult to find the bird actively diving exactly where people had reported it, near some pilings just north of the lower parking lot and just east of the life guard shack. This made me feel better because it meant that when I missed it on Friday it wasn’t because of rank incompetence on my part but because the bird was actually just not there at the time. (Or so I tell myself.)
But enough with all of these words. On to the pictures (of what is actually a very bland, basic-plumaged bird).
And did I mention that I got video (that is very shaky and with a black chunk missing out of the upper left because I didn’t put my Phone Skope adapter on properly)?
Not bad for southern California in June! This was a great addition to my life list and year list and a great opportunity to study a bird that would normally take much more effort to track down.
Corey is a New Yorker who lived most of his life in upstate New York but has spent the last five years in Queens. He's only been birding since 2005 but has garnered a respectable life list by birding whenever he wasn't working as a union representative or spending time with his family. He lives in Forest Hills with Daisy, their son, Desmond Shearwater, and their two indoor cats, Hunter and B.B. His bird photographs have appeared on the Today Show, in Birding, Living Bird Magazine, Bird Watcher's Digest, and many other fine publications.
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