Sunday, January 7, 2018

A Rare Sight: Vermilion Flycatcher at Dawson Lake

We did something today we've never done before. News had spread of an extremely rare sighting of a bird in our county, only the fourth time it's been seen here, and the first time it was seen in a publicly accessible place. So we did it. We went looking for it as if we were actual birders. It was a Vermilion Flycatcher (Pyrocephalus rubinus).
Source: Cornell Lab of Ornithology
The Vermilion Flycatcher is more of a tropical species, and we lie north of their normal range. Obviously, a few individuals get "lost" and end up outside their usual habitat, as happened with this one. I note that a female flycatcher has been reported this month at the Merced National Wildlife Refuge. I imagine they are both feeling a bit lonely (the male has been hanging out with a Black Phoebe, a related species).
Mrs. Geotripper tried her hand at sharpening one of the shots
Our chances of actually seeing the bird weren't great. It was said to be patrolling a barbwire fence at the north end of Dawson Lake, but there are a great many such fences out there, and they weren't close to the highway (La Grange Road, just south of Highway 132). We lucked out though, because a birder was already parked there and he knew which fence to keep an eye on. It was a long ways off, far enough that I could not make out birds with the unaided eye. But after about fifteen minutes of scanning the slope with the camera set to highest zoom, I spied it. I snapped as many pictures as I could, but don't expect a whole lot of detail. But you can't miss a bird this colorful!
If you live in the area and want to have a look, drive east on Highway 132 to La Grange Road about 18 miles east of Waterford. Turn right (south) on La Grange and drive a mile or two until you see the Dawson Lake, a small irrigation reservoir, off to the right (west). Park at the bridge that crosses a corner of the upper lake. The fence is across the dry arm of the lake directly to the west (below). The bird patrols for bugs, going from fencepost to fencepost every 90 minutes or so, according to Rich, the birder we talked to. The lake property is privately owned, so don't jump the fence (bad form in any case to do that sort of thing).

Even if you don't see the flycatcher, don't be too disappointed. Dawson Lake is a local birding hotspot, and there are plenty of other birds to be seen. This afternoon we saw cormorants, mergansers, geese, Acorn Woodpeckers, egrets, and lots of small songbirds.


  1. Congratulations on finding it AND getting photos! I was there on Saturday for about 1 1/2 hours... in the rain... with no luck. I'll try to go back soon when it's not raining! (I've also looked for the female at Merced NWR 3 times with no success... yet!)