Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Painted Redstart at Crown Point Park

On January 11th Dave Povey found a Painted Redstart at Crown Point Park on Mission Bay. Soon many other birders had gone to see this rare winter visitor. Fortunately for me it remained in two carrotwood trees right along the parking lot. I was unable to get away to look for this bird until the afternoon of January 21st. It was a pleasure to find this bird quickly upon my arrival, as I had never seen this species before.

Painted Redstart in carrotwood tree. Colored pencil by Greg Gillson.
There are actually three known Painted Redstarts in San Diego County this winter. One bird has returned for its 2nd winter in a larger park at West Shepherd Canyon in Tierrasanta. Many people report taking an hour or more to find this one, or taking several visits to do so, which is why I never chased after this bird. A third redstart was discovered January 18th in a residential section of Mission Hills.


This is primarily a Mexican warbler of pine-oak forests, reaching the United States in Arizona and western New Mexico, as well as barely reaching west Texas. In winter most birds depart the US, but some remain in SE Arizona, and a few end up in southern California each winter.

The behavior of the bird I saw is apparently typical. It feeds from ground to tree top, but spends most of its time deep within the dense middle canopy where I caught glimpses of white tail edges or the large white wing patches when it flew, or spotted the deep red-orange breast through the green leaves. Fortunately, it sat still a couple of times, even in the open a couple of times. Otherwise, it was constantly on the move with not enough time in one spot for the camera to autofocus before it bounced to the next branch.

Painted Redstart. Crown Point Park, Mission Bay, California. January 21, 2017. Greg Gillson.
When I observed this hyperactive sprite it flew back and forth between the two carrotwood trees on the edge of the parking lot, but others saw it on the grass briefly with pipits, on the picnic table, and even a mud puddle at the edge of the parking lot. The flight was a bouncy, jerky, flap-bound. It occasionally gave a loud sweet house sparrow-like chirp, but is supposed to give a more musical and multi-syllabled call.


I was actually surprised how small this bird was. Perhaps the shocking black and red plumage in the field guide next to all the green and yellow warblers made me think it was larger. It was just a bit smaller than a Yellow-rumped Warbler, and shaped like it, with long full tail. Why did I think all redstarts were larger than that?