Louisiana Waterthrush Seiurus motacilla
Panamint Springs, Inyo County
24 September 1999
There is a small fenced enclosure with a few Tamarisk trees and tiny pond which supports a pet pot-bellied pig. Shortly, the Louisiana Waterthrush appeared from under a wooden board adjacent to the pond (more of a puddle really) and walked around inside the enclosure. When a truck came by, it flew around the back of the buildings and disappeared for about fifteen minutes. It then returned to the pond giving great views. The pig came out of hiding and flushed the bird up into the trees where it became invisible. Tom and Jo Heindel arrived and we continued to wait for the bird to return. I saw it fly out of one of the trees and disappear over the building, but after about a half hour the bird returned and this time put on quite a show and was visible for prolonged study. Finally it flew to a fence near the buildings and disappeared under some pieces of metal. It liked to hide under the wooden planks in the enclosure and at one point I saw it feeding on insects under the boards.
Photos were attempted by Jo Heindel, Mike San Miguel and others. Also I have seen excellent video footage of this bird taken that morning by Gary Rosenberg.
The following description is based on notes made while watching the bird:
It seemed about the size of a large warbler. It's behavior of walking on the ground and pumping its tail recalled Spotted Sandpiper. The rear end seemed to "swagger" as the tail rotated from side to side, as well as up and down.
It was very similar to Northern Waterthrush but with a bold white supercilium, flaring prominently behind the the eye and ending abruptly at the nape. The supraloral area was much narrower than the area behind the eye, and tinged very faintly with pale buff (very hard to see). The bill was dark and seemed very long. When it opened its mouth, the lining appeared dark pink. The eye was dark and seemed proportionately large.
The pink legs were unusually long with the joint often held rather straight, not as crouched as in Northern Waterthrush.
The upperparts were sold brown, but grayer brown on the back and warmer brown on the wings and rump. The crown was a slightly grayer brown, similar to the upper back. A faint pale median line extended from the forehead toward the crown. The tail was brown above and gray below and appeared square tipped.
Underparts were were white, heavily streaked with dusky, except on the throat between two dark malar stripes. These malar stripes contrasted with white mustachial stripes on either side, below the dark ear-coverts. This white mustache, angled up slightly around the rear of the ear-coverts recalling the pattern of Vesper Sparrow. A distinct patch of ochre showed on the flanks and this blended with a paler ochre color across the undertail coverts.
The flight call was heard twice, a sharp "tink" similar to Northern Waterthrush but softer and not as intense.
This is the first Louisiana Waterthrush I have seen in California.