Seasonal Visitors

Orange County gets its fair share of winter visitors, human and otherwise. Most in the latter category, from birds to butterflies to marine mammals, are passing through on their way to even warmer climates. Some, such as the Myrtle warbler, hang around for awhile. Others, such as the California gray whale, simply pass by. Now is the time to spot many of these creatures as they make their southern journeys.


Birds migrating through the county slowly head south late in the year, sometimes staying at a single spot up to two weeks to feed and build fat reserves. On the return trip, most take only a few days between stopping points in order to quickly return to breeding grounds. While most migratory species continue to South America, our mild climate makes this a desirable final stop for some species.

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Size: 5 inches

Diet: Insects, berries

Locale: Pine and mixed woodlands

Voice: Slow, warbling song, usually rising or falling at the end

Migration: "Myrtle warbler" is common winter visitor from East Coast


White-crowned Sparrow

Size: 7 inches

Diet: Spiders, seeds and berries

Locale: Open woodlands, brushy grasslands, roadsides and parks

Voice: Call includes loud pink and sharp tseep ; song is thin whistled notes followed by trill

Migration: Breeds north to Alaska; winters south to central Mexico


Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Size: 4 inches

Diet: Insects and fruit

Locale: Woodlands, thickets and brush

Voice: Call is scolding je-dit-je-dit ; song consists of thin tsee notes followed by descending tew and concludes with warbling three-note phrases

Migration: Breeds north to Alaska; winters as far south as Guatemala


American Wigeon

Size: 19 inches

Diet: Grass, grain, aquatic insects and mollusks

Locale: Fields, marshes and shallow water

Voice: Males give soft whistled wheew-whew; females quack

Migration: Breeds north to Alaska; winters in northern South America


Northern Shoveler

Size: 19 inches

Diet: Plankton, snails, clams and vegetation

Locale: Marshes, ponds and bays

Voice: Males generally silent; females quack

Migration: Breeds north to Canada and Alaska; winters as far south as South America


Long-billed Curlew

Size: 23 inches

Diet: Aquatic animal life

Locale: Coastal beaches and salt marshes

Call: Loud, musical, rising cur-lee

Migration: Breeds southern Canada throughout the Great Basin; winters south to central Mexico


Western Sandpiper

Size: 6 inches

Diet: Plankton, snails, clams and vegetation

Locale: Wetlands and ocean shoreline

Call: High, raspy jeet

Migration: Breeds in northern Alaska; winters south to Peru


Three species of butterflies migrate to or through the county every year:

1. Monarch

Only butterfly that migrates both north and south on a regular basis (like birds). Travels from southern Sierra and northwestern Arizona. Adults can migrate up to 80 miles per day. They can be seen in clusters hanging from eucalyptus trees. Where to look, from late October through February:

* Doheny State Beach

* Huntington Central Park

* Norma Gibbs Park, Huntington Beach (on Graham Lane, south of Heil Avenue)

2. Painted Lady

Also called "cosmopolite" because it is thought to be the most widespread butterfly in the world. Migrates between Baja and Oregon with autumn and spring stops in Orange County. Found throughout the county.

3. Cloudless Sulphur

Mass northern migrations each spring from Baja to Ventura; found throughout the county. They do not live long enough to make a return trip, and the reason for the one-way migration is not known.


Whales migrate along California's coast on a 11,000-mile round trip from the polar region to warm Baja California lagoons. They spend the summer feeding in plankton-rich arctic waters and storing blubber. As winter approaches and polar waters freeze, the whales move to warmer seas, passing by Orange County from November through February. Returning to polar feeding areas, most pass by Orange County in February and March.


California Gray Whale

Common names: California gray whale, Pacific gray whale

Length: Up to 45 feet; 15 feet at birth

Weight: 35 to 50 tons at maturity; about one ton at birth

Life span: 30 to 40 years


Activity You May See

Social behavior: During migration, whales travel in small groups called pods. Calving and mating season is spent among groups of as many as 20.

Spotting whales: First clue of a whale's presence is often the spout. When surfacing to breathe, it exhales with great force, sending up a six- to 12-foot spout of warm, condensed air and sea water.

Sounding: After a series of shallow dives, whales often dive deeper. Tail fins, called flukes, are thrown clear of the water. Unlike fish, whale's tail fins are horizontal and move up and down to propel them through the water at about 6 mph.

Spyhopping: With flukes pointing downward, gray whales sometimes extend the head above the surface as though scanning their surroundings.

Breaching: For reasons unknown--perhaps to communicate or just to play--the gray whale can momentarily propel up to three-quarters of its body out of the water.


Killer Whale

Although Killer Whales are considered to be nonmigratory, last year whale-watchers spottedsome off the Orange County coast. Experts speculated they were looking for food.

Sources: California Department of Fish and Game, Sea & Sage Audubon Society, American Cetacean Society, the Monarch Program, World Book Encyclopedia, "Pederson's Field Guide to Birds of North America" and "The Birder's Handbook;"

Researched by APRIL JACKSON, DORIS SHIELDS and KRIS ONUIGBO / Los Angeles Times

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