Today after Robbie Fischer and I left Butterbredt Spring, we headed down to the Kern River Preserve where we searched for a Vermilion Flycatcher which had been reported along Fay Ranch Road. We were not sure of the exact location, so we headed over to the preserve headquarters hoping that more information might be available. Bob Barnes met us with great excitement. That morning he had taken a group from Sea and Sage Audubon (Orange County) up to Chimney Creek Campground where they had seen the first Tulare County record of Grace's Warbler. He also gave us specific information on the Vermilion Flycatcher. We headed back to Fay Ranch Road where we alerted Kathy Robertson to the Grace's Warbler and where we also saw the Vermilion Flycatcher just southwest of the bridge near a pile of old tires. I also briefly saw a female Vermilion Flycatcher there.
We then headed up to Chimney Creek and parked near the entrance where we met Chuck Pappe, the campground host, who originally found the bird. He first noticed a different song in the area around 9 May and finally got a look at the bird on 22 May. However, the field guide he was using did not illustrate Grace's Warbler and the closest he could find was Blackburnian Warbler. Also the song did not match anything on his recorded California bird songs. He concluded that he either was missing information or had some kind of rarity. This morning he managed to get Bob Barnes on the bird and Bob identified it as a Grace's, but there is little doubt that the Grace's Warbler has been in the area for at least a week and probably three weeks.
Chuck pointed out that the bird was singing right up the hill. Robbie and I followed the song over to a noisy generator where we finally got good views of the Grace's Warbler. It later moved lower into trees right above Chuck Pappe's trailer. After about 20 minutes Kathy Robertson arrived and we helped her see the bird which had moved some distance to the south, but it was still fairly easy to find because of its loud continuous song. The following is based on notes taken at the time.
The song was very loud (decidedly louder than Yellow-rumped Warbler) and constant during the couple of hours we were present. It started with a series of double notes "Tseebit tseeebit tseebit..." recalling the introduction of the MacGillivray's Warbler song, but then finished with an accelerating crescendo of single notes recalling Wilson's Warbler. The final note was slightly lower and slower.
This bird was about the size of a Lawrence's Goldfinch which chased it around while I watched. But the goldfinch was plumper and shorter tailed compared to the warbler.
The Grace's Warbler was very bright yellow on the throat and breast and had a short, bright yellow supercilium. The back was all gray with very faint dusky streaks (hard to see). The face was gray with a black lore stripe extending slightly behind the eye. The rest of the underparts were whitish with distinct black streaks extending down the sides of the breast toward the flanks. These streaks were entirely outside the yellow area on the underparts. When looking overhead, we could see an area of dark gray which extended across the vent, but this may have been an artifact of dark gray bases to the ruffled feathers. The wings were gray with two whitish wing bars, that did not seem particularly pronounced.
The underside of the tail was all white to the tips of the feathers (white tail spots), but the central tail feathers were slightly longer than the outer tail feathers, making it appear that there was some black at the tip of the undertail.
The bill was quite short, black and pointed. The legs and feet were black.