Friday, July 12, 2013


Los Angeles has some surprisingly good birds. And some unsurprisingly bad traffic. Thus, the task for the day: get to as many of the former by avoiding as much of the latter. 

But first - coffee. As a general rule, I like drinking my coffee at a stationary table, and not in a car. I like to savor the roast and experience the earth moving, without it *actually* moving under my feet. Our first Starbucks in Los Angeles is a drive-thru. *Only* a drive-thru - as in there's no inside. I'm determined not to let the car win… 

Maybe this'll fool them..?

We'd spent the night in Oxnard, just south of Ventura Harbor. The only good thing about staying in Oxnard is that this is the perfect place to stay if you want to visit Oxnard in the morning - which we did. A 10 minute drive along Arnold Road, among agricultural fields and sod farms, brought us the first new bird of the day: Tricolored Blackbird...

  Tricolored Blackbird. Notice the white and red coverts on the closest bird.

Our next stop was Palos Verdes, a peninsula in southwest LA. Until 10,000-20,000 years ago, this used to be one of the Channel Islands, before gently crashing into the mainland between Manhattan Beach and Long Beach. The isolation is thought to have contributed to the evolution of such birds as the non-migratory form of the Allen's Hummingbird which is now colonizing the greater LA region. And there are still mainland birds such as the Oak Titmouse that haven't reached here - presumably terrified of the huge Frogger game that is crossing metro LA. 

Palos Verdes peninsula - modeled by Gerri.

We're here for the California Gnatcatcher - an endangered bird of Southern California that likes coastal arid sage scrub. It's lucky to still be here - a new golf development by Donald Trump almost obliterated this unique habitat. Fortunately, local opposition groups managed to secure a coastal path - Ocean Trails - where the Gnatcatcher precariously hangs on. After a 20 minute walk along the cliffs we started hearing the meowing calls of the bird…

California Gnatcatcher - black cap and black tail

It's a beautiful spot. A gentle breeze sweeps up and over the cliffs, and as we walk the trail, we encounter dogs, dog walkers and buzzing hummingbirds. We finally catch up with one - an Allen's Hummingbird...

Allen's Hummingbird - the non-migratory form that's here all year.

After a long walk we get back to the parking lot, where a screeching Gnatcatcher comes to say goodbye...

Meow! California Gnatcatcher

I've seen a lot of introduced exotic birds this year - parrots, mynas, bulbuls, swamphens - almost all of them in Florida. But there's one exotic species on the ABA list that only lives here, in Los Angeles - the Spotted Dove. Originally from China, a small population escaped in the early 1900s, and they've been here ever since. Once common throughout SoCal, they've been declining rapidly since the 1980s - possibly in response to competition with that other introduced dove - the Eurasian Collared-dove. One of the best places to still see them is Salt Lake Park in Central LA. 

As we drive into the park, we see a dove on a telephone wire, and see the spots on its neck. Spotted Dove! That was easy! As we stop the car to get a better look it flies away. A half hour of walking the park in 95F heat fails to turn up another. In desperation, I start walking the residential streets to the north. Based on the looks I'm getting, I'm guessing this urban LA street doesn't see many weirdos carrying a telescope and binoculars. While trying to look cool, normal and non-muggable, I finally hear a Spotted Dove calling - a distinctive "coo CRRRRRRRooo cup" with a very rolled and husky second syllable. I track the cooing down to a telephone wire with a Spotted Dove sitting on it...

Spotted Dove - notice the white spots on the black neck, giving the bird its name. 

Our day in LA ends with a trip to Eaton Canyon Park, prime chaparral habitat at the foot of the San Gabriel Mountains. Many of California's specialties are found in chaparral - a low, dry brush habitat composed of sages, Chamise, scrub oaks, and the delicious Lemonadeberry. It's adapted to rejuvenate by periodic fires, a property that makes it a regular star on local TV news. Like LA, it has its own range of dangers…

It's a way too hot and sleepy afternoon for many birds to be moving about, but I do find Wrentit and Nuttall's Woodpecker.

Our plan for the night is to drive up to the San Gabriels for some owling. And some sleeping in the car. Neither is a success. There are no owls (we'd hoped for Northern Saw-whet and Flammulated). It's freezing outside. And uncomfortable inside.

Gerri relaxing in "Hotel Mazda"

+ + +

BIG YEAR LIST: 677 + 1 provisional species

NEW YEAR BIRDS (6): Tricolored Blackbird, Allen's Hummingbird, California Gnatcatcher, Spotted Dove, Nuttal's Woodpecker, Wrentit 

1 comment:

  1. Neil,

    FYI, the "other" 2013 Big Year birder, Jay Lehman (a friend of mine) got his Budgie at a feeder on Gulf Winds Circle in Hernando Beach. I don't know the specific address.