After a long and productive season over at Braddock Bay I decided to take a couple of weeks off and head for Sunny California. Considering my aversion to shorts possibly an interesting choice for June, but when you get the opportunity to go pick up some life birds and have the offer of room and board in the L.A region a little sun isn’t going to get in the way.
Of course most people don’t really associate L.A County as a birding hotspot, but beyond the fake punks on Melrose and the fake boobs of Hollywood there are some areas of incredible natural beauty (there was a nice article about birding recently that was doing the rounds on L.A birding and includes the spot that is nestled just two minutes walk from my current residence: Eaton Canyon). My favorite spots so far have been up in the San Gabriel Mountains. Although the sun is somewhat relentless the temperatures are actually quite pleasantly bearable and get even better if you hang on into the evenings for owls and other goodies.
The mountain stops we explored range from 4-7000 feet above sea level and this means a slew of cool montagne specialties including Steller’s Jays, White-headed Woodpeckers and Mountain Quail. Talking to most of my friends it seems that there is currently some discussion as to whether Mountain Quail really exist or are the figment of west coast birders imagination. I can now, however, happily confirm thanks to the sharp eyes of my host Catherine Hamilton that they do exist, but only like you to see their backside as they disappear up a valley escarpment, a better view desired at some point before I head east.
Seeing as they have always been my favorite group of birds, it has been fun to discover that there are plenty of sparrows to keep me entertained up in the mountains. These include potential splits, interesting subspecies conundrums and just the totally cool looking. Favorites so far have included ‘Thick-billed’ Fox Sparrows, birds that exhibit features consistent with both coastal and interior type Sage Sparrows, Green-tailed Towhee and best of all a little pocket of breeding Black-chinned’s. Future trips beyond the mountains promise Belding’s and Large-billed Savannah Sparrows as well as Abert’s Towhees as possible Emberizine highlights.
Friday night was nocturnal bird night up in the San Gabriel Mountains. After stopping off to enjoy some of the previously encountered species Catherine and I hung around until dusk to pick up a lazily tooting but rather uncooperative Northern Pygmy Owl at Chilao Camp Ground. Further stops further up the mountains produced good numbers of Common Poorwills (listen here) but not much else. As we were about to hightail it out of there (after a brief stop at Mt. Wilson Observatory to marvel at the lights of L.A) we hit pay dirt with at least two very cooperative Western-Screech Owls that both sang (voice here) and put in a couple of appearances and a couple of extremely rare Spotted Owls that sang gloriously from the valley below us (like a confused Barred Owl). I have loved mountain owling after my first experience of it in Colorado looking for Boreal Owl. There is something kind of magical about that whole mountains at night thing!
Anyway after a rather poor success rate early in the evening we had done rather nicely over all. Still, there are reports of Mexican Whip-poor-will and Flammulated Owl to follow up on I guess we are just going to have to go back again – it’s a tough life ;)