Los Angeles – SMORES beginner birding

31 10 2013
SMORES Program - Helen Wong

SMORES Program – Helen Wong

October the 19th I was lucky enough to be able to get involved as a volunteer with the County of Los Angeles Department of Parks and Recreation run and Habitat Conservation Fund funded SMORES Program. To quote their own publicity material: ‘Smores is an overnight camping program designed to provide youth of Los Angeles County the opportunity to make personal connections to nature.’ The staff and volunteers at Eaton Canyon Nature Center were heavily involved on the day and Pasadena Audubon Society (the local bird club) helped to provide the birding experts for the event.

Birding was just one of the elements of the two day event which also included Day and Night Hiking, Learning to fish, Entomology, Astronomy, Outdoor Cooking, Kayaking and Overnight Camping so we had some tough competition in the fun stakes! The kids (who were aged between 4 and 18) had come in from across the county from out the other side of the mountains in the Antelope Valley to just up the road in Duarte. Only a few of the kids had ever used a pair of binoculars before and even fewer had ever done any birdwatching.

SMORES Program - Helen Wong

SMORES Program – Helen Wong

First up we needed to get the kids to get to grips with the bins by getting them to focus on something inanimate. Half of the problem with getting beginner birders hooked is trying to actually get them on some birds. Anyway, everyone seemed to get the grasp of it fairly quickly and at least a few birds were cooperative enough that we barely needed to use the bins.

We had quickly added a few lifers to the participants list in the shape of a some White-crowned Sparrows and Yellow-rumped Warblers before a Northern Mockingbird stole the show – both because it was accommodating and vocal but also because it resonated with many of the older kids who recognized the name from Harper Lee’s book. Of course the real scene stealers arrived in the shape of a perched Red-tailed Hawk, some soaring Ravens and a couple of Ospreys that were working the nearby lake. To my mind (and own biases) it just goes to show the importance of cool birds like raptors in getting kids excited about birds – though I must admit the California Quail were a big hit too.

SMORES Program - Helen Wong

SMORES Program – Helen Wong

Though I have led tours and spoken to adults about birding a number of times, it’s always more frightening to talk to kids about it. It just strikes me that they are less likely to nod politely if they are bored out of their minds 😉 Anyway, the kids were great and I really enjoyed taking out the three groups I had scheduled, while they rotated through the activities. The highlight of my day was definitely the little kid who said: ‘I thought birdwatching was going to be boring, but wow that was really fun!’ Job done as far as I’m concerned!!!!!

All in all they were a great groups of kids, and I hope that they enjoyed their weekend activities. Obviously I’m biased and I hope that they all have some interest in the birds around them for the rest of their lives, but if they get hooked on fishing or hiking or just being outside and enjoying nature in some way  that’s good too. To me, making sure that as many people from as many backgrounds get to share the enjoyment that I get from being outdoors is the key.

Next week the Focus on Diversity conference is happening down in McAllen TX (link here). I’m sure it’ll be a great event. It feels like there is still much to do with regard to diversifying the base of North American birding scene. Hopefully both of these events will have a positive effect in that direction.





Red-tailed Hawk – Harlan’s or Dark Western?

23 10 2013
_MG_8270

Red-tailed Hawk – Luke Tiller

Yesterday (October 22 2013) I spent some time out in the Antelope Valley near Los Angeles doing some birding with friends. Whilst out there we stumbled on this incredibly dark Red-tailed Hawk. So the big question in my mind was is this a Harlan’s or not. I’ve done some background reading on Harlan’s Hawk but it often seems somewhat amorphous as to what you are looking for to clinch the ID. That said tail and barring through the primaries looks promising?

Red-tailed Hawk - Luke Tiller

Red-tailed Hawk – Luke Tiller

The bird was at least initially pegged as a dark western bird, and at least a couple of observers thought they saw a hint of rufous in the tail – but it is certainly not evident in the pictures. I think we all agreed it was about the darkest individual we had ever seen if it was just a western type bird; being almost completely black. The above photo of the upper tail shows how dark it looked perched.

_MG_8262

Red-tailed Hawk – Luke Tiller

The above shot gives you a better view of the undertail and underwing markings. Obviously these shots were taken in extremely low light conditions pretty much right at dawn. Not really done much with them in processing – just a little cropping really.

_MG_8271

Red-tailed Hawk – Luke Tiller

Whatever it is as far as subspecies is concerned I think it’s an incredibly cool looking bird. Just wondering what others thought, so any thoughts certainly appreciated.

Probably the best resources online with regard to this discussion are all published by the American Birding Association: William S. Clark’s article on Harlan’s Tail Variation (here), Liguori and Sullivan’s article on Western and Eastern Red-tailed Hawk vs Harlan’s (here) and the Liguori article from the same publication on Dark Red-tails (here).

EDIT: All of the authors of the above articles have seen pictures of this bird and are happy that it is a Harlan’s Hawk.