When people think about Los Angeles I’m betting most of them aren’t thinking about raptors, and yet the deserts of Los Angeles County boast perhaps some of the better winter raptor watching in the country? Though Southern California generally isn’t great for witnessing raptor migration, beyond Borrego Valley Hawkwatch (see post here), winter does almost make up for it with plenty of stunning wintering raptors. Possibly the jewel in that crown is just an hour and a half or so from downtown Los Angeles: The Antelope Valley.
The Antelope Valley, though now sadly mainly devoid of the Pronghorn that gave the area its name, hosts a wealth of exciting winter raptors, among them a large number of highly prized Ferruginous Hawks.
While out birding today looking for Mountain Bluebirds and Mountain Plovers we managed to see at least ten of these impressive and beautiful buteos without much effort at all, which gives you some idea of there abundance. Most of them were light morphs, like the bird above, but one was a stunning dark bird (top) which is in keeping with the idea that about 10% of this species are dark. To find numbers of these birds all one needs do is drive backroads looking in the farm fields (they often perch on the ground) and atop the many telephone poles.
The mix of high desert scrub and agricultural habitat out in the valley seems to provide plenty of food for all including huge flocks of Horned Larks and mixed blackbird flocks. These in turn provide for plenty of prey items for falcons like the beautiful Prairie Falcon that we ran into below. This one had just plowed through a flock of Horned Larks before alighting just behind our vehicle.
American Kestrel are easily the most common Antelope Valley falcon, but Merlin, Prairie and Peregrine are all usually quite find-able in a day’s birding. Excitingly, as well as your standard “Taiga” Merlin it is sometimes possible to find a couple of other subspecies of these feisty little falcons Southern California. Though both are rare one can find both “Black” Merlin, generally on the coastal plain, and “Prairie” Merlin, like the one below, out in the deserts.
Ferruginous Hawks are certainly up there with my favorite raptors and and in January I am looking forward to sharing these wonderful birds with some fellow members of the Hawk Migration Association of North America and with a tour group from Sunrise Birding. Let’s hope the birds are being as cooperative then!
OK one more Ferruginous Hawk photo before we go, just because. Samuel Pepys was quoted as saying that “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.” I think one can safely say the same about Ferruginous Hawks too!