Springtime in Los Angeles

16 04 2018

California Quail – Luke Tiller

The past fours days I’ve been guiding a couple of birders from Illinois around Los Angeles County (with a couple of stops in The OC). Spring is a fun time to be birding in SoCal as migrants are arriving and birds are starting to sing. Mid to late April most birds are in and a few winter birds linger too, so it’s prime time to be here. We split the four days into a mountain day, a desert day an urban day and a cleanup day giving us a chance to see a variety of places, habitats and birds.

Day one started with a little birding in your typical oak chaparral  habitat, here among the California Towhee’s, Quail and Thrashers we picked up a nice little wave of migrants including Black-throated Gray Warblers, Lazuli Buntings and Pacific Slope Flycatchers.

Heading onward into the mountains we started to discover some of the sought out higher elevation species to be found  in Los Angeles County including stunning Hermit Warblers and desirable White-headed Woodpeckers. There was much else to enjoy too, though not a hoped for Mountain Quail encounter.


Great Horned Owl – Luke tiller

Day two was our desert designated day. Though we had missed Green-tailed Towhee up in the mountains (probably just a couple of days early for arriving migrants), we quickly found one on day two out at my favorite desert migrant trap: Rancho Sierra Golf Course. Rancho provided a nice mix of birds including a confiding Townsend’s Warbler and a pair?!? of stunning Vermilion Flycatchers.

Next stop we immediately found both our main morning targets: LeConte’s Thrasher and Bell’s Sparrow. It always seems like the lower the pressure from clients to get certain species the easier it is to find them. A short drive further down the road and a stunning Golden Eagle soared up over the car and gave us great views.

Next stop garnered us two new hoped for species in the shape of Tricolored Blackbirds and Lawrence’s Goldfinch. As well as the two targets we also cleaned up on Yellow-headed Blackbirds and a found a Great Horned Owl nest, replete with chicks. Even our lunch break was profitable as the trees around the restaurant we visited were covered in orioles, flycatchers and more.

We ended our second day with a nice mix of ducks, another Golden Eagle and a little group of migrant Swainson’s Hawks to round out a perfect day.


California Gnatcatcher – Luke Tiller

Day three found us driving through the concrete jungle that is LA in search of perhaps the last US mainland Spotted Doves. Without much fuss we soon had two of these pretty introduced birds under our belts. After enjoying hearing them sing and picking up some very untickable White-winged Parakeets in the same block, we were on to pastures new.

Stop two for the day was short, sweet and successful as well. Here we had a particularly obliging California Gnatcatcher and a couple of surprisingly skulky Scaly-breasted Munias.

Next we dipped our toes in the Pacific and picked up a few shorebirds including a couple of very co-operative Black Turnstones, some Surfbirds and a nice mix of migrant species: Western Sandpiper, Marbled Godwit and Sanderling,

Post lunch, a bucket-list satisfying stop at In-and-Out Burger, we stopped at the ever-wonderful Bolsa Chica. Literally the first bird we saw upon arrival was a Ridgway’s Rail, which quickly walked right underneath us on the bridge (too close to photograph)!

A couple of additional stops on our way home had us picking up some common parkland species like Cassin’s Kingbird and Lark Sparrow.


Rufous-crowned Sparrow – Luke Tiller

Our last day together and we had one glaring hole on our trip list: Mountain Quail. Of course these birds are notoriously hard to see and the nemesis of many a local birder let alone those just visiting for a few days. That said there wasn’t much else to aim for so we headed back the mountains to try our luck.

The second stop that we made on the day we quickly had contact from a bunch of Mountain Quail calling above and below us on the road. After 15 minutes though we were still hearing birds but seeing exactly nothing through the dense cover. We were going to get in the car and try another spot, when I heard what sounded like quail quite nearby. Another ten minutes and I saw one scuttle through the brush below us (unfortunately obscured from view from Gary and Marsha). Another few patient minutes however and one solo quail broke cover, dashing up the hill where Gary and I both spotted him. After pausing for what felt like an age behind a bush, the quail then scurried across the road in plain view for everyone: mission accomplished.

Driving back down towards La Canada we picked out another Golden Eagle (a rare bird in LA at this time of year), which was kind enough to give great views from the car but high-tailed it out of there when we bailed out for photographs.

A fun few days in SoCal which tallied about 170 species including all of our main targets: Mountain Quail, White-headed Woodpecker, Scaly-breasted Munia, Spotted Dove, Lawrence’s Goldfinch, Tricolored Blackbird, LeConte’s Thrasher and more.