Sunday, June 22, 2008

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We spent the weekend with family in L.A, and took advantage of the trip to explore a new, northerly birding spot.

At the suggestion of L.A. birder and blogger Bob Kaufman, we decided to check out Placerita Canyon and look for the Spotted Owls recently seen there.

The birding was terrific—even though we chose the dumbest possible day to go.

I suspected Saturday was going to be warm. I didn't suspect it was going to be record-breaking, head-stroke-inducing (for some) hot. And I had forgotten that the Santa Clarita area is about 15 degrees hotter than Newport Beach/Costa Mesa at any particular time. And that "emergency" bottle of Gatorade I kept in my car trunk for precisely such occasions had already been open for a couple of months, and was now filled with algae.


When we got to Placerita Canyon, the temperature was already in the eighties, but the landscape was beautiful: rolling hills covered with shiny gold grass and clusters of dark brushy oaks--the trailhead looked like the opening shot of a well-made 1960s western. Only a few yards down the trail, we saw the first of many Acorn Woodpeckers, and the first of two shiny male Phainopeplas.

Further up, we spotted White-breasted Nuthatches, unusually fat Nuttall's Woodpeckers, and bright Western Tanagers. As Bob had warned us, the trail to the purported lair of the Spotted Owls was steep and narrow--but also beautiful: it was essentially a rocky creekbed leading to a waterfall which may or may not actually have had water in it this weekend. There was a steady, if small, drip of water all the way up, and it was greener and cooler than the flatlands below.

We saw fat American Robins, nesting House Wrens, a large flock of Dark-eyed Juncos chasing off a large grey squirrel, more Western Tanagers, various butterflies, and strange foot-long lizards that slithered like snakes--but no Spotted Owls. There was tons to see, but since the trail was so steep, Glenn carried his camera and big lens in a backpack, and I carried his tripod--so whenever we saw something cool that was close by, it was gone by the time we managed to set everything up. Hence, the absence of evocative waterfall-dwelling bird shots here!

By the time we got back down to the flatlands, it was well into the 90s, so I went back to the car to recover the single bottle of now-dishwater-temperature water that we had brought along. At the campground near the trailhead, we saw Steller's Jays (a species we don't see at our usual haunts), as well as Oak Titmice and Spotted Towhees. Weirdly, all the birds we saw there were hopping around with their beaks open, like panting dogs. I'm guessing this was because of the heat.

We spent the rest of the weekend chilling out indoors or splashing around in my parents' pool. But we agreed that Placerita Canyon is definitely worth another visit--once it cools off.


tenderstorm said...

I'm sorry you didn't see the owls. At least you saw some other interesting birds. Were there a lot of hikers/birders?

Anonymous said...

Saw the spotted owls a couple weekends ago, between the sharp turn to the right and the sharp turn to the left. We sat to rest just before going up thru the chute to the falls, and I looked up and there it was. Then on the way back at the shady wide spot before you pick up the trail again, I looked up and there was the other one. We never saw the juvenile. However, word of warning if you go again: if you park in the little wide spot at the top of the driveway for Walker Ranch, as we did, be sure there are NO valuables in your car. When we returned to our car (the parking lot road was closed that day), two cars had their passenger windows broken out. Lucky for us, they left our car alone. Anyway, it was a very birdy spot and we hope to return again someday soon!

Felicia said...

Thanks to you both! Luckily for us, the heat kept most of the crowds (and potential car thieves) away, so we had a really mellow trip. We'll remember to be careful the next time we go; thanks for the warning!

Sparverius said...

I've given you a blog award. come on over and check it out!