by Kyle Troy
All along the Malibu Creek Watershed there are birds singing, flying and nesting. They are hiding in plain sight. Take a walk through the Santa Monica mountains; on the backbone trail or the Cold Creek High Trail and keep your ears open. I began to walk along Malibu creek and could hear the knocking of Hairy Woodpeckers, the rustle of the California Thrasher, the beautiful song of the Goldfinch. You don’t have to see the birds in the area to know that they are there. Along all the tributaries of the Malibu Creek watershed, the flora and fauna of this beautiful riparian habitat come to life, especially the birds. Next time you walk outside, listen for the house finches that are sure to be outside your window. There is so much life along the creek, you will have to come see to believe.
While trapping and removing the non-native, invasive red-swamp crayfish from Malibu Creek with Mountains Restoration Trust, I have kept track of all the bird species I have seen. The first bird that I spotted first, was not by its unique coloring, but by its even more unique song or call. The Acorn Woodpecker will be heard before they are seen. But when you see this beautiful woodpecker you won’t want to take your eyes off of it. It has a beautiful red-topped head with a black and white body; however, don’t confuse it with the easily confused hairy and downy woodpeckers. They have big black rung eyes and a black rung bill. Acorn Woodpeckers get their name because they are hoarders of acorns. They are extremely fascinating birds; when you walk through Malibu Creek State Park, keep an eye out because you are bound to see a few guarding their pot’ o’ acorns.
The Beautiful Great Egret is another bird that may be heard before it is seen flying awkwardly through the air, but surely when it lands, you will have your camera out snapping pictures. It is an elegant white bird that will wade in the water for hours, sometimes remaining very still to try to catch its dinner. They are obvious when you see their long yellow bill and blindingly white feathers, but look for them during mating season and you will be even more impressed. They have an awkward take off and a call that has you wondering if this is a California Gull that you are looking at. But their wingspan is impressive and something to keep an eye out for. This bird is surely going to make you smile as you walk through De Anza Park along Las Virgenes Creek.
The third bird that I found throughout the Santa Monica Mountains is, again, recognized first by its call and then by its looks. The Spotted Towhee can be heard for miles around during mating season, tilting its head back and singing loudly. When seen, it is easy to recognize from their bright red eyes to their spotted wings. The male, which is seen in the picture, is easily recognizable while the female could be a little bit harder to spot by its looks alone. Again, always keep an eye out for their beautiful red eyes, both male and female. Look for the Towhee in shrubs or during spring time when the males come out and sing their hearts out at the top of trees hoping to catch the female of their dreams. Watch out because when these two begin to make a nest, you should watch your step; it will most likely be on the ground!
There are so many other birds in our area that have a call or a song that will capture your attention and then attract you again by its plumage. With most birds, the male is more easily recognizable than the female, but always remember that where there is a male, a female is usually within earshot. This next bird, to the left, is typically very hard to capture with your camera. The black-chinned hummingbird seems to never sit down for a rest when you watch it in the wild. They are always seen bopping from flower to flower, looking for fresh nectar or a fresh insects for lunch. Listen when a hummingbird is around, because their wings move so quickly, it sounds like a small motorcycle moving past your ears. Hummingbirds are most recognizable by their size and agility. They don’t sing as loudly as other species of birds nor do they have plumage that immediately gives them away. They are one of my favorite birds to watch!
Next time you are out hiking, biking or horseback riding in the Santa Monica Mountains, try and keep a mental list–or a written list–of what you see. As new birds fly in and out each season, your list will broaden and you will eventually know every species by sight and sound. Birds in a riparian habitat like the Santa Monica Mountains, keep it healthy. Lots of different species is a good sign! Bring binoculars on your next hike and try to find a coopers hawk, because they are sure to be stalking prey as you hike along Medea Creek. When fishing on Lake Sherwood, listen for the ruddy duck diving into the water trying to get its next meal. Then look for migrating birds into our beautiful watershed and the spring time arrival of mallard duck chicks. The creek is filled with life, so go out, find it and enjoy.
Kyle Troy is with the Mountain Restoration Trust, a non-profit land trust dedicated to preserving natural land in the Santa Monica Mountains through restoration, education and land acquisition headquartered in Calabasas.