Snowbirds of Santa Monica
Deep in the heart of winter, January is a time when many casual birders around the country shelve their binoculars and head indoors for the season. In Santa Monica, however, there is no need. Mild weather means flocks of birds. And flocks of birds mean flocks of snowbirds—of both the resident Californian and migratory breeds—will take to the mountains and coastlines to get a jump start on their annual species lists.
It’s no secret that the Santa Monica Mountains and surrounding region are a haven for our feathered friends. The Mediterranean climate supports more than 380 species year-round. This represents nearly 50 percent of the North American total. And during the colder months, birders can expect to see plenty of stopovers that have settled in Santa Monica where the food supply is ample.
Among the gulls and terns that frequent the shore, expect to see Snowy Plovers darting across the sand. The Pacific Coast’s population of these miniature plovers are designated a Threatened Species under the Endangered Species Act. Other notables to watch for are Peregrine Falcons and the increasingly rare Black-vented Shearwater. Elegant Snowy Egrets have been spotted at Malibu Lagoon as recently as late December. While the showy Surf Scoter was absent during the last lagoon survey, it is worth keeping an eye out for them bobbing on the water’s surface. Newcomers to the coast include the Northern Pintail, Western Sandpiper, and Savannah Sparrow.
Birders who stick to drier ground, visiting the inland grasslands and mountain ranges, stand a good chance of spotting Ferruginous Hawks, Anna’s Hummingbirds, and Western Bluebirds like fallen pieces of sky. This time of year, the Salton Sea merits a day trip. It boasts every manner of waterfowl and crowds of Sandhill Cranes heralding the day as though with trumpets.
This year, beat the wintertime blues and start your year off right. Get out and explore Santa Monica’s diverse ecosystems and the truly inspiring array of avian species that make their homes there. [Ernie Allison]
The author is a bird watcher with a love of life and nature, passionate about both writing and wildlife conservation. He writes both for pleasure and profit, currently for Bird Feeders.