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Hot Day at Sepulveda Wildlife Area

February 18, 2016

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I think nearly everyone in SoCal will agree that someone else is getting our El Niño, and we’d like it back, thank you very much. Our total rainfall so far is lower than last year’s, which hardly seems possible, and record high temperatures were set all over SoCal this past week. Van Nuys Airport, a few blocks north of our field trip site, hit 82° today – not as bad as last year’s 88° for this date, but still far above the mean high of 63°. Enough! Time for rain and cooler weather. Bring it on!

Lesser Goldfinch comin' right at'cha (R. Ehler 2-13-16)

Lesser Goldfinch comin’ right at’cha (R. Ehler 2-13-16)

That said, it was a nice day and there were some lovely birds on hand for the throng of birders on hand. Considering the predicted temperatures, we should have started a half-hour earlier, but such foresight, unlike birders, failed to appear.

The elegant Lark Sparrow wearomg his stickpin (J. Waterman 2-13-16)

The elegant Lark Sparrow wearing his stickpin (J. Waterman 2-13-16)

We wandered around for a while, slowly wending our way over to the nesting Great Horned Owls, spotting various sparrows – Savannah, White-crowned, Lark, Song, Chipping and California Towhees – feeding on the grass. Every now and then a juvenile

Juvenile Red-tailed Hawk (R. Ehler 2-13-16)

Juvenile Red-tailed Hawk (R. Ehler 2-13-16)

Red-tailed Hawk with a large ring on his right leg (black band with a yellow “07-50” visible) would come zooming by. It didn’t take long for

Closeup of #07-50 on hawk's legband (R. Ehler 2-13-16)

Closeup of #07-50 on hawk’s legband (R. Ehler 2-13-16)

the many Turkey Vultures to soar high on the thermals, waiting for something or someone to drop dead. After a few hours, I thought it might be me.

Lesser and American Goldfinches worked the seed-heads, Western Bluebirds, Cassin’s Kingbirds, Black Phoebes and an Ash-throated Flycatcher snagged flies, a

Ash-throated Flycatcher (R. Ehler 2-13-16)

Ash-throated Flycatcher (R. Ehler 2-13-16)

half-dozen Yellow-chevroned Parakeets dropped into a treetop, the occasional woodpecker and sapsucker flailed away at tree trunks – no wonder it took us quite a while to get over to the owls.

Great Horned Owl mate stands guard (R. Ehler 2-13-16)

Great Horned Owl mate stands guard (R. Ehler 2-13-16)

More than a few park users wandered over to see what some 30 birders were looking at up in that tree, and they were usually blown away by the view in the scope: one on the nest and one in a nearby tree, no visible owlets as yet. We found a few smashed up fur and bone- containing regurgitated owl pellets on the ground, but no one needed them for soup stock.

Great Horned Owl on the nest (R. Ehler 2-13-16)

Great Horned Owl on the nest (R. Ehler 2-13-16)

Mallards and Pied-billed Grebes dominated the pond, sparking a discussion as to whether Pied-bills actually eat pies, about which we could not agree. Two Hooded Mergansers briefly swam, then ducked into the island bushes among the Canada Geese, Double-crested Cormorants, Black-crowned Night-Herons and three Egyptian Geese who had somehow slipped into the country past our Border Patrol. Around the reedy edges we found the usual suspects, including at least five Green Heron, a species we don’t always see there.

Green Heron, one of many (J. Waterman 2-13-16)

Green Heron, one of many (J. Waterman 2-13-16)

Warbler species were few: all we saw were a load of wintering Yellow-rumped in the grass and trees, and a handful of Common Yellowthroats around the pond and river.

Male Selasphorus - Allen's or Rufous (J. Waterman 2-13-16)

Male Selasphorus – Allen’s or Rufous
(J. Waterman 2-13-16)

Anna’s and Allen’s Hummingbirds, plus one possible Rufous Hummingbird were perched on every bare twig. We examined them all. Most

Very few green flecks on the back of this Selasporus hummer (R. Ehler 2-13-16)

Very few green flecks on the back of this Selasporus hummer (R. Ehler 2-13-16)

were males, gorgets afire, apparently feeling their oats and ready to display to any female that passed by. They weren’t the only ones: California Thrashers, usually  skulky shrub-hiders, were boldly singing their burbly songs with just a hint of mockery. Won’t they be surprised when the hot spell evaporates and winter returns.

Hooded Merganser pair displaying (R. Ehler 2-13-16)

Hooded Merganser pair displaying (R. Ehler 2-13-16)

It was 11:30 am by the time we reached the south end of the pond. I, for one, was tired and overly-hot, so the festivities were halted and we birded our way back to the cars. Chris and

Female Belted Kingfisher - look for the cinnamon (J. Waterman 2-13-16)

Female Belted Kingfisher – look for the cinnamon (J. Waterman 2-13-16)

Liz – perhaps others – ambitiously continued to the Los Angeles River. There they found a few more ducks (see list annotations below) and a complete dearth of reeds. Apparently the Army Corp of Engineers, or some other bulldozer-wielding outfit, thought they ought to remove the reed beds between Balboa Blvd. and the retaining dam before the mighty rains of El Niño washed them all out, clogging up the the dam and backing up flood waters over half the San Fernando Valley. That’s my guess, anyway. So the usual reed-birds had moved to parts unknown, probably further upstream.

Many thanks to Randy Ehler & Joyce Waterman for all the great photos. A second thanks to Randy for sharing his trip list with me, as I was too busy talking to take decent notes. Thanks to Chris Lord for his input on the L.A. River.

I’m including sighting information for our last three Sepulveda Wildlife Area birdwalks below, just for the sake of comparison.

Previous Sepulveda Area trips:  Dec. 2015   Oct 2013

Note: For 2/13/16, R = L.A. River; this count is included in the total count for each species.
Thus: Mallard 40  10R = total 40 Mallards includes 10 seen at the L.A. River

 Sepulveda Wildlife Area 11/9/13 12/12/15 2/13/16
Canada Goose 7 45 16
Egyptian Goose 2
Wood Duck 2
Gadwall 2 8 6R
American Wigeon 8 60 100R
Mallard 50 50 40  10R
Ring-necked Duck 1
Bufflehead 4
Hooded Merganser 2
Pied-billed Grebe 20 18 20
Eared Grebe 6
Western Grebe 1
Double-crested Cormorant 30 35 40
American White Pelican 12 28
Great Blue Heron 4 3 3
Great Egret 4 3 3
Snowy Egret 2 2 1
Green Heron 3 5
Black-crowned Night-Heron 5 5 7
White-faced Ibis 2
Turkey Vulture 8 12 20
Osprey 2 1 1
Cooper’s Hawk 1 1
Red-tailed Hawk 2 4 5  1R
American Coot 10 35 30  10R
Killdeer 3
Spotted Sandpiper 2 2 1R
Greater Yellowlegs 2
Least Sandpiper 15 40
Western Gull 4 3
California Gull 10 4
Rock Pigeon 15 10
Mourning Dove 8 30 20
Great Horned Owl 2
White-throated Swift 2
Anna’s Hummingbird 3 2 5
Allen’s Hummingbird 10 3 6
Belted Kingfisher 1 2 1
Red-breasted Sapsucker 1
Nuttall’s Woodpecker 2 1
Downy Woodpecker 1
Northern Flicker 4 1 1
Merlin 1 1
Yellow-chevroned Parakeet 8 6
Black Phoebe 20 18 6  1R
Say’s Phoebe 4 2
Ash-throated Flycatcher 1
Cassin’s Kingbird 3 3
Western Scrub-Jay 2 1
American Crow 10
No. Rough-winged Swallow 24
Barn Swallow 6
Bushtit 8
Bewick’s Wren 1 4  2R
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 2 10
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 6 15 3
Western Bluebird 3
Hermit Thrush 1
American Robin 1
California Thrasher 1 1 5
Northern Mockingbird 5 2
European Starling 30
American Pipit 12 4 1R
Common Yellowthroat 6 4 5  2R
Yellow-rumped Warbler 40 35 20
Chipping Sparrow 10 8
Lark Sparrow 5 6 15
Dark-eyed Junco 8
White-crowned Sparrow 30 50 60
Savannah Sparrow 10 2 15
Song Sparrow 10 5 4
California Towhee 8 15 10
Spotted Towhee 2 2 1
Red-winged Blackbird 4 8
Western Meadowlark 15 40
House Finch 30 15 25
Lesser Goldfinch 4 30
American Goldfinch 30 25 5
House Sparrow 6
TOTAL SPECIES – 77 62 50 55
  1. C Day permalink
    February 18, 2016 6:00 pm

    Chuck, I surely do enjoy your posts. Thanks! Connie


  2. caroline belz permalink
    February 18, 2016 5:50 pm

    Dear Chukar,
    Thanks very much for the photos and list. It was a very nice outing!



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