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Malibu State Park Trip Report, Saturday, 14 April 2018

April 17, 2018

Malibu Creek State Park

Saturday, 14 April 2018

It was sunny but a rather chilly 39° when we gathered in the Trailhead (formerly “lower”) parking lot but we could hear many birds singing.  As we start across the parking lot in the direction of the path to the Amphitheatre we saw several American Crows investigating the trash dumpsters at the edge of the parking lot.  Suddenly an immature Cooper’s Hawk flew past us, over the dumpsters and landed in a small tree a short distance away.  It remained on its perch long enough for us to get good scope views.

Cooper’s Hawk, Ray Juncosa, 04/14/18

Two Band-tailed Pigeons circled overhead with their wings and tails spread in what appeared to be a form of display.  Raucous screeching alerted us to the approach of 2 Nanday Parakeets and a single Canada Goose flew over.

We left the parking lot and started along the path that runs alongside the dry ravine.  An uncooperative House Wren was singing loudly from a large shrub on our left.  It was the first of many House Wrens we heard during the walk.  We heard the songs of Pacific-slope Flycatcher, Orange-crowned Warbler, Yellow Warbler, Spotted and California Towhee from the trees beside the path.  Since the deciduous trees were already leafing out and the warblers were flitting about in the vegetation it wasn’t easy to get good looks at some of those birds but a Yellow-rumped Warbler in breeding plumage was very cooperative.

When we stepped out from under the oaks we stopped just across from the Amphitheater.  From there we could see several Acorn Woodpeckers flying back and forth in the upper reaches of one of one of the oaks.  A California Towhee perched in a shrub in front of us, an Allen’s Hummingbird made a brief appearance and we saw a White-breasted Nuthatch carrying nesting material in its bill.  Some Lesser Goldfinch perched in the trees and a Dark-eyed Junco was foraging on the ground.

From there, we turned and walked along the path that runs along the opposite side of the ravine.  We heard another House Wren singing from the knoll behind the Amphitheater and a lonse  Bushtit disappeared into a dense shrub next to the path.    A few moments later, we noticed a pair of Western Bluebirds perched on a sign at the side of the trail.  They appeared to be fly-catching as they repeatedly flew from and back to their perch.  The light was behind us so their colors were brilliantly illuminated.  Since they kept returning to the same perch we had ample opportunities for scope views.

Western Bluebird, Ray Juncosa, 04/14/18

As we continued along the path, we could see some Mule Deer in the distance and some soaring Turkey Vultures.  We stopped to watch some Acorn Woodpeckers that were flying to and from a large oak in the distance.

Turkey Vulture, Ray Juncosa, 04/14/18

When we reached the paved road that provides vehicle access to the campground, we crossed it and stopped at the picnic table under the oak at the head of the Nature Trail (called the “Visually Impaired Trail” on the current park map).  A Red-tailed Hawk that was carrying prey in its talons flew over the field and into the trees and a California Quail called once.  Two Oak Titmice were moving through the oak beside the picnic table, a Spotted Towhee was on the ground beneath the tree and, to our surprise, a gopher briefly poked its head out of the ground at the edge of the path.

We left the picnic table and started along the Nature Trail.  The back section of the trail is a loop which we walked in a clockwise direction.   There were warblers singing from the canopies of the trees and we heard a Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Pacific-slope Flycatcher and another House Wren.  We saw a male Anna’s Hummingbird, some Acorn Woodpeckers, California Scrub-Jays, Spotted and California Towhees.


California Towhee, Ray Juncosa, 04/14/18

As we rounded the loop in the trail, we heard the song of yet another House Wren.  Fortunately, the vegetation in that area consists of scattered trees and shrubs with patches of vines and some fallen logs.  The more open habitat and the configuration of the trail meant that everyone was able to see the area.  Their small size and cryptic coloration often make seeing House Wrens difficult but this bird kept moving from perch to perch while singing seemingly without pause and everyone was able to see it well.

House Wren, Ray Juncosa, 04/14/18

It was almost noon when we left the Nature Trail and walked toward the parking lot.   Since the area where the park is located is well-known for extremes of heat and cold, mid-day is not prime birding time in warm weather so we often plan to end our field trips by lunch time.  However, a thin cloud layer was moderating the effects of the sun so some of us decided to continue birding, this time from the Crags Road Trail.

As soon as we crossed the road from the parking lot we heard at least 2 Yellow Warblers singing from the trees or shrubs near the cement “bridge” over Las Virgenes Creek.  We backtracked a bit to listen and watch for movement in the shrubbery.  Despite our efforts, we got little more than quick glimpses of a small yellow-colored bird flitting from one spot to another, each time disappearing in the foliage.  Disappointed, we finally gave up and resumed walking up the trail.

As we crossed the creek we scanned the trees along the water in the hope of seeing a woodpecker but saw none.  Since the road was built on land that is higher than the creek bed, much of the canopy on the south side of the road is either at or only slightly above eye level.  However, even with that in our favor, it was not easy to see birds we could hear.  However, we did get quick looks at a Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Orange-crowned and Yellow Warblers and a male Wilson’s Warbler flitted past us.

We spotted a Bewick’s Wren on the trunk of a dead tree below us.  It flew off, replaced by first one and then a second House Wren.  We quickly realized that they were going in and out of a hole on the side of the trunk.  We watched them for a time, savoring the clear views of a species we had worked so hard to see that same morning.

House Wren by nesting cavity, Ray Juncosa, 04/14/18

After a time, we left the wrens, walked a bit farther and stopped to scan the trees.  A Nanday Parakeet was perched on the trunk of a tree.

Nanday Parakeet, Ray Juncosa, 04/14/18

A male Blue Grosbeak was actively foraging in a willow close to the road.  Getting scope views wasn’t easy because it was so active but it was certain worth the effort.

Blue Grosbeak, Ray Juncosa, 04/14/18

Suddenly a large adult Cooper’s Hawk flew from behind us and landed in a tree that was just beginning to leaf out.  It did not stay long and when it flew, it headed downstream.  Almost immediately, a second, smaller Cooper’s Hawk flew from behind us and perched somewhat deeper in the trees.  After a few moments, it flew off, heading the same direction as the first bird.

Cooper’s Hawk, Ray Juncosa, 04/14/18

Since it was getting hot, we decided to call it a day. While we were on our way back to the parking lot, we stopped in the shade where we could look down into the creek.  A female Mallard and six young were working their way downstream and 2 Song Sparrows were foraging on the ground and in the low vegetation on the opposite bank.

The last bird of the day was a Great Blue Heron which we saw in flight from the parking lot as we returned to our cars after an excellent morning in the park.

Special thanks to Ray Juncosa for sharing his photos.


MCSP, 14 April 2018
Canada Goose Branta canadensis 1
Mallard Anas platyrhynchos 1F, 6 imm
California Quail Callipepla californica heard
Band-tailed Pigeon Patagioenas fasciata 2
Anna’s Hummingbird Calypte anna M
Allen’s Hummingbird Selasphorus sasin M
Hummingbird sp. 1
Great Blue Heron Ardea herodias 1
Turkey Vulture Cathartes aura 4
Cooper’s Hawk Accipiter cooperii 3 (M,F,imm)
Red-tailed Hawk Buteo jamaicensis 1 carryng prey
Acorn Woodpecker Melanerpes formicivorus >30
Nuttall’s Woodpecker Picoides nuttallii 1, 1 heard
Black-hooded Parakeet  [I] Nandayus nenday 3
Pacific-slope Flycatcher Empidonax difficilis several heard
Black Phoebe Sayornis nigricans 6
California Scrub-Jay Aphelocoma californica 12
American Crow Corvus brachyrhynchos >10
Common Raven Corvus corax 4
Oak Titmouse Baeolophus inornatus >10 (mostly heard)
Bushtit Psaltriparus minimus 2
White-breasted Nuthatch Sitta carolinensis 1 w/ nesting material
House Wren Troglodytes aedon 3 seen, many heard
Bewick’s Wren Thryomanes bewickii 1
Wrentit Chamaea fasciata heard
Western Bluebird Sialia mexicana 10
Lesser Goldfinch Spinus psaltria 10
Spotted Towhee Pipilo maculatus 12
California Towhee Melozone crissalis 15
Song Sparrow Melospiza melodia 2
Dark-eyed Junco Junco hyemalis 4
Orange-crowned Warbler Oreothlypis celata 4 seen, many heard
Yellow Warbler Setophaga petechia 4 seen, many heard
Yellow-rumped Warbler Dendroica coronata 1
Wilson’s Warbler Cardellina pusilla M
Blue Grosbeak Passerina caerulea 1
total = 35 species

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