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Field Trips of Yore: Sycamore Canyon Field Trip – The Newmarkian View

April 11, 2020

[Editor’s Note: We’ve cancelled the April 11 field trip to Sycamore Canyon due to Coronavirus sequestering. This trip report, originally posted March 20, 2012, is a reminder of what we’re missing.]


Today’s reporter is trip participant Mary Lou Newmark .   Photos are courtesy of her friend, Mark Farber.   Mary Lou is a multifaceted person: writer, poet, playwright, actor, musician, composer and photographer.   Several of her photos graced our Paramount to Malibu Hike, 4/9/11 report.   I don’t know how she has time for birding.   See what else Mary Lou is up to and check out her stunning, electric-green electric violin on her website:

Dark-eyed Junco by the picnic tables. (Mark Farber 3/10/12)

Our adventure began at the wash near the parking lot where we spotted several small birds.   My first attempts to emulate my fellow birder’s binocular positions were in vain.   I had much better luck when I looked for bird flight movement with the naked eye and guessed where the bird might be perched in the bushes.   When I did get a bright green finch in my binos it was quite a pleasant shock!   Our small, but intrepid group made its way through the campgrounds, seeing birds on the ground and near water faucets.   Butterflies accompanied us as we moseyed along.   Little kids rode their bicycles between the campers and dads doused the last of their breakfast barbecues.   High in the trees above the camp activity was a hawk’s nest with the parent bird sitting inside.   Other than occasionally giving us a warning stare, she was content to let us watch and attempt to take pictures.   She was wearing red, but whether on her shoulders or tail, I don’t recall.

Once we left the redolence of the campground behind, the trail beckoned us festooned with an arch and official looking people with bottled water.   I was very impressed by the reception the SMBAS was getting and thought we might be joined by a celebrity birder.   Thinking I heard banjo music, I looked for Steve Martin, but the hospitality was actually for runners participating in a race.   Sure enough we did see several bedraggled runners limping past us to the finish line.   One of our group shouted encouraging words to them.   Between the runners, boy scout troops and cyclists, the birds and we birders had some trouble staying in touch.   The cyclists had a particular habit of sneaking up behind us unannounced.   Despite our inquiries, we never did determine what happened to the owner of the rider-less bicycle being led by another cyclist.   Maybe it had something to do with the aerial battle between the crow and hawk we witnessed further up the trail…?   Some mysteries will never be solved.Later on we heard the drumming of a woodpecker.   Vigorous discussion broke out over whether it was a “nuttall’s” or a “ladder-back.”   How far down did the red neck feathers go?   There was much debate; ­ bird books came out!   With mother and daughter on opposite sides, additional sightings did not resolve the issue completely.

Apparently, due to the dry winter we have been experiencing, there were not as many nests in the canyon as in previous years.   I close with a photo of the black-hooded parakeets that loudly serenaded us on our journey and frequently posed for photo ops.   This is Malibu after all.
[Mary Lou Newmark, Novice Birder in the Field]

Black-hooded Parakeet trio. (Mark Farber 3/10/12)

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