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Just a little rain – Sepulveda Basin, 11 Mar 2023

March 16, 2023

[By Chuck Almdale]

Mountain Bluebirds (Chris Tosdevin 3/11/23)

Despite the NOAA prediction that the rain would stop by 4 AM, we had fair-to-middlin’ mist until about 10am. The sun never broke through and temperatures were in the 50’s. With little-to-no wind, it was quite pleasant and a welcome respite from the endless sun sun sun that constitutes SoCal weather nine months of the year.

Turkey Vulture pair in the field with the Mountain Bluebirds
(Ray Juncosa 3/11/23)

The binoculars and telescope lenses got a bit damp and had to be wiped from time to time. But it wasn’t a big deal in the grand scheme of things, said grand scheme including a morning of birding once in a while.

Allen’s Hummingbird & rain drops, or is that mist on the lens (Chris Tosdevin 3/11/23)

The clouds and rain suppressed air traffic at nearby Van Nuys airport which can get disconcertingly noisily frequent on clear days, and for most of the morning the only planes we heard or saw were the radio-controlled jobbies over at the model airplane field on the west side of Woodley Ave. Some of them have sound effects that are quite ferocious, or at least reminiscent of dog fighters and dive bombers from WW II movies. The Angry Gnats Squadron, defending freedom against the Bosch.

Double-crested Cormorant getting a close examination
(Ray Juncosa 3/11/23)

It’s pretty easy to find five species of heron/egret at the nature reserve. Here’s three of them. Black-crowned Night-Herons are — for them — almost abundant with both adults and immature plumages present, due to the reed beds surrounding the lake. They were also sitting in the trees on the central island. I was recently advised that this body of water is now officially a “lake” as it covers 10 acres or more, and no longer merely a pond. I forgot the name of this new lake. Green Herons are nearly as abundant here. We had four. Some looked as if they were sporting fresh plumage as their backs were actually green, even in the clouded indirect lighting, and were quite pretty.

Herons: Green Heron, Black-crowned Night-Heron & Great Egret
(Chris Tosdevin 3/11/23)

Two-bluebird days are pretty uncommon and I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen two bluebird species at the same time & place before. Western Bluebirds like parks and riparian areas; Mountain Bluebirds like wide-open spaces in the winter. In the winter we usually find the latter in the grasslands of the Carrizo Plain, Antelope Valley, San Joaquin Valley or south of the Salton Sea. Not in the Los Angeles Basin or San Fernando Valley. Both species are cavity-nesters. In olden days they sought out old woodpecker holes to nest in, but now they both readily nest in human-built bird houses.

Bluebird males: Western & Mountain (Chris Tosdevin 3/11/23)

The Mountain Bluebirds were all out in the big field at the corner of Burbank Blvd. and Woodley Ave. So were a number of sparrows and lots of Turkey Vultures.

Mountain Bluebird (Chris Tosdevin 3/11/23)
White-crowned Sparrow juvenile moving on towards adult plumage (Ray Juncosa 3/11/23)

There had been a lot of rain coming down Woodley Creek, judging by all the trash on its banks or caught in the brush. We found fish washed up by the side of the path in several locations. This one was fresh-looking, didn’t smell (as dead fish quickly do) and looked alive, but it didn’t move when I poked it with my foot. It looked as if it were made of rubber.

Pathside dead catfish, about a foot long (Ray Juncosa 3/11/23)

The bird below was taking a bath in one of the pools left when the creek overflowed it’s banks. Nuthatches are almost always seen in trees, clambering up and down the trunk and limbs, looking for insects. One out in the open, on the ground, taking a bath, is…unusual.

White-breasted Nuthatch taking a bath, I suppose.
(Chris Tosdevin 3/11/23)

There weren’t a lot of ducks on the pond; mostly coots, cormorants, a pair of Hooded Mergansers, a few White Pelicans (most of them were on the island) and some Pied-billed Grebes, like this one.

Pied-billed Grebe (Ray Juncosa 3/11/23)

Around the edges of the lagoon and on the island there were quite a number of birds including Osprey, several hawks, a Merlin, sparrows, warblers, finches, goldfinches and others species.

Red-shouldered (L) & Cooper’s Hawks, seemingly dueling stares.
(Chris Tosdevin 3-11-23)
Common Yellowthroats love reedbeds, and we frequently heard their song: witchity-witchity-witchity.
(Chris Tosdevin 3/11/23)
Northern Flicker (Red-shafted). There’s a bit of red showing near the base of the tail. (Chris Tosdevin 3/11/23)

We continued down the west side path until we came to this sight below. The tree must have been there for a while because a well-trodden path, invisible until you got right up to it, circumvented it on the left side. We continued down the path to the south end of the lake where we saw oodles of swallows, four (perhaps more) species in all, mostly Tree, followed by Rough-winged.

A few trees had fallen over (Ray Juncosa 3/11/23)

I saved what may be the best for last. Although it’s very tough to beat a field full of Mountain Birds — probably about 50 of them and more than I’ve ever seen in one place before — dozens of Lawrence’s Goldfinches hopping, flitting and poking on a dewy green lawn can do it, at least for me. I find this species of Goldfinch the most admirable, partially because they’re the least abundant in SoCal, and so when you happen upon them, it’s always a special treat.

— Chartreuse per Google.

The dark black face nicely contrasts what I think is one of the loveliest colors on a bird, this greenish-yellow on the bird’s belly and wings. Is it chartreuse? I commented to the group that I thought it was, and someone said no, chartreuse is a different shade of yellow, more of a greenish-yellow. OK. Here’s what I got when I googled “chartreuse.” Pretty close, I think, but color is in the eye (and the brain) of the beholder.

Lawrence’s Goldfinch, or should that be Chartreusefinch? (Chris Tosdevin 3/11/23)

Anyway, great birding on a lovely day.

Before the trip began I stopped by the Burbank Blvd. bridge over the Los Angeles River, just to make absolutely sure that it was full of raging foamy water and unbirdable. It was, overflowing the concrete wall in one low spot and forming a shallow pool by which two Canada Geese kept watch.

As you can see from the list below, we hadn’t had a trip here in five years. We scheduled one for March 14, 2020, just after you-know-what hit America, and we had to cancel it. No, not because of COVID-19, but because the wildlife area was flooded with water and Woodley Ave. was closed. It had rained.

Abundance Code Key: X – present, A – 1-5, B – 6-10, C – 11-20,
D – 20-50, E – over 50

Sepulveda Basin Field Trips
Common Name3/11/233/10/182/11/172/13/16
Canada GooseEXXX
Egyptian GooseAXXX
Muscovy DuckX
Hooded MerganserAXX
Pied-billed GrebeBXXX
Neotropic Cormorant1
Double-crested CormorantDXXX
American White PelicanCXX
Great Blue HeronAXXX
Great EgretBXXX
Snowy EgretAXX
Green HeronAXXX
Black-crowned Night-HeronBXXX
Turkey VultureCXXX
Cooper’s HawkAXX
Red-shouldered HawkA
Red-tailed HawkAXX
American CootDXXX
Western GullX
Rock PigeonDX
Eurasian Collared-Dove1
Mourning DoveCXXX
Great Horned OwlX
White-throated SwiftX
Anna’s HummingbirdAXXX
Rufous HummingbirdX
Allen’s HummingbirdBXXX
Belted Kingfisher1XXX
Acorn WoodpeckerA
Red-breasted SapsuckerX
Nuttall’s WoodpeckerAXXX
Downy WoodpeckerXX
Northern FlickerAXX
Yellow-chevroned ParakeetXX
Black PhoebeAXXX
Ash-throated FlycatcherX
Cassin’s KingbirdAXX
Western Scrub-JayXX
American CrowXX
Common RavenB
Tree SwallowDX
Violet-green SwallowAX
No. Rough-winged SwallowCXX
Cliff SwallowB
White-breasted NuthatchA
House WrenX
Bewick’s WrenXX
Blue-gray GnatcatcherXX
Ruby-crowned KingletAXX
Western BluebirdBXXX
Mountain BluebirdD
Hermit ThrushX
American RobinA
California ThrasherX
Northern MockingbirdAXX
European StarlingCXX
Orange-crowned WarblerXX
Common YellowthroatBXXX
Yellow-rumped WarblerDXXX
Spotted TowheeXXX
California TowheeBXXX
Chipping SparrowBXX
Lark SparrowXX
Savannah SparrowXX
Song SparrowCXXX
White-crowned SparrowDXXX
Dark-eyed JuncoX
Red-winged BlackbirdDXXX
Western MeadowlarkA
Great-tailed GrackleCXX
House FinchDXXX
Lesser GoldfinchDXXX
Lawrence’s GoldfinchD
American GoldfinchX
Total Species – 7956445151
2 Comments leave one →
  1. caroline belz permalink
    March 17, 2023 6:52 am

    Dear Chuck,

    Thanks again; I didn’t have the full list displayed so disregard my question.



  2. caroline belz permalink
    March 17, 2023 6:45 am

    Dear Chuck,

    Thanks for the list and the advice during the trip; I am wondering why the bluebirds and a few others are not on the list from the Sepulveda trip last week?

    Sincerely, Caroline


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