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Sycamore Canyon Field Trip April 8, 2023

April 17, 2023

It’s been a few years since we last visited Sycamore Canyon, and what with all the rain we expected a very green trip. Which we got. We also put to rest the saying from that old joker Heraclitus that you can never step in the same river twice. Nonsense. Those of us who insisted on visiting Serrano Canyon crossed the same creek 12 times, 10 of which were wet crossings.

Surf Scoter (Melanitta perspicillata) (photo credit Chris Tosdevin)

Surf Scoter (Chris Tosdevin)

Sharp-eyed Chris spotted through the PCH underpass and saw this Surf Scoter in the ocean. We weren’t really here for seabirds but whatever. Cliff Swallows were building nests under the eaves of the restroom in the parking lot. There were about 20 of us and we moved inland through the campgrounds (full). Lots of grass from all the rain. The sycamores were not leafed out, surprisingly, so at least the birds were easy to spot.

House Wren (Troglodytes aedon) (photo credit Ray Juncosa)

House Wren (Ray Juncosa)

The first really obvious bird was the House Wren. There turned out to be several, singing and posing near the trail. Warblers? Frequent views of Yellow-rumps and a few lucky people saw the Black-throated Gray.

Yellow-rumped Warbler (Setophaga coronata) (photo credit Ray Juncosa)

Yellow-rumped Warbler (Ray Juncosa)

Black-throated Gray Warbler (Setophaga nigrescens) (photo credit Chris Tosdevin)

Black-throated Gray Warbler (Chris Tosdevin)

The perils of warbler photography – the little devils are always moving.

(photo credit Charles Bragg)

Perhaps the most colorful birds showed up next.

Bullock's Oriole (Icterus bullockii) (photo credit Annie Flower)

Bullock’s Oriole (Annie Flower)

Hooded Oriole (Icterus cucullatus) (photo credit Annie Flower)

Hooded Oriole (Annie Flower)

Both oriole species were in full breeding plumage. We spent a little time deciding which species the females were but the males were unmistakable.

The most common bird in the canyon was probably the Nanday Parakeet. We can remember when seeing one was special; now they are in the hundreds if not thousands up and down the coast from Mugu to Santa Monica. They are native to the central interior of South America from Brazil to Argentina. A few caged birds escaped and have joined the immense population of exotic parrots in Southern California. Nandays are noisy (surprise – they are parrots) and they are cavity nesters. We wondered how they are affecting the native cavity nesters but don’t really know.

Nanday Parakeet (Aratinga nenday) (photo credit Chris Tosdevin)

Nanday Parakeet (Ray Juncosa)

Nanday Parakeet (Aratinga nenday) (photo credit Annie Flower)

Nanday Parakeet (Annie Flower)

Most of the time the Nandays just look like green birds with black heads, but in this fabulous photo you can see, well, just count the colors. Plus, not visible here, they have red knickers.

We made the first creek crossing relatively dry because there was a helpful log already there. Hikers who knew what they were doing were wearing quality sandals and they just marched across.


Northern Flicker (Chris Tosdevin)

Several flickers flew about and called. It’s Spring.

American Kestrel (Falco sparverius) (photo credit Annie Flower)

American Kestrel (Annie Flower)

A pair of kestrels were courting. Until I looked closely at this photo I did not realize that this kestrel has been hunting.

American Kestrel (Falco sparverius) (photo credit Annie Flower)

If you look carefully you will see a blue mark and some extra feet. I think it’s a Western Fence Lizard that has become lunch.

When we reached the second creek crossing there was no log. We knew there would be more crossings and so a few decided to turn back instead of soaking their shoes for the long trek back. The rest of us forged on to the turnoff for Serrano Canyon.

(photo credit Charles Bragg)
Serrano Canyon

Since I had not been getting any bird images I decided to become the official Vegetation Photographer of the trip. This is a typical view of Serrano Canyon from its trail.

(photo credit Charles Bragg)

The was the last of four crossings in Serrano – the only dry one.

(photo credit Charles Bragg)

Big-pod Ceanothus (Ceanothus megacarpus) [probably]

There were lots of these white ceanothus bushes in the canyon. Much more impressive than the photo.

(photo credit Charles Bragg)

Parry’s Phacelia (Phacelia parryi)

One of our prettiest native flowers, the Parry’s Phacelia is also called the Fire Follower, often found on bare or disturbed ground. It’s common here in the western Santa Monica Mountains, but not so much to the east. The flowers are a half to one inch across.

But we digress. The reason we forded so many treacherous and mighty rivers was to find the Canyon Wren and the surprisingly less common Rock Wren.

Rock Wren (Salpinctes obsoletus) (photo credit Chris Tosdevin)

Rock Wren (Chris Tosdevin)

We finally got a glimpse of the Rock Wren, waaaaay up the rocky slope. That Chris got any kind of photo is amazing.


Guaranteed Canyon Wren (Catherpes mexicanus youbetcha) [Chris Tosdevin]

And yes, on this trip we guarantee the Canyon Wren for those intrepid enough to make it up Serrano Canyon. We heard it singing long before seeing it, but the song is pretty nice too.

After we made it back, wet shoes and all, we totalled a list of 55 species for the day. It was a beautiful day for a three-mile round trip in the Spring. Many thanks to the photographers: Annie Flower, Ray Juncosa and Chris Tosdevin.

Surf Scoter
California Quail
Mourning Dove
White-throated Swift
Anna’s Hummingbird
Allen’s Hummingbird
Spotted Sandpiper
Western Gull
Brown Pelican
Turkey Vulture
Red-shouldered Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Acorn Woodpecker
Nuttall’s Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
American Kestrel
Nanday Parakeet
Pacific-slope Flycatcher
Black Phoebe
Cassin’s Kingbird
California Scrub-Jay
American Crow
Common Raven
Oak Titmouse
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Violet-green Swallow
Cliff Swallow
White-breasted Nuthatch
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Rock Wren
Canyon Wren
House Wren
Bewick’s Wren
European Starling
California Thrasher
Western Bluebird
Hermit Thrush
House Finch
Lesser Goldfinch
Dark-eyed Junco
White-crowned Sparrow
Golden-crowned Sparrow
Song Sparrow
California Towhee
Spotted Towhee
Hooded Oriole
Bullock’s Oriole
Brown-headed Cowbird
Orange-crowned Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Black-throated Gray Warbler
Black-headed Grosbeak

  1. ethanski permalink
    April 18, 2023 12:59 am

    Lovely 😊 hike, yes!
    And one of our most favorite nearby natural places.
    Much more activity now (April) than when we do the x-mas bird count every year in December!!
    (20+ years) Maybe a dozen species max!!
    Alas, my (our) very long time traveling naturalist buddy, Kurt Ranslem, who also was there with us just this past December, passed away suddenly on January 19. He was the only person I ever met who knew the Latin name for almost everything he saw, even the lizards, his favorites! What a pre-20th century character he was! Alas how sad 😢
    Stay positive everyone, test negative!
    Ethan & Sara G.


  2. Teresa Thompson permalink
    April 17, 2023 5:55 pm

    I am always amazed at the wonderful photographs.


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