I’ve become fascinated by the Los Angeles River. I want to explore it from its trickle out of the mountains to its tumble into the sea. I think there is much to be discovered especially in relation to birdlife.
Yesterday morning we headed out to Calabasas Creek Park in old town Calabasas. It is a small bit of land tucked next to the Ventura Fwy just east of the Sagebrush Cantina. A hundred years or so ago, Calabasas Creek ran past Leonis Adobe and headed east to join with Bell Creek and Chatsworth Creek to form the headwaters of the Los Angeles River.
Forty years ago, Calabasas was a dusty half-block of old clapboard buildings and the creek was seasonal and forced into a cement drainage system. Today there seems to be a steady flow of water down the canyon. As long as that flow is a well-mannered creek, it is allowed to flow under the road and through Calabasas Creek Park.
A cement dam creates a gentle pond under wide-spreading ancient oaks and on this day the pond was dappled with mallards. The male mallards are just starting to take on their breeding plumage and they were looking quite smart. As we overlooked the pond we noticed two fascinating things.
- Whenever the fox tree squirrels in the coast live oaks dropped an acorn into the pond, some of the mallards, mostly males, dashed to snatch it up. They were grabbing the inch-and-a-half long acorns and swallowing them down. It was amazing. I’d never heard of ducks eating acorns. And they weren’t all doing it. Some swam to the dropped fruit only to be disappointed and confused as to why others were eating these big hard things.
- The second thing we noticed was the pattern of the ducks in the water. The spacing was amazingly regular. As we watched it became apparent that the male mallards were maintaining a minimum of 1.5 feet between themselves. A male that compromised that “personal space” was either chased away or was purposefully forcing other males to move. Females were allowed to swim in between the males without comment. This wasn’t just ducks floating on a pond, this was a very organized social gathering.
While the mallards commanded the pond and the creek flowing out of the park, overhead bushtits, oak titmice, yellow-rumped warblers and an unusual sight, a summer tanager moved through the trees. A downy woodpecker feasted on insects in an oak gall. While in the well-manicured front garden a western tanager and house finches bathed in the fountain. In all there were 11 species of birds, a western fence lizard, a huge orb spider, one gardener and us in the park.
Calabasas Creek Park offers easy access, manageable size and a quiet escape. Discover one of the watery fingers that reaches down to become the Los Angeles River.
Calabasas Creek Park is open 1 PM - 4 PM Wed. - Friday & Sunday, and 10 AM - 4 PM Saturday. For more information visit www.leonisadobemuseum.org
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