Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Birding in Serrania Avenue Park

An important element of bird conservation is being aware of trends regarding population numbers, migration patterns and nesting success.

In February I focused my sustainable living practices on understanding my local biodiversity - Green Action #2. Since then I have been doing weekly bird counts at my local Serrania Avenue Park.

When you look at these photos, it may be hard to imagine that this park is in a suburb of Los Angeles, the San Fernando Valley, with over 1.75 million people. But less than a half mile away, at the base of the hill in the distance, is one of the busiest freeways in the world. The trees mask the houses between the park and the Ventura Freeway (101).

Despite its proximity to a large human population this park is an important habitat for a variety of birds, like the Anna's hummingbird (pictured), Nuttall's woodpecker and northern flicker. I typically see 25 - 35 species in an hour walking along a half mile path.

A number of species nest here including: oak titmouse, bushtits, Anna's and Allen's hummingbirds, black phoebe, lesser goldfinch, Northern mockingbirds, California towhee, spotted towhee, Bewick's wren, mourning dove, California quail and scrub jays.

The park was an important area of survival for the scrub jays (pictured) when populations living in the surrounding suburbs were killed by West Nile virus several years ago.

Migrating birds also have been arriving and nesting as well, including: western bluebird, Cassin's kingbird, California thrashers, and recently Bullock's and hooded orioles. This year we also have a nesting pair of blue-gray gnatcatchers. The male phainopepla arrived last week, but he is still without a mate.

Because fingers of the park reach up into the foothills of the Santa Monica Mountains, there is a crossover of suburban and chapparal bird species. Large birds of prey, red-tailed and red shouldered hawks, as well as Cooper's hawks and great horned owls hunt here. Once I even saw a bobcat stalking desert cottontails.

I am logging in my observations every week on eBird and NestWatch. Not only am I discovering the patterns of migration and nesting at my local park, I am also acting as a citizen scientist. My data is available to scientists and biologists looking at localized patterns and continental patterns. More Citizen Science Projects.

One thing I have realized is that nests in the park are threatened by predators either introduced or increased because of human activity. So far I have documented two bushtit nests and both have been destroyed by predators. One nest may have been robbed by ravens, which have increased dramatically in our area over the past 5 years. The other was destroyed by a fox tree squirrel, which is an introduced species. Our tree nesting birds did not evolve with these aggressive squirrels.

These fox tree squirrels are cute, but feeding them increases their population and expands their territory. With that comes increased threat to nesting native birds.

Serrania Avenue Park is a wonderful place to bird for California chapparal species. Access is easy and the birding is bountiful. Check out your local park, you may be surprised at the number of wild animals in your own neighborhood.

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