Wednesday, April 23, 2008


Well, this pretty much says it all for me! I had hoped to post yesterday, but it was my B'EARTHDAY and I was a bit preoccupied. Yep--April 22. Nice of them to make Earthday on my birthday back in 1970.

This year has been a real "getting back to nature" experience for me, when my bird watching and hiking has kicked into high gear. I've also been focusing on "going green," and going organic. It's not easy and it's not often cheap, but at least now I don't feel guilty about everything that I do (well, except for still driving my car). I stopped eating beef and limit my poultry and fish consumption to free-range and farm-grown; and even that is in reduced amounts. I buy dairy products from cruelty free, organic sources. I recycle everything I can and always take re-useable grocery bags to the store. Got swirly bulbs for the house, too! It takes a little time to think it all out, but once I got in the groove, it was super easy.

Happy Birthday, Mother Earth!

Monday, April 14, 2008


Bushtits - Psaltriparus minimus

Look closely between leaves to see Bushtit pulling on spider web

Bushtit nest

Last week on the UCLA campus, on a little trail that I found that goes through an oak forest, I observed some interesting behavior by a pair of Bushtits. I spotted them when they flew into a California Bay Laurel tree I was standing under and they were only about five feet overhead. As I watched, the pair took turns teasing out strands of spiderweb from the back of a leaf, where a spider had evidently packed up something for later.

The two birds worked at that little packet of webbing for about ten minutes, occassionally getting their feet stuck in the sticky web, which was quite comical to watch. One would pull some web out, then fly to a nearby branch to ball the webbing up with its beak while the other took a turn pulling.

After I took the photo above, they worked on it for another few minutes until I guess they had what they needed and flew off. Bushtits build huge nests in comparison to their dimunitive size (approx. 2 1/4" - 3" long). I have no doubt that they have returned to this little prize again and again to get more material.
It's the little bird dramas such as these that really make bird watching memorable!


Ash-throated flycatcher - a new bird for me.

Wild Cucumber

Branches contorted by heat from a brush fire years ago.

Oak twins

Tadpoles in the stream - a spring chorus in the making!

Tadpoles - soon to be frogs & toads!

The final Saturday of the four-week birding class wrapped up this past Saturday. It was a fine day of bird watching and a large group. The birding class joined up with a club that meets the second Saturday of the month, so there were 26 of us! It was a bit too large a group for my taste, but they were fun folks.

Paula and I 'ditched' the group at one point because it was getting too warm on the trail. We headed back towards the nature center and sat on the benches at the outdoor amphitheatre and had our own bird show. The oaks and sycamores all around us were alive with birds, mostly Yellow-rumped Warblers, but there were also Acorn Woodpeckers, Oak Titmouse, Pacific-slope flycatcher, and a first for me--an Ash-throated Flycatcher.

During the course of the two hour class we saw the following birds:

  • Western Blubird
  • Bullock's Oriole
  • Western Kingbird
  • Red-shouldered Hawk (near its nest)
  • Kestral
  • Turkey Vulture
  • Common Raven (the adult & two young from the nest we saw at our first class. They were all soaring over the ridge.)
  • California Towhee (with a big green work clutched in its beak)

We were sorry to see the class end, as we enjoyed the people in the group and our guides Bob Ross and Bob Fischer very much. But Paula and I are anxious to try other spots, especially since we are getting into the peak spring migration. The classes are ongoing though, and a new one starts next week if anyone is interested. I highly recommend this class to beginning and advanced alike. It's a great way to meet other birders and share sightings.

[Composed while listening to Joni Mitchell's "Court and Spark."]

Tuesday, April 8, 2008


Pacific-slope Flycatcher

Bullock's Oriole

Western Kingbird

Scrub Jay

Steller's Jay

Western Bluebird

Oak Titmouse

House Wren

Black-headed Grosbeak
[all photos public domain]

This past Saturday was a most excellent day of birding! The beginning birding class at Placerita Canyon met at the eastern end of the park, at Walker Ranch. From the small parking area off the Placerita Canyon Highway, we hiked down a step trail. Along the way we saw a Spotted Towhee and a House Wren.

At the bottom, we looked across the trail and spied a riot of birds in the bushes and tangled branches of a small hill: Western Bluebirds, House Finches, Yellow-rumped Warblers, and Sparrows. The call of a Red-shouldered Hawk had us all cranking our necks upwards to catch it as it passed overhead.

We crossed a small stream and entered a meadow area bordered by old-growth oak forest. A riot of bird song filled the air--the most I've heard in one place. We spotted numerous Steller's Jays, which are here year round due to the 1,850' altitude. Western Bluebirds popped out of nest boxes that were hagning in some of the trees, and Oak Titmouse sang from a nearby branch, and several Robins made an appearance.

The highlight of the day was seeing some 'true life adventure' between an Acorn Woodpecker and two Stellar's Jays. One of the jays was trying to pry some acrons from a post that just happened to be the woodpecker's granery. The woodpecker swooped down and chased the jay off with loud cries, then the jays started hollering back--it was a racket! The woodpecker sat on a branch protecting another granery while the two jays just sassed it back. These little spectacles are what really makes birding fun for me. It's great to see them, but to see them going about their bird business is something special!

On the way back across the stream I took a closer look and saw some tadpoles along the slow edges--a whole bunch of little tiny ones that must have only been a day or so old! I bet this stream will soon have quite a night time chorous in residence! Placerita does offer night hikes, so I may go back soon for one of these. The opportunity to hear frog song and spot an owl is too good to pass up.

Next Saturday is the the last class of our session and I will miss all the woderful people who participated and our guides, Bob Ross and Bob Fischer. I'll be taking photos next week and will put up a group shot. It's worth memorializing!

The final treat of the day was after the birding class--Paula & I stopped at a nearby BBQ place, picked up some lunch, and enjoyed it on her patio. While we were eating, I happened to look up in one of her trees just in time to spot a Black-headed Grosbeak--my first outside of Washington State! A beautiful bird, just sitting there in plain sight, let us glass him for about 15 minutes. What a treat!

[Composed while listening to Dave Mason's "Alone Together"--and oldie but goodie!]

Tuesday, April 1, 2008


White-breasted Nuthatch © Navroth 2008

Black-capped Chickadee © Navroth 2008

Belted Kingfisher © Navroth 2008

Red-breasted Nuthatch © Navroth 2008

As a life-long artist, it seemed like a natural step to turn my brushes in the direction of birds. Having recently read a biography of Louis Fuertes Agassiz, and how some of his art was used on the vintage Arm & Hammer Baking Soda trading cards (of which a have a few), it made me want to take a crack at small-scale bird portraits. So I have been doing small (2.5” x 3.5”) watercolors on 140 lb. cold press paper and vellum Bristol board. I like the idea of working small, as it requires a minimum of time to accomplish and you don’t have to necessarily put in a lot of detail to get your point across.

Painting also let’s me spend some time with a particular bird, to study its shape, size and color. It affords me the opportunity to think about it more closely and learn more about it. I find that the act of painting is very meditative and calming, letting me focus my attention on only what is front of me. I generally have music playing and that too helps me focus. By the end of a painting session I may not even remember what I’ve just listened to!

A lot of art supplies are not required either—some good-quality watercolor paper, some half-way decent brushes, and some watercolor paint. Not much room is needed to do the work, so it can be done almost anywhere. This is good for me, because at least one of my cats is always determined to lie underneath the lamp while I paint!

I’ve put up two of the paintings on Ebay to see if I can stir up some interest. If it goes well, I may do more. Selling an original painting is sometimes hard, but the bidders seem to bid higher if it’s an original. Another good reason to stay with the small-sized art!

[Composed while listening to Future Sound of London "Lifeforms." An excellent electronic piece from the late 80s--and one of the most original electronic bands around.]


My friend Paula & I are currently participating in the 4-week Beginning Birding Class sponsored by the Placerita Canyon Nature Center. Although I know a fair amount about birds and bird watching, I always figure that there’s always something new to learn. And the opportunity to meet other birders is always a pleasure.

We meet at the Nature Center on Saturday morning at 9 AM and it goes until 11 AM. Paula and I have already figured out that by arriving at least 45 minutes early we can get in some birding ahead of time. We have made some great sightings during this time. The first part of the class is spent going over what is to be covered that day. Then we hike into one of the many areas at Placerita and look for birds. And we have never failed to spot interesting birds.

On March 22 we watched a pair of nesting Ravens bringing food to their nest and also saw a nesting pair of Kestrals. It is the first female Kestral I’ve seen. Placerita Canyon is a birding ‘hot spot’—I have seen more species of birds there than anywhere else I’ve been in the past tree months. Here’s a list of the sightings so far:

Sat. March 22:

White-breasted Nuthatch ♂♀
Western Bluebird ♂
House Wren ♂
Kestral ♀
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Audubon’s) ♂
Acorn Woodpecker ♂
Red-shouldered Hawk
Turkey Vulture
Pacific-slope Flycatcher ♂
Black Phoebe
Oak Titmouse
Anna’s Hummingbird

Sat. March 29:

Western Bluebird ♂
Bullock’s Oriole ♂
Western Kingbird ♂
Yellow-rumped Warbler ♂ & ♀ bathing in the stream)
Oak Titmouse
Kestral ♂ & ♀
Acorn Woodpecker ♂
Scrub Jay
Ruby-crowned Kinglet ♂
California Towhee
Spotted Towhee ♂& ♀
Flicker ♂
Red-tailed Hawk
Turkey Vulture
Pacific-slope Flycatcher ♂

(no symbol indicates sex undetermined or sexes alike)

This is class has been a real pleasure to attend and Placerita Canyon has become a real favorite of mine. The habitat is so varied that you are virtually guaranteed to see interesting birds each time you visit.

To find out more about the classes, please contact the Placerita Canyon Nature Center:

[Post composed while listening to Alan Parson's Project / various insturmental tracks]