Written by ELA LINDSAY Photos by KERRY PERKINS
Our area of California is a perfect place for bird lovers. We live along what’s known as the Pacific Flyway—the major north-south route for migratory birds that extends from Alaska to the southern tip of South America.
Whether you like to feed our feathered friends and watch them splash around in a backyard bird bath, or view them through binoculars on a hike, you have almost 300 species of birds to enjoy in our collective backyard.
“We are one of the ‘birdiest’ places in the United States,” says Dee Lyon, conservation chair of the Conejo Valley Audubon Society. According to Lyon, one of the biggest problems birds have today is the loss of habitat. But residents of this special area can help. It doesn’t matter if you have a sprawling estate in North Ranch or a tiny apartment balcony in Moorpark, if you create the right environment, you’ll have birds flocking to your yard.
“If everyone could put in some California native plants in their yard as well as water, our birds would be much better off,” says Lyon. The local Audubon offers a Lawns to Habitat program to encourage homeowners to get involved. “Almost 100 local yards have already been converted,” says Lyon. “Each yard changed over helps them.”
If you’ve a yen to leave the backyard in search of birds, there are lots of great birding opportunities along this stretch of the Pacific Flyway.
Begin with the Audubon California’s Central Coast Birding Trail, which has 83 sites to explore along the coastline between San Francisco Bay and Los Angeles.
If you crave a true birding adventure, local Audubon chapters offer a slew of guided hikes. Check out the trails in the Ojai Meadows Preserve, Malibu Creek State Park or Simi Valley’s Las Llajas Canyon. Or explore more secret hideaways like the Tejon Ranch, the largest single privately held tract of land in California. Also, Ventura’s Cañada Larga Road is known to birders as one of the more reliable spots in the county to find lots of migrating and breeding birds, especially in the spring.
Avid avian lovers who want to take their experience to new heights can participate in the Conejo Valley Audubon’s annual bird counts, which are open to the public. You can also volunteer to be part of the bird-banding process at the Zuma Canyon station under the watchful eye of experts like Walter Sakai, a master bander and Thousand Oaks resident. This adventure involves catching, studying and releasing small birds for the purpose of recording data that may hold clues to changes in the natural world.
Birdwatchers can also flock to Lotusland in Santa Barbara, a public garden that thrives in a private, residential neighborhood. “Birds love Lotusland,” says the garden’s director, Bob Craig. With about 80 species identified there, Lotusland offers a delightful way to spend a day spotting feathered friends and enjoying the glorious flora.
But if you’re awestruck by larger bird species, check out the nonprofit Ojai Raptor Center’s site. This organization is dedicated to the rescue, rehabilitation and release of birds of prey and other wildlife, and offers educational and viewing opportunities.
If you tire of trekking around in search of birds, you can spy on them via strategically placed webcams that capture the comings and goings of birds all over the globe. Close to home, nestcams set up by the Institute for Wildlife Studies transmit bald eagle activity in the Channel Islands, including egg laying and hatching, feedings and fledglings. It’s a fascinating way to get a close look at real life from a bird’s eye view.
Another must-see destination for serious birders is the Western Foundation for Ver-tebrate Zoology, also known as the Camarillo Bird Museum, which offers workshops and tours. The museum has an extensive collection of eggs and nests from around the world. It’s a research and education institution dedicated to bird conservation that has attracted global attention.
You can also take your interest in birds to a whole new level by becoming a “Backyard Naturalist.” Once you get an avian habitat set up in your yard, you can share your observations and photos online to help Moorpark College students collect local data.
“One step is learning to identify birds, but that is only the tip of the iceberg,” says naturalist Meghan Walla-Murphy on the art of birdwatching. “A practiced watcher recognizes the different calls of individual species and will begin to interpret the meaning of different behaviors.”
“Birdwatching is fantastic,” Walla-Murphy says. “It can be done anywhere, in parking lots, while driving, waiting for appointments and certainly in the wilderness. For every habitat and environment, some species of bird has adapted to make that area their home.”
Richard Armerding of Wild Birds Unlimited and Walter H. Sakai, professor of biology at Santa Monica College, contributed to this feature.
Visit www.kerryperkinsphotography.com to see more of Kerry Perkins’ portrait and wildlife photography.