California – Day 8 (August 2): LA County

Due to the craziness of the day before, it took us a while to head into the field on our first morning in LA. Admittedly, we didn’t reach our first location (Hahamonga Watershed Park; formerly know as Oak Grove Park) until well into the late morning hours, sleeping in for our first (and only) morning of the trip :).

Our target at Hahamonga (love that name) was a recently reported Lazuli Bunting, a bird I was still missing, even after covering loads of decent habitat on this trip alone. Due to the fact that we had garnered our report from an eBird checklist, it wasn’t exactly clear where to go. Instead, we wandered around for a while, trying to perhaps get lucky and run into a Lazuli.

Unfortunately, time of day, as well as the abundance of decent habitat (thus lots of places to look) were both working against us, and we were still unable to connect with any Lazulis after over an hour of searching. Still, that hour was certainly not wasted, as we enjoyed other highlights such as “Least” Bell’s Vireo (threatened Southern California race), Western Scrub-Jay, Oak Titmouse, Bushtit, Wrentit, and a calling Cactus Wren, among others.

Black Phoebe at Hahamonga

With loads of places throughout the park to check, and time running low, we decided to double-check the eBird checklist and see if any more information had been added on the whereabouts of the previously-seen Lazuli.

It turned out that the observer had added some more details and after getting our bearings, and finding the location on a map, we were off.

When we arrived at the dry creek bed the observer had mentioned, loads of House Finch and Lesser Goldfinch, were feeding in the creek side vegetation, among them fifteen Nutmeg Mannikin, an established (but still uncountable) exotic.

It took a while, but eventually I was able to note one stunning molting male Lazuli Bunting among the masses, still retaining much of its breeding garb.

Mission now accomplished, we then began the journey into the Angeles National Forest, located in the San Gabriel Mountains to the east of LA.

Meandering our way through the mountain roads, we soon came upon our first location, the Switzer Picnic Area, where we were hoping to catch a visual of a target we had frustratingly missed seeing in the San Fran area.

On our way in, Mountain Chickadee, Steller’s Jay, and White-breasted Nuthatch were noted, suggesting our change in altitude.

As we walked the trail along the stream, it didn’t take long to hear the distinctive call of the Pacific-slope Flycatcher. After a little patient coaxing, we were able to pull this individual into view, which provided great looks before flying down the stream.

On the way out, we were serenaded by a Canyon Wren, my first in a while.

Moving higher still, we hit the Chilao Visitor Center and Campground, in search of two California specialties (Lawrence’s Goldfinch and Mountain Quail) that had so far eluded us.

Mountain Quail are sometimes seen visiting the feeders at the visitor center, which we found empty upon arrival. Not deterred, we thoroughly searched the vicinity of Lawrence’s Goldfinch, hundreds of which had been reported just a week before.

As we worked the area, we encountered large numbers of common California montane species, including thirty-six Violet-green Swallow, eighteen Mountain Chickadee, twenty-five Pygmy Nuthatch and thirty-seven Western Bluebird (including many juveniles).

Pygmy Nuthatch

Alas, after over an hour of hitting the campground and visitor center, we still were unable to connect with either of our targets, and decided to call it quits in order to be well rested for our boat trip to Santa Cruz Island, followed by a drive to San Diego, the next day.

-Alex

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