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Lisa Fimiani: Counting on the Bluebirds of Happiness

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Posted: January 2, 2009 7:26 p.m.
Updated: January 3, 2009 4:55 a.m.
I participated in the Santa Clarita Christmas Bird Count on Dec. 28, and despite cold morning temperatures I had a great time as usual.

Birding is one of my passions, and the Santa Clara River is one of my favorite spots to bird. Back in 2002, I volunteered for the first unofficial count, which has started to draw attention to bird populations within the rapidly changing Santa Clara River watershed.

I'm still excited to be part of the survey today, driving up from my home in Culver City at the crack of dawn to join other avid birders and residents of Santa Clarita in this citizen science project.

This year, as Audubon celebrates 108 years of counting birds, I once again saw some great birds along a new river walkway east of Interstate 5 and in the Bridgeport Park area.

Now, for those of you readers who are mildly interested in birds, or those of you who couldn't care less, let me tell you what a walk in the wild does for one's soul.

Forget about the birds for a second and just take a walk along the Santa Clara River. The changing trees alone are worth looking at: Shades of yellow, gold leaves and aged, twisted tree trunks down in the river plain show the wisdom of their years having survived storms and nature's seasons.

I like the openness of it all, looking down the river as it curves and rambles into the distance out of sight, past trees and bushes up to the dark mountains and blue sky.

It's exhilarating in the crisp morning air. Then you start hearing things. Birds are coming to life, and as they start their day you get to watch and listen.

There is something relaxing about just watching things. Taking in the scenery. Birding is a passive sport; you're not encouraged to chat with your fellow birders except to help identify or spot an interesting bird.

It's a chance for quiet solitude with oneself. How many of us have time for any of that during our busy schedules?

Well, if you make time you can have it. I call it getting two for one - exercise and relaxation together in one neat package. And all you have to do is go for a walk along your wonderful river to get it.

Back to the birds: The highlight for me this year was spotting 15 or so California quail running about in the river bed not far from the I-5 freeway.

We first heard their calls and then saw them in small groups, cautiously running from bush to bush and then out into the open to feed. The males are striking with their topknot plumes.

Then a call like a mockingbird rang out, and an experienced birder in our group said, "I think it's a California thrasher." That's exciting news in bird talk - these large birds with long curved beaks are elusive and hard to see, and we had not one but two perched high on top of bushes to show off their singing skills.

Bridgeport was just as exciting with unusual duck species such as hooded mergansers, the males fanning their hoods in spectacular display.

Three common mergansers (and there is nothing common about them - they are strikingly beautiful) and a canvasback duck were swimming together in one of the lakes, as they were the year before, the same species together.

The pairing makes one wonder whether they've become chums and migrate as a group every year.

Three black-crowned night herons sat sulking like Grandpa Munster in the trees lining one of the creeks, their eyes looking brilliantly red through the lens of our scope. And then there were the western bluebirds, who happened to be in someone's backyard.

I got a blurry photo of a pair on a fence, but the image still gives me a jolt of pleasure every time I look at it. Bluebirds in the dead of winter.

Whether you're a birder or not, everyone knows bluebirds bring good luck. We all could certainly use some of that in 2009.

I suggest you make a New Year's resolution to get out more, enjoy nature, enjoy the birds and go for a walk along the Santa Clara River.

I promise, you'll be glad you did.

Lisa Fimiani is a board member for the Los Angeles Audubon Society and the Friends of Ballona Wetlands. Her column reflects her own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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