By Michele E. Buttelman
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service estimates there are about 45 million birders in the United States. The number of people embracing birding as a hobby grew during the COVID-19 pandemic with people searching for new outdoor entertainment options.
Living in the Santa Clarita Valley most people are familiar with the numerous ravens, hawks, doves and sparrows that can be seen almost daily in our yards or while driving on the 14 and 5 freeways.
However, California hosts the largest, most diverse concentration of birds in the United States.
More than 600 bird species have been spotted in California. That number makes up about two-thirds of all bird species in North America.
Placerita Canyon Nature Center
One of the best ways to start birding in the Santa Clarita Valley is to participate in a bird walk with experts.
The Placerita Canyon Nature Center and Placerita Canyon Natural Area, 19152 Placerita Canyon Road, Newhall, CA 91321, offer the perfect venue to see a variety of birds in the SCV.
The Nature Center offers a bird walk twice a month on the first and second Saturdays beginning at 8 a.m.
“We usually see between 15 and 25 species of birds, depending on the season, and how lucky we are,” said Ken Yasukawa, a Nature Center bird walk leader. “The birds we mostly see are acorn woodpeckers, California scrub jays and Anna’s hummingbirds. We also see red-tailed hawks and sometimes Cooper’s hawks and red-shouldered hawks.”
Yasukawa advises first time birders to attend a bird walk and to purchase a quality pair of binoculars.
“I would suggest not to purchase cheap plastic binoculars, they aren’t worth the money,” he said. “I recommend spending enough to purchase binoculars that are filled with nitrogen so they don’t cloud up on the inside and are more water resistant.”
Birding also requires a certain amount of patience, said Yasukawa.
“When we are on bird walks, we see birds as we are walking, but we have our best luck when we stop and wait for the birds to come to us,” he said.
Yasukawa said birding is a great hobby for many reasons.
“Being out in nature is always a good thing, it is calming,” he said.
The hobby also allows for individuals to set challenges for themselves, said Yasukawa.
“Some birders are big listers, they keep detailed lists and know exactly how many species they’ve seen in their lifetime,” he said. “They know the exact day, place and time where they’ve seen a bird they having been looking for.”
In addition to the bird walks at the Nature Center a newly opened Know Your Nature Center exhibit offers guests a “Let’s Go Birdwatching” video and also features educational displays and information on “Bird Nests of Placerita Canyon” and “Birds of Placerita Canyon.”
Animal shows are held the first and third Saturdays of the month at 10 a.m. where you can meet a great-horned owl and a red-tailed hawk. Guests need to keep a 10-foot distance from the birds because of the recent outbreak of avian flu.
The SCV is also home to many other species of birds including pigeons, doves, waterfowl, gulls, turkey vultures, seven species of owls including barn owls and screech owls, lesser goldfinches and the American robin, to name only a few.
Vasquez Rocks Natural Area
Vasquez Rocks Natural Area and Nature Center, 10700 W. Escondido Canyon Road, Santa Clarita, CA 91390 also offers animal shows on Saturdays at 10 a.m. Among the birds presented are a red-tail hawk, great horned owl and a falcon.
Britney Gilroy, of the Vasquez Nature Center, said the park offers a wide variety of birding opportunities including seeing birds of prey and songbirds.
Among the birds frequently spotted are quail, roadrunners, red-tail hawks, ravens, California towhees, Say’s Phoebes and White Crowned sparrows.
“We just had a large group of robins stop by the park,” Gilroy said. “They are migrating and have moved on now.”
Birders at Vasquez Rocks have reported seeing many other birds including the House finch, Western bluebird, scrub jays and the occasionally-spotted, magnificent Golden Eagle.
Other SCV Birding Locations
Another popular spot in the SCV for watching birds is the Bridgeport community in Valencia. The man-made lake has attracted a population of Canada geese, as well as a variety of different species of ducks and other waterfowl, including egrets and herons. There are also a number of non-native species at the lake, such as the great-tailed grackle.
The lake is a frequent “stop-over” habitat for birds migrating from north to south, or south to north, depending on the season. Be sure you are not trespassing on private property when you visit.
Different habits support different birds which means that some of the birds you see at Vasquez Rocks, which is more arid, might be different than birds you might spot at Placerita Canyon or Castaic Lake.
Castaic Lake State Recreation Area, 32132 Castaic Lake Drive, Castaic, CA 91384 offers birders a chance to see a large number and variety of waterfowl at several lakeside locations and trails including the West Ramp Loop trail and the upper lake and lower lagoon.
Sepulveda Basin Wildlife Area
6350 Woodley Ave.,
Van Nuys, CA 91436
The Sepulveda Basin Wildlife Area in the San Fernando Valley is another option for birders.
The 2,000-acre flood control basin hosts the 225-acre Wildlife Reserve that boasts a list of nearly 200 bird species. It is considered one of the finest refuges of its kind within a major urban area. See the bird checklist at https://sepulvedabasinwildlife.org/pdf/SepulvedaBasinBirdChecklist2007.pdf
The reserve offers a first Sunday of the month bird walk at 8 a.m. For more information on the three-hour walk contact Kris Ohlenkamp, (818) 521-8799 or visit the website.