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They Live In The Sky & The Tops of Trees
Christopher Nyerges

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Graceful Hedge-Sparrows.
Bird watching is a popular activity for many reasons. We are attracted to the creatures of the sky because of their beauty, their diversity of song, and their unique characteristics.

Wandering out into the Angeles National Forest to identify birds is a real adventure and sometimes a detective hunt. Rarely does the bird come to you and sit idly by while you attempt to identify it by thumbing through the pages of your field manual.

Maybe you only hear the song, or perhaps you've found a feather or a nest. The bird detective uses all these clues, including location and season, to determine which birds are in the area.

Many common birds are easily spotted since we already know them from our urban areas around parks and in backyards.

Mockingbirds, house sparrows, blue jays, crows, black birds, and pigeons are ubiquitous and are frequently regarded as pests, not friends. Pigeons have been dubbed "rats with wings" due to their pervasiveness and likelihood of spreading disease.

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The Sword Bill humming bird.

There are other birds -- though not as populous -- which are wonderful to encounter. Hummingbirds are easy to attract at home with inexpensive hummingbird feeders. Daily I hear their electric hum outside my kitchen window as they sip the red nectar I put out for them or the flowers from the vines my wife has planted. I've seen hummingbirds attracted to the feeders put out at many of the cabins scattered throughout the forest. They are also attracted to the tubular yellow flowers of the tree tobacco, which is why I like the plant.

Horned owls are somewhat common. We may not see them, but we can often hear their familiar "hoo, hoo" in the forest at night. I recall camping out one night in the Arroyo Seco. We were sitting around the fire, talking about the meaning of life, and watching the fire. The tall trees surrounding our campsite danced with the orange of the flames and we felt as if we were in a special sanctuary. Then the owls began. They had completely surrounded our camp, for we heard their hoots from all directions. I always watch with awe as they glide off, enormous wings outstretched.

American Indians regarded the owls with superstition and awe, as do both Polynesians and Melanesians in their folklore. Owls are regarded as protectors, and providers of omens.

Red-tailed hawks are frequently seen in the Angeles National Forest, as well as certain areas throughout Southern California. I have noted a pair that flies over my Highland Park home. On one Saturday, my wife and I watched in amazement as seven red-tailed hawks casually glided overhead. It was unusual to see that many at one time, especially in the city.

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Three-toed Woodpecker
I frequently see and hear woodpeckers in the forest, which are easy to identify by the staccato of their pecking. I like hearing the woodpeckers, not just because the sound of their picking out insects below the surface of the bark is somehow "rustic." Their sound is a reassuring reminder that there is still wildlife around. The first time I ever heard a woodpecker was while camping at Spruce Grove in the Angeles National Forest. The pecking of the woodpecker echoed so loud in the canyon that it woke me up. I actually believed there was a construction crew nearby!

I've only seen eagles on a few occasions. One such occasion seemed most portentous. I was hiking with a class in the upper Arroyo Seco on Pasadena's west side. A jogger coming from the other direction told us to look across the stream. "Look on the log!" he told us excitedly. "Look at the eagle with the rattlesnake in its mouth" and he ran off.

Sure enough, it was an eagle, though the snake seemed to be a gopher snake. We couldn't tell for sure because of the distance. Then the big bird quickly flew away as we watched. Our group was dumbfounded for a few moments. Just an hour earlier, one of our party had told us about Montezuma's dream. In the dream, he was told to settle a city when he saw the symbol of the eagle with a snake in its mouth. Montezuma continued his journey, and he saw an eagle with a snake in its mouth in a swampy land.
That swampland became Mexico City. An eagle and snake are now found on all of Mexico's currency.
So where can one go on a bird walk with an expert?

Audubon Society regularly conducts bird walks in many locations. Check your local phone book. Bird walks are regularly conducted at Descanso Gardens, 1418 Descanso Drive in La Canada. Call (818) 790-5571 for times of bird walks. There are also regular bird walks at the L.A. County Arboretum, 301 N. Baldwin Ave. in Arcadia. Call (818) 446-8251 for the schedule

Nyerges is a naturalist who has conducted field trips since 1974. A newsletter of his classes is available from School of Self-Reliance, Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041, or on-line at www.selfreliance.com


ENTER THE FOREST A guidebook to the Angeles National Forest is a new book by Christopher Nyerges published in 1998. Soft cover, 150 pgs with index. A companion to John W. Robinson's TRAILS OF THE ANGELES The news is always full of accounts of people lost in the Angeles National Forest, or stranded, or hurt when their car goes over the side of the road. Most of these disasters could be averted by following the advice in this newly-released book, ENTER THE FOREST, written by a naturalist who has conducted survival skill and wild food outings in and near the Angeles National Forest since 1974.ENTER THE FOREST is full of photos and illustrations. The book is divided into sections EARTH, AIR, FIRE, WATER, HISTORY, AND SAFETY each of which contain important information to help guide you through your visit to the Angeles Forest. A must have if you travel in the Angeles Forest.

Enter The Forest and other great books are available in the
e-Adventure Marketplace.
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