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BIOTA ALONG OAK PASS ROAD DURING THE 1940's1950's
(C) LOCAL BIRDS REMEMBERED
I was not an avid birder (by today's “hyper” standards)....But as a naturalist, with a general interest in all of the wild animals and plants native to the area where I lived, I was constantly noticing (and trying to identify) the local birds, mammals, and reptiles, etc..
Early on, my biology teacher neighbor (Paul W. Colburn) greatly stimulated my interest in accurate bird identification, by taking me along every year on the Audubon Society's Christmas Bird Counts for our district an enjoyable all-day jaunt through the areas to which we were assigned north of Sunset Blvd. usually including parts of Benedict Canyon, Hutton Dr., San Ysidro Dr., Summitridge Rd., and all of the Oak Pass Road district.
One of the avian phenomena that remains firmly in my memory was the annual return (in late spring) of just a few pairs of Phainopeplas to our ridge, where (I surmise) they were probably nesting, as they hung around long enough to accomplish that (from about late April into May or June), and then quietly vanished never to be seen again until about the same time the next year, when they would (suddenly) re-appear. Their focus was always around the chaparral thickets of Ceanothus spinosus, Rhus laurina, and oaks, which densely covered the steep slopes around and below (west of) our front yard at 9601.
During the winter, western robins formed NOISY “roosting-congregations” in the oaks, down in the deep ravine below (south of) the driveway leading into 9626 Oak Pass (Colburn's residence). This roosting zone was in upper Yoakum Dr. above (east of) the last houses (....when I say “last”, I am referring to the 1950's, not 2007!!). Their evening din (while “settling in” for the night) drifted up to the road far above (near the 9626 entry), and could easily be heard by anyone standing quietly there, which I often did.
Two towhees were abundant throughout the district: the Calif. brown and the spotted (later, “rufous-sided”; now “legally” back to spotted). Alarm-calls of the brown towhee (high -pitched “cheep”) were typical sounds every few hundred feet, as one strolled along the roads, with these birds diving over the edge, and into the dense cover below, as one approached. The spotted towhees were very vocal (a variety of lively and explosive calls) during the nesting season. Fox sparrows (a dark chocolate-brown form) were regular winter visitors to a birdbath, which I maintained at the north edge of our garden area, under a laurel-leaf sumac bush (Rhus laurina). They (along with other sparrows and the towhees) frequented a tangle of chaparral honeysuckle (Lonicera subspicata), which was interwoven with a large and dense redberry bush (Rhamnus ilicifolia), near the birdbath. Both of these plants tended to form dense “clumps” or tangles when out in the open (full sun), as these were. But, in the semi-shaded locations amongst oaks, the redberry typically assumed a more slender tree-like form, in its attempts to reach the sunlight. A shaded honeysuckle under similar conditions, would likewise become a more open arrangement of sprawling and far-climbing woody stems. This was the situation just to the north of our house, where a thicket of various chaparral elements and sage scrub species grew intermingled with the oaks, to form a rich and diverse botanical patchwork generally referred to by any normal city visitor as “brush”....So, “ why don't you just mow it all down and make everything NEAT-&-TIDY???!!”[No value whatsoever could be discerned in the native flora, by the typical visitor. This bland/disinterested mentality was observed upon countless occasions, throughout the 1940's 1950's].... It could still be described as the typical or dominant viewpoint.
How grateful I am that my parents were NOT afflicated with the normal (antiseptic/anti-life) “bush-hating syndrome”!!....Most of our more normal neighbors were, and they dutifully did exactly what was "expected" of them!] “The "brush"” invariably had to be replaced with certain acceptable selections from the same old limited and boring list of standard southern California garden ornamentals, exactly as could be seen in thousands upon thousands of other gardens throughout the entire region hibiscus, roses, geraniums, English ivy, Drosanthemum, oleander, etc. anything that could be found in a nursery, was grown by everyone else, and was not native! I realize that this bias has now moderated somewhat, since an awareness of the need to conserve water has slowly percolated into the consciousness of (some) Californian home-owners. But, it certainly wasn't even a minority-awareness while I was growing up in the 1940's-1950's. Everyone just thought we were completely nuts (or, more likely, lazy?)....But no other possible “reasons”, for allowing "the brush" to grow, could even be vaguely imagined, by most of our puzzled visitors.
To return to the birds: Our common woodpecker was the Nuttall's, a resident of the oak woodlands surrounding the house. Flickers were always around, and quite vocal in the springtime; drumming loudly on a metal water-trough (on the ridge of our roof) was a favored early morning activity! I often identified various spp. of winter-visiting warblers throughout the district particularly Townsend's. I also recall the great abundance (every winter) of what was then known as “Audubon's Warbler” (and is now “correctly” known as Something Else!)....With reference to “official”common name-changing: the Spotted Towhee and the Mexican Jay (of AZ) have finally come full-circle; the “correct” common names for both of these birds are now right back where they started many decades ago, as can be seen in the earlier editions of R.T. Peterson's field guides (1950's). Until recently, they were known by other“official” common names, which we had been obliged to use for the several intervening decades!....[See the TAXONOMY section for further observations on this topic!: click here.]....
Basic Law: Each new generation of aspiring taxonomists feels impelled to make some kind of “waves” even if it only involves fiddling around with mere common(!) names (the taxonomist-wannabees). While fantasizing over common names, I'd like to propose two possible “replacement-names” for the green-tailed towhee both of which refer to conspicuous field-marks that are infinitely more easily seen on this bird than is the so-called #“green” tail (which requires a perfect angle and lighting even to be slightly discernible): (1) White-throated towhee, OR (2) rufous-capped towhee! And while we're at it, let's change the name of the butterfly stupidly (and repeatedly) dubbed the great “purple” hairstreak (which is by no stretch of the imagination “purple”) to the “great BLUE hairstreak”!....Any takers?? The so-called “Colorado” Hairstreak (which incidentally also occurs in UT, AZ & NM), is indeed vividly iridescent purple (or violet) over most of its upper wing surfaces....Go figure!!
The Calif. valley quail was much in evidence throughout the Oak Pass Rd. habitat, and also along N. Beverly Dr. Marion Way (often heard, sometimes seen). Road-runners were occasionally encountered along upper Oak Pass Rd., but were never common in this habitat. Scrub Jays were everywhere in evidence, noisily calling from the tops of oaks or large shrubs, throughout the district. Mockingbirds (the melodious “sound-track voice” of suburbia) were almost never #seen, or were only “passing through ” usually gone by the next day. They would sometimes linger awhile around our garden, when the pyracantha berries were ripe....Wren-tits ( the endemic voice-of-the-chaparral) were abundant on our ridge, and generally throughout the habitat. Their unique and cheerful bouncing-trills rang from the hillsides and ravines, often along with the melodious and varied songs of the Calif. thrasher (particularly after soaking rains).
Countless authors repeat, time and again, that the wren-tit is “far more often seen than heard” (Peterson), or “common but difficult to see in dense brushy habitats” (Sibley), or other remarks to that effect. In the two decades that I lived in this bird's habitat, I found it one of the very easiest of ALL the local birds to find.... It is only only necessary to enter into any “brushy” thicket and sit QUIETLY there; in only a few minutes (at most), one or more wren-tits will be heard approaching through the undergrowth, keen to inspect the object of their curiosity and will soon be showing themselves at very close range, all the while uttering their “dry-racheting” (Sibley) investigative-calls, as they inspect the object of their curiosity. No other bird in the chaparral world is easier to locate and observe!!....[But, how many normal (i.e., hyper) Americans are capable of just sitting quietly for a few minutes, anywhere??!....] If tramping relentlessly towards some inane "destination" is your only approach to the natural world, you'll never meet up with a wren-tit....(unless it's a road-kill)!....
The oak titmouse (formerly, plain titmouse) was one of the primary contributors to the early spring chorus around 9601, and one of my favorites (“sweet-sweet-sweet” & “miss-mistéery”). Titmice readily accepted the bird houses that I placed for them, on various oak tree trunks around our property. Bewick's wrens and song sparrows were also important resident contributors to the daily spring chorus. The black-headed grosbeak was a melodious and rollicking spring songster (presumably nesting nearby?)....Large resident flocks (+ 20-30 birds) of bush-tits regularly came foraging through the chaparral (and into our garden), constantly calling to each other (high-pitched peeping), as they busily worked their way through the trees and shrubs. Our two most abundant hummingbirds were the black-chinned and Anna's; the latter was a year-around resident. One or two lazuli buntings would appear around the garden every spring, but didn't remain for very long. Most springs, a chat (or nesting pair) occupied the dense thickets below and to the east of our house often heard (a variety of loud and unusual calls, day and night) but rarely seen (my favorite "warbler").
Nocturnal bird calls frequently heard were of the dusky poorwill (locally common here during spring/summer), the great horned owl (winter/spring), and (less often) the mellow “bouncing-ball” of the western screech owl. The poorwills were regularly encountered sitting on the dirt roads at night, typically flying up just ahead of our approaching car.
But for the occassional airlplane or vehicle on the road far below, there were no man-made sounds in my childhood experience only the sounds of nature surrounded us, 24/7! .... How many could duplicate that experience in today's noise-polluted world? (And, how many would actually want to??) Many of our city friends were actually unnerved by the silence, or lack of clatter and chaos!
Growing Up Wild in Beverly Hills!
EARLY DAYS on OAK PASS Rd. (1937-1945) and HOW the ROAD GOT ITS NAME
- (A) Botanical Highlights
-- Historical Remarks on Oaks
-- EARLY EVOLUTIONARY STAGES of the "SMOG-DENIAL SYNDROME"!
-- OAK PASS NATIVE PLANTS TODAY (??)
-- Echos From the Past!
-- A Bit of SUMMERTIME FOGBANK-BOTANY
- (B) LOCAL BUTTERFLY HIGHLIGHTS
- (C) LOCAL BIRDS REMEMBERED
- (D) LOCAL MAMMALS REMEMBERED
- (E) REPTILES & AMPHIBIANS REMEMBERED
DESSERT (Purely for Amusement!)
THE HONEY-SNOB'S CORNER
A five-year study (1953-1957) documenting the occurrence of 283 macro-moth species on one acre of woodland habitat at 9601 Oak Pass Rd., 5 road-miles north of Sunset Blvd., Beverly Hills (a mixture of undisturbed Southern Oak Woodland / Chaparral / Coastal Sage Scrub habitat, at 1100 ft. elevation).
WHAT TO EXPECT AT THIS CALIFORNIA SITE
ABOUT THE BACKYARD CONCEPT
BACKGROUND & INTRODUCTION
About the Moth Studies at 9601 Oak Pass Road
BEATING or SWEEPING for LARVAE - A MOST PRODUCTIVE COLLECTING TECHNIQUE
The OLD BEVERLY HILLS (OAK PASS ROAD) MOTH STUDY COMPARED WITH THREE OTHER (MORE RECENT) SURVEYS IN COASTAL SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA
OBSERVED DIFFERENCES IN THE MACRO-MOTH FAUNAS OF THE ABOVE THREE OTHER SURVEYED COASTAL CALIFORNIAN LOCALITIES
HISTORICAL PHOTOS and A PLEA for FUTURE STUDIES in the SAME REGION
FRANK SALA'S CORNER
FRANK HOVORE'S CORNER
1C - HABITAT PHOTOS (1957-1964)
Copyright ©2005-2011 Noel McFarland. All Rights Reserved.