Birding the 5MR with Mom and Dad

Canada Goose and goslings Ballona Freshwater Marsh

The first fluffy goslings of the spring

Birding the 5MR with Mom and Dad

After a year and a half, I finally saw my parents in person this past weekend. All juiced up on 2 doses of an mRNA vaccine, they drove out to L.A. from Texas and we welcomed them with open arms.  Surprisingly, it felt completely normal to hang out with them. It was as if the last 15 months hadn’t lasted 15 months. We hugged. We hung out indoors. We took in the first little league game of the season. Grandma even jumped on the trampoline! It was a long-awaited reunion, and we’re hoping for more of the same in the weeks and months to come.

Having slowly but surely gotten my Dad into birding, we ventured out to some local spots for walks while they were here.  Our first adventure was a walk along the Playa Vista Riparian Corridor. It’s a dirt road trail below LMU, and is often a good spot for migrating songbirds. We didn’t get there until 11am, and we’re still a bit early for good migration numbers around here, so we didn’t find anything good. The next day, we walked around the  Ballona Freshwater Marsh. We heard a Bell’s Vireo in the willows (a lifer for Dad), but never got eyes on it. There were lots of swallows, a dwindling number of ducks, and the first goslings of the spring. The highlight was a dozen or so Yellow-headed Blackbirds flying back and forth amongst the reeds. Most were males, showing off their white wing patches in flight and making their extended buzzzzzzz calls.

Yellow-headed Blackbirds Ballona Freshwater Marsh

Late Sunday afternoon, an email check revealed a generous and friendly head’s up from a devoted local birder named Naresh. The subject line was “Cattle Egrets on Ballona Creek.” The body of the message was equally succinct: “At the Centinela Creek confluence.” It meant more to me than he knew. Cattle Egret was a bird that’s conspicuously absent from my 5MR list. Indeed, I identified it as one of my 2021 targets in a previous post. Luckily for me, his message was just 30 minutes old. With a delicious dinner of soup dumplings on its way, my Dad and I hopped in the car and zoomed 6 blocks down the road to where he had reported it. As we walked up to the spot, the 2 Cattle Egrets were there waiting for us. 

Cattle Egret Ballona Creek

Cattle Egret: A 5MR Lifer!

The zoomed in photo above makes it look like the egrets were wading through a field of vegetation. Zoom out, and you see that they were in a very human-shaped spot. The egrets were walking atop the island of bushes where a small concrete creek joins the bigger concrete Ballona Creek. It’s not a scene that will win any landscape awards, but the birds love it. It’s especially good at low tides when the mud is exposed.

Ballona Creek

Ballona Creek and Centinela Creek at a low-ish tide

Costa Rica (2019) #6: Birding Savegre Hotel

Silver-throated Tanager at Melvin’s Garden

Birding Costa Rica: Savegre Hotel

As the calendar flipped to 2019, our amazingly awesome family trip to Costa Rica moved from the Pacific Ocean coast to the central highlands. Our drive would take us from sea level up over 10,000 feet, and then back down to about 7,000 feet. Our destination was the (birding and fishing) famous Savegre River Valley. The fishers come here for the trout. The birders come here for Resplendent Quetzals, Toucanets, Mountain-Gems, and Chlorosphingus.

The drive from Dominical was a show all by itself. We pulled off the highway at one spot for a delightful view of what looked like a cloud ocean. The steep road down into the valley was spectacular as well. It’s not as steep as the Burr trail switchbackswe drove in Utah this fall, but it was a descent to remember. 

Birding above the clouds on the highway to Savegre River Valley

We were staying at the Savegre Hotel Natural Reserve and Spa. We had a standard cabin that wasn’t much more than two beds, a couple of chairs, a table, and a bathroom, but it was all we needed. Because we spent almost all of our three days in the valley exploring.

The birding was magical from the moment of our arrival. Before we even made it into our cabin, our neighbors pointed out the White-throated Mountain-Gem nest around the corner from our front door. There were hummingbirds buzzing all around the flowery grounds of the hotel.  A dozen Sulphur-Winged Parakeets were flying noisily about. And all manner of identified and unidentified birds were moving through the bushes. 

White-throated Mountain-Gem Savegre Valley Costa Rica

White-throated Mountain-Gem, on nest, out of focus

There are a set of trails above the hotel that take you into the forest. I’ll recount our hikes up there in another post. And while you absolutely must get yourself up that hill, just wandering the grounds of the hotel produces a rainbow of tropical birds: the red of the Flame-colored Tanager, the orange of the Baltimore Oriole, the yellow of the Long-tailed Silky Flycatcher, the green of the Northern Emerald-Toucanet, the blue of the Blue-Gray Tanager, the indigo of the Blue-and-white Swallow, and the violet of Lesser Violetear. If black is your thing, there are Black Guans and Melodious Blackbirds around. And the Torrent Tyrannulet  sports the classy black-and-white look.

Long-tailed Silky Flycatcher Savegre Hotel Costa Rica

Long-tailed Silky-Flycatcher

There’s a great spot for some geri-birding right next to the Savegre Hotel known as Melvin’s Garden. Melvin is apparently a guide for hire at Savegre. And he’s set up a great spot for up-close views of the birds of the valley. There’s an admission fee, paid on the honor system. And it’s worth it. The Silver-throated Tanager shot at the top of this post was taken while casually sitting on a chair at Melvin’s Garden. Same for the Flame-colored Tanager above, and the Blue-Gray Tanager, Yellow-thighed Finch, and Lesser Violetear below. 

In addition to all the feeders in Melvin’s Garden, there are trails winding through the property, an apple orchard famous for the Golden-browed Chlorosphingus, and you can bird the roadside and the river. Or just sit in front of your cabin. One day on returning from a hike, a Ruddy-capped Nightingale-Thursh was hopping along the sidewalk in front of our cabin.

Yellow-thighed Finch Savegre Hotel Costa Rica

Yellow-thighed Finch rockin’ ridiculous puffy legwarmers

Lesser Violetear Savegre Hotel Costa Rica

Lesser Violetear

There are several different lodging options in the Savegre River Valley. I can’t speak for the rest – the grounds on and around all of them are undoubtedly great for birding. But I’d go back to Savegre Hotel in a hot minute. The cabins were comfy, the breakfast was plentiful and delicious, and it was the birdiest (and birder-iest) hotel I’ve ever visited.

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