Just about every Sunday during the COVID-19 “quarantine” (it hasn’t ever been anything close to a lock-down here in Los Angeles — there’s been enough compliance to eliminate the traffic but not enough to stop the steady spread of the virus), our family has found a pleasant place to take a walk away from the other humans. Early, it was in the direction of Malibu, but the crowds on the opened trails there recently are too much for comfort, pandemic or not. So this Sunday (on Day #80 since we stopped regularly participating in social society) we ventured to the bluffs of Palos Verdes.
Specifically, we headed to White Point Nature Preserve. It’s the site of a couple former Army gun batteries, reachable by a short walk up the slope from the parking lot. If you bring a couple of camping chairs, and the view is clear, you can sit in the shade, eat some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and read a book with a direct view of Catalina Island – which is exactly what we did.
For birders, the attraction here is the coastal sage scrub habitat and a resident population of California Gnatcatchers. The California Gnatcatcher wasn’t its own species until it was split from Black-tailed Gnatcatcher in 1989. Its range is quite limited – the bulk of the population lives in Baja California, Mexico. It only occurs in the United States in southern California. Unlike the migratory Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, which takes to all sorts of habitat, California Gnatcatchers only tolerate sage scrub. Since that habitat shrinks with every passing year, it’s a population in decline. Estimates put the California population at somewhere around 1,300 breeding pairs. It’s categorized as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act (so leave your Audubon Hunting Rifle at home for this trip).
We didn’t hear or see any California Gnatcatchers as we walked through the nature garden around the visitor’s center (they’re often found there), but as we sat and rested at the gun battery, I heard a repeated buzzing and a distinctive mew coming from the bushes. As is typical with these birds, the mewing came from deep inside. Occasionally I’d see a bird moving about, though never offering a clear view. But as with the Rose-breasted Grosbeak the other day, I had patience on my side. Over 15 minutes, I got several good looks at both a female and a male California Gnatcatcher. The male was even kind enough to perch up and mew just long enough for me to get some good shots.
I hadn’t seen a California Gnatcatcher in a few years, and didn’t have a nice picture of a male, so this family walk earned a couple of bonus points.
California Gnatcatcher, Palos Verdes, May 2020