Hooded Oriole

June 2nd, 2019: A wedding weekend in Los Angeles…and some birds!

I was really happy to be heading to L.A. for my brother-in-law’s wedding. They would be doing a small wedding and the time around it gave me a chance to visit the Getty Museum, the Disney Concert Hall, The Broad (modern art museum), and do some birding and hiking in some arid Californian scrub.

Looking over the main garden at the Getty Center Museum
Looking over the main garden at the Getty Center Museum
Part of the beautiful Getty Museum courtyards
Part of the beautiful Getty Museum courtyards
More Getty garden
More Getty garden (I just like this picture)
The Disney Concert Hall in downtown L.A.
The Disney Concert Hall in downtown L.A.

Just going for some short walks in parks near where we were staying turned up some of the locals. I was happy to encounter California Towhee, Phainopepla, Band-tailed Pigeon, Oak Titmouse, and California Quail during just a short evening walk with the family at Wilacre Park. It’s a nice little park with a beautiful view of the surrounding area. It’s immediately south of North Hollywood and north of West Hollywood. Got that?

Some of the chaparral, walnut woodland, and coastal sage scrub that makes up much of the L.A. hills
Some of the chaparral, walnut woodland, and coastal sage scrub that makes up much of the L.A. hills
Satellite view of Wilacre Park
Satellite view of Wilacre Park

I came across three other modest targets in town in the next day or so: Lesser Goldfinch, Allen’s Hummingbird, and White-throated Swift. The latter flew right over the wedding ceremony on a restaurant rooftop downtown!

A restaurant rooftop in downtown L.A.: watch for White-throated Swifts (and weddings)
A restaurant rooftop in downtown L.A.: watch for White-throated Swifts (and weddings)

After the wedding, some of us stuck around to do some touristy things and I was excited to do some hikes around the Griffith Observatory (in the same hills with the Hollywood sign). Not knowing the area well, but looking at the habitat, I thought I’d check out the Griffith Park Bird Sanctuary. It wouldn’t look like much to most people. Someone even told me it wasn’t worth going when I was about 300 meters from it.

Fortunately, they were very wrong. It was a fantastic habitat of dry scrub and deadwoods, in a relatively wide and gently sloping canyon. I was with some family, so I couldn’t stay long, but I quickly found several highlights: 8 Acorn Woodpecker, Nuttall’s Woodpecker, a California Thrasher that actually perched up in the open and sang, more Phainopepla, California Scrub-Jay, Oak Titmouse, California Towhee, Black-headed Grosbeak, Lesser Goldfinch, and even a Hooded Oriole! My total list wasn’t big, but they were GREAT birds!

California Scrub-Jay
California Scrub-Jay

Acorn Woodpecker and Hooded Oriole were a lifers for me and it was great to see them in action! The Acorn Woodpeckers weren’t loading their larders, but it was exciting to see them socializing and chattering with each other in the way I read about.

The muted rusty browns of a California Towhee
The muted rusty browns of a California Towhee

Perhaps more exciting was the Hooded Oriole, which I wasn’t really expecting. I was also struck by the color, since I hadn’t known they could be so bright yellow in the southwest, when they’re typically flame orange in the interior. They’re superficially similar to Baltimore and Bullock’s Orioles, but they’re smaller, longer-tailed, and have a conspicuously decurved bill. I didn’t see any of their nests (which they sew into the underside of palm fronds).

Hooded Oriole (male); note the bright yellow typical of southwestern birds
Hooded Oriole (male); note the bright yellow typical of southwestern birds

I also remarked when I saw the bird that it had been roughly where I was looking for a little while. In other words, they’re surprisingly slow-moving and sneaky for a bright orange-yellow bird. If you’re looking for them, make sure you keep your eyes peeled and listen for their telltale chattering song which may include bits of other birdsong.

L.A. might be a big, crowded place, but stepping off the streets and into the hills will find you some good hikes…and great birds!

The view from high in Wilacre Park
The view from high in Wilacre Park

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