Friday 1 July 2011

Angeles Crest Highway, Los Angeles, LAX

Regular readers will have noticed that I am prone to getting mixed up in all manner of unfortunate events and misadventures. This week, for the third time this year, my wanderings were disrupted by mountain fires. Little did I know it (or feel it) at the time, but I had actually been very lucky in visiting at a time when the mountain road was fully open.

The ‘Station Fire’ burned for more than 7 weeks back in 2009, resulting in the death of two fire-fighters and the loss of over 160,000 acres of National Forest in the San Gabriel Mountains. Such is the financial muddle of the state’s government, that money and resources were slow in being allocated to aid the recovery of the infrastructure and the Angeles Crest Highway was closed indefinitely. It had only been open for 3 months following storms and landslides that had affected it for the preceding four and a half years. Just 3 weeks ago, it reopened again, but some of the side-roads, trails, picnic areas and campsites remained closed. Works are still ongoing as road collapse and landslides are a permanent feature of the highway.

Not knowing any of this history, I started along the Angeles Crest Highway from its junction with Highway 210, just north-west of Pasadena. Just beyond the suburbs, a Coyote was attacking a Mourning Doves’ nest. It had killed one squab and was chasing one of the parent birds along the side of the road. The adult was either already hurt in the attack or was feigning injury to distract the coyote from the rest of its brood.

The effects of the fire were still visible on the lower slopes, but higher up in the tree zone, it became very apparent. My first planned stop had been at the Switzer Picnic area, which was barred and I was worried that my Arizona experiences would be repeated all over again. The trail leading to the west fork of the San Gabriel River was open though and I was able to start looking for some birds. The trail starts at the Red Box Ranger Station and leads downhill from the parking lot there. This canyon had escaped the ravages of the fire and the scrub and mature trees held plenty of birds. First was a Bewick’s Wren that responded well to a ‘pish’.

Further down the slope, Oak Titmice, Black Phoebe and Western Wood-pewee were seen. Spotted Owl are said to breed at the bottom of the canyon, but I was not able to find any. In a small meadow, Ash-throated Flycatchers hawked from a dead tree while Orange-crowned Warblers fed in a low bush.

Charlton Flat Picnic area is another recommended site that was closed and when I arrived at Chilao Visitor Center to find that this too was shut, I became rather disgruntled and dispirited. Rangers from the Visitor Center maintained feeders that attracted Mountain Quail, which would have made for an easy lifer if the place had not been abandoned. Western Scrub-jays were common and my spirits were raised momentarily by a White-headed Woodpecker.

A small road leads from the Visitor Center back past the closed Chilao campgrounds to the highway and gave me the opportunity to drive slowly and enjoy a bit of the scenery. Birds along here included Mountain Chickadee, Dark-eyed Junco, and Acorn Woodpecker. An old forestry hut near the Visitor Center shows what happens if you build your home in Acorn Woodpecker country.

My next stop was to be Buckhorn Campground where I had a slim chance of finding an American Dipper. The way was barred again, but on this occasion, I understand that work is being carried out to upgrade the site. Nevertheless, I could not gain access and had to overshoot. I was cursing my luck by now and decided to head on to Wrightwood for lunch. Fortified and willing myself into a better mood, I began the return journey by dropping in at Grassy Hollow Visitor Center.

The center was open and the feeders here were filled. White-breasted Nuthatches and Steller’s Jays were seen here and in the surrounding areas, Violet-green Swallows swooped across an open area and through the trees. Pygmy Nuthatches fed in the conifers and Western Bluebirds fed hungry chicks. Suddenly it was as though the troubles in the mountains had melted away. Sure enough as I travelled back downhill, the campgrounds and picnic areas were opening. People were moving in, putting up their tents and all was well with the world.

I returned to The Chilao complex where the network of roads behind the now open campgrounds brought a California Quail and some more Western Scrub-jays. It also caused me an ID dilemma in that the hummingbird that was displaying by flying J shapes should have been a Rufous Hummingbird, but when it perched, I would swear it was an Allen’s Hummingbird. I was in a better mood now and decided to take both.

The Charlton Flats Picnic area was open on the return leg and a Western Tanager greeted me as I stopped for a look here. Mountain Chickadees and a Spotted Towhee came out to be added to the list. It occurred to me then that next weekend will be the Fourth of July celebrations and the Forest Service had probably been using whatever resources they could muster to get as many facilities open as possible for what will probably be a very busy holiday weekend. Please, just please, be sensible with your fires and don’t use fireworks in the forest! It's only been open for 3 weeks!

I stopped by chance at a pull in to scan a mountainside that had a look about it. I felt that if I were a bear in the forest around here, that would be the mountainside that I would choose to be on. Actually, there were no bears, but there was a small flock of Purple Finch. What have I been doing all my life that I get a red tick for a Purple Finch I wonder.

To stop and park in any forest facility or pull in requires an ‘Adventure Pass.’ This can be purchased online or at a store near you. In Long Beach for example, they can be bought for $5 from the Big 5 store. If it is not possible to get one in advance, a ranger can issue one, but cannot take money. You are obliged, under pain of criminal record, to send a money order. It is easier to get it in advance, just in case.
If you leave Long Beach at 05.00, you can reach the lower slopes of the Angeles Crest Highway by 06.00. Stopping a couple of times on the way up and a couple more on the return can easily use up a day and Wrightwood is well positioned for a lunch stop. There are plenty of toilet facilities available, but no provisions for food. Water may be available at open visitor centres.

Birds seen; 33

California Quail 1, Band-tailed Pigeon 20, Mourning Dove 4, Rufous Hummingbird 1, Allen’s Hummingbird 3, Acorn Woodpecker 5, White-headed Woodpecker 1, Western Wood-pewee 3, Black Phoebe 14, Ash-throated Flycatcher 2, Violet-green Swallow 15, Bewick’s Wren 3, Northern House Wren 1, Western Bluebird 25, Mountain Bluebird 3, Bushtit 3, Mountain Chickadee 6, Oak Titmouse 8, Pygmy Nuthatch 4, White-breasted Nuthatch 8, Steller’s Jay 5, Western Scrub-jay 12, Common Raven 35, House Sparrow 6, Purple Finch 6, Lawrence’s Goldfinch 15, Orange-crowned Warbler 3, Western Tanager 2, Spotted Towhee 1, California Towhee 1, Chipping Sparrow 1, Dark-eyed Junco 4, Black-headed Grosbeak 1

For other posts from the Los Angeles area, use the links below;

Visit the dedicated USA and Canada page for other posts in the region

Angeles Crest Highway, Los Angeles, LAX

No comments:

Post a Comment