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Valley Life | Jaunts

Looking and Listening

Leader of bird-watching walks emphasizes vocal aspects of the search.


Steve Botts, a volunteer docent who leads bird-watching walks at the Franklin Canyon Park, does much of his bird-watching with his eyes closed.

His reasoning: "Birds are vocal. You can hear all of their activities--hunting, breeding, learning how to hunt, even the great seasonal migratory flights passing overhead."

Another reason is that his specialty is walks at sunset--a time when birds are particularly active.

During his "very slow amble over the level part of the park around the lake," it gets dark. In the darkness, he says, your ears replace your binoculars.

"Once you have learned to identify a few of the various birds' calls, you can close your eyes and experience nature beyond your normal senses, in three dimensions, as far as sounds carry."

In other words, your senses quickly adapt as dusk fades to darkness. It's something people seldom experience, in this electric-light-saturated era, Botts notes.

It's typical this time of year, during the daylight portion of Botts' walk, to see winter ducks land on the lake. "The ducks we see are right off a duck stamp," Botts says, "and they come in so close you can hear their wings whistle."

Later on, there is a good chance folks will see a great horned owl. Botts enjoys people's excitement when they see the owls, especially when told that these birds, which are as big as Thanksgiving turkeys, are fairly numerous in the Valley.

This is great stuff for kids, and Botts generally aims his commentaries at his youngest visitors. He cautions, however, that in his experience, children younger than 8 cannot sustain interest in a sunset event of this sort.

He also advises that "this is not a Sierra Club 'trek.' We just go about a mile an hour with many stops for about an hour and a half."

If those in the group are really gung-ho and there happen to be lots of birds out, they could be out for three hours.

Dress warmly, wear good shoes and take a flashlight, even though you won't need it much after your eyes adjust to the darkness.

"Everything you see on a KCET nature show we get right here in the park at night," Botts says.


"Evening Birds," William O. Douglas Outdoor Classroom's docent-led casual sunset stroll (beginning bird-watchers welcome), Saturday, 4 to about 6 p.m.; meet at Sooky Goldman Nature Center/Upper Franklin Canyon Park (from the Valley, take Coldwater Canyon Avenue to Mulholland Drive; immediately past Mulholland, take a right onto Franklin Canyon Drive and go half a mile to park entrance). Free, binoculars optional, information (310) 858-7272, Ext. 131.

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