ON-RAMP : Freeway Fauna

It's 5 o'clock on a Sunday morning, still dark. I pass two accidents as I head north on the 405 with Bill Vaughan, a consulting biologist. Our goal? To see how much wildlife we can spot from the L.A. freeway system.

It's still dark 40 minutes later as we breach the Sepulveda Pass, spot two moths, pass another accident, get on the 101 east. Things pick up: We sight two pigeons.

It starts to get light as we continue east on the 101 to the 134 and the 210. At 6:10 we spot a crow, at 6:13 another one. At 6:15 we spot a sea gull, then three more. It's dawn as we near the intersection of the 210 and the 10. We see eight starlings; four more; two more. Then Vaughan calls out: "Two red-tailed hawks!"

Having missed the red-tails, I circle back. Then . . . "A mating!" Vaughan yells. The pair are balanced on a power line; we watch the male dismount. It's too much for me and I get lost. We pass two more accidents. Heading west on the 10, we spot another red-tail on a freeway lamp.

Vaughan spots a road kill (possibly a cat), another road kill (possibly a coyote) and another accident. We're approaching the 710 when we suddenly drive under a "river" of sea gulls--140, Vaughan estimates.

We continue through Downtown, to the 110 south, to the 105 west (150 miles in all), counting as we go.

Our final tally: 156 gulls, 45 pigeons, eight mourning doves, six ravens, 33 crows, 52 starlings, 42 unidentifieds, two road kills, a kestrel, five red-tailed hawks and seven accidents. "It's a zoo out there," says Vaughan. Absolutely.

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