You're out on the trail, binoculars in hand. The air is still and you scan the trees, looking for the slightest movement. Then you see it, the white-tailed kite, a hawk so-named for its hovering kite-like flight.
Who says bird-watching doesn't have its thrilling moments? You don't have to know a hawk from a hyena to join in several bird-watching outings scheduled in and around Ventura County this weekend.
And, as winter approaches, now is the time to go because migrating birds have begun their annual treks. From points north, they might drop in and laze around here for the winter, or stop off for a rest before moving on.
"This is the time to see them, after the first rain when it's cooled down," said Mal Cohen, a member of Malibu Creek Docents and a guide for bird-watch outings in Malibu Creek State Park, near Agoura Hills.
A birder for eight years, Cohen leads walks in the park each month from September to June. She is leading one there Saturday at 8 a.m.
"It's a wonderful place" for bird-watching, she said. Her group walks to Malibu Creek, crossing over the bridge, and then to a rock pool. It's about 1.5 miles total.
Beginners are welcome. They should bring a pair of binoculars, and eventually, if they get hooked on bird-watching, they'll need a bird book.
At the park, they might see crows, jays, kingfishers, woodpeckers, ducks, and just maybe, some Canada geese. "It's a treat to see one of those in the park," she said.
Despite the 180 bird species that have been sighted in the park, the bird population is declining, according to Cohen who attributes it to the use the park gets.
"We're not seeing as many varieties of birds as we used to," she said.
Apparently, it's the same story in other places. The National Audubon Society announced last month that 90 bird species--14% of all American breeding bird species--are in decline or in danger of losing their habitats. The group has compiled a watch list, and of the 90 species listed, 27 are seen in this area.
Ironically, this drop coincides with a "marked increase" the last six years in the number of people who enjoy bird-watching, according to John Bianchi, spokesman for the National Audubon Society whose members number about half a million.
Local birders have several Audubon Society chapters to pick from in Ventura County and the surrounding area, as well as bird outings offered monthly through various recreation departments and districts.
Birders who want to scan the sky, treetops and brush in Thousand Oaks' Wildwood Park can join naturalist Sharon Hardee for an outing Saturday at 8 a.m. The program, sponsored by the Conejo Recreation and Park District, costs $3.
Hardee leads the group on about a two-mile walk, so it's recommended that participants be at least 8 years old. She gives them a few tips, like keeping their eyes focused on a bird while they raise the binoculars up to their eyes, rather than looking down to grasp them. Experienced birders will spot a bird perched in a tree and tell others about it by giving a position according to the hour markings on a clock--sparrow at 2 o'clock.
She brings a spotting scope so that others can take a turn getting a close look at a bird perched in a tree. The group is likely to see hawks, brown towhees, sparrows, road runners, warblers, ducks and occasionally an egret.
"It's a real good time to see the birds," Hardee said. "We're on the Pacific flyway, and we get a lot of migrating birds."
In Ventura, naturalist Susan Williams leads bird-watching outings at an unlikely spot: the grounds of the city's sewage treatment complex near Ventura Harbor. She is directing one Saturday at 9:30 a.m. The walk, sponsored by the city's recreation department, costs $3.
Although it sounds like an odd place to bird watch, the vast sanitation operation includes a wildlife refuge with three ponds that draw a big bird population. The ponds cover 34 acres, encircled by a dirt road, about a mile long. Fortunately, it's virtually odor-free.
Here are some bird-watch outings scheduled for Saturday:
* MALIBU CREEK STATE PARK, on Las Virgenes Road, south of Mulholland Highway, near Agoura Hills; 8 to 11 a.m., free, meet at lower parking lot; information (818) 889-5037.
* WILDWOOD PARK, off Avenida de los Arboles, Thousand Oaks; 8 to 10:30 a.m., $3 ($3.60 if out of district). Preregistration required, 381-2737.
* LAGOON at Ventura Harbor, off Spinnaker Drive, Ventura; 9:30 to 11 a.m., $3 (kids under 5 free), meet at Surfers Knoll parking lot on beach side of Spinnaker. Preregistration required, 658-4726.
* FYI: For information about local Audubon Society chapters, call: Conejo Valley, 484-1947; Ventura, 643-5825; San Fernando Valley, (818) 347-3205.