Flocking to the Basin


Muriel Kotin is a bird buff who wants to share with others the vast array of birds that fly in and out of Southern California each year.

Clad in jeans, sturdy hiking boots and a green vest with multiple pockets, she is off to see some of the 200 birds at the Sepulveda Basin Wildlife Area in Encino.

In one vest pocket is a book that identifies the species with color photos. Around her neck is a pair of binoculars, and on her head is a white hat decorated with numerous bird pins.

Even Kotin's white utility vehicle has stickers reading "I brake for birds" and "Caution: Sudden stops! We're bird watchers."

About a decade ago Kotin started bird-watching, and six years ago she began leading free group walks around the Valley as a volunteer with the San Fernando Valley Audubon Society.

On Saturday at 8:30 a.m. she will help conduct a 2 1/2-hour walk for beginners and children at the Sepulveda Basin Wildlife Area, and on Sunday at 8 a.m. Kotin will be among the volunteers to lead a four-hour advanced walk at Malibu Creek State Park near Calabasas.

Binoculars and a detailed list of birds will be included in the walks, and Kotin will bring along her book, a spotting scope and a large chart that illustrates some of the species more common to the area.

Ask her anything about local birds. She knows their mating habits, what they eat and how to tell similar-looking species apart.

In the Sepulveda Basin you'll find lots of turkey vultures, colorful ducks, mallards, song sparrows and double-crested cormorants.

It's an interesting place to go bird-watching since the area is surrounded by mountains, two busy freeways and large buildings on nearby Ventura Boulevard.

The large, white Sepulveda Dam wall is also nearby, but the 100-acre wildlife area is lush with large trees and an 11-acre lake.

On a recent walk in the scenic basin trail, a red-tailed hawk flew by, a mouse clutched in its talons.

"Looks like he took it to the cricket field for privacy while he dines," Kotin said.

A couple of colorful ducks with dark green heads floated in the lake, a black phoebe tried to catch a fly from a nearby branch and two swallows performed an air dance together.

"That's foreplay," Kotin said. "They glide up and down and in circles together during courtship."

Minutes later, a large blue heron glided across the lake, and white-crowned sparrows chirped loudly in the background.

The highlight of the winter season in the basin, Kotin said, was the spotting of a bald eagle Dec. 11.

"It's the first time in decades a bald eagle comes to these parts," she said. "It left about two weeks ago, but it was so exciting to have it here."

Golden eagles are often seen at Malibu Creek State Park, but bald eagles rarely make appearances.

Because there are more oak trees and chaparral at Malibu Creek than the hotter and sunnier Sepulveda Basin, different types of birds reside there.

For instance, the 7,000-acre park is infested with acorn woodpeckers, phainopeplas and white-breasted nuthatches.

It's also a more scenic place to go bird-watching because there are hidden waterfalls, sheer rocky cliffs, stream-side forests and oak woodlands. You really get the illusion that you're in the wilderness and away from nearby hectic city life.

"In the Sepulveda Basin, the best time to see birds in large numbers is October through March," Kotin said. "But at Malibu Creek Park, you can see them in large numbers year-round."

Besides a couple of places in Orange County, the best place to see a variety of birds is in the Valley, say officials at the San Fernando Valley Audubon Society.

The group also conducts tours at Descanso Gardens in La Canada Flintridge and the Chatsworth Reservoir.

"But the Sepulveda Basin and Malibu Creek State Park are definitely two of the best places in Southern California," Kotin said.

She should know. After all, birds are a big part of her life.


* Send Jaunts ideas with at least two weeks' notice to staff writer Irene Garcia at The Times, 20000 Prairie St., Chatsworth, CA 91311. Or send e-mail to Irene.Garcia@latimes.com


Bird walks--See more than 200 kinds of birds on two walks by the San Fernando Valley Audubon Society. Saturday's beginner-family walk starts at 8:30 a.m. at the Sepulveda Basin Wildlife Area. An advanced walk will be held Sunday at 8 a.m. at Malibu Creek State Park near Calabasas. Both events are free. Information: (818) 783-4293.

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