Natural Perspectives: Birding in Big Bear more fun than a barrel of monkeyflowers

Vic led a birding trip to Big Bear Lake recently for his senior citizen class in bird watching. I was more than happy to go with him because I love the San Bernardino Mountains.

We drove up State Route 38 on a beautiful Friday morning, meeting the group at the Oaks Restaurant in Angelus Oaks for an early lunch. If you've never explored the dirt roads around the Angelus Oaks area, you're missing out on a treat. We took a sharp left off the highway at the first pullout beyond the Oaks Restaurant and bounced down the steep grade of Middle Control Road.

A beautiful little waterfall a short way down the road offered views of columbine and seep monkeyflower. At the bottom of the road, we came to the mighty Santa Ana River. Only it isn't so mighty up there. The river looks like a creek, running naturally over granite boulders under white alder trees. With sunshine dappling the rippling blue water, it was a sight to behold.

I happily photographed the creek while Vic and his class picked up Western wood-pewee, ash-throated flycatcher, black-headed grosbeak and other birds of the mountains.

Our next stop was 7 Oaks Mountain Cabins farther down the river. Or was it up the river? I have no sense of direction and could get lost finding my way out of an open paper bag.

The day was beginning to heat up, so I led the group in a foray on the resort's ice cream cooler. It had been ages since I had eaten a Fudgsicle, a treat remembered from my childhood. Oh, and when I say "resort," I mean bait shop and convenience store for campers. I wouldn't want you picturing the Hotel del Coronado. The 7 Oaks resort is mostly campsites and a few cabins where fishermen and their families hang out to enjoy the river and environs.

We meandered up State Route 38, stopping at several locations to look for birds. Vic was happy to pick up Townsend's solitaire, band-tailed pigeon, and other species. The highest elevation of our trip was the 8,443-foot-high Onyx Summit, where the group found Western bluebirds and pygmy nuthatches.

The late Friday afternoon traffic getting through Big Bear City and into the community of Big Bear Lake was horrendous, as usual. I think Big Bear is an old Native American phrase meaning "you can't go faster than 5 mph because of all the other cars."

Vic and I had reservations at Oak Knoll Lodge, a rustic but beautiful 1920s-style resort tucked into the woods outside Big Bear Lake. This was our first time staying there, and I fell in love with their little cabins. The interior paneling was wide slabs of pine cut from only the outside of the trees so that the wall surface was lumpy and bumpy and quite tree-like. Our cabin had a fireplace and full kitchen, plus a charcoal grill outside and a private porch.

The lodge also featured a large fire ring for roasting marshmallows in the evening. A pool and a children's playground with a large playhouse completed the amenities. Colorful wildflowers and favorite flowers from English gardens speckled flower beds all over the grounds. You can see photos of Oak Knoll Lodge, plus my other photos from the trip, at my blog at

The group had a nice Mexican dinner at Azteca Grill, then met early the next morning at dark for another day of birding.

Vic led us up Mill Creek Road to a lovely meadow where we saw masses of corn lilies and other wildflowers. After the heavy rains that Big Bear had last winter, the summer wildflowers were spectacular. Scarlet bugler was in brilliant bloom, along with lemon lilies, purple asters, paintbrush, white yarrow and a host of other wildflowers.

The target location for the morning was Bluff Lake, which is managed by the Wildlands Conservancy. After a short walk up a trail, we reached the gorgeous little lake. Masses of pond damselflies called Northern bluets turned the surface of the lake a swirling blue. Everywhere you looked, pairs of bluets were mating. Then the females repeatedly dipped down into the lake to lay their eggs.

Vic's group was excited by good looks at Williamson's sapsuckers, as well as red-breasted sapsuckers, green-tailed towhees, purple finches and a brown creeper.

The birders disbanded about 1 p.m., and Vic and I returned to the lodge to relax. We had a fabulous dinner at the Peppercorn Grille in Big Bear Lake. The next morning, we did some scouting for future trips, then had a late morning brunch at the Mill Creek Manor Tea Room. They have a rack of ladies' hats at the door so the ladies can be elegantly chapeauxed while having their tea. I picked one out with a big flower on the front. I can't say that it went well with my jeans and T-shirt, but I didn't care. I was happy.

We decided to leave the area a bit early to avoid the heavy traffic that develops later on Sunday. Consequently, our drive home was hassle-free.

If you're interested in taking one of Vic's birding classes for adults or going on one of his fee-based field trips, send him an email at

Vic wants me to mention a Bolsa Chica science symposium that he and Dave Carlberg are planning. The event, to be presented at the Grace Lutheran School at 5172 McFadden Ave. from 1 to 5 p.m. Aug. 27, will be free and open to the public. Scientists who have been conducting research and monitoring projects at the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve will present the results of their ongoing studies.

VIC LEIPZIG and LOU MURRAY are Huntington Beach residents and environmentalists. They can be reached at

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