"There's a raven," one birder calls out early into our walk. We've been here almost twenty minutes, but we've barely made it out of the parking lot, because there's already so much to see.
"No, that's a crow," corrects another. "Ravens have the diamond-shaped tail."
Already, I've learned something: the difference between a crow and a raven. Nevermore will I mistake the two.
As the monthly Audubon Society bird walk moves deeper into O'Melveny Park, the number of species sightings mounts, as do the number of arguments, but these are quickly settled by the group's leader, Carolyn Oppenheimer.
"A Goldfinch! Lawrence's!" exclaims an excited man, pointing to a tree just off the pathway.
"No, that's a Lesser Goldfinch," Oppenheimer corrects, staring into her scope. "You have to be careful with the Lesser."
Everyone carries binoculars and a small notepad, jotting down species they've seen. A birding newbie, I'd always assumed all one could see in Granada Hills were brown sparrows, black crows, grey doves, and the occasional hummingbird. Boy, was I wrong. Today, my eyes have been opened. By the end of our trek, we'll have spied 30 different species of birds.
I've been to this park countless times, but it's never occurred to me to count birds. Of course several look the same to my untrained eyes —to me, a hummingbird is a hummingbird, and I can't tell an Anna's from an Allen's, but this groups knowledge and devotion are, to me, even more fun to watch than the winged creatures we're ostensibly here to observe.
Every few paces, fingers point, binoculars are raised, and excited voices call out a series of tickling names: "A Thrasher!" "A Nuthatch!" "A Bushtit!" We see a red-breasted Robin, and a vivid, two-toned Bluebird also wins raves from the group. How could I have failed to notice all of this before? Suddenly, I feel like Snow White, surrounded by enchanting woodland creatures, all here to add a level of beauty to the scene that borders on Disney-cartoon ridiculous. And of course, the birds are singing.
The San Fernando Valley Audubon Society hosts these midweek walks on a monthly basis in O'Melveny Park, and some attendees have come from as far away as Malibu to participate. I knew that Granada Hills residents often trekked to Malibu, but I had no idea anyone from there would have reason to come here. Then again, my fond belief that O'Melveny Park is a secret hidden gem that existing only for GH townsfolk is surely misguided. There are hidden gems to find everywhere, free for the taking, if you only know where to look.
The San Fernando Valley Audubon Society offers free guided mid-week bird watching walks in O'Melveny Park in Granada Hills on the third Tuesday of every month. Bring binoculars if you have them, water and appropriate shoes. For more information, call Carolyn Oppenheimer at (818) 885-7493 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. The next walk is on Tuesday, May 17, 2011, 9:00 AM-12:00 PM.
Also, on May 21, the Audubon Society hosts a special event for children: The 2011 Children’s Bird-a-thon at Sepulveda Wildlife Reserve. Children can walk with an experienced birder, learn to identify birds, and help raise funds for Audubon Youth Activities such as educational field trips and school visits. For complete information click here or email email@example.com.