Osprey Spotting on the L.A. River

September 28, 2008 § 3 Comments

This afternoon I met up with a friend, Daniela, for a walk along the river. She’s actually a friend of a friend of my brother’s wife. She’s new in town and heard about my riparian proclivities and wanted to check out the mighty Los Angeles. Creek freak’s regular readers and I thank her for actually bringing a real camera. We met at the end of Dover Street in Atwater Village. We walked downstream along the concrete lip down by the river’s edge. The river was looking lush and green, with lots of ducks and coots, some cormorants, and occasional egrets and herons.

It was all very Los Angeles. We said “hola” to los tres fishermen, using tortillas as bait. Checked out carp they’d caught and stored in a small cooler. “Si, vamos a comer.” Further on, below the Sunnynook Footbridge, we went past about a dozen folks taking a break from a film shoot. We stepped over the camera rail tracks they’d set up and kept walking. Then we came across the osprey.

Just upstream of the Glendale Hyperion Viaduct, we spotted an osprey (sometimes called a fish hawk) circling above. We weren’t 100% sure it was an osprey – white under-bellied raptor with white shoulders turning to grays and blacks toward the outer part of its wings. A bit like this photo – though we weren’t anywhere near that close. Even though I’ve seen them here a few times, frankly, to my non-expert-birder eyes, they’re a bit similar to some sea-gulls. I know they’re really different, with very different behavior, but the size and color are slightly similar. (Creek freak probably just lost some credibility points with our birding readers right there.) Daniela and I discussed osprey anecdotes. She told me that when osprey grab a fish, they can’t let go until they reach solid ground, so sometimes they die trying to bring in too big a fish.

We crossed under the bridge, passed the Red Car River Park mural and Daniela spotted the osprey again. It was cruising out over the river, then took an abrupt turn plummeting downward. Into the water. Splash! and up with a small fish clenched in its talons. It was a fantastic sight! It was similar to this video. I told Daniela that of course this happens all the time on the L.A. River though I’ve seen osprey maybe a couple dozen times on the L.A. River (in the Glendale Narrows and in the Sepulveda Basin), and I knew that they were there for the fish, I’d never actually seen one dive and come up with a fish. A few years ago, I was leading a field trip for a group of Valley high school students in the Sepulveda Basin when I saw an osprey carrying a fish. Some of the students said they’d seen it catch the fish, but I missed it. Today was the first time I saw the pounce, the splash, and the getaway.

The rest of the walk was pleasant. No more dramatic birds of prey, though. We turned around at Brett Goldstone’s Water with Rocks gate at Fletcher Drive. We shared plums while we sat and talked for a while under the pleasant shade of tall cottonwoods and sycamores in North East Trees’ Atwater Riverwalk mini-park.

On my ride home, I spotted the osprey again, perched on an electrical wire that crosses the river just below Sunnynook. Now perched it looked a little different – mostly solid black, with a smallish head and a small white collar. I got off my bike, made my way below the pipe fence and sat on the sloped concrete wall and watched and waited. I was hoping it would take off so I could see it in flight and could confirm its osprey-ness… but he and I just sat.  After fifteen or twenty minutes, I began to get cold, so I mounted my bike and rode home. I checked online and the photos I saw here resembled what I’d seen in the field.

Sometimes I worry right before I’m about to show the river to someone new or to lead a walk along it. I think that maybe folks will be bored, or that they won’t see anything past the trash and concrete. More often than not, the river delivers something compelling… whether it’s a canvas on which we project our restoration dreams, a patch of flowers in bloom, a smiling family out for a bike ride, the sun illuminating a noble bridge, or just an osprey doing its job.

I can’t promise anything, but I recommend that you step away from the computer and take a walk along the stream in your neighborhood. Let me know how it goes.


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§ 3 Responses to Osprey Spotting on the L.A. River

  • Bruce says:

    I spotted the osprey about a month ago and have watched it several times since. You are right, they do look like a seagull in flight. You are so lucky to have seen it catch a fish. All I’ve seen it do is circle, or sit on a power pole. I ride the bike trail to work in Atwater from Burbank and love seeing all the herons, egrets etc. My favorites are the Redtail Hawks – but thrilled with the osprey too!

  • John says:

    I saw an osprey on the river today, just upstream of the Fletcher bridge. While perched, facing head-on, it has a white body and dark wings, a white head, small dark beak, and a dark “mask” of feathers over its eyes and the sides of its neck. It seemed to have a dark spot on the back of its head. I noticed a very faint collar around its neck, which I read is more typical in males, whereas females have a distinct, dark collar.

    In flight, it has unusually long wings (as compared to a red-tailed hawk, for instance) and the underside of the wings was fairly light colored. It reminds you of a seagull, but it definitely gives the impression of a hawk.

    It was on the west side of the river, in some trees, and then flew across to perch on one of the electrical towers. We watched each other for a few minutes before I got too close and it flew off across the Fletcher Drive bridge.

  • Jessica Hall says:

    I saw an osprey on the river last November, in the concrete reach north of Victory Blvd (I was on the Burbank side of the river). Impressive!

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