Birding for Gold

As I introduced in my previous Pasadena birding entry, my favorite local birding spot (so far, haven’t tried too many others yet), is Eaton Canyon. It lies just north of Pasadena, at the base of the San Gabriel Mountains. The mountains run along the San Gabriel Fault, and contain some surprisingly tall mountains including Mt. Baldy and Mt. Baden-Powell – both over 9,000 ft. Eaton Canyon is one of the many East-West canyons in the hills, and was originally named “El Precipicio” by the Spanish settlers because of its steep gorges. It is now named after Judge Benjamin Eaton, who built his ranch near Eaton Creek, which he used for irrigation. “El Precipicio,” aka Eaton Canyon, is a popular place for canyoneering – there’s a number of 40-60 ft waterfalls that have been carved out the granite canyon, forming a deep slot canyon of sorts. One of these days I’ll probably tackle that, but for now I’ve kept myself content with birding the lower reaches where it opens up into a broad rocky wash. Spaciously scattered about in the wash are a number of low bushes and shrubs, which makes finding a clear shot of the birds relatively easy (compared to tall trees or thick brush). Additionally, in the late afternoons around sunset, the sun lights up the San Gabriels a bright orange, which as you’ll see below has provided me with many nice gold backgrounds and reflected light.

A number of birds here seem to be consistent residents (so far), which I’ve seen in the same small patch I tend to prefer the last couple times I’ve been. These include the Black Phoebe and Say’s Phoebe, both flycatchers.


“Black Phoebe” ~ Eaton Canyon, CA.
The Tech: Canon 20D, 500mm f/4 L IS + 1.4x tc, monopod
Exposure: iso 400, f/5.6, 1/200th


“Say’s Phoebe” ~ Eaton Canyon, CA.
The Tech: Canon 20D, 500mm f/4 L IS + 1.4x tc, monopod
Exposure: iso 800, f/5.6, 1/200th

And trickling in for the winter are the warblers, of course, not nearly as impressive a collection of birds as the spring and fall migrations on the East coast, but it’s nice to have at least some of them here. Also the colors are more muted in the winter as opposed to the breeding colors they were wearing when they arrived in Ithaca in the spring. There have been a number of Yellow-Rumped Warblers around, some being surprisingly cooperative.


“Yellow-Rumped Warbler” ~ Eaton Canyon, CA.
The Tech: Canon 20D, 500mm f/4 L IS + 1.4x tc, monopod
Exposure: iso 1600, f/5.6, 1/125th

My most exciting counter so far happened just as I was about to head back to the car. The light was getting low and I hadn’t seen much around. Just then I saw something swoop in and land on one of the logs in the wash. Upon sneaking up I discovered it was a young Cooper’s Hawk – no wonder there hadn’t been much activity, they were all afraid of being eaten!


“Cooper’s Hawk” ~ Eaton Canyon, CA.
The Tech: Canon 20D, 500mm f/4 L IS + 1.4x tc, monopod
Exposure: iso 1600, f/5.6, 1/250th


“Cooper’s Hawk” ~ Eaton Canyon, CA.
The Tech: Canon 20D, 500mm f/4 L IS + 1.4x tc, monopod
Exposure: iso 1600, f/5.6, 1/200th

With guys like that around, it’s no wonder the wrens like to hide in their bushy forts..


“Bewick’s Wren” ~ Eaton Canyon, CA.
The Tech: Canon 20D, 500mm f/4 L IS + 1.4x tc, monopod
Exposure: iso 1600, f/5.6, 1/400th

I also made a trip further away from home to the San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary, a popular place among bird photographers (but about an hour away). I met up with another local bird photographer, who showed me around the place. As the evening light approached we stationed ourselves at one of the many ponds which were full of all sorts of bird life, including lots of Black-Necked Stilts wading in the liquid gold.


“Black-Necked Stilt” ~ San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary, CA.
The Tech: Canon 20D, 500mm f/4 L IS + 1.4x tc, tripod + ball head + wimberley sidekick
Exposure: iso 800, f/5.6, 1/200th


“Black-Necked Stilt” ~ San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary, CA.
The Tech: Canon 20D, 500mm f/4 L IS + 1.4x tc, tripod + ball head + wimberley sidekick
Exposure: iso 800, f/5.6, 1/250th

While many of you might be happy to finally see more birds, I’m sure some of you miss the mountains.. me too. Hopefully I’ll be able to get away for some more landscapes in the following months, but this year of grad school might be the hardest in terms of finding free weekends. But for you mountain lovers, here’s one from this summer you haven’t seen before: of Mt. Shuksan from Mt. Ann in the North Cascades. This was taken in mid August, and yes, the lake was still frozen over!


“Shuksan on Ice” ~ Mt. Shuksan, North Cascades, WA.
The Tech: Canon 5D, 17-40mm @ 24mm, tripod
Exposure: iso 100, f/14, 1/5th

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3 Responses to Birding for Gold

  1. morningjoy says:

    Your photos are absolutely stunning. Thank you for giving the metadata on each photo. It’s helpful for novices like me.

  2. Chrisss says:

    These photos are absolutely gorgeous. WOW! Thanks for sharing these lovely images. Have a geat weekend.

  3. David Donovan says:

    Spectacular photos, Floris. Just amazing. I could learn a lot from you.

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