(all photographs © Steve Wolfe)
Most botanic gardens aren’t known for the birds they attract; since their main focus is “botanic”, as in “botany”, people come to visit for the plants, trees and flowers to be found there. The South Coast Botanic Garden, on the Palos Verdes Peninsula in coastal Los Angeles, California, is no exception. Built on a former landfill, its 87 acres has more than 2,500 different species of plants, and the Garden plays host to weddings, plant sales, and other events one associates with botanic gardens. But as you can imagine, with its wealth of flora, especially when in bloom, it attracts its fair share of birds — and the occasional rarity can be found there, too.
The garden is especially known for its Anna’s and Allen’s hummingbirds, who feed on the nectar of Mexican bush sage (salvia leucantha), Purple Bottlebrush — or flowering cherry blossoms.
And both Anna’s and Allen’s are “residents” of the peninsula, so you’ll see them here year-round.
Other birds who live in the vicinity of the Garden are Red-shouldered Hawks of the “elegans” subspecies that are seen only in California, and their rising, whistled “kee-rah” calls can often be heard at the Garden.
The wide variety of trees and plants, from cactus to pines, means that birds flying through the area might find a habitat that reminds them of “home”, and stay awhile; in late May 2007, I “discovered” a first-summer Mississippi Kite, only the 6th recorded sighting in Los Angeles County, that favored a “she-oak” tree, native to Australia but also found in the southeastern US, its usual range.
It entertained birders and visitors for 9 days, catching insects on-the-wing, until it disappeared as mysteriously as it had arrived.
A Thick-billed Kingbird, a bird usually seen only in SE Arizona, visited the Garden for a few months in winter 2008-2009, and was the only TBK listed on the nationwide Christmas Bird Count of 2008.
In 2012 a female Summer Tanager and a male Scott’s Oriole, both rarely seen in southern California, were spotted in the same tree at the Garden, next to one another.
Nesting birds have been thought to be discouraged by the release of gases from the landfill underneath, but I’ve seen Downy Woodpeckers nesting in the stalk of a “century plant”, an Allen’s hummingbird nest in a Bottlebrush tree, and Common Yellowthroats picking up insects for nestlings. On any given day at the Garden you can see birds from the resident Northern Mockingbirds and Black Phoebes to Red-breasted Nuthatches in the pines at Hidden Meadow. So the South Coast Botanic Garden in Palos Verdes is definitely worth your time to check out for the possible birds to be found there. The Botanic Garden — it’s not just for plants anymore.