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

August 17, 2011|By Vic Leipzig and Lou Murray
(Courtesy Lou Murray )

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.

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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."

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