Whole Life Magazine

June/July 2019

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June/July 2019 7 city of angels P eople come to the Santa Monica Mountains to be with nature, to get away from the concrete jungle of Los Angeles. They know wildlife lives here, too, that squirrels will be their neighbors, and that coyote & owls will call out in the night. But there are many critters that are rarely seen. Sometimes it's because they are nocturnal. Other times it's because of dwindling population from loss of habitat or from poisonous rodenticides. Some animals simply avoid humans altogether and live in the less populated parts of the mountains. Then, there are those we can't see because they are camouflaged. You can be looking right at them and not even know it. So it is with "Invisible Birds." Invisible birds are rarely seen — how do you know they are there? Why, by their calls. The Virginia Rail (Rallus limicola) and the Sora Rail (Porzana carolina) are marsh birds found at the Malibu Lagoon. "Thin as a rail," the Virginia Rail has a compressed body, an interesting survival adaptation by this elusive wetland bird, that makes it difficult to see them as they slip through the marsh tule reeds. The Virginia Rail prefers to evade intruders by running through marsh vegetation where it is safe rather than flying away. When it does fly, it only flies a few yards before disappearing again, once more invisible in the marsh. The Virginia Rail's Latin species name, "limicola," means "mud dweller." True to their name, Virginia Rails usually nest in muddy areas in shallow fresh-water marshes with new growth, rather than salt-water marshes. The Sora Rail (Porzana carolina), also found in the Malibu Lagoon, is a small, secretive bird. It's wonderful, musical "whinny call" ("sor-AH" "sor-AH") can be easily heard from deep within the tule reeds but trying to see the little bird is a different matter as it is well camouflaged in the reeds. Another invisible bird is the Common Poorwill (Phalaenop- tilus nuttallii). The Common Poorwill is not a rail, nor is it a marsh bird. They are nightjars of the arid West, the smallest members of their family. They prefer the dry grassy Malibu canyons like Zuma and Trancas Canyons. Their cry of "poorwill" is familiar to residents there. It requires keen perception to see them, as they look just like dirt and twigs. Great camouflage! So, they don't run from humans if you happen to approach; they assume you can't see them. Watch them evade humans at nighttime. Along with hawks, owls, and coyote, the calls of these birds join in the magical symphony of the Santa Monica Mountains. Whether seen or unseen, bird calls give us an unmistakable sense of place. You don't have to see the invisible birds of Malibu to know where you are.... It is all in their song! A symphony is going on where you live, too. Take a moment to stop to listen and enjoy each member of the orchestra. What's playing in your backyard? By Kathy Vilim Invisible Birds of Malibu CALLS OF THE WILD Photos: Virginia Rail by Geoff Malosh/VIREO; Sora Rail by Glenn Bartley/VIREO; Common Poorwill by Rick & Nora Bowers/VIREO Clockwise from above: Virginia Rail; Common Poorwill; Sora Rail.

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