At dawn today in Hollywood I heard a familiar voice outside, reminding me to blog the story of what I saw in the Del Rey Hills yesterday, mid-afternoon. The Del Rey hills are the bluffs that rise above the Ballona Wetlands in west L.A., south of Marina del Rey. They have been continuously inhabited for thousands of years, but never so densely as now. They are also home to a pair of ravens – possibly the ones whose nest still sits on the side of the Airport Marina hotel, or whose nest is the one on the Pepperdine building on Sepulveda that was destroyed last week by window cleaners.
Hawks and ravens were sacred beings to the people who lived on the Del Rey Hills before the Europeans came to change things. In spite of the drastic and destructive change that they brought, the ravens and hawks still fly above the bluffs. So do hordes of crows. Lincoln Blvd., the main northbound artery to Venice and Santa Monica, runs down the bluff past Loyola Marymount University and on to the wetlands and the mercenary real estate development known as Playa del Rey (it is so mercenary that it destroyed and desecrated native remains in order to build a baseball diamond on top of a key archaeological site, a fitting monument to five centuries of genocide).
At the entrance to the university, above the wetlands, several fan palms stand as decorative elements. Yesterday at 2:30 or so, on a clear, sunny day, dry and breezy, a single red-tailed hawk had perched on one of the broad fans. I’d never have notice except that the air above the palm was filled with a circus of two dozen or so crows intent on dislodging the raptor. They might as well have been tiny gnats. The hawk was quietly ignoring them. But as I drew close I noticed that two of the crows were awfully large…
The two local ravens had joined in the mob, and seemed to be having a go at the hawk, except that the crows would dive at the ravens as well. I pulled into the LMU driveway to watch. The ravens broke away to fly tandem along and above the top of LMU’s University Hall (a long, large building built into the bluff to maintain the shape of the land). A crow or two pursued them to little effect as the ravens engaged in fine displays of the aerial manoevres that keep them safe from their foes, flipping in mid-flight to meet a diving bird with beak and talon. Then they flew back into the mob, which was slowly dispersing, having failed to disturb the hawk in any way. One moment a crow would swoop on a raven, the next moment a raven would be chasing a crow. The demeanor of the ravens the whole time seemed calm and nonchalant, as though the crow circus were just a divertissement. Finally the last crows and the two ravens disappeared over the bluff to the west. The hawk remained on its fan palm leaf, calmly observing the wetlands below, as though wholly unconcerned that vast tracts of its remaining habitat had been turned into housing during its own lifetime.
But in spite of the development still underway in the Los Angeles basin, the bird news is not all bad. A condor was seen in Topanga Canyon this year. Gnatcatchers have returned to Palos Verdes, and it may not be long before Bald Eagles are seen once again in the skies above the City of Angels.