Birding the Malaga Cove Drainage area
Adapted for the web from a Mitch Heindel
"Birding P.V." work in progress
Malaga Cove is near the junction
of the Palos Verdes Peninsula
and the "mainland", at the
northern tip of the
Palos Verdes (P.V) Peninsula.
and Cove Area
Map & Legend
It is one of the best areas|
on the peninsula for
birding, yet remains
It is pronounced variously
(with all soft "a's") as MAL-a-ga
(MAL rhymes with
all or Al),and ma-LOG-a,
depending on which
side of which P.V. Drive
you are from ...
I use the "AL" sounding,
one, but I'm a Pedro Boy
and we might say it like
that to irritate them :)!
Whilst its location is outstanding geographically
for attracting birds, it is remote from freeways by
'LA' standards, and therefore little birded. It has
one of the few permanent creeks on the peninsula,
and by comparison to many PV birding sites, has
much easy and excellent access to key birding sites.
trail east from church
lower Malaga Creek with willow riparian
You can scan the ocean and see many seabirds, or
work the creek drainage for landbirds. You can
easily spend an entire day in the area, there are
so many places to check. There are an impressive
number of rare bird records from the area, if
finding vagrants is your fancy.
In fall, when migrant birds are moving southward,
it is the first major treed area from Santa Monica
south along the coastal sea of concrete. In
spring, it is the last big patch of greenery before
the concrete jungle begins again. The sound of
moving water is very attractive to landbird
migrants, whichever way they are going.
There is open ocean and the nearshore submarine
Redondo Canyon just north of the cove, plus
rocky shore and sandy beach for marine species.
Most of the regular socal littoral sps. are here.
Then there is some coastal bluff scrub on the
cliff face, blending to highly fragmented coastal
sage scrub which extends inland along the creek.
Some willow riparian habitat exists along the creek.
It is all surrounded by an extensive urban forest
of exotics, with Eucalyptus (mostly Blue Gum) being
the predominate canopy.
The area is centered by the (3 PV's) intersection of
Palos Verdes Blvd. (coming from Redondo Beach),
Palos Verdes Drive North and P.V.Dr. West, which
run along the North and West sides of the P.V.
Peninsula, respectively. The Malaga Cove Plaza
has one of my favorite statues in the world, and
is just west of this intersection, on P.V. Dr. West.
For the sake of our birding tour, we'll assume
you are coming from the nearest Freeway (the 405
or San Diego Fwy.). Take Crenshaw or Hawthorne
exit south from the 405 and turn west (right) on
either Torrance or Sepulveda Blvd. Turn left
(south) in either case on Palos Verdes Blvd.,
and follow it towards the trees and the P.V.
Peninsula (that island-looking thing). There is no
gas available on this tour, so make sure you have
plenty before you head out to "the hill".
The first stop is the church on the right (west)
just after you enter the Euc forests of P.V..
Though there is parking on P.V. Blvd, I usually
turn right at the church entrance (via Rosa)
and follow it down behind the church. Park in
the furthest lot nearest the creek and willow trees.
looking downcreek from below "3 P.V's" intersection
There is a trail leading from the east end of
the parking lot which runs along the creek and
willows up to the "3 P.V.'s" intersection. This
area can be good for migrants. It also often has
nesting species like Pacific-slope Flycatcher,
Spotted Towhee, Hutton's Vireo, Downy Woodpecker,
Black-headed Grosbeak, Song Sparrow and Yellowthroat.
One May day I saw all four regular species of N.A.
Swifts here: Black, Chimney, Vaux's, and White-throated.
Once my wife and I found a Northern Parula here
singing in May. Hooded Orioles are usually present
spring to fall. You can also work your way along
the creek west below the lot a short way, and it
should be checked while you're here. P.V.'s first
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker was first found in the
Eucs between the creek and P.V. Blvd.. Check them
for migrants in season: Warblers, Vireos, etc.,
especially if you hear the tell-tale chips of a flock.
Next, return to P.V. Blvd., and turn right continuing
towards Malaga Cove Plaza in the right lane. The statue
(fountain) in the plaza is worth stopping at, especially
if the water is on. It actually looks to me to
be in much better condition than the 400+ year old
original in Italy where deterioration has
taken its toll. There is a somewhat esoteric market,
deli, and bakery (and phone) here also.
Continuing west, just past the plaza there is a
four-way Stop. Turn right here (via Corta) and
don't miss the seemingly un-needed Stop sign just
50 meters down the road. Via Corta becomes Almar
or Via Almar after the Stop sign. Stay on it
as it curves around and down past the school
(note Say's Phoebe on schoolgrounds to right Sept.-March)
to another stop. Turn right and proceed to the next
stop sign. Turn right again, and find a place
to park near the east end of the parking lot.
Technically, this is Malaga Cove, where P.V. meets
the mainland and the rocky shore of P.V. meets the
sandy beach of Torrance (locally called Rat Beach).
Though by most standards you could hardly call this
a cove, it is good birding. There is a platform
at the NE corner of the lot at cliff-edge which
is an excellent scoping spot. Willets, Godwits
(Marbled), Black-bellied Plovers and other shore-
birds will be visible on the sandy beach. There
is a paved path down to the water if you please.
"Sandy shore" shorebirds stack up here because it is
the last sand for while.
Loons, Cormorants, Grebes, Gulls and Terns will
be visible offshore fall to spring (fewest in
summer - many in winter of course). In fall when
a northerly pushes seabirds south they hit "the
hill" and have to turn out to sea to get around PV.
Assuming you've checked offshore from the overlook
where we parked, now let's head upcreek along the
willow riparian. This is the only natural creek
entering the Pacific Ocean from San Juan Creek in
Orange County to the south, to Malibu Creek far to
the north, a distance of some 60+ miles of coast.
You can actually walk down the path to the ocean
and have hermit crabs to your right and water
striders on your left! Remarkable! If Butterflies
are of interest, the bluffs above the sandy beach
have an estimated 10% of the world's population
of the endangered El Segundo Blue. Look but
DON'T TOUCH!!! Don't mess with them!!!
The deep canyon cut by the creek is obviously many
thousands of years of work. The city nearly removed
it to concrete it all for "flood control". Of course
a 50' deep canyon would seem to be pretty good
flood control to me. Fortunately, the outcry of
environmentalists and citizens who didn't want
their taxes spent that way stopped the project,
but only a day before bulldozing was to start,
and after emergency city council meetings.
There was a "crazy nut" who actually called a friend
of the mayor and told him he was going to buy the
locks and chains, and call the news services and
was on his way to lock himself to the bulldozers!
The "don't start" order went out less than 24 hrs.
before the dozers were to begin.
Another thing to ponder while here is that there
were several very large Native American settlements
here dating back 5-10,000 years! It was a very
important place to them. Surely the creek (freshwater)
was a critically important central component to them.
Heading east from the parking lot there is a trail
along the bluff and canyon edge, looking down into
the tops of the willow riparian in the canyon.
Warblers and other landbirds can be common in migration
periods along the creek. Sparrows can be in the brushy
fields. Usually Say's Phoebes winter on the school
grounds. I've seen Sora along the creek here too.
Northern Rough-winged Swallows nest in the eroded
embankments. Barn Owl used to nest here too.
In fact, California Gnatcatcher and Cactus Wrens
nested between the ocean and the "3PV's" until the
late 1970's. The church expansion removed the last
patches of Cholla and Prickly Pear cactus. Burrowing
Owl also was formerly resident here into the 70's.
I've only seen one CA Gnatcatcher here in the 1990's.
Our PV island isolated Bewick's Wrens nested here
into the early 1990's too, but seem to be gone now.
They are present further upcreek across P.V.Dr..
PV Cactus Wren
amongst a handfull of species lost
from the drainage in the last two decades
But this strip remains the best place I know of
locally to see the beautiful day-flying poisonous
Ctenuca moths, especially in May and June. Dayglo-
orange head and wing-veins on their metallic gunmetal
blue bodies and wings, they are simply stunning!
Work your way up the canyon edge along the trail
as far as you can, until you're past the church
parking lot, so you know you checked it all,
- about a third of a mile - and return.
Side trip note: Seabirds
The entire half-mile of shore west from here
on Paseo del Mar to Flat Rock Point can be astounding
on the right day in fall, and has many places to
scope from. The Redondo Cyn. is just offshore two miles
and you can often see the upwelling zone on the surface.
It attracts many seabirds, and Jaegers, Shearwaters,
even Storm-Petrels, and Alcids have been seen
from Paseo del Mar. Sometimes there are thousands
of Black-vented Shearwaters visible with Nov.-Feb.
the peak most years. The rocky shore below can have
Black and Ruddy Turnstones, Surfbird, and Wandering
Tattler, besides Whimbrel and Black-bellied Plover.
Brandt's and Pelagic Cormorants are often offshore,
and there is a large flock of Western Grebes that
winters here, with the largest concentrations of
Clark's I know of (100 is my high count) locally.
If there is a northerly blow and there don't seem
to be many birds, follow Paseo del Mar west to
Flat Rock Pt. (where the surfers park), and check
Bluff Cove from there. It can be carpeted with
birds when the northerlies blow them out of
the (over) exposed areas.
Flat Rock Pt. from
Bluff Cove parking lot
There is one last thing in this area that may be
of interest. You might have seen them by now.
Parakeets! The coral trees around the school
often attract them to nectar. The Yellow-chevroned
and a very few White-winged Parakeets (formerly
combined into Canary-winged Parakeet) nest here
in the Palms along Paseo del Mar, between the lot
and the Neighborhood Church, a quarter mile west.
They have done so since the 1970's, and are fast
approaching countable status by any standard.
Presuming you've scanned asea from along Paseo del Mar
(where I once saw a King Eider fly by in Nov.) to
Flat Rock Pt. (where there is a wide flat trail
down to the rocky shore if you like that - but it's
a long walk coming back up unless you're in good shape),
let's head back to Malaga Cove Plaza to do some more
landbirding. We've barely started. Retrace the
route back toward the plaza to the four-way stop
at via Corta and Palos Verdes Dr. West.
We might as well go to the best spot next, while
it's still early... where I often start first...
Turn left at the four-way stop onto P.V.Dr. West,
and go east to the far east entrance to the
Malaga Cove Plaza (Neptune's parking lot) and
turn right, then take the first immediate left
onto via Tejon which parallels P.V. Dr. West..
There is a short area of pines on the left which
can be worth a look, and then the commercial business
section turns to residential houses. Park down
near the end and note the 1 hour limit. Sometimes I
do the street and creek, come back and move the
car, and do the dune for another hour. I don't
know how sticky they are about it, but, PV has a
reputation for ticketing so I don't press my luck.
Don't speed and full stops are the order on PV!
The area on the north side of via Tejon is often
great for birds and walking the street can take
a half-hour or more when it's good. Townsend's
Warblers are a certainty in the winter, and many
birds are usually about. A Hammond's Flycatcher
and Black & White Warbler were here winter 2002-03.
The main areas though are from the trail leaving
from the east end of via Tejon at the turnaround.
Start up the trail, checking the dry canyon mouth
that opens up there, and just past the telephone
pole on the left (a very short distance) and the
pepper tree on the right is a trail going downhill
left to Malaga Creek. Hutton's Vireos are usally
in this area. Go down to the creek and check
the juicy area around the trail/creek junction.
Then cross it on the rocks (easy) moving upstream
In a short distance the creek makes a sharp "S"
curve. This is as far as we go here, but stop,
listen, and bird the area for a bit. A Red Fox
Sparrow has wintered here, besides the more regular
Sooty or Slate-colored types. The Eucs have had
Acorn and Nuttall's Woodpeckers (rare on PV) and
Yellow-shafted Flicker is nearly annual here.
There is usually a large warbler flock in the area
in winter (or in migration) coming to the water.
Varied Thrush can be present in the years they
make it this far south. Song Sparrow and Yellowthroat
are common. A Wilson's Warbler usually winters here
too. Hermit Thrushes are often in the Toyons.
Retrace your route up to the main trail and consider
if you've been parked an hour before going uphill,
since the next leg will take about an hour.
The dry canyon heading southeastish from the trail
is un-named but I call it Catalina Cherry Cyn., for
all of them present. In fall when the cherries are
ripe it can be loaded with birds. Follow the path
uphill from the telephone pole/pepper tree onto the
giant ancient sand dune. Keep your eyes on the many
snags for Olive-sided Flycatcher or Pewee in migration,
and Merlin, Hawks and Woodpeckers in winter.
Red-shouldered and Cooper's Hawks nest in the
area so may be seen year round.
At a couple hundred yards there is a trail branching
off to the right which follows the Catalina Cherry
Cyn.. Take this and bird looking down into the canyon.
This can really be a great area. If you go about 250+-
yards up it you will come to a junction.
Going left (north - uphill) will take you back out to
the main dunetop trail. Going right (south), will take
you downhill quickly 60' and across a usually dry
creekbed in a very lush area. A very short distance, 75'
uphill from here, is the largest California Pepper Tree
on PV, with the largest circumference of any I have ever
seen. I like to sit here and rest before I head back
to the junction and out onto the main dunetop trail.
Phainopepla often nest in this area. Spotted and
California Towhees, and Bewick's Wren do too.
Now go back across the creekbed, uphill to the
junction where you turned downhill, and continue
straight across the trail you were on, and out onto
the sand dune. The open areas of the dune can have
Sparrow flocks (mostly White-crowneds), and
many snags are visible which usually have Raptors,
and in winter many Flickers. This ancient sand dune
had PV's last reported Horned Lizards in the early
1990's, so keep your eyes peeled for them.
The trail continues across the top of the dune and
back down the north slope of it to Malaga Creek again,
which is dry up here. Looking down into the treetops
can be productive. The adventurous can continue down
into the creekbed where there are some alders. This
trail actually continues up the other side of the
creek and comes out on Paseo del Campo along the
north edge of the Palos Verdes Country Club, via
a nice grove of Locust trees.
However I usually just look down into the canyon
from the dune and work the other side later after
moving the car. Return to the center of the dune
top, and turn west back down the main trail (actually
a fire access road) to the car. By now surely you
need some water or juice and maybe a snack to get
that sugar buzz going to have you fired up for the
When leaving via Tejon note you cannot go all the
way back the way you came. You must take a left uphill
at the "One way Do not Enter" sign. This will
take you up to via Chico, at which turn left uphill
and in 10 yards you're at via Campesina. Turn right.
Side trip Note
Going left on via Campesina will wind you up around to
the south side of the Palos Verdes Country Club. Birding
the edge of it can be very good. The first big bridge
at the stream (dry) crossing is an excellent place
worth checking. Park along the golf course and go up
the fire access road along the east side of the creek.
This is the real Malaga Canyon, or upper Malaga Cyn.
as I call it. At the first switchback are a few Live
Oaks, which might be PV's only natural native Live Oaks.
Back down to via Campesina where you turned right,
the library will be on your left in just a short
distance. The grounds here can have birds,
including the Common Peafowl introduced to the
area in the 1920's by the Vanderlip family, some of
the original PV colonizers. They are essentially
unaided by man, and have defied numerous
removal attempts. Cruise some of the residential
streets in the area if you want to see them.
Via Pinale and via Ramon are both good for
Peafowl (pick them up by turning LEFT at Campesina
and they will be the first couple possible rights).
I once asked the late great pioneer birder
Dr. Arnold Small why this PV population
was not a legally countable introduced species.
He said they are too big and pretty and if
they were small and brown, they would be
countable by now. That's why I am personally
not into counting introduced species, since
the rules are not applied evenly, but based
on avian prejudice. By any accepted standard
of introduced bird countability, they should
be a countable population for your list, just
as Starlings, Pigeons, House Sparrows and
Spotted Doves; all of which got here more
recently than the Peafowl, and ARE countable.
Malaga Cove from Tejon Place "Fire trail"
Continuing west on via Campesina, turn right
on via Corta towards the plaza again. Turn
left on Tejon Place, shortly before the 4-way stop.
Go past the city hall, and park at the lot at
the end of Tejon Place. There is a fire trail
here which can be great birding. Some great
views of the overdeveloped "south bay" coast
will be had along this trail. It's probably about
5/8 of a mile to the end
(or where I stop and turn around).
Some rarities found along the trail include
a Nov. male Scarlet Tanager, our first PV CBC
(the annual Christmas Bird Count) Northern
Parula (Warbler), and a Williamson's Sapsucker that
was present the day before and after the CBC
but defied location on count day !&%$#! There
are areas of Pines that often have wintering
Townsend's Warblers (Hermit has wintered here too),
and Red-breasted Nuthatches in invasion years.
Hermit Thrushes can be common and Varied Thrush
is usually here in years they make it down.
Go to the end of the last pine grove (about 5/8 mile)
and you'll come to a spot where the trail drops steeply
for the first time. This is where I usually stop
and head back. The "Redwood" Canyon past "midway"
is a good spot, where I am expecting to find a
Saw-Whet Owl one day....
OK, so now we've covered most of the key areas
locals bird around Malaga Cove. You've probably
seen a couple of "lifers" and didn't even know it!
The dozens of Allen's Hummingbirds, if not a
hundred or more, are of the sedentarius race.
And, likewise, many (all in summer) of the
Orange-crowned Warblers are of the race sordida.
Allen's Hummingbird, subspecies sedentarius
their bill is 10% longer than the migratory race
and they also
Both of these are the "Channel Island Races",
for which PV (a former Channel Island) has been
ground zero on the mainland for decades. Recently,
they are spreading across the LA Basin and beyond.
Note if you think you heard a Wrentit on PV, you
heard the "Sordid Warbler" as I prefer to call this
distinctive subspecies of Orange-crowned Warbler,
which should be split and given full species status.
Note the gray centers to the undertail coverts,
large overall size, and huge bill.
And I call these Allen's Hummers "Resident Hummingbird",
which better matches the subspecific designation
of sedentarius, as opposed to the original moniker;
longer-than-the-bird "Non-migratory Allen's Hummingbird".
Listen for audio differences.
They too should be split and given full species status.
For that matter you might as well take a
listen to the long-isolated PV populations
of Song Sparrow, Common Yellowthroat,
Spotted Towhee, Bewick's Wren, while you're here!
You have several options from here if you want
to continue birding. Whether or not you wish
seabirds or landbirds is the main choice.
If you wish to seabird, head west around the
peninsula on PV Dr. West. There are many stops
possible where you can overlook the sea and
scan for pelagics. A good stop is a parking lot
just off P.V. Dr. West overlooking Bluff Cove,
and another section of another Paseo del Mar,
with mostly open fields with access to allow
scanning from this street as you go west.
The steep cliffs just north of this lot may
have Rufous-crowned Sparrows. Sordida nests in
the Lemonadeberry on the cliffs below the bluffs.
You may wish to continue out towards Pt. Vicente if
seawatching suits your fancy. There are excellent
vantage points just north and south of the point.
From via Vicente at the new fitzy fancy housing
development just north of the point and lighthouse,
or from the Pt.Vicente Fishing Access lot, just
past and south of the lighthouse.
Pt. Vicente, from parking lot just south of it
Which is better is usually determined by season
and wind. Fall brings the birds closer to the
north side of the point, and spring the south side.
The point can also be useful to dodge the wind.
If you've been seeing lots of migrant landbirds
you may want to check for more of them. A couple
nearby options from the Malaga Cove Plaza are
the north side of the PV Country Club and the
via La Selva "north forest".
To reach the PVCC area, go|
east from the plaza
(admiring Neptune and his
sirens one last time)
on PV Dr. West, staying in
the right lane as it
becomes PV Dr. North
The first right branch
is Paseo del Campo,
which runs along the
north side of the
Immediately before the
golf course becomes visible,
you can park and take
the trail to the right,
which goes through
a nice locust grove
and down to the dry
Malaga Creekbed, and
back up onto the dune
we were up on.
Then work the north side of the golf course from
Paseo del Campo. In winter this area can be out-
standing. Stop every couple hundred yards and walk
the road listening for flocks in the trees. This area
has produced winter Hepatic Tanager, Scott's Oriole,
Blackburnian Warbler, an eastern rubra Summer Tanager
wintered here for years, Townsend's Solitaire has
wintered (Accidental on PV), Bullock's Orioles and
Western Tanager are nearly a certainty in winter.
You will be covered in Allen's Hummers.
Bewick's Wrens and Spotted Towhees nest along the
creekbed. Gray Flycatcher has wintered too.
N. side of PVCC along Paseo del Campo
The via La Selva "North Forest" is the Euc patch
north of PV Dr. North for a mile or more along the
border of Torrance. Via Anita and Via La Selva are
the two main east west arteries through it.
Large flocks of wintering (or migrant) warblers
can be found here. The first Dusky-capped Flycatcher
on "the hill" was here. Because it is the first
(or last depending on direction of migration) huge
forest of trees adjacent to the concrete jungle
it is very attractive to birds. Red-shouldered
Hawk has nested in the Eucs at the west
end of the forest.
You can enter at via Rosa (our first stop) at
the west end off Palos Verdes Blvd., or mid-forest
where Paseo del Campo crosses PV Dr. North. From
via La Selva there are several dead ends with
access to a fire trail that runs behind the houses
along the Torrance - Palos Verdes border which
can be good birding too.
Whatever you find birding in these areas, don't
forget to take notes, and REPORT to locals! There
are over 35 nesting species in the area we
covered, and more than twice that is possible in
wintering species (assuming a bit of seawatching).
There have been over 210 species found/seen in
(or "are known from") the area we covered,
in modern times (the last 30 years of fair to good
record keeping and coverage by modern birdwatchers).
I would estimate the area covered as to be about
1/2 mile wide by 2 miles long; about one square mile.
There are, however, a number of species
(at least 6) which nested in this area as
recently as the 1970's, but which are locally
extirpated (extinct) now. Along the lower creek,
25 years ago, were nesting resident Cactus Wren,
California Gnatcatcher, Burrowing Owl,
Rock Wren, and Loggerhead Shrike.
All are absent from the drainage today.
Burrowing Owls were common on PV bluffs
into the 1980's, but residents are extinct locally
Also California Quail nested into the 1970's,
and the Roadrunner a little further back (1960's?).
Bewick's Wren is receding alarmingly at the present.
My best guess as to the cause of these local extinctions
(including Horned Lizard) are the recently arrived Red Fox,
and the recent tremendous number of domestic cats allowed
to hunt every open area around the owner's house,
killing things against the law for you or I to kill.
All the recently lost species are ground or low-down
species, which have no defense mechanisms for these
types of introduced non-native predators.
Winter will be best overall, but Sept.-Feb. is good.
Migration can be hit or miss in spring since we are
so far west of the main beaten flight path. But
fall is almost sure to be good with migrants.
Hot spots on the way in or out ...
A street (Esplanade) runs along the bluffs of
Redondo Beach allowing you for a quarter a stop,
to scope the gull and scoter flocks or loons on or
off the beach. Many good birds have washed up here
both dead and alive. Red-footed Booby is probably
the best though! Specimens include Blue-footed Booby,
Tufted Puffin, and Fork-tailed Storm-Petrel! Closer
to the peninsula, Torrance Beach at the south end of
Esplanade, has a parking lot that is usually
free in winter. Birds stack up here since it is the
last sandy beach habitat for some distance.
Wilderness Park in Redondo Beach is one the
premier local vagrant traps. If leaving PV and
going out Palos Verdes Blvd., turn left on Prospect,
then right at the second light, Camino Real. The park
entrance is just uphill on the left at the junction
(protected green arrow left turn) with Knob Hill.
It is closed Wed.'s and opens at 10 a.m.
Madrona Marsh would qualify as a nearby birding hotspot
as well. It is east from Wilderness Pk., on Sepulveda,
past Hawthorne, turn left on Madrona Ave. Nature Center
is on left after turning right at the first light.
It is particularly worth a stop if Odes interest you.