Nature is everywhere in Los Angeles. That is the main message you will get from reading the new book “Wild LA: Explore the Amazing Nature in and Around Los Angeles” released by Timber Press. While we may all be aware that wildlife can be found in the Santa Monica Mountains or the Angeles National Forest, many of us probably do not think of Los Angeles as an area of incredible biological diversity. But the truth is that there is a tremendous diversity of species in L.A. and there are many stories to tell, according to the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County and the authors of the book: Lila Higgins, Dr. Gregory B. Pauly, Dr. Jason G. Goldman, and Charles Hood.
The book is divided into three main sections. The first part reviews the ecology and natural history of the L.A. area in ten chapters organized by topic. For example, there are chapters on the roles of water and fire, native species, exotic species, and an exploration of wildlife after dark. The second part is the field guide which covers more than one hundred species that are native to California and/or endangered. The third and final section of the book is about field trips, with twenty-five highlighted because they are accessible for a wide range of nature lovers.
Eye-Opening and Informational
“Wild LA” is very informational, with many facts probably unknown to even most Angelenos. For example, did you know any of the following?
- Los Angeles is the only city in the U.S. with a major mountain range running through it.
- L.A. County has the greatest difference between its lowest and highest points of any county in the U.S., ranging from sea level to 10,064 feet at the top of Mount Baldy.
- L.A. is the birdiest county in the country, with more than 500 recorded species.
- L.A. is part of a biodiversity hotspot called the California Floristic Province, which stretches from southern Oregon to Baja California and includes most of California except the deserts.
- L.A. sits in the middle of 4,000-mile bird migration “highway” in the sky, which is used by at least a billion birds annually.
The book does a great job telling the story of nature in and around Los Angeles in a way that is interesting and easy to understand. It is intended for the general public and promotes community science, also known as citizen science, which refers to the collaboration between professional scientists and the public. For example, getting Angelenos involved allows scientists to build large collections of data. When thousands of residents send in pictures of animals or insects from their backyards, scientists may begin to see trends, like which snails are only active during certain times of the year, or which lizards only dwell close to natural areas for field trips.
Not only is the text reader-friendly, the book is also visually stunning. It contains high quality black and white, and color photographs of significant historical events, animal, and plant species. This is particularly evident and helpful in the second part of the book which highlights 101 species to know, including birds, insects and spiders, mammals, reptiles and amphibians, snails and slugs, mushrooms, slime mold, and lichen, and plants. As a planner, I am particularly impressed by the illustrated maps in the third section of the book which highlights suggested parks and natural areas.
Highlighting County Parks
The book recommends twenty-five locations for field trips. I was glad to see that five of the sites are parks and recreation areas operated and maintained by the L.A. County Department of Parks and Recreation where I work as a park planner. They include:
The park sits at the eastern end of the Baldwin Hills, a low mountain range which rises above the city between the communities of Baldwin Hills, Leimert Park, Inglewood, and Culver City. Parts of the park are covered with coastal sage scrub habitat. Birdwatchers have identified over 170 species of birds in the park. Visitors are encouraged to go to the park throughout the year to see nestling birds in spring, lizards in the summer and fall, and mushrooms, slugs and snails after winter rains.
This is where visitors can hike to the base of a forty-foot waterfall and discover an amazing variety of wildflowers in the spring. Many of the native plants reviewed in the book can be found at this natural area. The California scrub-jay, one of two native jay species in the region, and the oak titmouse may also be spotted here.
This park is a reliable place to look for bald eagles, white pelicans, five kinds of heron and egret, year-round ducks and coots, gulls and terns, and the greater roadrunner. Puddingstone Reservoir is a large lake located in the middle of the park and is a naturalist’s playground. The shoreline’s willows, pines, open grassy spots, and marshy areas are home to many kinds of birds.
Whittier Narrows refers to parklands north and south of Durfeee Avenue, between Rosemead Boulevard and the San Gabriel River. Habitats include Legg Lake, where one may spot a loon in the winter or hear the call of a common yellowthroat. Visitors may also see the red-eared slider turtle in the riverbed, a western fence lizard, ladybugs in the mustard plants, a heron perched in the top of a tree, or the phainopepla, a desert and foothill bird which spots a jaunty mohawk and intense red eyes.
The park is an oasis of water and nature in the heart of South Los Angeles. The lakes are full of ducks, including the Muscovy duck which has a distinctive red face. American wigeons visit the park in the winter, while large flocks of Canada geese can be found spending time here year-round. Currently, the park is undergoing improvements, with a new community events center, an outdoor pavilion, a splash pad, children’s play areas, and improved lighting, walking paths and parking lots being developed. The County will also be diverting water from nearby Compton Creek to fill in the south lake and create 30 acres of wetlands.
I highly recommend “Wild LA” to anyone interested in learning more about nature in Los Angeles, an aspect of the city that may be easy to overlook, especially if one lives in an urban neighborhood. For me, the book is a wonderful resource to have because of my profession as a park planner, love for Los Angeles, and desire to gain a better appreciation and understanding of nature in and around LA.
Photo credit: Book cover and pages from Workman Publishing
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author alone.