BIRD LOVERS, DUST OFF YOUR BINOCULARS.
This weekend, Kris Ohlenkamp will rise at dawn, head for the hills, then keep an eagle-eyed watch for plumes.
If he's lucky, he'll spot a favorite red-shouldered hawk. If not, he can still spy some of the 500 species of Los Angeles birds for a continental bird count.
"Bird-watching is exciting," said Ohlenkamp, president of the San Fernando Valley Audubon Society. "They touch your soul."
Sponsored by the National Audubon Society and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the 10th annual Great Backyard Bird Count tally is expected to draw tens of thousands of bird-watchers from across North America.
Everyone who can crane their necks can contribute.
"The only no-no is to wear anything with feathers -- that would be very un-P.C.," said Pat Leonard, a spokeswoman for the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in Upstate New York.
"The way to track them across North America is for everybody to go in their backyards, parks, in the cities and the country -- everywhere -- and look for birds."
From today through Monday, enthusiasts across the United States and Canada are asked to take at least 15minutes to jot down species and tally up birds. Results can then be recorded at www.birdsource.org/gbbc.
Each checklist is intended to help ornithologists track such trends as the expanding range of the Eurasian-collared dove and the diminishing number of American crows, which have been hit hard by West Nile virus.
Last year, bird-watchers submitted more than 60,000 lists containing 622 species and 7.6million birds.
In Los Angeles, eight keen spotters tallied 250pigeons.
In Saugus, one patient birder pointed out 250quail.
Across the San Fernando Valley, residents trained their peepers at hundreds of birds, from red-winged blackbirds to yellow-rumped warblers to great blue herons.
The most commonly sighted birds in Los Angeles were mourning doves, Western scrub-jays and American crows.
"It's a national thing, but we see it as a great opportunity to teach people about birds," said Susan Haugland, an environmental instructor for the Mountains Restoration Trust, of Calabasas, which will host its own count Saturday.
The first time Ohlenkamp went bird-watching more than two decades ago, he thought there were just a couple of dozen bird species living in Los Angeles.
"I lived in L.A. all my life -- to see a killdeer, which lives on the (North) Slope in Alaska," the 56-year-old bird-watcher exclaimed. "I (now) know 450 species."
For 25 years, Ohlenkamp has given monthly bird tours of the Sepulveda Basin.
Just two weeks ago, he scurried to Hansen Dam to ogle a crested caracara, an orange-faced South American falcon rare to California.
On Saturday, he will don his floppy canvas hat and moss-green shirt. He will shoulder his 10x42 binoculars. He will leave behind his voluminous bird guide books "because I know 'em all."
And he will stroll quietly through the oaks near his home in Calabasas -- watching and listening.
Listening and watching.
Hoping to hear the sharp "pik" of a downy woodpecker. Or hear the loud "kee-aah" of a red-shouldered hawk. And to get a glimpse of both.
"It's healthy, gets you outdoors. You learn and commune with nature," he said of the national count. "It's good for the soul.
"It is for the birds."
IF YOU WATCH
The 10th annual Great Backyard Bird Count will be held today through Monday. Spend at least 15 minutes and tally up the species and number of birds. For bird count and identification information, go to www.birdsource.org/gbbc/. For the San Fernando Valley Audubon Society, go to http://www.sanfernandovalleyaudubon.org/sfvas/
IF YOU WATCH (see text)