The mountains of southern California are a necessary escape from the heat, smog, and suburbia that can plague the denizens of places like Orange County and Los Angeles. Mount Baldy, more properly though less popularly known as Mount San Antonio, is no exception. The highest point in Los Angeles County, at 10,068 feet (3,069 meters), it is a refuge in all seasons, considering the ski area carved out of its eastern flank, which is actually in San Bernardino County. It was at that ski area that I spent my last morning in southern California on Saturday, 22 June.

The original plan had been for the entire family to head up to Mount Baldy and take the ski lift up and enjoy some short hikes in the mountain air. Unfortunately, reality set in and we realized that four kids between the ages of two and six would likely not mix well with a ski lift. Because I had watched some of the kids solo the day before I was given special dispensation to spend a couple of hours on the mountain before we all headed out to the aquarium in Long Beach.

So, of course, I was at the base of Mount Baldy by six in the morning, a full hour before the ski lift started running for the day, looking at Mountain Chickadees and Steller’s Jays. After all, I have a year list to build and hadn’t hit a single mountain on the entire trip west!

What was Mount Baldy like? I’ll explain in pictures…

Clark's Nutcracker

I was extremely pleased to see a pair of Clark’s Nutcrackers on the ride up the side of the mountain, the first I had seen this species since the summer of 2011 in Washington state. I saw some other really good mountain birds like White-headed Woodpecker, Cassin’s Finch, Red-breasted Sapsucker, Purple Finch, and Pygmy Nuthatch, but none of them cooperated for even passable pictures. Well, except for the Purple Finch but we have them in the east!

Mount Baldy

Mount Baldy as viewed from the east. I chose to walk away from Mount Baldy from the top of the ski lift rather than towards it because I wasn’t going to have time to do the six-plus mile hike to the top and back to the ski lift.

Audubon's Warbler

It was nice to see an Audubon’s Warbler up in the mountains, one of only two wood-warbler species I spotted. The other was Orange-crowned, but I was really hoping for Macgillivray’s Warbler. Next time!

baldy Green-tailed Towhee

Green-tailed Towhees were common on the slopes of the mountain, as were Dusky Flycatchers, both of which were lifers. That was nice, as you can imagine.

Violet-green Swallow

Violet-green Swallows were the only species of swallow or swift that I spotted. There were lots of them but they were, of course, difficult to photograph in flight.

Western Bluebird

Being on a mountain gave me hopes of seeing Mountain Bluebird but I had to settle for Western Bluebird.

In all, I only spent a couple of hours at the top of the ski lift. I could have spent all day and not explored nearly enough. I guess I’ll have to go back, hopefully when Desi is old enough to ride the lift and the whole family can enjoy the trip to Mount Baldy!

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Written by Corey
Corey is a New Yorker who lived most of his life in upstate New York but has lived in Queens since 2008. He's only been birding since 2005 but has garnered a respectable life list by birding whenever he wasn't working as a union representative or spending time with his family. He lives in Forest Hills with Daisy, their son, Desmond Shearwater, and their indoor cat, B.B. His bird photographs have appeared on the Today Show, in Birding, Living Bird Magazine, Bird Watcher's Digest, and many other fine publications. He is also the author of the American Birding Association Field Guide to the Birds of New York.