Taking Flight

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Tom Eastman_credit Laguna Canyon Foundation
Tom Eastman has been a guide for Laguna Canyon Foundation for 14 years. | Photo by Laguna Canyon Foundation

Explore the trails during bird walks led by the Laguna Canyon Foundation, identifying flying species along the way.

By Sharael Kolberg


Head to nearby Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park in search of feathered friends. Whether they’re flying in the sky above or perched in the Aliso Creek area, this is the best riparian birding spot in all of Orange County. These hikes range from easy to moderate, lasting up to 3 miles. Free to the public, they are led by Laguna Canyon Foundation volunteers like Tom Eastman, who has been a guide for the local nonprofit for 14 years. Here, he describes what to expect when hitting the trails—by the end of the morning, you might even be able to name the birds hanging out in your backyard.


Laguna Beach Magazine: How did you become an expert in identifying birds?

Tom Eastman: I’ve taken every workshop taught by Sea & Sage Audubon [Society]’s teacher, Sylvia Gallagher. I’m also a certified naturalist docent and a certified interpretive guide. I’m continuously reading, learning and practicing.


What is one of your birding hikes like?

TE: We always start with a brief introduction and some general information. Then we start to walk and I stop to address the birds that we see or hear. I will also point out bird songs and calls, and identify the birds that make them. I will share some interesting facts about natural history, bird behavior, biology, how birds and plants interact and depend on each other, etc.

house finch birding hike_credit Jeff Caverly/Shutterstock.com
A house finch is one species you could see along a birding hike. | Photo by Jeff Caverly/Shutterstock.com

What species of birds might be spotted?

TE: We see some of the Orange County resident birds on almost every outing, such as black phoebe, house finch, California towhee and red-tailed hawk. Others, we may hear but not see, such as California quail, California thrasher and wrentit.


How long have you been leading these hikes?

TE: I led my first bird hike for Laguna Canyon Foundation back in October of 2009. I’ve been leading [or] co-leading field trips for Audubon and Sylvia Gallagher’s classes for about 15 years, and have also been leading a monthly bird walk at Crystal Cove State Park for about a dozen years.


What kind of workout will participants get from going on this hike?

TE: We go at a birding pace; if there are a lot of birds, we may not move much at all. If attendees are expecting a cardio workout hike, they came to the wrong place. The skill levels run the gamut from absolute beginners to expert birders. We generally would like children to be at least 12 years old.

Gearing Up for the Trails

These items will ensure that you’re comfortable as you trek so that your time can be spent focused on the birds.

Sun Bum Sunscreen
Prevent getting sunburned while on your hike by packing SunBum’s ORIGINAL SPF 70 SUNSCREEN SPRAY, which is ultrasheer and dry to the touch but still offers broad-spectrum protection and nourishing vitamin E, $18.49, at Bushard’s Pharmacy. (949-494-1059;
Nikon binoculars
Keep your distance while still seeing the birds up close with the Nikon PROSTAFF P3 10×42 BINOCULARS, which will be comfortable to hold throughout the duration of the walk thanks to a nonslip grip, $149.99, at Dick’s Sporting Goods, Newport Beach. (949-640-1107; dickssportinggoods.com)
To learn about the birds you may see in the Orange County area—complete with photos and descriptions of their characteristics plus when and where to find them—carry along the “BIRDS OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA” guide book, $24.95, at Laguna Beach Books. (949-494-4779; lagunabeachbooks.com)
Stay hydrated with the 21-OUNCE STANDARD MOUTH BOTTLE from Hydro Flask to keep your water cold for up to 24 hours; they’re also available in a variety of colors, $35, at Hobie Surf Shop. (949-497-3304; hobiesurfshop.com)
On Cloud 5 shoes - rose/shell
Keep your feet feeling good on the trails with the cushioned ON CLOUD 5 athletic shoes, available locally in a trendy rose-colored hue, $139.95, at The Shoe Cellar. (949-376-0563; shoecellar.net)
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