White Pelicans at Big Bear Lake


Big Bear Lake
Mar 30-31, 2002
- Vic Leipzig

Click on thumbnail pictures for full-sized shots.

Living on the coast in sunny southern California, it’s hard to remember what real winter is like. We had a taste of it on this spring trip with John and Laura Klure to Big Bear Lake, a mountain resort community only two and a half hours from the coast. Although we needed coats at night, daytime temperatures were T-shirt balmy.

Vic scanning Big Bear Lake

The Klures wanted a mix of mountain birding, antique hunting, and good food. Big Bear offered all three.

 The Klures were more interested in savoring the ambiance of the mountain community than hard-core, dawn-to-dusk birding, so I planned the trip accordingly. My wife, Lou, and I scouted the area before the Klures arrived, finding a golden eagle, a flock of 50 pinyon jays, and some good places to eat.


We met the Klures for a delightful lunch in the Village at Big Bear Lake. After a successful search for antiques, we strolled through the pine and manzanita forest in the fading afternoon light, taking time to sniff the vanilla fragrance in the bark of the huge Jeffrey pines. We picked up band-tailed pigeon, mountain chickadee, Steller’s jay, white-breasted nuthatch, and western bluebird. Laura spotted a coyote skulking through the manzanita bushes.
Wood Duck

On our way to dinner at a restaurant that served Chinese, Thai and Japanese cuisine, we stopped by the lake to see American white pelicans, gadwall, and other waterfowl. We had reserved more serious birding for the following day.


John scraping ICE! off the car


Laura, Vic, & John

In the morning, we meandered through the back streets of Big Bear near our motel, breathing in the frosty, pine-scented mountain air. 

The daffodils and pussy willows of spring promised that summer wildflowers would soon follow. We picked up pine siskin, red-breasted sapsucker, Cassin’s finch, pygmy nuthatch, acorn woodpecker, brown-headed cowbird, and others, all before breakfast. 


We drove around the lake, stopping to get violet-green swallow, white-throated swift, hooded and common mergansers, wood duck, ruddy duck, cinnamon and green-winged teal, northern shoveler, and others.

 Big Bear Lake


White-headed Woodpecker

At one stop, we picked up Lewis’s woodpecker, male and female white-headed woodpeckers, and Townsend’s solitaire. Laura said the best sight of the morning was the pygmy nuthatch going in and out of its nesting cavity in one of the large Ponderosa pines.


On our way home, we stopped at Onyx Summit at an elevation of 8,443 ft to search for Clark’s nutcracker. A short hike through the pinyon-juniper forest to an overlook yielded a spectacular view of Mt. Gorgonio, plus the nutcracker, sharp-shinned hawk, a pair of red-tailed hawks, and others.

Mt. Gorgonio

After a wonderful lunch at a Yucatan-style Mexican restaurant in Mentone (I had goat tacos; Lou had cactus salad and fried bananas), we parted company with the Klures, who were delighted with the many mountain birds that we found over the weekend.

Photos © Lou Murray