Joey Curti

Santa Monica Mountains Homecoming

I went to UCLA because it was a reason to get away from the small, foothill town that I grew up in. Like many destinations that you flee to, it was more about the escape than it was about the particular setting. I found myself suddenly in a matrix of rich suburbanites and sleepy urban areas with expensive juices, without a car. I was disenchanted with my new home to say the least. In my fourth year of undergraduate, I was lucky enough to get my hands on keys to an old Subaru and through these retro wheels I began to see more and more of Southern California . I regularly traveled to the tide pools around Palos Verdes for my senior capstone, trekked to Bakersfield and Perris for summer field work, and hiked frequently in the Santa Monica Mountains for a course on California conservation. By expanding my view to cover more and more of Los Angeles and the surrounding areas, I slowly began to understand Angelino pride.

I started working at Mountains Restoration Trust around three months after graduating from UCLA. My early career at MRT brought me to many remote areas within the Malibu Creek Watershed in order to supervise a crew of technicians removing an invasive species of crayfish in the Santa Monica Mountains. I was proud to consider a day surveying frogs and native fish under the shade of oak, willow, and mulefat a “typical work day”. I began my true romance with Southern California wading through the entirety of Malibu Creek, in awe of the beauty of such a massive canyon, of the cattails covered in exuvia that I pushed through, and of the charming kingfisher that followed me along the way as if to guard its caches of crayfish that were left within depressions of larger boulders.

MRT brought me closer to the natural beauty of Southern California than anything I had experienced before and ultimately concreted my reason to stay. The longer I worked at MRT, the more I regularly interacting with biologists and land managers who shared my exuberance for the Santa Monica Mountains. I began to understand the principles that were taught to me in my classes. The Santa Monica Mountains are so special in their beauty and rarity and yet they face so many threats and require so many resources in order to coordinate their management.

On November 9th, I sat in a coffee shop in Hollywood and watched the Woolsey Fire whip through MRT’s restoration sites, landholdings, and nursery facilities. I could not help feeling despair after losing so many natural and material resources. Not to mention, that after nearly six years of struggling to embrace my new home, I finally felt settled and near moments later my comfort was ashen! I wondered what I could do to heal this burn scars and return my sense of ease. I am writing from the other side of an atmosphere river that washed through southern California weeks ago – the scorched shrubs are re-sprouting from their root crowns and many of the hillsides are blanketed in green. For the next six months, I will be working UCLA and the La Kretz Center for Conservation to oversee 50 teams of undergraduates studying the impacts and recovery of this devastating fire. For now, I see my purpose right in front of me as I refind my home in the sprouting fields of the Santa Monica Mountains.

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Wildlife Spotlight: Red Tailed Hawks

The red tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) is North America’s most common hawk, and can most certainly be found in the Santa Monica Mountains. They have pale bellies and dark back feathers. The tail is golden cinnamon colored, it’s not as bright red as most might think! They can be easily identified by their broad rounded wings and their shorter tails. 

It is an opportunistic feeder. Its most common prey are small mammals, including squirrels and rabbits, but will also eat smaller birds, fish, or reptiles. Interestingly, the red tailed hawk and the great horned owl feeds off similar prey, so competition between the two birds often occurs during twilight when both species are out hunting. You can often find a red tailed hawk standing alone atop trees and telephone poles. When the hawks mate, they pair up and fly in large circles. The male will dive down and then climb back up to where it can perform the circling dance again to try and impress his mate. Then it will grab another bird with its talons and dive back down. Red tailed hawks may mate for life. Females can lay up to five eggs yearly and the eggs, incubated by both sexes, incubate for about four to five weeks. After the young hatch, they leave the nest about six weeks later.

Though they mate for life, red tailed hawks are not social creatures. They won’t hunt in populated areas, like a Coopers Hawks or a sharp-shinned hawk. They favor open fields and mountain habitats, like our very own Headwaters Corner. Mountains Restoration Trust staff have spotted quite a few red tailed hawks circling our property, likely hunting small mammals like squirrels that hide out in our trees.

Want to know more about these graceful predators? Check out the resources below!


“Red-Tailed Hawk.” National Geographic Photo Ark, National Geographic, 11 Nov. 2010, www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/birds/r/red-tailed-hawk/.

“Red-Tailed Hawk.” All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, 2015, www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Red-tailed_Hawk/id.

“Raptors of California.” California Department of Fish and Wildlife.Gov, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, 2016, www.wildlife.ca.gov/Conservation/Birds/Raptors.

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Wildlife Spotlight: Coyotes

If you live anywhere near the Santa Monica Mountains, you have encountered coyotes. They can be menaces to your smaller dogs or cats, eat at your trash, and run around your yard at night. But why is this? As more and more development continues to grow the cities around the Santa Monica Mountains, there is less and less space for the coyotes to live. So when your you build or buy your home in the hills, you must remember that at one point that was land for the coyotes and other animals to roam. Coyotes are known to scale fences as high as six feet, and will even dig under your fence. Here are some tips to keep your pets safe from coyotes:

  • Keep your pets inside at night, and prevent them from getting out without your supervision
  • When walking your small dogs at night, make sure you’re in a well lit area
  • Keep all outdoor trash can lids closed, to prevent the coyotes from eating it
  • Pick fruit on your trees as soon as it ripens, and keep rotten fruits off the ground
  • Never feed a wild coyote
  • Don’t leave your pets food outside — especially at night
  • Prevent your pet from roaming free

If you see coyotes and they are up to no good, consider filling out a coyote encounter observation report. In addition, you can communicate with your local officials or contact animal control should a coyote be violent or eating your garbage.





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