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A walk with the critters in Topanga State Park

November 11, 2008 | 12:55 pm

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I stood alone atop massive Eagle Rock late Monday afternoon, until a rock wren emerged from the face of the cliff and joined me.

Bird photography is difficult because the subjects don't generally loiter in the open for long and do not like being looked at or have cameras pointed their way.

Amazingly, this wren remained close by, hopping around, long enough for me to change lenses and take several pictures.

Finally, when I inched one step too close, it vanished over the edge, leaving me alone again, with a bird's-eye view of Topanga State Park, which is billed as the "world’s largest wildland within the boundaries of a major city."

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Topanga, reachable via the Entrada Road turnoff from Topanga Canyon Blvd., is one of my favorite places to escape civilization because I can do so quickly, and the four-mile round-trip hike to and from Eagle Rock is an exhilarating finish to a day otherwise spent behind a computer.

On weekday afternoons you encounter only occasional hikers and joggers running the trail after work.

I expected to see deer as I set out, as they spend a lot of time in the park's lower meadows. But instead I encountered an acorn woodpecker banging its beak against the trunk of an old oak. They're easily identifiable by their bright-red crowns.

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Remarkably, the woodpecker didn't care how close I came, while its companion was leery enough to circle the branches as I tried positioning myself to get its picture.

It wasn't until almost dusk, on my way down, that I encountered three small deer in a hidden meadow alongside the Nature Trail diversion from the main trail.

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Like the birds, they allowed me to make a close approach before sauntering cautiously off. I was glad I'd come, but gladder still to have brought my camera.

-- Pete Thomas

Photos: Pete Thomas /Los Angeles Times

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