Sunday, January 07, 2007

Birding the New Year

What a better way to start the year than by going birding. Also, it is an excuse to get away from the madness of the Rose Parade - Pasadena's once-a-year claim to fame.

We went to Frank Bonelli Regional Park - not to chase a lifer - but to get reacquainted with the Painted Redstart that has made it its home. Just as we got off the freeway and came at the Park gate (there was no attendant, so we assumed the entry is free), the place was enveloped in fog! Thick, soupy, can't see-beyond-five-feet, fog!

Slowly, almost to a crawl, I inched the jeep to the parking space next to restroom # 8, the hangout of the Painted Redstart. Despite the darkness and the damp air, I assembled my gear (this is beyond hope, this is faith!) while Cynthia stood beneath the tree that our quarry calls home. Not long afterwards, Cynthia was almost jumping up and down as she pointed to the tiny black and red bird foraging among the leaves high up in the tree. And as if the bird possessed some magic, the sun slowly flooded the park dissipating the cold mist. On cue, birds were suddenly everywhere! Robins sang, Western Bluebirds darted after insects, Cedar Waxwings were picking berries, Yellow-rumped Warblers were frolicking in a manner only they can. A young dew-laden Downy Woodpecker was rubbing its feathers against a branch trying to dry itself.

After having our fill photographing these birds, we went back to the Redstart and tried to take its picture. This was no easy task. Painted Redstarts are very active birds, always flitting among the leaves and branches capturing insects for food. We spent about an hour without any decent shot to satisfy our standards. At one point, while I patiently waited for a better opportunity, Cynthia wandered off the parking lot, where out of nowhere, a Red-tailed Hawk flew by. Cynthia just adores raptors, especially those in flight and this was no exception.

Eventually, we moved to a place near the lake where again Cynthia's ears helped locate a Common Yellowthroat and a Bewick's Wren investigating fallen leaves for whatever edible morsel they could find underneath. I even got lucky with a lifer - a Cassin's Vireo that was passing by! Next we concentrated on water birds, where we got a Spotted Sandpiper and some Gadwalls (a kind of duck) among the usual carpet of Coots. When a belligerent Goose started harassing us, we decided to go back to our Redstart and give it another shot.

On the way back, we decided to check out the place where I saw some Cactus Wrens the last time I visited the place. There were no wrens this time, but we were pleasantly surprised to see a White-tailed Kite perched on a bare tree not too far away. Knowing Kites to be extremely skittish, to say the least, we moved in slow-motion as we silently got out of the jeep and set-up our cameras. We were rewarded by some very nice photos of this beautiful bird of prey.

When we got back to the area next to restroom # 8. there were already several birders ogling the lovely bird and this time we got some good (but not great) photos of the bird.

A Painted Redstart to start the new year - a good portent of things to come, if you ask me.

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