Monday, September 10, 2007

The Call of the Arctic

Sub-zero temperatures. Polar bears cavorting on ice floes. Orcas hunting sea lions. These are images that are conjured whenever the word "arctic" is mentioned. But then, there is also the Arctic Warbler, a small, non-descript olive-brown bird with a pale "eyebrow". As its name implies, it inhabits the cold north (mostly Eurasia and Alaska) during summer. In autumn, it migrates to the warmer climates of south east Asia (including my native county, the Philippines).

So when news spread that not one, but two, Arctic Warblers found their way to the oasis of Galileo Hills, hard-core birders from Los Angeles and environs dropped everything they were doing and headed to the Silver Saddle Ranch Resort. Since no self-respecting birder would allow something short of a miracle like this pass, we decided to become part of that enthusiastic group.

When we arrived a little after 8 am, we found a throng of "paparazzis" already hounding one of the celebrities as it flit from tree to tree. It wasn't long before we too joined the photographers in recording southern California's ornithological history. When news that a second Arctic Warbler was found in another part of the resort, the guys with the heavy guns heaved their equipment on their shoulders and galloped over to the location of the second celebrity. We chose to stay with the original. This time we concentrated on the other warblers foraging in the foliage above us - and there were plenty! We had Wilsons, Yellow, Nashville, Townsends, Hermits (a lifer!) and a female American Redstart.

Soon the boys with the big toys returned and once again stalked the Arctic Warbler in our area. It was fun watching the photo dudes lift up their tripods and reposition them everytime the warbler moves to another tree (which was quite often) oblivious to the numerous, and occasionally noisy, admirers below.

As noon approached, the number of photographers dwindled. Soon they were replaced by late-coming birders asking the same question: "Have you seen it?" By that time both Arctic Warblers have flown to destinations unknown. And we can only regale the newcomers with tales of wonder.

Saying goodbye to new friends, Mr & Mrs Tom Miko from Claremont (he is a very enthusiastic twitcher and a really fun person), and Mr & Mrs Christopher Taylor (he has more than 700 species on his birdlist! and son of the famous Monte Taylor of Calbirds fame), we left the beautiful Galileo Hills with two lifers under our belt.

"We should visit this place again", my dear wife said.

Those words could not have been any sweeter to my twitching ears.

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