Monday, October 08, 2007

Turn the Twitch on?

Our destination Saturday was Orange County. But first tradition must be fulfilled. That means breakfast at MacDonalds. After enjoying our morning repast at Warner and Bolsa, we then proceeded to Bolsa Chica where it was uncharacteristically un-birdy. Even the usual mob of photographers with their tripods and big lenses were absent.

We swung by Upper Newport Bay and again we didn't even bother to unload our cameras. We did see our FOS (First-of-Season) White-crowned Sparrows and the Song Sparrow that had a thing with side mirrors. Every time we parked at UNB, without fail, this particular bird would hop onto our side mirror and would begin to challenge its reflection there. Other than this tragi-comic side show, Upper Newport Bay did not have much to offer.

But then, perhaps it was because my heart was set on going to San Joaquin Wildlife Area that I did not bother to explore the two places we visited earlier. Perhaps it was the posted sighting there of a Pectoral Sandpiper on Friday night that conditioned my senses to chase after it. Sure enough, as soon as we have parked the Jeep, I half-dragged my wife to Pond D where the uncommon peep was last seen. The sighting was further confirmed by a couple we met as they were returning from the ponds.

Heart beating in anticipation I scanned the almost dried up habitat, looking at each and every shorebird, trying to find the telltale streaks on the breast that would confirm its identity. Finally with a yell of triumph that startled Cynthia who was standing next to me, I located my lifer! But it was still too far to be photgraphed even with my 500 + 1.4 lens.

"Look, there's a path through the reeds and the ground there seems dry enough", my wife helpfully suggested as she pointed downward.

"Gung Ho!" I shouted as I almost jumped the 20-foot slope. On solid ground close to the reeds (but far enough so as not to disturb the various birds enjoying the water), I positioned myself and waited....

As if by Divine providence (or maybe it was), the Pectoral Sandpiper moved away from the flock of other peeps and walked towards me! There it fed at just the right distance for my big lens to focus on it properly. Satisfied that I have taken the sandpiper's pictures from every conceivable angle, I bade it goodbye, thanked the birding gods and clambered back to the trail.

Everything was anti-climactic after that. Well, almost. My wife and I were preparing to leave when we heard a screeching noise coming from above. Valkyries? Banshees? In the middle of the day? Our curiosity was soon answered when a very young Red-tailed Hawk came flying in and landed on a branch maybe 50 feet directly above us. There it sat and screeched inviting the attention of newly arriving birders (this was right at the parking lot). Needless to say, we took advantage of this photo-op until we had cricks on our necks.

Reflecting on the events of the morning while having lunch at Sizzler's, the unsettling thought came to me that I might be turning into a twitcher. A twitcher, of course, is a birder who will go after (twitch) a rarity or a lifer at the drop of a hat and by all means possible. Knowing also that I will soon have a lot of time in my hands, chasing never-before-seen birds would not be a far-fetched activity after all. It could be fun, too, but sobriety still reigns, I think. I will probably go after a lifer, but only if it is convenient, and never as a consuming passion.

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