Monday, December 31, 2007
There weren't too many people at the boardwalk when we arrived. Cynthia wasted no time joining the photographer who was so concentrated on taking pictures of something beneath the boardwalk. She was rewarded by shots of a Surf Scoter enjoying an early morning clam chowder, without the chowder. The clam was of course gone when I arrived at the scene.
Our walk up to the tide gates was uneventful, perhaps because the water level was quite high thus no waders nor peeps were present. The resident ducks were all dozing off at some distance away from the trails. While passing by the tall, dead trees on the north side, Cynthia pointed to a fluff of feathers ensconced between the trunk and a thick branch on the shadowy part of a tree. Bringing up my binos, I at first couldn't figure out what the creature was. It then moved its head and opened its eyes (it, too, was dozing off) and hallelujah! A Peregrine Falcon!! We have always wanted to get a photograph of this magnificent raptor, preferably in flight, but hey, a sleepy one would do just fine. We probably spent about an hour just admiring and taking photographs of our unmindful subject. Occasionally, we would proudly point it to some passing birders, as if it were our very own trophy. Actually, Cynthia was just waiting for it to fly so she could fulfill her dream (she's the expert in BIF - birds in flight - shots).
While my wife was patiently waiting for some peregrine action, I wandered off a bit and got some nice shots of a Downy Woodpecker which was loudly pok-pok-poking nearby.
A few meters up the trail, I was surprised to find a male Red-breasted Merganser swimming close to the shore. Up to this point I have only seen females at various locations (even at an unlikely place as the tiny, trickling San Diego Creek). You can just imagine my thrill in getting a male, which has a dark deep blue head, as opposed to the female's red-orange, at such close range. I also did get a photo of a female later on our return trip.
Realizing that the falcon had no intent of leaving its roost, we reluctantly moved on. As we were negotiating the middle berm, I spotted the Reddish Egret also trying to get some shut-eye.
This time as I was pre-occupied with my target wader, Cynthia's attention was caught by a Belted Kingfisher perched not too far from the egret. Despite the distance and the relatively small size of the kingfisher, my wife was still able to get her BIF shot.
And as we were leaving the area, she also got a picture of what looks like a pissed-off Anna's Hummingbird.
As we neared the tidal gates once again, we were startled by a raptor that quickly took off from a grassy spot in the middle of the channel. When I looked at where it flew from, I noticed that there was still another raptor remaining behind. The owl-like disc on its face told me it was a Northern Harrier!
We have never been this close to a Harrier before and so we started clickling away until the raptor had enough of us and decided to follow its mate. This time I got my BIF shot.
Everything was sort of anti-climatic after that. Even the Scoter has left the vicinity of the boardwalk.
We may not have lost the desired poundage that day but we sure gained a few nice surprises.
Saturday, December 29, 2007
Not counting the disappointment of dipping on the eagle, Bonelli still had some goodies to offer. The Painted Redstart as always, was a thrill to watch. Its symbiotic partner, the Red-breasted Sapsucker was there, too, of course. The tree that these two species occupy was also visited by a female Nuttall's Woodpecker. While helping chris locate the Brown Creeper that I saw on the 15th, we got a surprise when a White-breasted Nuthatch showed up instead.
Early on, during my eagle vigil, I spent close to two hours just looking at the regular avian denizens of the lake. When you spend that much time watching them, the "ordinary" birds became interesting either by chance or by their behavior. Examples are the three-billed Gadwall and the fighting Coots.
Soon it was time to go. Chris and I exchanged Christmas wishes and better luck in future birding endeavors, particularly for a certain Bald Eagle who reportedly visits Bonelli regularly.
Friday, December 21, 2007
Monday, December 17, 2007
As we walked towards the lake, we met a bird photographer acquaintance, Dave Furseth (http://www.davesbirds.com/). When asked about the eagle, he informed us that right now it was across the lake. But it occasionally would fly back, he said encouragingly. We chose a good spot by the lakeshore, where it was sunny, the day being quite cold with even a bit of a wind chill factor, and started our stake out.
After a while, just as we were getting bored at looking at the various ducks and grebes taking their mid-morning siesta, a relatively bigger sized bird flew in and splashed among the sleeping water birds. Cormorant, I told, Cynthia, almost nonchalantly. Another one of those regular species you would see in these type of habitat. But then, it wasn't dark colored like a cormorant. So I peeped through my camera's 400mm lens (I forgot to bring my binoculars, a mortal sin amongst avid birders - old age dementia must be sinking in, what can I say?). Lo and behold, it was a Common Merganser! As I have said in my previous blog, despite its name, these duck-like birds are not at all that common in Southern California waters. Revived from our stupor-like vigil, we happily snapped away at the red-headed swimmer.
Having had our fill with the merganser and the Bald Eagle still a no-show, we decided to move on. We headed northward where we met a couple of birders who were participating in the Los Angeles Audubon Society's Christmas Bird Count. Yes, they both have seen the Bald Eagle. Yes, it flies back and forth across the lake. Once again, spirits buoyed by this report, we scanned the skies over the lake. We would get excited whenever something bigger than a swift would appear at the horizon, only to discover that it would be anything but an eagle. By this time, close to two hours have already passed. Abandoning all hope of ever seeing the majestic symbol of the United States, we trekked back to where the Jeep was parked.
Once again, we saw the bird counters. One of them showed the list of the birds they have seen that day and it tallies pretty much with what we have seen as well. Except for the Bald Eagle, of course. Just then Cynthia called my attention and excitedly pointed at small piece of bark moving up a tree trunk. Looking closely, my heart leapt at seeing a Brown Creeper investigating every nook and cranny of the tree for bugs. Its constant motion and preference for the shadowed side of the tree makes it quite a challenge at being photographed. When its search for food brought it towards the top of the fir tree where pine needles were aplenty, we gave up taking its picture.
Closer to where our vehicle was parked, I noticed a flock of Dark-eyed Juncos feeding among the grass. The most common subspecies of Juncos are the Oregon type. These are those with dark heads and grayish bellies. However, I noticed that one of the birds in the flock does not have the usual dark head, but a tiny black mask instead. I just saw and photographed the not-too-common Gray-headed variety of Junco!
We got our birdies, and we hope we eventually will get our eagle too.
Before leaving the park, we thought we'd give the lake one more look, this time by the green pier that fishermen frequents. And maybe get some sparrow or wren or yellowthroat by the grove close by. None of those landbirds showed up and the Bald Eagle continued to stay away from our anxious eyes. However, for our consolation, we got a Red-tailed Hawk in flight and not long after, an Osprey grabbed an unlucky trout right in front of our very eyes!
For more photographs, please see www.pbase.com/ornithographyplus and click on Birding Trips.
Sunday, December 09, 2007
When I visited San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary Friday, Dec. 7th, the place was just so darn muddy that my regular hiking shoes were covered with sticky, dark soil. I gave them a thorough washing as soon as I got home yesterday. They were still wet when I checked them this morning.
When we decided to chase after the Roseate Spoonbill Saturday, I had no choice but to wear my back-up hiking shoes. These were not as comfortable as my regular ones and little did I know that they would be used for walking great distances (for me, a mile is considered "great distance") and clambering up and down steep levees while carrying a ton of camera gear on my shoulder. Needless to say, my feet and ankles (not to mention my shoulder) were complaining bitterly by the end of our twitching day.
Not only were my feet complaining, my photographer heart was aching as well. I am sort of a schizophrenic in a certain way. I am both a birder and a bird photographer. And there are times, such as today, when these two aspects of my life war against each other. The birder in me was rejoicing because I added Platalea ajaja to my lifelist. However, the photographer side of me was frustrated by not being able to get a good picture of the Spoonbill.
Yesterday, I was talking with Monte Stinett, another birder cum photographer, while waiting for the rare wader to show up. The conversation turned to the time we got started on our hobbies. Monte explained that he is a photographer first and foremost and enjoyed birds as his subject. Rather than just having a picture of a "little brown bird" he researched as to what kind it was, where is its habitat, etc, etc. and consequently got hooked into birding. I, on the other hand, was a birder first, having started while I was still in my teens in the Philippines. It was my desire to record in print the images of the species I have seen that steered me towards photography.
That said, I'd say the birder in me has the stronger emotional stimuli, especially if a lifer has been seen. That there's always a chance of getting a better photograph of such and such bird in the future has been my rationalization for moments like today.
Bad shoes and bad photographs notwithstanding, the Roseate Spoonbill is now added to my growing list of birds seen in my lifetime.
Saturday, December 08, 2007
Thursday, December 06, 2007
For more pictures, please see my gallery at www.pbase.com/ornithographyplus and click on Birding Trips.