Rain. Hard, pelting rain hammering the windshield of our Jeep as we drove in pre-dawn darkness. Our destination was Solvang, a touristy town about 130 miles north of Pasadena. We have planned this trip twice before and each time we had to postpone it for different reasons. Now that we are finally on our way, our hearts were being filled with discouragement as heavy rain poured like buckets of water. Still, we had enough faith and determination to make this trip worthwhile.
Approaching the town of Camarillo, the rain diminished into a soft drizzle. On the horizon a partial rainbow appeared and its red and orange hues slowly pushed back the dark blue of the night. Eos and Iris brought forth a dawning of a day that promised hope.
After a stopover at Camarillo for our traditional breakfast and to load up on gas, we proceeded to Goleta where we tried to locate the reported Chestnut-backed Chickadees. It drizzled on and off while we craned our necks at the tall eucalyptus trees at the end of Coronado Drive. But the chickadees were not to be seen. On our return trip we passed by this place again and gave our search for the tiny birds another try. Only to be disappointed a second time.
Our primary purpose for this trip however was to look for and photograph the Yellow-billed Magpie. This is a species found only in Central California and should we find it, would be a lifer for us. We drove through downtown Solvang ignoring the quaint Scandinavian ambiance for which reason tourists flock to this place. Alisal Road is where we want to be and finally finding it (thanks to our GPS unit) we drove slowly along the narrow two lane road. To our left was the Alisal Ranch Golf Course the fence of which was covered here and there by dense vines and thick hedges. To our right was a knoll peppered profusely by different kinds of trees. I was telling my wife that this was prime magpie territory.
"What do magpies look like?" she asked.
"Black and white with long tails and as big as crows".
I have barely finished my description when she suddenly yelled: "There it is!" She was pointing at the covered fence next to the golf course. Thank God there wasn't any vehicular traffic along Alisal as I stepped on the brake, swerved the Jeep to the shoulder on the left side of the road, stopped and looked at the fence.
"Where?" I asked somewhat doubtfully.
"There, inside the fence", she said.
I peeped and saw nothing but Acorn Woodpeckers. They were black and white but have short tails, so I again queried my wife if she was sure she saw the magpies. (Please understand my skepticism here. We were going about 30-35 miles an hour, the golf course was at my left, which means my wife was on my right and farther away visually. The fence that separates the golf course from the road was about 6 feet high, and although they were made of metal wires, at most places they were covered by thick vines. There were only a few breaks between these vines, the widest probably was about 2 feet. So the possiblity of seeing a bird under these circumstances definitely raises some reason for doubt.)
"Well, it was black and white and has a long tail", my wife insisted. She moved to another break in the vine coverings several feet back.
"There!" she said smugly.
Indeed, not one but two, Yellow-billed Magpies were there. Was it luck finding these birds? Maybe. Was it my wife's super-human eyesight that did it? Maybe. Was it answered prayer? Most definitely. Did I mention that the sun was shining beautifully when we saw the magpies?
After a while, the magpies flew off. We continued down Alisal Road but we didn't find any more of those lovely black-and-white-with-long-tail birds.
Restaurants at Solvang did not appeal to our gastronomical and economical preferences so we ended up having lunch at Carl's Jr. at nearby Buellton. After lunch we stopped by the La Purisima Mission in Lompoc. By now the skies have once again become gloomy and overcast. The place was most likely celebrating "el dia de los muertos" for it was quite dead birding-wise. Besides, there was a wedding being held on the mission grounds that afternoon. (Why anybody would want to get married on "the day of the dead" is beyond me.)
We did a quick stop-over at the beaches in Santa Barbara where all we got was a flock of Skimmers, sand in our shoes and cold wind whipping at our faces.
Rain. Soft, drizzling rain leaving tiny droplets on our windshield as we drove in the fading light of dusk. Our destination is home where a hot dinner and afterwards a warm soft bed await us. And of course, there is that nice fuzzy feeling that we saw what we travelled 260 miles to see.