Hope. A very inspiring word. It was hope that lifted my spirits from the doldrums of an unbirded weekend. It was hope that brought me to Santa Fe Dam once again on a bright Monday morning. The spate of firestorms all over Southern California the past week has blanketed the air with ash and covered the skies with dark billowing smoke. But Monday was blessed with glorious, unveiled sunshine. It was the hope of finding two lifers that got my heart beating faster that promising morn.
And yet the brightest of hopes can sometimes be dimmed. Four hours of diligent and optimistic search never yielded the species I had wanted to see. Still, the adventure wasn't for naught with the unexpected sighting of a female Orange Bishop. Heretofore, I had only seen the male in its gaudy orange and black plumage. The lady bishop, it turned out, was completely different from him, clad in sparrow-like brown feathers with a touch of yellow on the head and neck. So contrasting are the male and female in looks that it is possible for them to be mistaken as two different species.
The disappointment of not finding my two target birds was exacerbated by the fact that I saw and photographed two species that are painfully similar to those that I sought. The American Pipit only differs from the rarer Red-throated Pipit by the lack of streaking on its back.
And the Chipping Sparrow only differs from my hoped-for Clay-colored Sparrow by the darker line across its eyes.
The alarming regularity that Santa Fe Dam has denied me the satisfaction of sighting lifer species was somehow daunting. And yet as Cicero, the famous Roman orator and philosopher once said: Dum spiro, spero - While I breathe, I hope.