Thursday, November 30, 2006

Take Five

My birding-itch finally got the better of me during our stay in the Philippines when Cynthia told me there was a small park in Valle Verde where we were staying at the time. I could spare an hour to bird there before I drive to Antipolo, I convinced myself.

The very first bird I saw was a Brown Shrike, quite common at this time of the year. Cynthia then pointed to some dead branches piled in a messy heap several meters away. On top perched a Pied Fantail flicking its tail from side to side. Also making its presence known were some Yellow-vented Bulbuls playing tag among the tree tops. There was also a pair that resides in a palm tree next to the Punzalan residence who treated us to a show every morning. Also at the park, flitting high up in the acacia trees were a flock of Golden-bellied Flyeaters. As we returned home, I stalked a Zebra Dove feeding alongside the road.

Five species in an hour wasn't bad. Most of all it satisfied the craving I have been having since we landed on Philippine soil.

Whittier Narrows

The air was nippy that Saturday morning we arrived at Whittier Narrows . The sun seemingly reluctant to wake from its slumber. It was uncharacteristically silent as we hit the trail that passes by a small pond.

Further down the trail I saw a bird perched on the top of tall bush. Without her binoculars (she lent it to my niece who was with us that day) Cynthia started ticking off possible ID’s:

“Kestrel” “Nope”

“Mourning Dove” “Guess again”

“What is it, then?” she asked, finally giving up.

“Northern Flicker”, I replied.

I tried to move closer to get a better angle, but as soon as I set up my tripod, it flew away. Not a good start I thought to myself.

We moved on and came upon a dried up pond. Just as we descended into it, the sun finally broke through from the horizon and flooded the thicket in front of us with its warm light. As if on cue, birds were suddenly everywhere! The particular bush where I focused my camera produced in quick succession: Song Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow, House Finch, Allen’s Hummingbird, Lesser Goldfinches and Anna’s Hummingbirds. Several feet away from me, Cynthia was stalking an American Robin. A flock of Bushtits flew by.

Our return route took us alongside a creek by the San Gabriel River . There we spotted a hawk quietly perched on a bare branch of a tall tree. It allowed us some photo ops before flying off on some avian errand. Continuing our stroll by the creek, we were startled by the scolding call of a Belted Kingfisher as it flew across the river. We tried to relocate it later but it was nowhere to be found. San Gabriel River yielded a few Killdeers, one Spotted Sandpiper and the ubiquitous Mallards. A great Egret soared silently close to us.

At 9 am, we called it a day, hied to the nearest Golden Arches and indulged in our usual Saturday morning routine.

A Bird without a Beard

Oct 8, '06

It's only about 50 miles away, so we thought we would revisit Patagonia, AZ. The trip was uneventful except when a rock hit my windshield causing a sizable 'break". The damage was not that big, but it would still cost me more than $200.00 to have my windshield replaced. "Not again!", I exclaimed, since this was the second time it happened. But Cynthia reminded me of what the Pastor preached yesterday, saying that God is always with us, not matter what happens.

We got to Lake Patagonia at about 8-ish in the morning. We disembarked from the parking lot which was just a few feet from the trailhead. I was setting up my gear when a family of deer meandered by. Of course, they were gone as soon as I was ready to shoot. This has become a recurring experience for me and would probably be the theme of my photographic life - the ones that got away.

There was another birder as we hit the trail, a lady named Epstein (forgot her first name). She was intent in viewing something flitting through the mesquite in front of her. As is customary among birders, we asked her what she was looking at. In soft, whispery voices, naturally. "Northern Beardless Tyrannulet", she whispered back. Now there is name that invokes a million questions. In the United States, it is only found here in Southeast Arizona, why then is it called "Northern"? And what is it about being "Beardless"? I have not seen a bird with a beard. Wattles that hang from their chins, maybe, but never a beard. Why then call the poor thing, "Beardless"? Did it have a beard before, shaved, and is now beardless?

Other than the curiously named bird, Lake Patagonia did not offer much. Our trip to the same place in February of last year was a lot more productive. It being close to lunch time, we headed for the town. Patagonia has only one street and not a lot to choose from when it comes to places to eat. We ended up at the hotel where we stayed before and had ridiculously priced sandwiches for lunch. Actually it was cheaper here than at the first place we ventured into. We should have gone back to the Velvet Elvis and enjoyed the special pizza served by its Mexican owner.

Our next stop was Paton's place. This is a world-renowned private residence that allows birders to view the many bird feeders placed strategically all across their yard. Again, we've seen more kinds of birds here last year than we did that day.

It was quite a disappointing day. We just chalked it up to experience and still vowed to return someday when the birding (and hopefully, the eating) would be better.