Monday, March 12, 2007

Spring has Sprung

It was overcast as we disembarked from the Jeep last Saturday morning which prompted Cynthia to suggest that we leave our camera gears in the vehicle.

“But that is why I have a flash”, I tried to reason out. Only to discover that the recipient of my reasoning had already moved on.

“Why don’t we case the joint first, since this is the first time we’ve been here”, she explained as I caught up with her. It was a statement, not a question.

We tried to follow the instructions I read in the Yahoo listserv in locating the Yellow-throated Warbler that has been seen here, oh, about a month ago. Baseball field on your left, ponds on your right, it said. As we passed by the ponds, Cynthia pointed to a duck with a red head. “Redheaded Duck!” I said triumphantly – proud at my prowess in intellectual deduction and species identification. Only upon closer look did I notice the yellowish top of the head. “Make that Eurasian Widgeon”, I sheepishly conceded. In and of itself, a Eurasian Widgeon is still quite a rarity here in southern California. A little distance from the Widgeon, I happily pointed another duck to Cynthia. “Look, Hooded Mergansers!” this time confident of my identification inasmuch as a “Hoodie” doesn’t look like any other duck at all. Besides, it is also uncommon.

Encouraged by our success, we proceeded to where the tall pines are close to the wall that separated Tewinkle Park from the residential area. A few birders were there craning their necks looking at the treetops. One of them suddenly pointed at some moving object and said, “There it is!” As if obeying a regimental command, all birders present lifted their respective binoculars to the specified direction. But all I saw were some hyperactive Yellow-rumped Warblers, colorful as they were in their newly clad breeding plumage, Yellow-throated Warbler, they’re not. The other birders shook their heads, as I shifted my gaze to them in an unspoken question. Birders are so much kindred spirits that oftentimes words are no longer necessary to communicate our thoughts.

Soon most of the birders moved on perhaps to some more productive birding areas. Except one. This fellow has a tape recorder that he plays back every so often. Maybe it was because of this playback or just the right time of the morning but soon we were literally surrounded by birds! Gorgeous Western Bluebirds were pouncing on some unfortunate worms, White-crowned and House Sparrows were erupting from the bushes, Dark-eyed Juncos (both Oregon and the rarer Slate-colored subspecies) were foraging on the grass. Time to get the cameras I told Cynthia. She agreed unhesitatingly but still unwilling to use her camera (it doesn’t have a flash). My camera up and ready, we hurried back to where the birds were, only to find out that they were gone! All of them! Except for the original Yellow-rumps high in the pine trees, there is not one single bird around! Of course, the guy with the tape recorder was gone, too.

“Why don’t you just take pictures of the Widgeon and the Merganser?” Cynthia said consolingly. So we hied over to the ponds and there saw two photographers, one on each side of the pond, crouched over their big lenses. Needless to say, they were both shooting the Hooded Merganser. Me, always the unconventional type, moved around getting different angles on both the merganser and the widgeon. Meanwhile, Cynthia was relaxing on a bench observing her husband’s strange tactics. “Why don’t you just stay put like those two?” she asked. I just gave her a wink and a smile not wanting to admit that I get cramps when sitting motionless for periods of time. Old age and vanity can never go together.

“I’m done”, I said after getting off a few shots. As we walked back to the Jeep, Cynthia pointed wordlessly to the two photographers still hunched over their cameras. It looks like they were going to be there for the long haul. But for us, we have places to go, birds to photograph, unknown adventures to discover.

Which happened later at Upper Newport Bay. After parking at the only parking spot in the area, we were greeted by the singing of the Song Sparrow. Spring is in the air when the Song Sparrow sings. It was a beautiful song, Cynthia told me. Something I could not appreciate because I am hearing impaired. I know that the bird is singing because I could see it beak open and its throat vibrate. But without holding a microphone to its beak, I will never be able to hear its song.

“Let’s go and try for the Marsh Wren”, Cynthia suggested, who at this time was also carrying her camera, the sun being up and shining, “I can hear it singing”. Up the hill we went to the bridge which the wren (and the Sora Rail, which we hope to see also) calls home. The Marsh Wren was its usual skulking self, always heard but never seen and the Sora was a no-show. When I looked over to other side where the storm drain is, I saw two huge white birds with red beaks. My excitement uncontained, “Swans!” I blurted out. Now swans aren’t your usual bird-on-the-water kind that you encounter any day of the week. Although considered park birds on the east coast, what we were looking at here at this moment looked like pretty wild birds to us. Perhaps these are really park birds that decided to try the freedom that Upper Newport Bay offers. They were quite tame, unperturbed by these two curious photographers (and nobody else, interestingly enough). They were so close and so big that I had to move about 100 feet away just to get the whole bird in my viewfinder. We kept shooting until we both used up our CFs.

Next stop on our tour was San Joaquin Wildlife Area. We were once again greeted by a singing Song Sparrow. As we traversed the various ponds, we noticed that the Tree Swallows are back, fighting for dibs on the nest boxes provided by the sanctuary. Without a doubt, spring is really here.

We have one more place to go – Bolsa Chica. It was past noon when we got there and as expected, the birds were few and far between. The only species that gave us photo ops were Northern Pintails, who after a few minutes decided that it was time to take a nap. We took the hint and headed home for a siesta of our own.

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