Monday, July 16, 2007

Dog Day Afternoon

Birding is not spectacular nor much fun in summer in southern California. Luckily, the Philippine Bird Photography Group instituted a bi-weekly "Show-off" Contest. This is a friendly competition, the winner being awarded "bragging rights" for a couple of weeks. Occasionally, somebody would donate a prize. But overall, it was just for fun. What's even better is that we, who are here on the other side of the Pacific Ocean, can join, too! I had the honor of being the first judge when the "show-off" started two weeks ago. Now that my judging role is over, I am excited to be a participant. The next contest's subject was: doves and pigeons.

With that in mind, my wife and I set out to the promised land of Mourning Doves - San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary (SJWS) in Irvine. We also decided to do our photography in the afternoon, when the warm rays of the soon to be setting sun will give that certain kind of glow to the somewhat drab brown plumage of our target species.We left the house at 3 pm and I suggested that we pass by Bolsa Chica first for a couple of "red" birds; the Reddish Egret and Red Knot. Big mistake! Never go near the beach on a hot Saturday afternoon. Pacific Coast Highway was jampacked with all sorts of vehicles each one intent at dislodging their human passengers to the inviting beach and cool breezes across from our intended destination. Needless to say, we had to abandon all hopes of seeing the Egret and the Knot (they probably weren't there anyway, we rationalized).

An hour already woefully wasted, we proceeded to SJWS. The usual suspects were there - stilts, mallards, peeps and some phalaropes. We were relieved to find our Mama Killdeer still tending her eggs. We were shooting some Avocets when two brown birds whizzed by. "Mourning Doves!" I shouted. Quickly, we approached the bank of the pond to where the birds landed. We got our shots but still were not quite happy with the results.

We were patrolling the the trails between the ponds when we saw this guy, who is shorter than my 5' 7" frame and probably the same weight as mine, but he was holding a Canon 1D MkII with a 500mm lens attached to it! Let me tell you that this combination is quite heavy. When he told us that he is there to shoot Ospreys in flight, I was definitely impressed! While we were talking shop, he pointed to a fluttering white bird in the distance. "White-tailed Kite", he said nonchalantly. Wanting to get a picture of this bird in flight, Cynthia persuaded me to go after the beautiful raptor.

Of course, the kite was nowhere to be found when we got to the place where Thang (the guy with the big lens) saw it. But as luck would have it, when we were going back, we saw a Mourning Dove perched on a bare branch cooing sweetly to his ladylove. We started clicking away. After a while he flew off but we glimpsed some movement among the leaves below where he used to be. Silently moving closer we saw the object of his affections. Once again cameras were raised to capture the image of this lovely creature. Cynthia, who always has a passion for perfection, wanted a clearer view of the bird. To do this, she had to stand on top of a narrow concrete fence, about three feet high. There she went merrily shooting while her faithful and loving husband steadied her lest she topple over and ruin precious and expensive equipment. From her higher, if precarious, vantage point, she naturally got the better photos. And I can proudly say that she had my support on that.

Content with the pictures we got and sunset about to happen soon, we started the trek back to the parking lot. Then we met a lady (if you could call her that) with a young boy in tow and a small dog on a leash. I informed her that dogs are not allowed in the sanctuary and there are signs at the entrance that say so. "Oh, I didn't know that.", she replied coolly, and ignoring completely the information just given her, proceeded towards the ponds. Thanks to my wife's even-temperedness for restraining me from giving the interloper a piece of my mind and probably a even a piece of San Joaquin mud.

Oh well, our day has just gone to the dogs.

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