I needed to go birding Saturday morning. Staying at the office until 8:30 on Friday night wasn't the way I wanted to end the week. I needed the cathartic effect of seeing winged creatures enjoying their God-given freedom.
We uncostumarily woke up late (was I that tired?) but that didn't deter us from accomplishing my mission. Off to the San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary (SJWS) in Irvine we went. For the past two days, there were reports that a Yellow-billed Cuckoo was seen in its premises. Adding a lifer to my list would certainly be a soothing balm to yesterday's frayed nerves. We surveyed the areas surrounding the several ponds where the rufous-winged brown bird was reportedly seen. At one point, a Tree Swallow eyed us warily as we came unintentionally close to its nest box. Further on, a young Great Blue Heron was unmindful even as we were taking its picture from about 5 feet away. Suddenly, I saw a brown bird with a longish tail fly quickly from one tree to another!
"There it is!" I yelled to Cynthia. We both scanned each and every branch of the tree where it landed, mentally turning over each leaf, searching for our elusive quarry. Certain birds have this uncanny ability to become invisible right under your nose. Despite our diligent efforts and my wife's bionic ears, the Cuckoo, if it was indeed that bird, was never found again. Was I sure it was the Yellow-billed Cuckoo? A GISS (general impression of size and shape) would make it so. But I'm not an expert birder by any stretch of imagination so, reluctantly, this bird will not make it to my lifelist...yet.
The sun was at its apex and the temperature was in the high 90's. It was time to return to the more mundane activity of satisfying our growling stomachs.
Credit my wife for her perfect intuition. After lunch, she suggested we try birding Upper Newport Bay and Bolsa Chica knowing this would somehow alleviate the disappointment of the missed Cuckoo sighting.
Upper Newport Bay was uncharacteristically quiet although it afforded us some views of Black Skimmers doing their thing. Skimmers are quaint seabirds in that their upper beak is shorter than the lower beak. The reason for this, is that its method of feeding is to dip the lower beak in the water while skimming the surface of the body of water (thus the name Skimmer). When the lower beak hits an object (hopefully, a fish), then the Skimmer would close its beak and swallow the prey. After the Skimmers moved on to better fishing grounds, we saw some raptors flying overhead. First there were two, then three, then finally four birds were wheeling and playing up against the blue skies. Again, the GISS says they were falcons. But these were bigger than Kestrels. And they were brown, whereas Merlins are gray. Their identity was a puzzle (did I mention I was not an expert birder?) until I looked at the blown up pictures at home. Peregrines! Not one but four Peregrines! Although not a lifer, these are such magnificent creatures that seeing them would be like laying eyes on the legendary Phoenix.
Bolsa Chica, likewise, was pretty quiet. Luckily, we were again rewarded with witnessing the strange fishing techniques of a Black Skimmer. Terns were all over the place, so we got the chance to practice our BIF shots.
Reminiscing later at home, I was just thankful that even though I did not see the Yellow-billed Cuckoo, the adventure in and of itself relieved me of going cuckoo over Friday's draining work.