Monday, October 15, 2007

Turn the Twitch On? - The Sequel

In my earlier blog, I debated the idea of being a "twitcher" - a birder who chases lifers and rare birds. Last Saturday, Oct. 13th, an opportunity to twitch presented itself when a Black-throated Blue Warbler was reported seen at Holmby Park in Westwood - a few blocks from UCLA.

"What the heck", I told my wife, "lets do the twitch" So eager were we in getting there as early as possible, that the usual side trip to McDonalds was done away with. There were three birders already staking out the firewheel tree which the rare warbler frequents. We wanted to be sure that the bird was there first, before we bring in our heavy equipment, so I just grabbed my binoculars and promtply interrogated the birding trio. They have just arrived, we were told, and had not seen the rarity yet. Just then, Cynthia saw something blue move behind the huge green leaves.

"Is that it?", she asked me. Peering through my binos, I immediately noticed the blue color and white wing bars.

"There it is!" I yelled to the other birders, pointing to the red-flowered tree.

"Go get the cameras", my wife reminded me. Handing her the binoculars, "Don't lose track of it" I implored her as I ran towards the Jeep. It took me a good 10 minutes before I got my gear all set-up. As I plunked the tripod in front of the tree, I heard my wife say, "It is gone. It showed itself briefly near the top of the tree and then flew off to the taller sycamore trees".

We waited for two hours waiting for it to return as it has been wont to do (so we've been told), passing the time by taking shots at a somewhat cooperative Black-throated Gray Warbler, our quarry's commoner and less colorful cousin. My patience finally ran out and not having breakfast, my stomach has started to make funny noises. So we reluctantly left and drove back home (I read later that the Black-throated Blue Warbler actually did return to the same tree a few minutes after we left).

Which brings me to conclude that as a birder, twitching is exciting, but the bird photographer in me was very heartbroken at not being able to capture the image of a rare and lovely bird. For me, birding and bird-photography had become inseparable. I cannot be content at the medium of being a happy birder and at the same being a sad photographer. Chasing and getting a picture of the Pectoral Sandpiper a week ago was a stroke of luck and it doesn't always end up like that as evidenced by Saturday's turn of events.

Looking back, most of the twitching we did this year has been succesful - the Hepatic Tanager in San Diego, the Pine Warbler at Estancia Park, the Mississippi Kite at South Coast Botanic Garden, the Bay-breasted Warbler at Sea Gate Park and the Arctic Warbler at Galileo Hills. Of course, we dipped on a few as well - the Yellow-throated Warbler at Tewinkle Park, the Buff-breasted Sandpiper at Ballona Creek and the Blackburnian Warbler and Blackpoll Warblers at the Laguna Tams. But then such is the life of a birder, even the most avid of twitchers. You win some, you lose some. The thrill, I believe, lies in the uncertainty of the chase. Another notch on my lifelist belt or an addition to my growing album of bird photographs (or none of those) are just end results of a game of adventure and chance.

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