Monday, November 26, 2007

Let Osprey

After complying with the "No Shop Day" last Friday, we did a little shopping Saturday morning. Well, my wife did. She wanted some clothes for the holidays so we went to Ross' at Foothill Blvd. in Pasadena. Best Buy was just next door, but I was able to resist the temptation of going over. Being unemployed can make a strong defense against needless buying even if the goods were at bargain prices.

But I digress. That afternoon we visited Bolsa Chica. Our target was the Reddish Egret (Egrets?). I already have photos of this lovely wader but that was when it was still a juvenile and not yet sporting the reddish feathers on its head and neck that gave it its name. So we're hoping that today we would be able to get its picture in full glory.

But first, there were pelicans near the boardwalk. Once again, these huge birds were putting on a show. They would fly a short distance then plunge head-on into the lagoon making loud splashing noises. The usual gamut of photographers were there, holding cameras ranging from the common point-and-shoot types to equipment that costs about my wife's annual salary.

Having gotten our share of pelican shots, we moved on to the "hill" where our target species were last seen. But, as luck would have it, they were not there. So we trudged through the trail leading to the tide gates without seeing anything spectacular. On our way back, we were thrilled to notice an Osprey hovering just about next to the trail. The cold wind was picking up and the raptor took advantage of the draft to "hang" in the air without so much of a wing flap. Enduring the freezing blast of cold air, we fired away. Not being successful in its fishing expedition, the Osprey eventually moved on to better hunting grounds.

When we got back to the "hill", my wife pointed to a heron-like bird in the distance.

"Is that the Reddish Egret?"

With the use of my binoculars, I confirmed that we have indeed found our quarry. But then, it was so far out in the mudflats that a decent photograph was out of the question. We did take some shots anyway for "documentary" purposes only.

The Reddish Egret then flew even farther and as we crossed the boardwalk, the reddish sun was making its own exit.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

We're gonna git ya, sapsucka!

The weather was nice Friday so we thought we'd try again for the Bay-breasted Warbler at Whittier Narrows. And hopefully see the Canvasback (which I missed twice before) this time. Let me just say that the Bay-breasted broke about a dozen birder's hearts that morning by not showing up at all. My heart was broken on the other hand by the Canvasback who was also a no-show.

After much lingering in the area and not seeing anything interesting except for a cooperative Spotted Sandpiper and American Robins playing tag, my wife and I were just about ready to leave. Just then something different flew into the tree where the Robins were. It was a Red-naped Sapsucker! And then another one flew in to the same tree. For the next half-hour or so, we played hide-and-seek with these lovely birds, them doing the hiding and we doing the seeking. The joggers and picnickers who saw us running from tree to tree, all the while pointing our cameras in every direction imaginable must have thought that these couple in camos had gone loco.

When the sapsuckers finally flew off to a densely leafed pine tree, we gave up the chase and hoped that we have gotten good enough photographs of the woodpecker-like bird.

Well, we did get ya, sapsucka!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Mission Accomplished

"Your mission should you decide to accept it is to locate and photograph the Bay-breasted Warbler seen at Whitter Narrows Recreation Area. Should fog or any misdirection of locale prevent you from accomplishing this mission, bird photographers all over Southern California will disavow any knowledge of you and your equipment."

After my failure to locate the bird last Friday and my decision not to chase after it during the weekend, I went back to Whittier Narrows Monday morning to try my luck at seeing, and maybe getting a few photographs of the Bay-breasted Warbler. I arrived a little after eight am. The place was covered by thick, soupy fog. I proceeded to the area where it was last seen. Next to the fenced children's playground, construction workers have begun their work. Engine noises and men yelling disturbed the idyllic scene. Not seeing any bird activity at the nearby trees, I went back to the warmth of my Jeep and dozed on and off for about an hour.

About 9:30 am I decided to give it another try. As I approached the area I saw a birder. He said that he had not seen the Bay-breasted yet but explained that he saw it yesterday in this place as he pointed to a clump of trees. Soon we were joined by Jim Moore of the San Fernando Valley Audubon and Jeff Webster of Whittier Audubon. Jeff led us to a huge maple tree where warbler activities were beginning to pick up. Soon I saw a Hermit Warbler pop-out among the dense foliage and I informed everybody about it. Not long after, I saw the object of our hunt and enthusiastically announced my discovery to the birders present.

The fog still had not dissipated at this time and getting photographs of the rare warbler was next to impossible. As the hours passed by birders came and went, each one able to lay their eyes on our avian visitor from the east. At around 11 am, the sun finally broke through giving joy to the birder/photographers (including myself) who patiently waited for such an opportunity.

A little after 12 pm with my 2GB flash card full (95% of which were Bay-breasted Warbler shots), my hands numbing from the cold, and developing birder's neck, I called it day. I took more than 200 shots that morning. From these, only 4 were what I considered acceptable. Four was good enough. Mission accomplished.

Monday, November 19, 2007


When news of sightings of a Bay-breasted Warbler and a couple of Hermit Warblers at Legg Lake in South El Monte broke last Thursday, Nov. 15th, I was there early Friday. Despite spending close to three hours, I still dipped - big time! On both species! They were not lifers for me but I wanted to hopefully get some decent pictures of both warblers. I would learn later on that the birds were seen - probably not long after I left.

Saturday, my wife was down with the flu. Even though she gave me the permission to chase the uncommon warblers, I opted to stay with her. For me, no bird, no matter how rare, is more important than my relationship with Cynthia. My wife needs me - that trumps any birding desires completely.

Sunday, is of course, church day. Even more important than husband-wife relationship is God-human fellowship. Attending church services on a Sunday had always been our priority, no matter where we were. Whenever we plan a vacation that would include a Sunday, we always make it a point to go to Calvary Chapel in the city that we are in (there usually is one). For me and my wife, to be close to our Creator is more important than being close to His creatures.

The Bay-breasted Warbler was seen both Saturday and Sunday by a number of birders. I'm hoping it will still be there for me on Monday.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

One flu over..

The flu bug got me yesterday. It got me so bad that I wasn't able to join the traditional Sunday lunch with my kids and grandkids. With a heavy dose of cough syrup and cold medicine, I felt a little better Monday morning. Not that great, but well (and determined) enough to take on what Eaton Canyon had to offer on this bright, albeit cool, morning.

I don't know, but it seems like Hermit Thrushes had developed a certain kind of fondness for me. It was a Hermit Thrush that greeted me with a song as soon as I entered the grove behind the Nature Center. In the three hours that I spent at Eaton Canyon, Hermit Thrushes would always pop up, one of them eyeing me from almost arm's reach. It then flew at me, so close that I felt the wind from its wings only to land a few feet behind me continuing to give me a curious eye.

There is a place behind the Nature Center that I always refer to as the "Drip" because that's basically what it was..a faucet that was allowed to drip and form a small, shallow pool for birds to drink and bathe in. I spent most of the three hours just standing at "shooting" distance from there. My patience was rewarded by getting photographs of the shy and skulking (and quite uncommon) White-throated Sparrow and a lifer for me..Purple Finch!

White-throated Sparrow
Noonish and bird activity dropped somewhat. As I packed up my gear, I thought about what transpired the past three hours which seemed to fly by so quickly, and you know what? I felt a lot better... in more ways than one.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Soli Buteo regalis

It was a beautiful sunny morning last Saturday - a perfect day for bird photography. But gasoline prices had gone higher and even worse, I was feeling a little bit under the weather. My birding spirit prevailed over this dilemma primarily because there was allegedly a Ferruginous Hawk (Buteo regalis) sighted at Peck's Pit. Peck's Pit was close enough that it would not create a huge dent in my gasoline budget and the weather was nice enough that my cold would not get aggravated. Besides birding experts are still not in complete agreement as to whether this was really a Ferruginous inasmuch as it is way off its normal habitat and I wanted to help - hopefully through photographs - confirm its identity.

We saw a couple of birders as we got off the Jeep. They informed us that they saw the hawk but they thought it was just a young Red-tailed - a very common species. They also said the bird flew across the lake and thought that it would probably go back to the school compound where it was first seen. Undaunted by this not so encouraging news, my wife and I proceeded towards the lake resigned at just photographing the usual denizens of the park. Just then I noticed a raptor flying in from the lake.

"There it is!" I yelled and sprinted after it, Cynthia following right behind me. It landed on top of a tall sycamore and we moved slowly to get a better view. We spent about half an hour taking photographs despite the distance and the elevation of our subject. Eventually the hawk flew and we thought that that was the end of it. But then it decided to perch on a lower branch of another tree a few feet from where it was! This time we got terrific views of the raptor as it sat there, less than 50 feet away! Without a doubt, this is a Ferruginous Hawk, albeit a juvenile one.

At home, as I was downloading our photographs, I realized that we took almost 200 shots of just one species of bird. With the exception of a couple of shots of a Red-tailed Hawk (which we took just so we can compare it with the Ferruginous), we did not take any picture of any other bird that day.

The Ferruginous Hawk certainly deserved to be the bird of the day.

Monday, November 05, 2007

A Short Story and a Long Tail

I can't believe I went 10 days without birding! Was my passion for birds waning? Heaven forbid! A few factors contributed to this pause in my birding activities: High price of gasoline (please realize that I am currently jobless), no reports of any unusual sightings within my comfort radius of driving, entertaining Cynthia's daughter and her family who were visiting from the Philippines, and, I'm quite embarassed to admit, sloth.

But, when news that a Long-tailed Duck was seen at Bolsa Chica, the spirit of twitching awakened in me. Undeterred by the heavy fog on Saturday morning, we proceeded to Huntington Beach. A gang of photographers brandishing a variety of lenses that would put Ritz Camera stores to shame were already making negotiating the boardwalk a test in personal maneuverability. With Brown Pelicans putting on a show, dive bombing for fish just a few feet from the railings, and Forster's Terns zooming overhead, ducks were the norm of the day - and I do not mean those birds swimming and calling "quack, quack" - I meant avoiding getting whacked in the head by swinging 12-pound lenses.

Despite all these, nobody seemed to know that a rare duck (the swimming bird) was present in the area. We left the swinging bunch and proceeded to take the trail alongside PCH. While we were trying to look at some White-crowned Sparrows, a gentleman and his son greeted us with "If you're looking for the Long-tailed Duck, you can find it north of the Tidal Gate". We gave them our heartfelt thanks and wasted no time getting to the place referred to.

At the tidal gate, we saw nothing but Lesser Scaups and Surf Scoters with a couple of Buffleheads completing the group. No Long-tailed Duck. We went to the mesa to get a more panoramic view of the lagoon below. We saw Northern Pintails and American Wigeons, but still no Long-tail. Feelings of disappointment began to gnaw at my soul. My wife, bless her, suggested we give the tidal gates another try. There we saw Glenn Price and his wife, Felicia Lee. Even before I could say anything, Glenn asked if I had seen the Long-tailed Duck. I, of course, replied in the negative. Glenn smiled and said, "There it is approaching us." pointing to an almost nondescript brown bird among the black Scoters. My jaw dropped, for it was indeed swimming towards us. Excitedly, I showed our lifer to Cynthia and we spent the next half hour or so taking its photograph.

Like rain that fell on parched earth, my experience with the uncommon waterfowl was refreshing. My birding spirit had been revived.


Our deepest gratitude to Glenn and Felicia for showing the rarity to us. You can find Glenn's excellent photographs at and Felicia's blog (always a great read) at