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


The Lins said...

Glad to hear that your retirement is going well. Meanwhile, sentiments back at the ranch you left is not so well...the owners had to turn away 14 farmers today. Bless you, Cynthia, and your retirement!

Felicia said...

Thanks for the shout-out! It was great to finally meet you two. I know we'll run into each other again. Happy birding1