Sunday, March 30, 2008

Going Gnats

Cynthia had a one day seminar at Costa Mesa. We both agreed that driving back 50 miles to Pasadena and then returning in the afternoon to pick her up would be economically unwise with the price of gasoline as it was. Not to mention exhausting on my part. To pass away the waiting time I drove over to San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary about eight miles away from the hotel where she was attending the seminar. The sanctuary would be a perfect place for me to further my skills at using my 40D.

A singing Song Sparrow greeted me as I parked the Jeep. He was in the shadows so it presented an opportunity to work up on what I learned about taking photographs in such situations. Although I know the appropriate settings on different lighting conditions, only the 40D with its much more capabilities gave me the challenge to actually put into action such photographic principles.

I was soon hitting the trails and the first thing I noticed were the gnats. Millions of them! They were all gathered flying in perfect unison at the middle of the trail. And there was no way of getting around them! I walked through this cloud of tiny flying insects, flailing my arm like an out-of-control windshield wiper. I had to repeat this maneuver hundreds of times over the next four hours. The gnat clouds were present on all the trails like the plague in Exodus 8:16 (NIV).

Fortunately, birds were quite plentiful too. Tree Swallows have begun staking their claims to the many nest boxes along the various trails. I was photographing these beautiful birds when I noticed that one of the swallows perched on top of a nest box looked different. Slowly and with the stealth of a hungry predator I inched closer and closer to the odd-looking bird. It had a chestnut neck, black cap and a white forehead, unlike the glossy blue-green of the Tree Swallows. Its identification escaped me until I got home when I looked it up and discovered that I got myself a picture of a Cliff Swallow! It may not be rare but it was a lifer for me.

As I walked along Pond C, I saw some Cinnamon Teals. What made me look twice was that one of the birds was darker with a more pointy beak and a yellow streak of feathers behind the eyes. Eared Grebe in breeding plumage! I exclaimed to myself. This is one of the most strikingly colored waterbirds in spring.

Not far from Pond C rises a very tall electric tower and there perched majestically a Red-tailed Hawk. As I aimed my camera at it, it took off and proceeded to glide effortlessly above me. A chance for me to try for BIF (birds in flight) shots and see how the 40D responds. Magnificently, it turned out, as I looked at the pictures that night.

On my way back to the parking lot a Great Blue Heron, oblivious of my presence, was hunting by the side of the pond. Suddenly it grabbed a prawn and consumed it right before my appreciative eyes (and camera).

Noon and I took my lunch at a very crowded In-N-Out close to UCI. After my repast I went back to San Joaquin but the birds were probably all out taking a nap. Sighing, I decided it was time that I do an errand that my wife had so sweetly requested me to do.

Off to Dollar a Book I went where as the name says, all books there are being sold at one dollar apiece regardless of its condition, or whether it was hardbound or softcover, a classic or trashy romance stories. After more than an hour of looking over hundreds of thousands of books, I ended up with fifteen books by Mary Higgins Clark. Fifteen! I didn't even know she was that prolific a writer, considering we already had four of her books at home and that I bypassed buying probably four more.

There was a big grin on my face as I picked up Cynthia from her seminar that afternoon.

"Did you get me some books by Mary Higgins Clark?", she asked with eyes wide open like a child expecting a birthday present.

"As plentiful as a plague of gnats", I replied smiling.

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