Thursday, October 02, 2008

Brightly Dressed Bishops and a Lovely Widow with Red Lipstick

For a moment I thought I have lost my passion for birds. As a matter of fact, my wife has been urging me (almost to a point of desperation, I think) to go out and do some birding. The lack of exciting avian news probably contributed to my uncharacteristic reluctance to pursue my hobby. Or maybe I'm just getting too old for this??? Heaven forbid!!

(On a side note: As I drove through the entrance of Sante Fe Dam, the young lady who mans the booth only charged me half the entrance fee because I am a "senior citizen". And then at lunch, I went to El Pollo Loco and ordered a 2-piece combo to go. I was surprised when the cashier gave me more change from the twenty-dollar bill I gave her than I expected. Looking at the receipt, I noticed that she gave me a senior discount as well without me asking for it. And when I got home, lo and behold I got three pieces of chicken instead of two! I am not "yet" a senior citizen, I just look like one. And maybe that is a good thing.)

Anyway...Finally there were some report of unusual sightings at the Santa Fe Dam in Irwindale. So, Monday morning despite the kooky weather - it would be bright and sunny one moment then there would be thunder and drizzling the next, then sunny again, then gloomy -(Was I in the tropics??) I visited the place. I birded the usual spots and saw the usual birds. The numerous species listed in the report were nowhere to be found. I searched high and low and still could not locate the Clay-colored Sparrow and the Solitary Sandpiper (my new nemesis bird), both would-be lifers for me. After four hours of fruitless pursuit and gallons of sweat - it was humid even when it was drizzling - I called it a day. It was not a total disaster as I saw some neat birds, only they were not new to me.

That night I emailed the birder who posted the Santa Fe Dam sightings and requested for specific directions. Andrew Lee replied with a very detailed description of how to get to his birding site.

Wednesday morning, I was back at Santa Fe Dam. I wasted no time hitting the trail that Andrew mentioned. And according to his description, as soon as the grass became greener, the place became birdier. (And I thought it was just a cliche). Sparrows were flying back and forth across the trail, most of which were Song Sparrows, with a few Lincoln's thrown in. But no Clay-colored.

Part of the trail had some water and mud and as I contemplated whether to go through it or not, I was startled by a flash of red on my left. I turned and almost came face to face with an Orange Bishop (the official name actually is Northern Red Bishop). Woohoo! This lovely species gave me and my wife (and then me and my friend, Tom Starcic also) such a hard time at the Eaton Canyon Wash. I have given up hope of ever getting a good picture of this colorful exotic bird. And now, this was redemption!

At about 9 am, the temperature climbed unbelievably high. Birds were now by the patch of water and started to bathe. Throngs of Song Sparrows dominated the refreshing pool. Some Savannah Sparrows joined in as well. Still no Clay-colored. Then one of the Savannahs started chasing a sparrow-like bird with a bright red beak. The distraught tiny brown bird landed on a branch not too far from me and as I gave it a good look, I knew that I just had my 79th lifer for the year. It was another exotic bird - a female Pin-tailed Whydah (aka Widow).

Having had my fill of exotics, I traversed the muddy trail to where the "pond" was and where hopefully, the Solitary Sandpiper still hangs. Except for scads of Killdeer, no sandpiper of any kind was present.

Now soaking in sweat, I thought it wise to turn back and just count my blessings with at least one lifer and a close encounter with a feathered bishop.

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