Monday, June 29, 2009

Do You Hear what I Hear?

There were confirmed sightings of a Yellow-throated Vireo at Peck Pit in Arcadia last Sunday, June 21st.

Peck Pit - not a flattering name for a place that would host such a rare avian visitor as a Yellow-throated Vireo. But that's how it is known to birders in the San Gabriel Valley. It's real name is Peck Road Park and is actually more popular among fishermen due to the trout and catfish population of the lake within the park. No one really knows how it became to be known as "Peck Pit" to birders. Note that only birders refer to it by that name, not the fishermen and not the occasional picnickers.

But I digress. Monday morning I was at the "Pit" hoping to locate the aformentioned vireo. After going around the park and not finding the bird, I sat at one of the picnic tables not far from the parking lot, pondering what to do next. As I sat there deep in contemplation, a birder approached me and asked the inevitable "Have you seen it?" question. I shook my head and smiled sheepishly at him. Only a passionate birder would understand the feelings of "dipping" on a rare bird and this guy knew instantly what I was experiencing by the pained look in my eyes.

"It was here yesterday", he assured me, pointing to the tall sycamore trees not far from where we were. "Best way to find it is to listen for it," he said, explaining that it is visually difficult to spot the vireo as it blends perfectly with its chosen habitat. Then he asked the question I was afraid would come next: "Did you hear it calling this morning?"

I explained apologetically that I was a bit hearing impaired. I can hear normal human speech (at close range) but not the high pitched twitter of tiny birds up in the treetops. "No problem", he said as he asked me to follow him under the sycamores. In a few minutes he was exclaiming: "I can hear it!" followed almost immediately by: "There it is!" Indeed there it was, a tiny yellow green bird peering at us from among the yellow green sycamore leaves. I was even able to get off a few photos.

"Well, I got to go work", the guy said. I thanked him profusely for finding the bird for me as he waved goodbye. This has happened quite a few times in the past when a birder would lead me to a rare bird. My wife calls these people "angels". Today, not only did I get an "angel" named Larry, he became my hearing aid as well.

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Sunday, June 28, 2009


Recently Cynthia and I met some birders from Chicago at Eaton Canyon here in Pasadena. As a memento and also as an appreciation for our help in showing them the local birds, we had our picture taken together. When they sent me via email a copy of the said photo, I got the confirmation of something that I had suspected for quite some time now. I'm putting on weight!!

That fact was further evidenced when my wife and I decided to go to higher elevations - up in the San Gabriel mountains where birding usually is better in summer. The thought of adding not just year birds but lifers as well gave me a more than adequate motivation to try some places that we have not visited before. Only to discover that it would necessitate an arduous hike of 4 miles with an altitude gain of 1200 feet to be able to see the birds that we were hoping for. I took one look at the zig-zagging trail before us - already gaining 50 feet in elevation for the first 10 yards alone. I. Chickened. Out.

And so we contented ourselves at birding the places that required no intensive walking on our part. Thankfully we still saw a few species. Then again most were too far off for anything other than "documentary" shots. Except, of course, for the Mountain Chickadees who are always accommodating for picture-taking.

Our high elevation adventure (or the lack of it) got me thinking. Perhaps it is time that I start "working out" - you know, like taking a daily hike. Our neighborhood has a lot of undulations that would be great for some serious leg stretching, lung-bursting (and waist-line reducing) exercises.

Now if I could only put those thoughts into real action....

Monday, June 22, 2009

Carpet of Plovers

The sun finally burst forth on Wednesday dissipating the gloom that prevailed over Southern California for about two weeks. I needed to untangle the web of sluggishness that had enveloped my being the past fortnight (and lose the pounds that seemed to have discreetly added to my weight). So I grabbed my "bazooka" and prepared myself for a staggering one mile hike (ha-ha) around Bolsa Chica in Orange County. Of course this arduous endeavor included frequent stops to photograph the teeming local avifauna.

The most common of which were Semi-palmated Plovers. I love plovers - they are such cute little birds which those big, adorable eyes - and Semi-palmateds are perhaps my all time favorites. Bolsa Chica was carpeted with these birds, some even venturing on the trails with such a sans souci attitude that I have not witnessed before.

There were other birds of course - terns were twittering and dive bombing the lagoon in great numbers and dowitchers were probing the muddy waters with their long bills in a peculiar sewing machine motion. A Great Egret caught a good sized catfish that took what seemed like an eternity to swallow.

At the end of my "trek" I was huffing and puffing and convinced that I have lost a significant amount of poundage. Which I immediately regained by feasting on a burger combo at McDonald's.

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Sunday, June 21, 2009

Butterflies Are Free

There was a break in the June gloom last Monday afternoon so I did a quick sortie at nearby Hahamongna Park in Pasadena. With the hope of just maybe, with the slightest of chances, see the Hooded Warbler reported to be there. Well, it wasn't there and so were most of the birds. What was lacking in avian fauna was well compensated for by the abundance of butterflies. Here are some of them:
Cabbage white:

Common Buckeye:

Lorquin's Admiral:

Mourning Cloak:

Monday, June 15, 2009

Well I Can

The Southern California June gloom continued until Saturday, the 13th. Since I have not gone birding due the inclement weather, my wife insisted that we try for the Little Blue Heron at Playa del Rey, dark skies notwithstanding.

After a couple of hours of searching and waiting, the rare wader was still nowhere to be found. It appeared that the dark clouds of disappointment will also descend upon us. Not to see a hoped-for rarity after a week long hiatus from birding would break the heart of any staunch birder. But as in quite a few occasions before, a redeeming event happens. A young Brown Pelican flew in out of nowhere and landed on the Del Rey lagoon. Its antics as it tried to bathe in the shallow waters alleviated the depressing mood that was beginning to creep in on me.

Will I be able to overcome this dark state of my birding soul? Thanks to my encouraging wife who always "stands by her man" and to the bathing attempts of a young pelican, well, I can.

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Friday, June 05, 2009

Wrenaissance Fair

Things seem to be looking up. Patches of sunshine were peeping through the gray clouds promising fair morning weather. The Renaissance Faire held annually at Santa Fe Dam was finally over. My birding and photography fix can now be satisified at a place that I wanted to visit for some time.

Alas, parking lot #5 and the access to the willow forest was closed due to some construction. There goes the possibility of sighting the sparrows and orange bishops, I told myself. Undaunted, I tried the trails behind the Nature Center at the other end of the park. Immediately after crossing the paved bike path, I noticed some movements from a bush. Suddenly a Cactus Wren emerged, saw me, sized me up and then dropped the pieces of dried grass hanging from its beak and uttered what can only be described as the sound made by the strained cranking motor of a Studebaker. (For you young people, you have to google that name). That was what I presumed to be a signal because Cactus Wrens began popping out of bushes only to vanish just as quickly - not unlike those critters in the Whack-a-Mole games. Pretty soon the original rabble rouser himself disappeared. When I returned to the exact same spot fifteen minutes later it was so surprisingly quiet as if it had been devoid of life for centuries. Had I told somebody that this place was the convention center of Cactus Wrens just a few minutes ago, he would have laughed at my face and pronounced me wacko right there and then. Or complimented me for my vivid imagination.

Closer to the Nature Center it was even quieter, bird-wise. So I just contented myself at photographing the various blooms in the area. Then it happened. A chattering noise, a flash of brown that landed on a dead branch. Bewick's Wren. It saw me, raised it's tail, turned around and was gone as quickly as it appeared.

Then came the "ark", "ark" of the Ravens. Six of them were on the ground making those raspy sounds peculiar to their tribe. It seems that they were looking for something - perhaps a carcass of some unfortunate animal. Not finding what they were searching for, they flew off. However two of them circled a few feet above me, all the while making those raucous calls, occasionally swooping close to me as if I were some dead meat. Come to think of it, flies were swarming all over me, too. I needed to get out of there. Fast.

Back at the main area of the park, the lack of bird activity created such a gloomy condition in much the same way as the darkening skies did. It was only ten in the morning and while driving, I was debating with myself whether to go and have an early lunch or to linger awhile and hope for better encounters with the bird kind. The answer came almost immediately. By the roadside were a couple of brown birds hunting for insects among the grass. I made a quick u-turn, parked on the shoulder and peered through my binoculars. My eyes almost popped out of their sockets when I realized I was looking at Rock Wrens. There they were, the Mom hunting for food and then giving them to the almost full grown offspring, both unmindful of my watching them a mere twenty feet away.

And so my birding day at Santa Fe Dam was highlighted by these three wren species. My week-long hiatus was finally over and it felt like a renaissance was sparked within me. As I mulled on my birding plans for the very near future, rain fell.

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Monday, June 01, 2009

Doozy Goosey

In the beginning was darkness. Gray clouds blanketed the early morning skies. Undeterred, two birders were on the go. Our mission - of which we were deadset to accomplish - was to observe the Yellow-throated Vireo at Huntington Central Park in Orange County. It will be a daunting task, we both agreed – the subject bird being quite small, greenish, constantly on the move and frequents the canopies of tall trees.

It was still gloomy when we arrived. Icy breezes sent chills that seemed to penetrate our very being. People and their dogs were everywhere. Another reason not to raise our expectations of ever seeing the vireo. A hundred yards into the park and we saw three birders all looking up at the towering trees.

“Have you seen the vireo?” Cynthia asked one of them.

“It’s here”, he said, pointing to the top of a tree before them.

Then she heard it. Soon we were getting glimpses of the hyperactive bird. Finally it flew across the paved trails and landed on the leafless branch of a shorter tree. We got looks and were even able to take some frustratingly bad photographs of it.

For us it all happened within fifteen minutes of our arrival. That was to be the best luck we would have all day. Another target bird, the Gull-billed Tern, was a no-show at the Upper Newport Bay area. A visit at the San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary would have been a complete disaster were it not for a pair of Egyptian Geese nonchalantly munching some grass at Pond E. Even the Red-breasted Sapsucker that birder friend, Pat Thelen, said he saw earlier at Pond 4 seemed to have vanished into thin air.

When we were approaching the parking lot, the sycamore tree next to it yielded in quick succession: a Western Wood Peewee, a Pacific Slope Flycatcher and what appeared to be some kind of Vireo, probably a Warbling. None of which stayed long enough for a chance to be included in our photographic archives.

In the end there was light and the sun was shining brightly, but for us our birding day was over. It was time to return to the more mundane things in life. Like having lunch.