Tuesday, July 28, 2009

A Walk in the Crowds

I am perhaps the Silas Marner of birders. I mean I watch my wallet in the same unwavering passion as I do in watching birds. And so when I discovered that the Los Angeles Arboretum will not be charging any entrance fees on the third Tuesday of the month, I was ecstatic! A whopping $5 savings right there!

I was one of the first in line at the gates when they opened at 9 am. As I meandered along enjoying the butterflies flitting among the lovely flowers, I saw a Red-whiskered Bulbul. This exotic bird was one of the main reasons I visit the Arboretum. They are quite common and have been known to breed here. This one however was perched far too high in the treetop for a good photograph. Confident that I would have more encounters with it as the day progressed, I moved on to observe the other avian denizens of the park. Which wasn't much, sad to say. Summer birding doldrums is still in full effect as temperatures were already in the high 90's at ten in the morning.

Then came the crowds. It turns out that I wasn't alone in availing of a "freebie". Families of  varying sizes were everywhere. With them came children. Loud, noisy, exuberant children. Now don't get me wrong - I have nothing against kids, I have 4 grandchildren of my own - but when you are intent on trying to photograph a bird, it is not a good idea to be surrounded by a shrieking throng of young ones.

My hopes at ever seeing my favorite bulbul were fading fast with each minute that passed by. In almost abject resignation, I just contented myself at photographing the various flowers in the Arboretum. One of the places where there is a proliferation of some colorful blooms were at the top of the man-made watefalls. It was while I was taking a breather after negotiating the steep stairs that led to my destination that I heard a rustle and warble close to me. A Red-whiskered Bulbul was peeping through the leaves calling "kink-a-jou". I quickly aimed my telephoto lens and fired off a quick shot, knowing fully well that it will be just one of those "documentary" photos. Then as if obeying a divine command, the bird flew to an open branch just close enough to be at my lens' minimum focusing distance. It gave me a curious look, hopped to another branch, gave me another look and then flew away.

After that encounter, I was happy to be walking with the crowd of people out to enjoy a glorious summer day. If it were not for fear of being thought that I had gone off of my rockers, I'd be skipping and yelling among the children in a celebration of joy.

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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Grackle

Once upon a summer morn aglow, my wife and I decided to go
To a lovely park some sixty miles away.
The place is called Laguna Niguel where birding always go well.
As we entered a verdant dell gentle breezes made the leaves sway
Squirrels and chipmunks scampered and engaged in rowdy play
It was a lovely day!

Then as I stood 'neath a tree, I heard a soft tweedle dee.
Intrigued by the sound I resolved here to stay.
Soon came an eerie cackle, a snort, a tweet and a gaggle
A long whistle and a prattle. I could not shift my eyes away
From the branches above me as I began to pray
To spare me from this horror that comes my way.

Suddenly the noises stopped and to my front a dark bird plopped
It stared at me and opened its beak as if wanting to say
Some words of deep sagacity beyond my mortal mental capacity.
As I await in chilling trepidity, it uttered a spray
Of plurks and prrrts and a plethora of sounds in great array
That filled the air that summer day

“Speak, O bird", I uttered feeling quite absurd,
“Speak to me, O bird, for yours is the day.”
With eyes a-sparkle, it raised its head and said, “I am a grackle.”
“I am in such a debacle”, he declared as he bowed in dismay.
“I wanted to be the new national bird of the U.S.A.
But certainly not this way..”

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Some Walking

Last Independence Day Cynthia and I did some walkin' at San Joaquin (did you get that?) Wildlife Sanctuary in Irvine. It was the usual summer doldrums with only a few species to see. The birds were so sparse that fellow birder/blogger Felicia Lee recommended to take "Avocets" to relieve such avian ennui. Sure enough the Avocets and their young at Pond D and E were always a sight to see.

Actually we were hoping to catch a glimpse of the Black Tern that was seen here just recently. Unfortunately only Forster's (and only a couple of them) were foraging the deeper ponds. After some walking (here we go again..) around Pond 2 and the temperature slowly climbing to almost unbearable heights, we were startled by a loud chattering. My wife patiently stalked the source of that sound unsure of what bird is creating such a racket. Finally, she was able to get a photo of what she termed as a "loud brown bird". When she showed the image to me, I realized right away that it was a Yellow-breasted Chat. Of course! With that kind of noise-making, it had to be a Chat! For the next half-hour or so, it played hide-and-seek with us - always uttering it's raucous call while remaining out of sight, hidden among the dense thicket around us. For a few moments it would emerge from hiding, perhaps trying to find out if we have given up the chase, and then would promptly disappear again, still continuing it's taunting vocalizations. It was during one of the Chat's attempts to satisfy it's curiosity that I was able to fire off a few shots at last. Eventually, the heat being a great factor, we got tired of the game and left the loud brown bird to it's own antics.

We were at the parking lot getting ready to leave when we were engaged in conversation by Bob who is a regular visitor at San Joaquin (he comes every Saturday for the past 20 years he said - now that is some walking!). A few minutes later, Jim Rowe came along. We have met Jim several times before and he was the "angel" that showed us the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker at Santiago Oaks early this year. He joined our conversation and related how surprised he was to find a Redhead (a kind of duck - not a Lucille Ball lookalike). Cynthia and I simultaneously exclaimed, "A Redhead? Where?" When he said it was at Pond C, we hastily bade them "adios amigos" and half-ran to the pond referred to.

And there it was in full redheaded glory, standing out from among the Ruddy Ducks and Cinnamon Teals, shining in the noonday sun.

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Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Oh, Jay Season

The day started out fraught with mystery. Nine in the morning and we could hear the loud ululations and barking of unseen coyotes that sent shivers up our spines. We were at the Walker Ranch trail at Placerita Canyon last Friday, July 3rd. After a few minutes the howling stopped abruptly followed by an eerie silence that pervaded the whole forest. Eventually everything returned to normal – hikers were passing by conversing loudly as they did so – and the canyon was now filled with the twittering of various birds.

Cynthia and I were taking a breather by the picnic tables watching audacious Oak Titmice probing the leaf litter for food just a few feet away from us when we heard a loud “scheeeck” above us. Steller’s Jay! It seemed a bit strange to find these birds at this low elevation – they normally inhabit the pine forests 5,000 feet and beyond. It must be the season for Steller’s Jays. Speaking of audacity, these jays can be quite bold when they are in the mood for it. This particular one was peering down at us with rapt curiosity perhaps hoping for some tasty handouts. Evoking no response from us other than getting its picture taken, the Steller’s Jay eventually flew off albeit quite disappointed.

We also decided to move on. We witnessed an aggressive male Hooded Oriole chase off an Acorn Woodpecker that made the mistake of landing on the tree where the oriole’s fully fledged brood were being fed by their mom. Then we followed the incessant shrieking of a raptor trying to determine its location and identity. We would catch a glimpse of a hawk-like bird flying in between the tall pine trees but then it would completely vanish from sight yet still vocalizing continuously. Finally we saw the bird long enough to know that it was a young Red-shouldered Hawk. Our curiosity satisfied, my wife and I both agreed that it was time to have lunch

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