Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Bird-day Birding.

I turned __ty-three last Saturday, Oct. 24th. I'm one of those people who prefers a quiet celebration..no surprises, no fuss, no whoop-de-doo-dah. My wife was well aware of these conditions that I imposed even before we decided to get married. My version of a pre-nup agreement, if you will. One thing I will definitely acquiesce to do on my birthday is go birding. That is almost a given.

So off to Legg Lake we went unaware that there were picnics being held by SEIU and the Immanuel Korean Baptist Church there - separately, of course. Thankfully, the area southeast of Restroom 7 where sightings of interesting birds happens every year was spared of all the commotion by the picnickers. There we met three birders with binoculars trained at the towering sycamore tree. We quickly joined them and asked the inevitable question, "Anything interesting?" Lots of Yellow-rumped and Black-throated Gray Warblers was the answer. 

Indeed the sycamore was a beehive of activity (I wonder if that is an appropriate analogy..but then a "bird's nest of activity" doesn't quite cut it.). Warblers were practically dripping off the branches. It became a Herculean effort to look at everyone of these flitting, constantly moving little birds with the hope that one of them would turn out to be neither Yellow-rumped nor Black-throated Gray. It was luck that I saw a Townsend's and happily informed the other three birders my discovery. 

It was serendipity -which made my heart do a little jig - when I then saw (and even photographed..woohoo!) a Hermit Warbler! Which I proudly pointed out to my now admiring fans.

I have mentioned in my previous blogs of those birders, whom my wife lovingly refers to as "angels", who would really go out of their way to show us the uncommon birds or the species that we came to that place to see. Most birders follow the "pay-it-forward" rule. This time we were so glad to be the "angels" to this less-experienced-than-us birding trio.

We continued to play the role of angels as we pointed out the single Ring-necked Duck associating with a flock of Ruddys. Then there was the lone Gadwall, swimming in the distance trying to look like a female Mallard.

At the end of about three hours, we have already tallied 38 species and for me that was how I wanted to celebrate my birthday. I'm very happy with that. We had a quick lunch and I looked forward to have this ___ty-three year old body take an afternoon nap.

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Sunday, October 18, 2009

Say the Word and See the Bird

She did it again. Conjuring up a bird seemingly out of thin air. I’m talking about my wife and her uncanny ability to locate a bird that we are looking for. She doesn’t make it happen all the time, though. Only when the proper motivation is there. Aye, there’s the rub.

We have scheduled Friday, October 9th, this way: She’ll go birding with me in the morning then I’ll take her shopping right after that. She needed to buy some stuff to send to her grandchildren in the Philippines and she wanted to get it all done before we meet up on Saturday with her son-in-law who is in Carlsbad attending a Pastor’s conference. So we had a deal. I told her I wanted to go to Bonelli Regional Park to try and find the Bobolink..then she can do all the shopping that she needs to do.

Early Friday we were at the North shore of the park shivering in the nippy air. Surveying the lake’s edge we saw a pair of Redheads among the Mallards and the immature Brown Pelican standing at the edge of the mudflats. The mudflats! It was at the grassy portion of the mudflats that the Bobolink had been spotted. After some meandering we finally discovered the path that leads to the aforementioned grassy area. Only to realize that we have go through some squishy, muddy spots to get there. We eventually reached our destination and flushed a bunch of birds, mostly Savannah and Song Sparrows. Scanning the place with my binoculars, I also saw a Lincoln’s Sparrow and had a quick, fleeting glimpse of a yellowish-brown bird. “That could be the Bobolink”, I told my wife. I then proceeded to give a short description of our target bird to Cynthia. Interestingly, she didn’t bring a camera nor a pair of binoculars as she usually does. I guess her mind was more focused on the shopping she will be doing later. Nevertheless, I told her that the Bobolink has similar coloration to a Meadowlark, except the bill is much shorter and a bit reddish in color. It is also slightly bigger than a sparrow, I explained to her. That said, I began my stake-out at the edge of the grassy area watching for every movement while my wife stood nonchalantly looking at the trees behind me. As I concentrated on my vigil I heard a very soft “bobolink, bobolink, bobolink…”. I took a quick look behind me and saw my wife with her eyes closed, and as if in prayer chanting the name of the bird we were looking for. I smiled as I returned to my stake-out, cyncially thinking to myself the things Cynthia would do just so she can go shopping. Until…..

“There it is.”, she said quietly. I turned around and looked at the direction she was pointing at. And indeed, there it was. Posing for about fifteen minutes as I rattled off perhaps fifty frames, our latest lifer was a joy to behold. Satisfied that it had obliged a pair of grinning birders, the Bobolink then flew off to pursue its own affairs. And now it was my turn to oblige my wife’s desires.

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Sunday, October 11, 2009

Two Wrens Make It Right

I’m thinking of taking up astronomy. After all, among the local birding circles I am getting to be known lately as the “big dipper”. Since finding the Lucy’s Warbler a month ago (thanks to the help of Steve and Becky) I have dipped consistently at finding the uncommon migrants that passed through the greater Los Angeles area. Missed the Brewers Sparrow, the Northern Waterthrush and Black-throated Sparrow at Peck Pit and the warblers at Laguna Tams. I didn’t even bother to chase the rarities at HCP. And of course, the bird that holds a certain degree of schadenfreude for me – the Solitary Sandpiper - from everywhere!

So I considered my visit to Santa Fe Dam last Tuesday as my “physical exercise” (yeah, right! uh-huh). As was expected, I dipped miserably on the Vespers and Grasshopper Sparrows. At least I got the White-fronted Geese – now even a blind birder, if ever there was one, could not miss these birds. My day, however, was made right by the unusual cooperativeness of wrens. Two kinds, actually. The Rock and the Cactus.

First off, as I was traversing the path along the spillway, two, count ‘em, two, Rock Wrens were busily hunting for food a few feet away from me. They just did their thing, completely oblivious of me as if I was merely a part of the landscape. This was one of those rare moments that I don’t mind being treated like dirt. A couple of hundred feet up the path, another Rock Wren was basically doing the same thing.

Checking the grassy area just below the spillway for the uncommon sparrows and seeing nothing but the (ho-hum) Savannahs and White-crowneds, I returned trudgingly and perspiringly to the parking area. (Oh look, there’s those White-fronted Geese again, whopee!). I drove over to the other side of the park where the nature center was and hoped I won’t be mobbed again by vicious Ravens like my last visit there.

Just a few feet off the bicycle path I noticed a Cactus Wren building a nest! A little bit unusual for that to happen in October, I mused. But opportunity presented should be opportunity taken. And so for a good half-hour, I waited (the wren would fly off away from sight and would return minutes later with nesting stuff in its beak) and watched from a distance the untiring efforts of the this wren in building its home. In the blistering heat of the noonday sun even! After this, I continued on the trail and was surprised to find two, count ‘em, two, more Cactus Wrens playing tag ahead of me.

Now who says two wrens don’t make it right?

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Thursday, October 08, 2009

Tales from the Pit - Episode 3 - A Surge of Birds

My wife accompanied me on my third trip to " the Pit". We came with just a be-thankful-with-what-you-see attitude because in my previous expeditions I have dipped so much I felt like a chip over a salsa.

Almost ten o'clock in the morning and so far we have only seen House Finches, the ubiquitous Black Phoebe (is there a place in California at all where there aren't Black Phoebes?) and what seemed like a Northern Mockingbird atop every tree in the picnic grounds. We meandered southwest to the weedy area close to the lake's edge. It was here that the surge began. Right off we spotted a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, then another one and another one flitting among the shrubs!

As we descended closer to the lake we noticed a bunch of sparrows flying back and forth from the grassy portion to the nearby willow trees. Chipping Sparrows - at least a dozen of them!

Throw into the mix some White-crowned Sparrows, a few Nutmeg Mannikins and a family of Common Yellowthroats. We stood there for a while as our eyes feasted on the extraordinary quantity of birdlife before us. Such moments like these that we are enveloped in an overwhelming sense of peace and serenity. Somehow the troubles of the world seem to vanish with every soft chirping and faint flutter of wings from the tiny, colorful feathered creatures that shared the morning with us.

Cynthia and I were still talking about the abundance of birdlife we have just seen as we returned to the picnic area when a movement among the sycamore leaves attracted our attention. Eventually the very active bird exposed itself prompting my wife to exclaim, "Black-throated Grey!" As if they were being poured from the skies, Black-throated Grey Warblers were suddenly everywhere! We have not seen this many in one place at any time!

Noontime and bird activity dwindled significantly. Once again, House Finches, Black Phoebes and Northern Mockingbirds dominated the scene. We left "the Pit" thrilled and excited. We were like children just after being at Toys 'R' Us for the first time.

"What a thrill seeing all those birds!", my wife gushed.

"Yeah, but we still dipped on the Brewer's Sparrow," I replied wryly.

"Dipped?", she remarked, "Hey about Mexican for lunch? I know this place where they have this great salsa dips....."

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Tales from the Pit - Episode 2 - Heron There

Peck's Pit - a name that stirs the imagination. Images of a dark, cavernous place fraught with creatures that defy description are conjured by the mere mention of that name: Peck's Pit.

In reality, it is a park-like area where picnic tables stand over lawn-like grass and shaded by oaks and sycamores. Then there's the lake where fishermen cast their poles with the hope of catching some catfish. It is also a favorite haunt of birders, particularly of late, when some unusual birds were spotted there.

And so, self-respecting birder that I am, visited this birdy place with a strange name a few times trying my luck at finding those unusual birds. There were times I got lucky - seeing both Blackpoll and Lucy's Warblers (see my previous blog) - but more frequently, I wasn't. Although I missed out on the rarer kind, the local bird population, most especially the herons, have been quite cooperative.

One fine day as I was scanning the tiny strip of land in the middle of the lake for a possible Solitary Sandpiper (yes, that single bird bane of my life) and once again dipping badly, a Great Blue Heron suddenly gave a loud squawk and flew towards my side. With the agility of a hungry leopard, I lifted my camera and captured the flight of the huge wader.

A couple of days later, at the north end of the lake, while searching for a Northern Waterthrush (and again failing miserably) I saw a Black-crowned Night Heron knee-deep in green duckweed water. Actually herons don't have knees but I'm just trying to anthrophomorphize the scene I was witnessing.

A short distance from it, a Green Heron, hating to get its feet wet, perched on some branch jutting from the greenish puddle.

Getting pictures of three herons there on the pit is quite a feat and I was happy I picked a place like Peck's.

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