Sunday, February 28, 2010

Looking Back

September, 2004. Cynthia, my new bride (a second marriage for both of us, having lost our spouses to lingering illnesses, hers in 2001 and mine in 2003) wanted me to get back in the groove of things. During our courtship she learned that I enjoy bird watching and photography. She suggested that we do some birding on a Saturday. Since it was the onset of fall migration, I thought a visit to Laguna Tams (a row of tamarisk trees along Laguna Road in Camarillo - and a veritable migrant trap) would be worth the trip.

I borrowed my son's Canon film camera with a 70-200 lens with the hope of getting some pictures of the birds in the area. I can tell that birds are a-plenty when we arrived as evidenced by a throng of bird-watchers seemingly all agog about a certain bird that was skulking among the needle-like leaves of the tamarisks. "American Redstart" was in the lips of every birder we met. Unfortunately, we never saw the object of their admiration. What we saw - and I was even able to get a photograph of - was a Chestnut-sided Warbler.

Little did I know that that bird was even rarer in Southern California than the "legendary" American Redstart. Of course, at that particular time and at that place, I was clueless as to what I was taking photographs of. One of the birders at the Tams was also holding a camera - a digital one. He noticed the antique device I was using and promptly began extolling the virtues of the "modern advances" in photography. Noticing the cynical look on my face, he then showed me the image of a warbler that he took no more than 5 minutes ago (and to think I would still have to wait a couple of days before I can see the results of my photographic endeavours). My jaw dropped a good 5 inches and my eyes leapt out of their sockets. The grinning man in front of me said something, of which only two words remained in my mind: Canoga Camera.

A week later Cynthia and I were at Canoga Camera buying a Canon Rebel 300D then the rage in digital SLRs. Thus began my long and oftentimes tedious adventure into birding and bird photography.

Now looking back after 6 years which involved newer camera models and telephoto lenses and several field guides, I'd like to think that my bird photographs are much better and my bird identification skills are much improved. And I am enjoying our birding trips immensely.

A Western Bluebird - one of my latest shots. Isn't it a tad better than the photo of the Chesnut-sided Warbler?

Monday, February 15, 2010

It's Chum to say Goodbye

Cynthia and I were planning to donate tons (it seemed like) of birding books and magazines to the Sea and Sage Audubon Center at San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary in Irvine. I thought that that would be a good opportunity to say goodbye to our two best birding buddies, both of whom are frequent visitors to that area.

At our appointed time of 9 am, Pat Thelen (whom I have been advising on choosing camera gears and encouraging to go deeper into birding) and Tom Starcic (whom I have birded with several times and is a fellow bird photographer) were already there to meet us. In the relatively short time that my wife and I have befriended this two very nice gentlemen, we have formed some sort of a kindred spirit with them and it is with a certain sadness that we have to say our goodbyes to them. We will be retiring to our native Philippines next month, hence the farewells.

Then there were the birds. It wasn't particularly very birdy that morning, still we were able to see a Downy Woodpecker - the first time we've seen it at San Joaquin, I think.

Spring must be near (although it doesn't feel like it) because Tree Swallows were already checking out possible nesting sites.

From San Joaquin, we did a drive by at Upper Newport Bay and got a Green-winged Teal standing on land (we always see them swimming.)

Continuing at Bolsa Chica, we witnessed a feeding frenzy of a group of (we counted nine) Red-breasted Mergansers - much to the consternation of the Snowy Egrets nearby and the Forster's Terns hovering overhead.

It had been a while since we last visited these places and as we were having lunch we reminisced of the wonderful times we have had birding Orange County and the lovely people we have met along the way. We will certainly miss them and we will miss the birds of that small patch in Southern California. But we will come back someday and experience once more these wonderful soon-to-be memories.

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Friday, February 05, 2010

Persistence Pays

My wife finally retired from work. To celebrate what we would hope to be full time birding from now on, we thought of trying our luck and look for Mountain Quails at Wilderness Park in Arcadia. Where, it turned out, that the only species of interest was an Orange-vested Leafblower whose ear-piercing noise drove away the local avifauna. Including our sought after Mountain Quail. We did hear them, in between the blasts from the leafblower, the "kow-kow-kow" slowly fading into the impenetrable parts of the forest. The only consolation we got was from a Hermit Thrush who popped out from the underbrush and looked at us briefly with those oh-so-full-of-sympathy eyes.

Not wanting to waste the beautiful morning, we debated on where to go next. Cynthia suggested Eaton Canyon in Pasadena but I had a better idea. "Why not try for the Tropical Kingbird at Legg Lake", I told her.

"Are you prepared to be disappointed for the umpteenth time?", she asked. She had a point. I have tried over and over again to see the Tropical Kingbird at Legg Lake. Time and again I dipped miserably. What adds to the pain is that everybody who had been to Legg Lake had seen the bird rather easily.

"Well, if we don't see it today, then we'll try again tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that..." I replied firmly.

And so, five minutes after getting off at the Santa Anita parking lot, we saw the Tropical Kingbird. It was at the bare tree at the southern side of the South Lake where it had almost always been observed. Persistence finally paid off.

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