Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Knocked Up

Less birding is sometimes more. This weekend, we didn't get to see a huge number of birds, but the ones we did see, we got to watch in intimate detail.

We started with our morning tern-sitting duty at Huntington State Beach. The Least Terns are now starting to settle into their nests, and many have already laid their eggs. The pairs that haven't settled in yet were busy checking out nest sites. We had great fun watching one little tern busily scraping away nest holes with its feet, sending little puffs of sand flying behind it, while its partner looked on—it reminded me of a tiny dog digging for buried treats.

I'm being gender-neutral here for a reason: our docent training brochure said that male Snowy Plovers make the nest scrapes, and the females choose which one to use—but it said nothing about how this division of labor works for Least Terns. I'm guessing that the male terns do the scraping and the females did the choosing for them as well—after all, if the woman had to dig a nest hole, she'd no doubt get it right the first time!

The mating cycle of Least Terns moves way too quickly to make a credible nature documentary, à la March of the Penguins. Just last week, the males were in desperate pick-up mode. We watched one desperate chap plying a female with a fish-by rubbing it up and down her back for at least five minutes—before she finally deigned to take it. I hope she was worth it.

Then there was the cad who approached a female with a nice fat fish, promptly mounted her, then flew off—with the fish still firmly in his beak. Nice. This is the kind of guy women everywhere have been warned about.

And now,the pick-up joint that was the Least Tern Reserve just last week is deepest suburbia—nothing but young families setting up their nurseries. Quite a steep dramatic arc for one week. Least Terns are the definitive masters of speed dating.

The rest of our limited weekend birding also centered around bird families. After our shift ended at the reserve, we headed to Talbert Nature Reserve near our place in Costa Mesa—partly to see if we could find more California Gnatcatchers, and mostly because we were lazy and it was close to home. The gnatcatchers were in their usual spot, making their usual meowing calls, but we also kept hearing a House Wren nearby. REALLY nearby—practically yelling into our right ears. But at first, we couldn't see it.

Then we spotted it—nesting in the cut-off end of a hollow tube that was part of the gate to the reserve. Its mate/parent/whatever flitted back and forth from the nearby bushes to the pipe nest, bearing fat worms and pieces of nesting material.

Our other sighting for the day was a Yellow-breasted Chat, which was kind enough to stay still for a few pictures.

Sunday was a rare weekend day not dedicated exclusively to birding; we decided to take our (absurdly mature, self-directed, and emotionally together) college-age nephew out kayaking in the Upper Newport Back Bay. We spent some time watching the Osprey nest on Shellmaker Island; three birds were there (fledglings?) and another kept watch on a pole nearby. We hoped that one of them would dive and catch a fish for the benefit of our nephew (just so the outing would prove to be more to him than just an upper-body workout with some familial cross-examination tacked on) but no such luck.

But an uneventful day of paddling or birding is still better than a day spent doing almost anything else. What's not to like?

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