Friday, August 10, 2007

Birding Alone

Solitary birding can be either a huge rush or a frustrating pain in the butt. One one hand, I love it because it's fantastically soul-cleansing and relaxing, and it gives me the freedom to obsess over favorite places and birds without worrying about boring anyone.

On the other hand, there's something sad about seeing something really cool and having nobody to share it with. It's kind of like opening your Christmas presents by yourself. Then there's the problem of seeing something neat and unusual and having nobody believe you. I hate it when birds pull that Mr. Snuffleupagus routine.

And they tend to do that a lot.

Yesterday, they were having quite a time of it. Early yesterday morning, I ran a few short laps around Tanager Park in Costa Mesa. It's a tiny park, and a good spot to find Downy Woodpeckers, Northern Flickers, and Western Bluebirds, but it hasn't been very birdy as of late. But as I circled the park, I noticed a large, stocky, short-tailed bird on the lawn near some playground equipment: a Red-shouldered Hawk. It stayed on the ground briefly, then flew into one of the small trees near the footpath.

He was perched only about 7 feet off the ground, so I got a really close look at him as I ran past the tree. This surprised me, since the Red-shouldered Hawks I've seen so far have been fearful of people and seemed to perch as high off the ground as possible. Glenn has been trying since forever to get a close-up photo of one of them, but the mere sight of a camera lens 25 yards away is enough to send them flapping off into the ether.

Glenn would have loved this. But of course, he wasn't there.

After lunch, I headed to San Joaquin to give a tour of the marsh to a visiting conference group. They couldn't have chosen a worse time to look for birds: 2:30 in the afternoon in mid-August. Before we set out, I warned them that what we would see wouldn't be representative of the full diversity of bird life in the Marsh. And that it would be hot and uncomfortable.

Still, even the usual suspects in the marsh are fun to watch, and surprising and exotic to non-birders. (Every time I give a tour, I remember how beautiful and elegant-looking American Avocets and Black-necked Stilts really are.) A five-second sighting of one of the resident bobcats was an added bonus. But on the whole, the marsh was quiet, almost sterile. The trees were silent and empty....

... until after the tour ended and the conference-goers took off. After filling out the required paperwork in the Audubon House, I decided to take another spin around the marsh by myself. And of course, NOW a flock of Song Sparrows and a pair of Spotted Towhees were scratching gleefully in the middle of the path. And an Osprey was perched on a pole by the ponds near the entrance. And the female Wood Duck was back where I saw her last week. And a female Hooded Oriole was calling and jumping about in the trees in front of the Audubon House.

And there was nobody to show this to, and since I didn't bring a camera, no way of documenting it.

I hate it when this happens.

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