Monday, August 27, 2007
The Northern Shovelers are back! Time to hit the books!
Labor Day is almost here and they're selling tweed again at the malls, but I've refused to believe that summer is over. How could summer be over? My fall teaching doesn't start up again until the end of September, and the birding around here, for the most part, has still been sucky.
But this weekend, the sighting of some early fall migrants made me finally face reality.
My first autumn-ish sighting was at Starbucks on Saturday morning, as Glenn waited to get his latte before we headed back to Laguna Niguel Regional Park: a former student of mine perkily brewing up stimulants for the sleepy masses. "OHMIGOD IT'S YOU HOW HAVE YOU BEEN?!" he screamed over the loud gurgle of steaming milk.
He was one of my best students, but seeing him again made the sloth in me shudder. Fall is here. Time to start writing syllabi again. Actually, time to get my department to finally decide which !*&%$ classes I'll be teaching so I can start writing syllabi again. Blah.
On the upside, fall means more birds. At Laguna Niguel, we saw the same assortment of birds we saw last week—Wilson's and Yellow Warblers, Bullock's Orioles, Nutmeg Mannikins, Warbling Vireos, Nuttall's Woodpeckers, a Pacific-slope Flycatcher and something we thought could be a Cassin's Vireo. Or maybe not:
What is this?
On Sunday, an afternoon trip to San Joaquin revealed the return of the winter ducks: Northern Shovelers and Green-winged Teals were mingling with the Mallards and Cinnamon Teals. We circled the back ponds in search of the "Least Bittern Fest" reported on the list by the Audubon House earlier in the week. The ongoing Bittern party was audible but not visible—we heard several of them calling from the reeds edging the ponds, but saw nary a one.
Just when we were about to give up and head home, we ran into a local birding force of nature in the parking lot. (I'm not sure if she'd like to have her name plastered here, so I'm leaving it out.) The Force of Nature asked us what we'd seen and we ended up trailing in her wake, flabbergasted, for the next 3 hours, as she pointed out random specks that turned out to be Orioles and Tanagers and little dots in the distance that turned out to be Orange Bishops and Soras and Spotted Sandpipers and....
Did all those critters just show up when she did, or did we just miss them during our first pass through the marsh? Most likely the latter...
It definitely pays to hang with people who know more than you. The Force of Nature not only pointed out tons of stuff we probably would have missed, but tossed out dozens of useful tips: for instance, flocks of bushtits may contain Chickadees and Warblers during migration and thus should not be overlooked; and that weird song that I was sure belonged to some exotic migrating sparrow species actually belonged to a young Song Sparrow still trying to acquire the adult lingo. I felt smarter just listening to her.
But I also felt dumb—this made me realize how little I actually know about birds.
Back at Starbucks, my old student told me he had been given permission to take a graduate-level course in the area in which I had taught him last year. This was exceptional, as our department is wary of letting undergrads contaminate its graduate program. And the class that I had him in was one most of our majors hate. Maybe I don't totally suck as a teacher after all! Woohoo!
And it's definitely time for me to get back into my fall mode again. I generally focus my summers on two areas: (1) my academic research/writing and (2) sloth. And area 2.5: birds. Fall means a transition back from being a student to being a teacher, from sucking up information to sharing it.
It might just be fun.