Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Points North (Part 2)

Morro Rock at sunset

The Central Coast town of Paso Robles is known for only one thing: wine. It has some nice Victorian architecture and pleasant weather, but all of this is in service to the acres of vineyards surrounding the town, and the tourists who come to taste the local vintages.

Since we were now tourists in Paso Robles, and planning on spending the morning there before taking off for San Francisco, we did the logical thing: we birded the town's historic central park. No stinkin' Merlot for us!

(Our reasons for not indulging were purely logistical: none of the tasting rooms opened until 10:30, we were planning on leaving town at noon, and neither of us relished the idea of drinking right before a 3-hour drive.)

The mature oaks in the central park yielded Acorn Woodpeckers, White-breasted Nuthatches, and yet more Bushtits and Chestnut-backed Chickadees. Even stone sober, we had great fun watching the reactions of others passing through the park: Why is that dude pointing a camera into that stupid tree? And what is she looking at with those binoculars?

Better than booze: A White-breasted Nuthatch in Paso Robles

It made me glad we didn't have kids; they would have been unspeakably embarrassed.

Our stay in San Francisco was great fun, and worthy of a break from birding. Favorite rhetorical party question posed by my sister: Are you a pie or a cake? My new favorite rhetorical question: If your Patronus were a bird, what bird would it be? (My brother-in-law chose an excellent bird I had never heard of: a Bower Bird.)

On the way down the coast, we stopped at our favorite secret place to find a Central Coast specialty, the Yellow-billed Magpie. If you've ever driven to San Luis Obispo, you've seen the place: the rest stop a few miles from Camp Roberts, on the southbound side of the 101: the Magpies like to hang out near the oaks in there and eat junk food left behind by travellers.

Our southbound Central Coast stop was Morro Bay. At Morro State Park, we saw a pair of Peregrine Falcons hunting, our first White-crowned Sparrows of the season, and a flock of Lesser Yellowlegs (about 7) feeding near the marina. I had never seen so many of these together before.

I had heard that the campground at Morro State Park was a good place to look for migrants, and it was. On Monday morning, we returned to the park for a few hours before returning to Orange County. Glenn went back to the beach to get some sunrise shots of the sandpipers and pelicans, and I explored the campground. There, I saw Hermit Warblers, as well as Townsend's Warblers, more Chestnut-backed Chickadees—and my second life sighting of a Brown Creeper.

I felt simultaneously sad, mad, and smug that Glenn wasn't there. Sad because he missed the pleasure of what would have been a lifer for him. Mad I couldn't get my little point-and-shoot camera out of my purse in time to get a shot of the Creeper. And smug because I got to see it while Glenn was off taking his billionth perfectly composed money shot of a Western Sandpiper. Ha, ha!

Alas, we could only bird for a couple of hours before heading home—we wanted to be sure to beat the rush-hour traffic when returning to OC. We wished our vacation could have been longer—but who doesn't?

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