Saturday, December 8, 2007
Orange County Bird of the Week: The Roseate Spoonbill
There is a fundamental difference between the way bird photographers operate, and the way birders operate. Photographers seek out big, pretty birds in nice, pretty settings. Birders seek out anything with wings. Birders can spend hours looking into thick, shadowy foliage for that special warbler; photographers won't bother because (1) birds are great, but actually looking for birds is boring, and (2) even if that bird is in there, it'll make a crappy shot.
Birders flit from spot to spot in search of some rarity rumored to have been seen there 15 minutes earlier, while photographers plant themselves, like sequoias, in scenic locations, waiting for the birds to compose themselves into a perfect shot. This can take weeks.
I know this because Glenn is a photographer who happens to be deeply into birds, and I'm a birder who occasionally takes photos so Glenn won't think I'm making stuff up when I see something he doesn't.
But when the Roseate Spoonbill first showed up in the Santa Ana River in Orange on Thursday, we both knew we had to see it. It had everything both birdheads and photographers could want: It's a rarity. It would be a lifer for both of us. It's big, pink, and pretty. And it's here.
Since I work at home of Fridays, I set off first thing Friday morning to find it: I knew I was in the right place because of the large number of people with spotting scopes and binoculars pacing up and down the bike path. But after several hours, no one had seen it, and I gave up. After all, I was supposed to be at home working.
Today, both of us headed back to Orange, chasing reports that it had been seen downriver late Friday afternoon. Someone told us it had actually been seen a few minutes earlier UP the river, so we returned to our car and followed a caravan of birders to the intersection of Lakeview and Riverdale. There, we learned that the darned thing had been spotted napping nearby earlier, but had just taken off.
Nevertheless, we slogged up the path, Glenn hauling his usual ton of photo gear, hoping the Spoonbill would return. Several people decided to cross the river to see if it was foraging on the channel on the other side. We started heading back to the car. Sigh. This is precisely the sort of birding that photographers hate.
I debated crossing the river to see what was there, but I knew Glenn didn't want to drag his gear all the way back up the path and across the berm spanning the river. We agreed that I'd go and wave back to him if I saw anything.
Just as I turned to go, something big and pink flew up from the channel: the Spoonbill! Glenn immediately started shooting away—and it circled around and landed in the river, just in front of us!
And I realized that we had totally lucked out: had we given up and left a moment sooner, we would have missed it. Had we persisted and crossed the river with the other birders, we also would have missed that great close-up view of him. We only got to see it because we were slothful and indecisive—too indecisive to even give up.
It's a rare moment when one's vices become virtues—and we plan to enjoy it.