Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Birder Watching

On Sunday morning, I spent a few quiet hours at Huntington Central Park, looking in vain for the American Redstart seen by the Slater Street parking lot. The area by the parking lot was loud with the chattering of birds, so I spent about an hour there, waiting to see what might show up: I was rewarded by a pair of Red-shouldered Hawks, a female Summer Tanager, and a large number of Townsend's, Yellow-rumped, and Orange-crowned Warblers.

But something was wrong. The park was busy; joggers, dog-walkers, and families with kids were everywhere—but no other birders. I worked my way toward the island—lots of people mucking around in the brush, for reasons unknown, but none with binoculars or cameras.

I was at the park from 9 to noon on a sunny midwinter Sunday, prime birding time in a prime birding place—and yet, it was just me. It was as if every other birder on the planet had dropped off the face of the earth.

I was soon to find that this wasn't the case.

After lunch, Glenn and I returned to San Joaquin Marsh to see if the American Bittern and visiting African weaver were still around. In the parking lot we ran into a couple of occasional birding buddies and a familiar-looking photographer staking out the weaver. Once Glenn set up his tripod, this established a critical mass of people all looking at the same spot, which attracted yet more birders.

It seemed as if we couldn't walk three feet without someone stopping us to ask about Glenn's photo gear or the inventory of ducks in Pond D, or if we'd seen anything unusual (we hadn't—the Bittern had disappeared.)

We did manage to see a good assortment of raptors— Red-shouldered and Cooper's Hawks, both dark and light morph Red-tailed Hawks, a Northern Harrier, and a White-tailed Kite. We also saw a very fat gopher excavating a burrow, dangerously close to an area frequented by an aggressive Great Blue Heron.

There were also plenty of sparrows hopping about near the cages in the parking lot, and I suspected there might be a Golden-crowned Sparrow or some other treat mixed in with the White-crowned and Song Sparrows, but we ended up spending most of our time in the area talking to people about birds rather than actually looking for them. And after a slightly creepy morning of feeling like the last birder on earth, this was actually okay.

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