Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Only Two Birds

He's back, and Bittern ever!

On some days, a good birding day feels like a shopping spree—I sprint through the day checking off as many new sightings as I can, and go home giddy with pride in my new acquisitions.

Saturday was not one of those days. We ended up spending the day focused on only two birds—but still had an awesome time.

We started our day at Tewinkle Park, where Glenn hoped to refind and photograph the Brown Creeper and Red-breasted Nuthatch that Bettina Eastman had shown us the week before. After a few minutes, we hadn't seen or heard either bird, but we did see a photographer who told us he had just been shooting at San Joaquin marsh, where a very bold and visible American Bittern was hanging out. Glenn had been wanting forever to get a good Bittern shot, so we hit the road and headed to San Joaquin.

The American Bittern was, as promised, in the reeds only a few yards from the shore of Pond D. And it was easy to find, as there was a phalanx of guys with big lenses parked directly across from it—the bird clearly didn't seem to mind.

The Bittern was great fun to watch (at least when he wasn't completely obscured by the reeds). I loved how he stalked his prey with his long neck completely extended, parallel to the ground like the barrel of a sniper's rifle. I loved how the stripes on his neck looked like some bold design statement when he was out in the open, yet made him nearly invisible when framed by the reeds. And I loved how he liked to stand with his neck and bill stuck snobbily into the air—clearly, he thinks he's Bittern us! Ha ha.

Glenn and Bettina both guessed it was the same bird who had been seen in the pond several times over the summer: perhaps he had managed to stay relatively hidden all along, until the recent rise in water level forced him out.

The second bird we got to obsess over was the exotic/escapee Taveta Golden Weaver hanging out in the parking lot, near the bird cages. Again, we spent about two hours photographing and watching it, and explaining to passersby that it wasn't (a) a parakeet or (b) a messed-up Western Tanager.

As the sun started to set, we returned to the pond so Glenn could get some sunset shots of the Bittern and some of the other birds. A female Hooded Merganser was there, diving in and out of the floating leaves and reeds, and a couple of White-faced Ibises were lurking about as well. It was a perfect ending to a mellow day with a couple of good birds.

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