Sunday, March 2, 2008

A Sucky Weekend

Worth the pain: The infamous Yellow-bellied Sapsucker at Santiago Oaks Regional Park.

Windy days and birding are a bad combination: small birds disappear, big birds are skittish, and hats, trail maps and bird guides fly off uncontrollably as you try to convince yourself that dragging yourself out there was really a good idea.

The only thing worse than birding on a windy day is birding on a windy day while wearing hard contact lenses: take all of the above and add the misery of feeling as though your eyeballs are being scraped with industrial-strength sandpaper, and you have the makings of a truly sucky outing.

And this how I spent my Sunday. Glenn and I followed the herds to Santiago Oaks Regional Park--normally a terrific birding spot--to chase the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker reported earlier this week. When we got there, each of us mistakenly thought the other had memorized the exact location where the bird was found. This put us both in a foul mood.

Then the first of an infinite series of grit-laden 40-mile-an-hour gusts hit me right in the face, and before long, every bit of gravel and crumbled dry vegetation in Santiago Oaks somehow managed to wedge its way between my contact lenses and my poor myopic eyeballs. (And no, neither soft lenses nor Lasik are options for me.)

Still, we soldiered on. We heard and saw a lot of the usual suspects (a Red-shouldered Hawk, a Bewick's Wren, both Lesser and American Goldfinches, Bushtits, Scrub Jays...) and we got a brief glimpse of a Red-breasted Sapsucker. We also encountered the Sea and Sage group doing their monthly tour of the park (which we had completely forgotten about); they told us they had seen both the Yellow-bellied and Red-naped Sapsucker, and gave us directions to both.

Now things were starting to look promising: hitting a Sapsucker trifecta seemed like a worthy yet doable challenge, and the wind seemed to have died down somewhat. So off we went.

And the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker was exactly where they said it would be: in the pepper tree leaning over the path near the top of the wooden staircase close to the entrance. Also there were a couple of birding buddies of ours, who as of late seem to schedule their Sapsucker hunts at the same times and places as us. We spent an enjoyable hour together watching and photographing both the Sapsucker and the many just-arrived spring butterflies nearby. We dipped on the Red-naped--but as Meatloaf famously observed, two out of three ain't bad.

A quick spin through Tucker Wildlife Sanctuary later in the afternoon yielded a nice assortment of sparrows: Golden-crowned, White-crowned, Fox, and Song Sparrows were all foraging actively in the leaf litter under the low bushes, as were both California and Spotted Towhees.

But the wind kicked up again and my eyes hurt so badly I felt like crying. It was time to finally call it quits.

But getting a new bird made most of the misery worthwhile. It always does.

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