Thursday, April 10, 2008

My Friends Are Drips

An Oak Titmouse at Caspers Regional Park.

Our birding by ear class wrapped up two weeks ago, and it made me realize that I'm actually one of those students I totally hate: I always waited until the last possible minute to do my homework, did a half-assed job of it, and spent a dangerous portion of the class itself wondering about the American Idol results show I was missing.

My only consolation was that I wasn't the only one. During one of of last sessions, our fearless leader Sylvia Gallagher played a recording made at Caspers Regional Park a few years earlier, and asked us to write down all the birds we heard. Then she called on us, one by one, to guess at one of the birds.

"California Thrasher?"

"No, no Thrasher."

"American Robin?"



"No Bushtit."

"Yellow-rumped Warbler?"

"Are any of you even listening to the same tape as me?"

And this was my introduction to Caspers Regional Park, which we visited for ourselves for the first time last Saturday.

At first, it looked as though our birding foray would be about as successful as that class exercise. We found a pretty trail framed by oaks and wild cucumber, and heard endless Spotted Towhee and Oak Titmouse calls—but had a tough time actually seeing anything.

"We should have asked Sylvia where the good bird spots are here," Glenn said as we headed back towards the trailhead. "I wish we knew someone who could show us around."

As we descended the trail, the parking lot came into view and so did a figure wearing binoculars. He waved at us, and I realized it was another bird photographer we knew. And, he told us proudly, he was a regular visitor to Caspers and knew all the birds. Sometimes, wishes do come true!

We followed him around for the remainder of the afternoon, as he showed us his favorite spots—"drips" (slowly dripping spigots set up over makeshift birdbaths) set up around the park for the birds. Near one of them, we saw a pair of California Thrashers in a feeding ritual: the male feeding the female as part of their mating program:

At another, we parked our cars and conducted a stationary stakeout, with both Glenn and our friend perching their camera lenses on half-rolled-down windows. There, we saw our first Black-headed Grosbeak of the year:

We also saw flocks of active Acorn Woodpeckers, bright Orange-crowned Warblers (whose crowns were actually orange for a change), a pair of Bullock's Orioles, and singing Oak Titmice and House Wrens. We also saw a mysterious sludge-colored bird with matted feathers, which our friend IDed as a molting Phainopepla (the red eyes should have been a giveaway), and he also got a brief glimpse of what he thought might be a Lazuli Bunting. Alas, I didn't catch this one.

We headed out as the sun started to set, and followed our friend's car back to the park entrance. It then occurred to me that since all we had done all day was follow unthinkingly after him, we had no idea where we had just come from, or how to find those places again.

And the thrill of the day was something that would be tough to explain to anyone but another birder: how sitting in a car by a dripping spigot for four hours could be so much freaking fun.

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