Saturday, April 12, 2008
A spring treat: One of this week's Nashville Warblers
One of the pleasurable benefits of my job has been swimming after work. After 10 hours of teaching, writing, dealing with students, and occasionally wishing I were out birding, there's nothing better than a long, hard swim. And my campus has a gorgeous 50-meter outdoor pool framed with tall pines, which as of late have been filled with singing American Robins (the pines, not the pool!).
In the fall and winter, the swimming was great: when it was 50 degrees and drizzly out, and lap swimming hours started after dark, I could swim to my heart's content without bumping into anyone: in every lane there were maybe 3 or 4 well-behaved aging triathletes and other random fitness buffs.
But spring has arrived, which ironically means that lap swimming now is a form of torture. Instead of being a relaxing escape from the crowd, it is now an exercise in defensive collision avoidance. I can't swim fast (but I can and do swim a couple of kilometers a day), so out of courtesy to faster people, I generally stay in the lanes designated for slower swimmers. But now, since it's light out and warm out during most of the lap swim hours, the slow lanes are now filled with people who can barely swim at all: I feel like throttling those bikini-clad naifs who dog-paddle wussily along, then randomly stop and grab onto the lane markers (which is the swimming equivalent of parking your car for a picnic in one of the center lanes of the 405.) It's like trying to maneuver around a bunch of hippos on Prozac.
Believe it or not, this does relate to birds. Last week, Glenn got some great hummingbird shots at Huntington Central Park, so another photographer pal of his asked if he could join us there for more fun. So we met at the Huntington Park Central Library, right behind the hummingbird garden, a bit before 8 this morning.
And since it was spring migration, a clear and pretty day, and prime photo time, there were almost a dozen other photographers in the parking lot, setting up their tripods and wiping off their lenses. And heading straight towards the hummingbird garden.
Yup, there's a pattern here: the better things get, the worst they get.
I didn't want to add to the crowd, and I was more interested in finding warblers than hummingbirds in any case, so I took off on my own, keeping my cell phone on in case Glenn and his pal actually did see something good.
Near the Slater Street parking lot, I did get a nice inventory of spring warblers: a couple of Nashville Warblers, several Townsend's and Black-throated Grays, as well as the usual Yellow-rumped and Orange-crowned Warblers and Common Yellowthroats. Another birder (one of only three I saw, surprisingly), told me he had seen a Plumbeous Vireo as well as the American Redstart that I reported a few weeks back. (I was really glad that he had gotten the latter, since Glenn and I were unable to get a photo of it—at least now we have someone to back up our ID.)
I was wandering around by the island looking for more warblers (and seeing a surprisingly large number of White-crowned Sparrows) when I saw the other birder again: he called me over, saying he'd gotten a Lazuli Bunting!
I LUST after Lazuli Buntings. They totally thrill me. And I can count my actual sightings of them on the fingers of one hand.
He had seen it in the island, just a few yards back from where I was looking. We looked into the foliage where it had been foraging, without any luck. While we were waiting (in vain) for it to return, I did get my first-of-the-year sighting of a bright male Western Tanager. Glenn phoned, saying he and the other photographers had located and photographed the Great Horned Owl fledglings. I told him about the Lazuli, and he was by my side on only minutes. And of course, the stupid bird was nowhere to be found.
We then returned to the hummingbird garden. Glenn said the hummingbirds had been scarce (probably because of the number of people looking for them), but there had been a lot of butterflies. Even better than an actual hummingbird was a very active hummingbird moth (officially, a White-lined Sphinx Hummingbird Moth) that was foraging on the same purple flowers as the small number of Anna's, Allen's/Rufous, and Black-chinned Hummingbirds in the area:
It was definitely the coolest bug I've seen in a while. While Glenn and the others chased after butterflies and hummers, I looked around for more birds: I got a male Bullock's Oriole and yet another Black-throated Gray. It's definitely a sign of how spoiled I am that I was actually getting tired of both birds.
And there's no excuse for that. The only solution is, of course, to get out and enjoy them while they're here.