Saturday, January 3, 2009
The diet starts tomorrow.
I love Christmas, and this Christmas—despite Santa's frugality—has been one of the best of all. Never have I valued time with my family, or the uneventful pleasures of life in Southern California, as much as I have this year. I've filled up on REAL Mexican, Thai, and Chinese food (and plan to fit in a Little Saigon lunch tomorrow before flying back East), and have gotten my fill of California birds.
Much as I've thrilled at all the new Florida birds I've seen in the past five months, I've missed the experience of birding in Orange County. One thing I've missed deeply are ducks: when I first started birding—as a distraction tactic while training for the Orange County Half Marathon a few years ago—the first birds I noticed, and learned to identify from an ancient copy of the National Geographic guide, were ducks. As I ran my weekly 12-mile training run along the Santa Ana River trail, I distracted myself from thirst, fatigue, and growing realization that I'm a pathologically sucky runner, by watching the ducks bobbing around in the river and nearby ponds. I memorized their markings, and learned their names.
And I ultimately finished the half-marathon in respectable time, and came out with something even better than a finisher's medal and a bagful of free energy gels: the first half-dozen or so birds on my official life list. Ducks are cool.
And as I now know, not that easy to find in Florida, despite the preponderance of ponds and rivers there. The waters nurture alligators, mosquitos, and various herons and egrets, but very few ducks. Life with no ducks sucks.
So it was a thrill to be back in OC, where ducks are a dime a dozen, and often only feet away. Like the Mallards that have taken over the swimming pool in our (now Glenn's, I guess) apartment complex. And the so-ugly-they're cure Surf Scoters (like the one above) at Bolsa Chica: when we were there a few days ago, they were happily chowing down on large razor clams, which they swallowed whole before diving down to search for more. And the ubiquitous Ruddy Ducks, which don't occur at all in Gainesville, as far as I know. I've missed these common little buggers:
This morning, Glenn and I went on my favorite long bird walk, basically following part of my half-marathon training range, through Talbert Nature Reserve and down the Santa Ana River bike trail to Huntington State Beach. On the trail, we heard several Clapper Rails (which we unfortunately couldn't see), along with several Red-breasted Mergansers:
We invited along another birding couple, John and Joan Avise, whom we ran into fairly regularly (and always accidentally) in the past. We've been in touch by e-mail, and since I was finally back in town, we actually got together by design for a change. They wanted to go to Talbert and down the trail, since I had mentioned seeing good stuff there in the past, such as the big flock of Canvasbacks that I reported on Orange County Birding last week. To my great relief, the Canvasbacks were still there, just as numerous as ever:
By time we got back to the car, it was almost 3:00. After a break for a late Mexican lunch, we stopped by Tewinkle Park in Costa Mesa, a short drive away, for no particular reason—but we had seen Hooded Mergansers, a Eurasian Wigeon, a Brown Creeper, a Red-breasted Nuthatch, and a Yellow-throated Warbler there in the past (no, not all at the same time), so we thought something good might turn up. And none of us were ready for this amazingly fun day to end quite yet.
And we weren't disappointed: when the got there, we almost immediately spotted a very bright male Eurasian Wigeon among a large flock of American Wigeons. Unfortunately, it was raining when we got there, so none of us took our cameras out.
It was now starting to get dark. But on the the way back to our place, we saw the most amazing sunset—huge beams of sunlight shining though openings in the clouds, coloring the clouds purple and pink and orange against a darkening blue sky. We pulled into one of the Orange Coast College parking lots to stop and watch it unfold. There weren't any good angles for photos, and photos wouldn't have done it justice in any case. You just had to be there.
It's going to be tough leaving all this behind tomorrow.