Thursday, June 18, 2009
What are you looking at?
Seneca famously said that luck is what happens when opportunity meets preparation. Oprah says in just about every issue of her magazine that if you have a big goal, you should (1) understand what motivates you to pursue it, (2) break your big task into smaller, manageable ones, and (3) enlist the help of mentors/friends/allies.
With this sage advice in mind, I set off again on Saturday morning in pursuit of Lazuli Buntings. The opportunity was there: scads of them were reported at the Blue Jay Campground in Cleveland National Forest just days before. The preparation was in place: I know what they look like and sound like, and what kinds of habitats they like. And I know that this is the time of year when they're here. I know why I want to see them (just because), and what I needed to do to carry out my mission (download the directions to the campground and get my butt out of bed early enough to get there during prime birding hours.) And if there were any interesting birds in the area, there would likely be interesting birders besides Glenn and me, too. If the Lazulis were out there, chances are someone would be there to point them out to us. How could we lose?
The campground was apparently somewhere off the Ortega Highway, a beautiful but dizzyingly windy little road that clings to the upper ridges of the Santa Ana mountains. As we wound our way uphill and local drivers zipped around us on hairpin turns, I remembered why I had a somewhat dark mental image of the Ortega Highway: wasn't it known for lots of gruesome car crashes?
Now it was starting to rain, and all those CAUTION: ROCK SLIDE AREA signs were starting to look more ominous. According to Google Maps, the campground was 38 miles from our place. We had now gone about 45, and the road seemed to grow narrower and steeper as we progressed. Had we passed it? Was the entrance not marked? Our birding time was limited because of afternoon obligations, so we cut our losses, turned around, and stopped at Caspers Wilderness Park , a more than respectable spot for birds.
We stopped at the visitor's center, which has a pleasant outdoors area with numerous bird feeders. The center itself is becoming a new home for a colony of Cliff Swallows:
Further into the park, we relocated the drip which we had visited before. Last time, we had seen Orioles, Grosbreaks, and Phainopeplas there, just feet away from us. (And a birder friend we were with also saw a Lazuli Bunting, which we had missed.) But today, we mostly saw Acorn Woodpeckers: a family of there was nesting in a nearby tree, and they darted back and forth noisily with food for their babies. When not tending to the nest, they'd stop for a drink of water:
We wandered around the area and saw Oak Titmice, Western Scrub-Jays, and White-breasted Nuthatches, as well as a pair of screeching Red-shouldered Hawks. This was all quite pleasant—but still no Lazuli Buntings. And now our birding time for the weekend was over.
Seneca was obviously not a birder: There are some kinds of luck you just can't prepare for.