Sunday, June 7, 2009

Lazuli Blue

It's not a Lazuli Bunting. But it will do.

The first time I saw a Lazuli Bunting, I couldn't believe it was real.

Glenn and I were walking up a brush-lined path in Talbert Nature Reserve in Costa Mesa, looking for hummingbirds, when he said he saw "something blue" in the bushes. A Western Scrub-Jay? No, too small. A Western Bluebird? No, not that shade of blue. It was REALLY blue. And it had red and white on it too.

Then I saw it for a brief moment. It was blue. REALLY blue. An amazing, iridescent eyeball-searing aquamarine kind of blue. The only things I'd ever seen in that color were foil balloons and particularly swank East Los Angeles low-riders.

And now this color was on a tiny little bird in the wild mustard off the side of a local bike path. No effing way!

From that moment on, I lusted after Lazuli Buntings—and have been rewarded by perhaps one or two brief but wonderful sightings a year. And shortly after returning from Florida, a friend mentioned seeing "lots" of them on the Santiago Truck Trail near Modjeska Canyon. Lazulis don't occur in Florida, so they topped my list of Western birds to bag before returning to Florida in the fall—so I dragged Glenn up there and after an hour of dodging mountain bikers, saw not a one.

But they just had to be out there, somewhere. After all, Hamilton and Willick's canonical text on the birds of Orange County lists them as regular summer birds. And at nearby Tucker Wildlife Sanctuary, where we have been spending lots of time as of late, one of the staffers told us that Lazulis had been seen regularly along the trail leading up the hillside. So we hiked up to the top, and got great looks at Phainopeplas, Ash-throated Flycatchers, and California Quail—but no Lazuli Buntings.

No matter—even though we didn't get the Lazulis, this was the closest and best look we ever had of Phainopeplas, and we saw several of them to boot. Very cool birds! As for the Lazulis, we'd just come back another day.

We did, and once on the top of the trail, it started raining. And still no Lazulis.

Back in the main part of the reserve, Glenn camped out by a set of feeders to photograph the Black-headed Grosbeaks and California Thrashers lingering in the area, while I wandered off in search of other more exotic creatures, including Lazulis. I came back half an hour later to find that he had seen and photographed a juvenile Lazuli Bunting—a sighting that surprised the staff, who had only seen the birds away from the main part of the reserve, up on the hillside!

And I had missed it.

There have to be more Lazuli Buntings out there somewhere. I don't want to go back to Florida without seeing one. So yesterday afternoon, I went back to Talbert, where I'd had most of my previous sightings. I just knew they were in there, and that I'd find them—how could anyone NOT see something that color?

But after three hours of watching singing Yellow-breasted Chats, and dive-bombing Caspian Terns, still no Lazulis. The closest I got were a number of singing Blue Grosbeaks. I also had an unexpected sighting of a male Red-breasted Merganser sitting on a sandbar in the Santa Ana River—I thought they only occurred here in the winter.

This was cool but it wasn't a Lazuli Bunting.

I didn't get one this week. Nor last week. Have no idea if I'll get one next week. But I want one. Bad.

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