Sunday, July 12, 2009
Greed is good: A fledgling Least Tern at the Least Tern Reserve at Huntington State Beach.
My summer trip home is drawing to a close; I return to Florida next week (just in time for hurricane season! Whoopee!). The good news is that Glenn will be coming with me. The bad news is that means the end of 10 years in our nearly-seaside aerie in Costa Mesa. We'll be back in Los Angeles fairly frequently to visit my family, but no longer will we have our own little space just minutes from beach.
So we've been doing a farewell tour of all our favorite beach spots. Our first beach stop was the Least Tern Reserve at Huntington State Beach, which we visited on Thursday morning. The reserve itself is a fenced-off area on a pretty beach justifiably popular with surfers.
We volunteered there as docents two summers ago; it was great fun watching mating and nesting behavior of the terns, and seeing how much the chicks grew every week. (Less fun were the occasional run-ins with belligerent people who couldn't understand WHY tossing frisbees at nesting birds is not a good thing.)
This year's crop of babies is now in fledgling stage: most of them can (sort of) fly, but are still depending on their parents for handouts.
Just up the mouth of the Santa Ana River was a pair of Red-breasted Mergansers. Both looked rather scruffy. A friend who was with us thought one of them might have been oiled. (This photo is a bit backlit and washed-out, but it will do for documentary purposes.)
In Talbert Marsh, just inland from the reserve, we heard what we thought were Nuttall's Woodpeckers, Hooded Orioles, Bullock's Orioles, and European Starlings calling and drumming loudly from somewhere nearby. It turned out to be a very vocal Northern Mockingbird in full-on mimic mode.
(In Florida, the Mockingbirds near my place imitate Carolina Chickadees, Northern Cardinals, and even Sandhill Cranes. At first they sounded like completely different birds to me. Then I realized that Mockingbird songs, like wines, are very much dependent their terroir for their flavor.)
On the way out of the reserve, we saw a mysterious—and sad—sight: a dead (but still fresh) Clapper Rail on the bike path leading from the parking lot to the beach:
It hadn't been there when we arrived, so it must have died within the last three hours—how, we have no clue. I have a huge soft spot for Clapper Rails and was hoping to see one before I left—but not like this. It's always a tragedy to know that an endangered bird has died. We reported it to the local birding gurus, and it is now headed for an educational taxidermy collection. It will now spend the rest of eternity being ogled at by busloads of schoolchildren on field trips. I suppose eternity could be a lot worse. (It could be a lot better, too.)
It was a perfect day at the beach, with postcard-blue skies and huge cobalt waves curling over the heads of surfers too busy and happy to mess with the terns. But I couldn't help feeling depressed about that poor Clapper Rail. I just hope it met its end quickly and painlessly, and enjoyed its preceding years foraging with its companions in the nearby marshes, with the sound of the waves crashing in the distance.