Sunday, July 26, 2009

Bird Tweets

Shut up and bird!

I'm probably the last person under 80 in the civilized world without a Twitter account. I have several principled reasons for this: (1) sloth, (2) my life is generally boring, (3) on the rare occasions it's not boring, I'd much rather throw myself fully into whatever I'm doing than tell everyone about it, and (4) all those perpetually exciting people with Twitter feeds would probably agree with (2).

But there is a weird, haiku-like allure to some tweets. At best, they're like phone calls from kidnap victims: just enough info to leave you hanging for more. Thus,some pundits have declared blogging in full sentences to be hopelessly démodé. Just in case they're right, here's my weekend as a series of fake tweets!

Saturday, 8:00 a.m: 2 early 4 migrants at Palm Point. Here anyways. Y?
8:05: Whistle-like call/song in trees. Can't ID.
8:06: Can't locate calling bird. Where is it?
8:07: Nothing in trees but 2 ducks. No other birds. Who's calling?

8:08: Black-bellied WHISTLING-DUCK. DUH!

Sunday, 7:50 a.m: Deer at Paynes Prairie, by parking lot. Awesome!

8:15: Bobwhite calling. Can't find it.
8:20: 12-foot gator w/open mouth. Moving towards us. Yikes.
9:00: Found 2 Purple Gallinules! Freaking pretty birds.

9:01: Gallinules have 2 babies! Very cute.
9:15: Cool lavender dragonflies are everywhere! They look blue in pix.

10:00: At platform at end of trail. 2 rangers there.
10:01: Rangers are saying 2 Whooping Cranes seen earlier!
10:15: Waiting 4 cranes. Lots of growling gators. 1 is on trail by platform now.

10:30: The Whoopers are here! Mated pair. 2 far 4 pix.
10:32: Will they breed here? We all hope so.
10:40: Swallow-tailed Kites overhead!

11:00: Effing hot out here! Thunderheads moving in.
11:15: Ack, rain! 1/2 mile back 2 parking lot.
11:30: Swallow-tailed Kites again, and a Mississippi Kite too!
11:45: Hot. Thirsty. Sticky. Need a shower badly.
12:00: Outta here and heading home. Bye till next weekend!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Scenes Through the Rear View Mirror

On the move yet again...

Well, I'm back in Gainesville. I'm counting down the days until fall migration starts, and I promised Glenn that our reward for moving and unpacking in the midst of a Florida summer will be a day tubing at Ichetucknee Springs. We'll also snorkel with the manatees in Crystal River in the winter. And of course, there are zillions of Florida birding hotspots we still haven't hit.

But I'll never see our little apartment in Costa Mesa again. We were fantastically lucky to be 15 minutes away from some of Orange County's best birding spots—Huntington Central Park, Bolsa Chica, and the San Joaquin Marsh. Of course, we can always go back during our visits to my family in Los Angeles, but this will require a 90-minute drive and—the horror!—advanced planning. I'll miss having Bolsa Chica as a convenient place to procrastinate.

The only birds I saw during my last trips to my usual spots were the usual summer suspects. (The only noteworthy bird I encountered in my last week was a Least Bell's Vireo, which was singing loudly but remaining stubbornly out of sight.) So I gave up hunting for non-existent rarities, and instead made a point of trying to get shots of some typical scenes from a Southern California summer.

Here's a common sight at Talbert: a Matilija Poppy, aka "Fried Egg Poppy". These are apparently native to California.

Bolsa Chica in the summer is a sure-fire spot to see Elegant Terns, a So Cal specialty. The shot contains hundreds of them, along with Caspian, Forster's , and Least Terns. It was unclear what flushed this giant flock into the air:

Another summer treat at Bolsa Chica is the chance to see nesting Least Terns and Snowy Plovers up close. Even adult Snowy Plovers have that baby cuteness about them:

And to conclude the nature shots, here is California's state bird, the California Quail. This guy was at San Joaquin Marsh, along with a covey of about 20 others, mostly babies:

While beautiful, these birds are jaw-droppingly dim: when I was small, I was shocked to see our arthritic and slow-witted dog actually catch and kill one—while tethered on a leash! Choosing the dumbest bird in the world as our state mascot was NOT a smart move. Whoever pulled that off couldn't have played up the gorgeous-but-vapid Californian stereotype any more if he tried.

Finally, here's an ode to the non-bird-related institution I'll miss most:

Sunday, July 12, 2009

By The Sea

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.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Is Avocet Right For You?

Seasonal Birding Disorder (SBD) is a serious ailment that affects thousands. If you are a North American birder who suffers from ennui, irritability, or depression during the summer birding doldrums, you are not alone. And there is a solution.

Try Avocet. Avocet is easy to take—only a few doses a week have been shown to alleviate the major symptoms of SBD:

Avocet is most effective when taken with water.

Avocet should not be taken by those with chronic vision problems, or people suffering from liver disease or high blood pressure. Avocet is not for everyone, including birders who've just returned from New Guinea, Costa Rica, or Alaska. Side effects may include sunburn, dry mouth, and increased hormonal activity.

Prolonged or excessive use of Avocet may result in drowsiness or a return of SBD symptoms:

If you experience drowsiness or other SBD symptoms while taking Avocet, stop immediately and contact your mental health professional.

Avocet is available without prescription and is not covered by most insurance plans. If you suffer from SBD, ask yourself: is Avocet right for you?

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Go Team!

Three cheers for the red...


and blue!

Have a burger, re-read the Constitution, and remember, don't poke lit sparklers in people's faces.

Happy Independence Day!