I slouched on the uncomfortable bench and surveyed the scene before me. Birds were plentiful. Still... where were they? Sure, the American Avocets, Great Blue Herons, Pied-billed Grebes, and Black-necked Stilts were there, but that was the usual fare. I was looking for those tiny white screechy birds that fly around and dive into the water. They're supposed to be here... but why aren't they? I felt slightly betrayed. I could bike down to Back Bay - they are all over the place there, after all. However, laziness (or was it weariness?) prevented me from abandoning my post. I slid down farther on the bench, shivering a little in the cool breeze.
Then I heard it. "Cher-bink! Cher-bink!" I looked up, and there it was: a Least Tern (code name: Toy Tern) I stayed on the bench for a few minutes and watched it as it dove for food in the pond. I wouldn't have to bike down to Back Bay, after all; I was at San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary. Number two hundred and two for my Bigby list.
Huh? Wait - since when is Neil's Bigby list over two hundred? Since today. It's a long story, but today I decided I must break two hundred.
Prior to today, my Bigby list had been balanced at one ninety-nine for nearly two weeks. I set off early this morning, and steadily pedaled down the mountains to sea trail. My target was Grasshopper Sparrow, and I knew just where to find it: Sepulveda Vista Point, immediately adjacent to UCI. As I labored up the hills along Culver Drive, doubts crept into my head. Sure, there had been a Grasshopper Sparrow there on Birdathon, but that was a whole month ago. Would it still be there?
I panted up to hill to the point (I locked up my bike at the bottom of the hill and headed up on foot. I am an adventurous person, but I won't ever try to bike up that hill), ears cocked. Horned Larks sang with their tinkly voices, a Blue Grosbeak warbled away, and... A GRASSHOPPER SPARROW BUZZED! I couldn't help but perform a little victory dance (no one was in sight, fortunately). Number two hundred! I crept up the grassy hillside and managed to spot it sitting on top of a metal post. It sang frequently.
Non-birders would certainly not understand my excitement over this bird. If a non-birder saw one (which is very unlikely, because the elusive Grasshopper Sparrow has become very uncommon in Orange County), he would undoubtedly shrug it off as "a sparrow". If you aren't impressed by this bird's looks, then you won't be impressed by its song; many would either completely miss it or pass it off as an insect. I think it is a very interesting bird though. I stalked it, getting excellent looks and not-so-excellent photos before it fluttered off with its stubby wings.
Satisfied, I cruised back down all the hills I had labored up on the way and soon arrived at San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary. I had expected to easily find Least Terns, a species I still needed for my Bigby list. In reality, I had trouble with this one. I did find a Willow Flycatcher near the parking lot, a little brownish flycatcher that looks a lot like about twenty other little brownish flycatchers. I suspected it was a Willow Flycatcher when I first spotted it, and the bird was courteous enough to call to clinch the identification. Bigby bird number two hundred and one.
I finished up at Pond Two (as described above) with a couple Least Terns, my third new Bigby bird for the day. My birding for the day, however, was not done. While biking up the San Diego Creek Trail towards home, I noticed this flock of gorgeous White-faced Ibis.
After I had finished gawking at the ibis, I noticed this Black-crowned Night-Heron (code name: Night-crowned Black-Heron) staring up at me from the rocks below.
After a lengthy bike ride (why do all the hills have to be the last few miles when I'm most tired?), I arrived home. I rode precisely 35.38 miles (I got one of those nifty bike odometers), picked up three new Bigby birds, and had an immeasurable amount of fun. Oh yeah, and I got exercise. What more could one ask for?