Tuesday, August 26, 2008
The park. That's not very informative at all, yet nearly everyone uses this expression. Normally, people use "the park" to refer to that little city park with a few dusty trees and large, sterile expanses of crab grass down the street.
However, "the park" that my family refers to is Irvine Regional Park. We are fortunate to live very close to this large and interesting park that is, as I have discovered, an excellent place for birding. Since it is only a mile away from my house, I frequently ride my bike over there for a few hours of birding in the morning. I did so this morning, cradling my new Nikon D80 in my arms as I sought out birds.
Irvine Regional Park is very lush, with tall trees and nice grassy areas kept alive only by a functioning sprinkler system. Exotic trees such as eucalyptus are ubiquitous, but there are also many native trees, such as oak, sycamore, and walnut. There are also large scrubby areas of the park that are left wild. This makes the park a very good spot for migrants and wintering birds. Skinny, lime-green acorns are already peaking out from the spiky leaves of the live oaks.
Hundreds of people clog the park on weekends - not good for birding. It is definitely a lovely spot for a picnic, but attempting to bird around dozens of family picnics is very difficult - screaming kids, barking dogs, and booming music all drown out the few birds that haven't been scared away by the crowds. However, go on a weekday, and you will only have to share the park with a handful of joggers (and maybe a few birders, too!). Occasionally, an interesting bird will drop in on the small lake in the center of the park. This morning, a lone Snowy Egret was loafing at the water's edge. I apparently looked mighty suspicious to it as I crawled on my belly towards it, because it flew off. I did snap off several photos of it, but they were all back lit. Just a secret - take a back lit photo, slap the title "artistic" on it, and hey! - you've got a good photo!
Other birds were plentiful. Several migrant species were in evidence - a lone Wilson's Warbler, a few Bullock's Orioles, and a cornucopia of Orange-crowned Warblers. I also noted a single male Belted Kingfisher rattling around the lake, one of the first I've seen this "fall".
Of course, I'm not interested in just the migrants passing through the park. I also enjoy watching and photographing the year-round residents of Irvine Regional Park. Irvine Regional Park is probably one of the most convenient spots in Orange County to find oak-associated species such as Acorn Woodpecker, Hutton's Vireo, and yep, you guessed it, Oak Titmouse. I spent several minutes stalking a gang of boisterous hatch-year American Robins frolicking in a shallow puddle on the pathway. The American Robin is one of the most familiar and widespread species in the East, yet here in Orange County they are surprisingly uncommon.
Perhaps the most conspicuous denizen of Irvine Regional Park is the Common Raven. Many of these striking birds hang around the park during the day, brazenly swiping food from garbage cans. At dusk, hundreds drift in to roost in the crowns of the towering sycamore trees. Ravens are certainly under appreciated by birders - they are amazing intelligent and clad very handsomely in glossy black.
One attribute of Irvine Regional Park that surely is not shared by many other parks is the spooky tower on the nearby hillside. Wrapped in an aura of mystery, it sits perched on the hill, seeming to fix the entire park with a sinister gaze. I've come to the conclusion that it is either the prison of some princess, or perhaps a drug warehouse, even though it closely resembles a decrepit farm silo...
I pedaled home around nine-thirty, satisfied with a nice morning of birding and photography at my local patch. There is nothing quite like wandering about Irvine Regional Park early on a sunny morning. The sky is blue, the golden glow of sunlight filters through the lush canopy of the trees, and birds are everywhere. What more could one ask for? Well, maybe some more migrants... I'm looking forward to seeing more migrants streaming through, as well as the return of the common wintering species. (The Yellow-rumped Warblers and White-crowned Sparrows that are so omnipresent during the winter arrive in less than a MONTH!)