Saturday, November 29, 2008

Wonderful Wetness

Cameras and water don't really mix, I thought as I glanced out the window on Thursday morning and saw rain dribbling out of the leaden skies. It would be pure folly to take a camera that cost a few arms and legs out in weather like that, so I left my trusty companion on the dining room table, grabbed my binoculars, and set off to look for a certain bird.

That certain bird is a bird I've keep a sharp eye out for all fall, but I missed it for my Bigby list. Plumbeous Vireos are rare but regular migrants in Orange County - not exactly a vagrant, since they occur too regularly, and not a migrant either. I suppose they could be considered "magrants". Anyways, I read online about one that Jim Pike and Doug Willick found in Lemon Heights earlier in the week, so I decided it would be worthwhile to spend my Thanksgiving morning biking through the rain in search of a new Bigby bird. Lemon Heights is only a few miles away from where I live, though it isn't called Lemon Heights for nothing: some decent-sized hills lie between my house and the place, Arroyo Elementary School.

Thankfully, the rain held off for a bit, but water and mud still managed to get flung up in my eyes from the wet pavement. I managed to find Arroyo Elementary School without a problem. The place was desolate and deserted; the trees across the street, however, were not. I could hear lots of birds chipping in the tall lush trees - Yellow-rumped and Townsend's Warblers, a Mountain Chickadee, and others. A few boisterous Red-lored Parrots seemed to be having a shouting match in the trees as well. I strode over, expecting to easily find the vireo. I experimentally threw out a vigorous phrase of pishes - lots of birds flew in to investigate, but no vireo. I walked around a bit, still searching for the vireo, when I began feeling raindrops on my bare head. The rain began lashing down furiously, so I scurried over to the closest cover available - a clump of dense bushes. From the relative dryness, I watched with detached interest as a swirling torrent of water swept down the street. I waited... and waited... and waited.

The rain finally tapered off, and I damply emerged from my lair. I meandered around more, half-heartedly pishing at the trees that were filled with Yellow-rumped Warblers and little else. I did find several Western Tanagers and a Bullock's Oriole, both uncommon species in the winter. I decided to give up, figuring the bird must have moved on. After all, I had carefully searched the area for nearly two hours with no luck. I called my mom to have her pick me up, since I didn't feel like riding the several uphill miles home in the drizzle. As I was trudging back to my bike, a grayish bird landed in a tree nearby. Somehow I knew it was the Plumbeous Vireo before I even raised my binoculars. I enjoyed nice looks at it at close range as it sluggishly foraged in the dripping tree tops. I called my mom again to tell her not to bother coming to pick me up... Plumbeous Vireo was a new Bigby bird, so I forced myself to face the wet uphill miles.

The ride home was actually easier than the arduous journey I had been conjuring up in my mind. The Plumbeous Vireo was a new Bigby bird (#227) for me, and a bonus one at that. I doubt that very many other people spent their Thanksgiving morning biking through the mud puddles in search of one little gray bird, but what else is there to do on Thanksgiving other than eating turkey?

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