Saturday, January 17, 2009

Two Toughies

I decided to devote my Saturday to a wild chase to add two difficult species to my Bigby list - Vermilion Flycatcher and Ferruginous Hawk. Both species are decidedly rare in Orange County. To my knowledge, there is exactly one Vermilion Flycather in the county this winter, and probably fewer than ten Ferruginous Hawks are present in the county (and probably most of those are on the mostly-inaccessible Seal Beach Naval Weapons Station.) The flycatcher is at El Toro Memorial Park, a small cemetery in Lake Forest, and one or two Ferruginous Hawks sometimes winter at El Toro Marine Corps Air Station, which is right on the way to the flycatcher.

My alarm clock woke me from a deep coma at the slightly reasonable hour of six-thirty. Neither hawks nor flycatchers are particularly early risers, so I saw no reason to drag myself out of bed in the dark. I covered ground quickly, arriving at the air station around eight-thirty. Irvine Boulevard cuts for about three miles through the heart of the station, and I kept a keen eye open for hawks as I cruised along. Two miles, a few Red-tailed Hawks, and a billion California Ground-Squirrels later, and I still hadn't seen my target hawk. Then I noticed a big white thing on a bush, which turned out to be a Ferruginous Hawk!

Fortunately, after several minutes the hawk took off and flew almost overhead. Beautiful bird. All hawks are gorgeous, but these guys are especially striking.

It didn't me take much longer to reach my final destination, El Toro Memorial Park. It is almost exactly fifteen miles from my house to the cemetery, and I made the trip in about an hour and a half, including birding stops.

I was faced with a dilemma upon arriving at the cemetery. I had to carry my phone (actually, my mom's phone; my phone inexplicably stopped working yesterday) and wallet along with me, but my biking shorts don't have pockets. I resorted to wearing my sweatshirt, which boasts nice pockets, even though it was way too warm to be wearing it. I proceeded to stroll into the cemetery, climb the hill where the flycatcher usually hangs out, and - flushed a small brownish flycatcher! It landed in a nearby tree - drat, a Say's Phoebe. I combed the area around the hill without any luck, and then desperately moved on to other areas of the cemetery. I freely wandered the cemetery, carefully avoiding visitors who gave me black looks and also two rather creepy guys who appeared to be doing doughnuts on a gator over graves.

I found some decent birds, including two new Bigby birds: Mountain Chickadee and Bullock's Oriole. The flycatcher, however, was nowhere to be seen. I scoured its favorite hill a few more times before heading back to my bike for a much needed swig of water (it was burning hot with that darn sweatshirt on) and a snack. Feeling like a hobo sitting on the curb, I snacked and thought of a plan of attack. I finally came up with the age old strategy eat more, try again. So, I ate a chewy chocolate chip snack bar and a bruised banana before reentering the cemetery to have another go at the flycatcher. My plan worked. Thirty seconds later I was looking at the female Vermilion Flycatcher sitting in a tree that I had already checked about twenty times that morning. So, remember kids: eat more, try again.

I triumphantly exited the cemetery, stripped off the too-warm sweatshirt, and high-tailed it for home. Surprisingly, I made it home in an hour and fifteen minutes. That includes some nasty uphill sections! It was a great morning of Bigbying. In addition to the Ferruginous Hawk and Vermilion Flycatcher, I added Horned Lark, Western Meadowlark, Bullock's Oriole and Mountain Chickadee to my Bigby list. I believe that pushes my list up to one hundred thirty-eight. Cool.

1 comment:

Donna said...

good birding Neil! Unfortunately my Bigby list has about 10 birds on it. We have been in the minus degrees and deep snow here in Northern Michigan, so I just haven't felt like getting out. My old joints don't do well in the cold. Some mornings just getting going to go to work is painful! I have seen birds, just not under my own power.

Donna R