Monday, September 28, 2009
Water splashed up onto my outstretched legs. I dug deep into the water with my paddle, gingerly gripping the slippery handle to avoid blisters. Klack! Whoops, I hit my dad’s paddle with mine. We guided our rental kayak through small waves and not-so-small swells created by bigger boats that threatened to run us down.
By the time we reached the end of the outer jetty of Dana Point Harbor, my legs and shorts were soaked with water that reeked of salt and dead fish. As we glided toward the jetty, taking care not to get dashed against the boulders, I rummaged through my backpack until I found the familiar barrels of my binoculars by touch. I scanned the top of the jetty… Brown Pelican, Brandt’s Cormorant, another Brown Pelican, Heermann’s Gull, several dozen more Brown Pelicans… and then, the bird I was seeking: a Blue-footed Booby.
I carefully extracted my plastic-shrouded camera out of the bowels of my backpack and began firing away. Our kayak drifted past the end of the jetty and out of the harbor, so we wheeled it back around and strafed the jetty again. I wildly searched for the bird in the viewfinder. Photographing a bird from a wildly rocking and bobbing kayak is no easy task.
After drifting out into the ocean again, we made a couple more passes by the end of the jetty to get better views of the booby. I tucked my camera back into the safety of my backpack as another wave splashed over the side the kayak. Instead, I watched the booby through my binoculars, which are waterproof. The next day I found salt crystals on the binocular lenses.
By now we had had our fill of the booby, so we steered our trusty kayak back towards the harbor and paddled in, our shoulders only slightly sore. As rare as this bird is in Orange County (the number of records could be counted on one hand), it wasn’t a life bird for me – that day, at least. Two days earlier, I had driven down to Dana Point to chase the booby, but the closest I could get – at the end of the other jetty – was still probably a quarter-mile away. A bird this unusual deserves better views, hence the kayak escapade.
Rare birds… birders lust after them. All too often, however, they simply drive up, look at the bird for a moment or two, and then drive off. What can be learned from such a short encounter with a new bird? Not much. Many birders chase birds simply to tick them off for their list – be it a life list, a state list, a county list, or a year list. On Friday, when I first “visited” the Blue-footed Booby, I spent nearly two hours observing the bird, squinting through the scope and taking notes. Not satisfied with the view, I returned on Sunday afternoon with my dad for better views by kayak. I encourage you to do the same; next time you go chase a rare bird, spend some time with it and get good views.