Sunday, November 29, 2009
Give Me a Break
...and see how much time I'll spend birding!
Thanksgiving. The fall has been a blur of school, college applications, and maybe a bit of birding here and there. A few days without school (or college essays!) gave me the chance to get my fill of birding.
In four days of intense birding, I found at least a hundred and fifty species of birds (including six new Bigby birds: Mountain Bluebird, Northern Waterthrush, Summer Tanager, Ross's Goose, Cackling Goose, and Burrowing Owl), biked at least a hundred and twenty miles, and had an unmeasurable amount of fun. Tracking down the waterthrush was my favorite experience of Thanksgiving break, so that's the one I'll recount.
At some point on Wednesday evening, I realized that I had no plans for the next day. Sure, it was Thanksgiving, but... what does one do all morning on Thanksgiving? The logical answer seemed to be "go birding," so that's what I did. To be more specific, I went birding by bike. Big surprise.
San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary in Irvine was deserted, except for birds and Brian Daniels. It was a beautiful morning. Ducks and shorebirds in the ponds, pelicans and cormorants flying overhead, and passerines chipping in the willows. Brian and I quickly found the previously-mentioned Mountain Bluebird, a female.
The sun climbed in the sky nearly as quickly as our species count. After circling most of the ponds (and seeing many more birds, including a male Vermilion Flycatcher), we turned our steps to the extensive riparian "back area" of San Joaquin. "Let's go get that waterthrush," Brian proposed, referring to the Northern Waterthrush that was wintered at San Joaquin the last few years. Last winter, I spent many futile hours searching the swampy woodland for that waterthrush.
As their name implies, waterthrushes love water, particularly nasty stagnant water with plenty of vegetation. We checked channels of water and wooded ponds to the best of our ability, but came up empty. Plenty of other birds kept us amused, particularly warblers. There were Yellow-rumps and Yellowthroats, of course, but also small numbers of wintering Wilson's, Townsend's, Black-throated Gray, Yellow, and Orange-crowned Warblers.
I became more and more disoriented as we meandered deeper and deeper into the riparian area. Fortunately, Brian knew his way around. We eventually stumbled across a flooded area adjacent to the Lost Trail. "Waterthrush country," Brian announced, and began pishing.
Above Brian's garbed pishing, I heard it. Chhip!....chip!....chip! I crunched several feet forward through the dry leaf litter at the edge of the swamp. Peering into the flooded undergrowth, I spotted it: a small, brownish bird walking along a partially submerged branch, vigorously bobbing its tail. I called Brian forward and we enjoyed the waterthrush for a few brief seconds before it darted back into the dark undergrowth.
"County bird," I stated dully to Brian as we walked away. In fact, it was much more than that. Northern Waterthrushes aren't all that rare in Orange County. One or two show up just about every year. However, I was holding a grudge against this bird. I don't know how many times I looked for this individual bird last winter--six, seven times--but I do know that I didn't ever see it. Finally finding it gave me an immense feeling of satisfaction that still faintly glows as I remember the experience.
The waterthrush and the five other Bigby birds I found over Thanksgiving break pushed my Bigby list up to 261. I wish Thanksgiving break happened more often. At least I have Christmas break to look forward to!