Saturday, June 4, 2011

Breaking Lunch

I'm a big boy now. I've got a job, I've been through a year of college, and I can go to the bathroom by myself.

Let's focus on that first item. My job this summer--in the Color Lab at Behr Process Corporation in Santa Ana--is a good one, but, when various [former] friends of mine subject me to tales of their awesome field jobs banding shorebirds or killing cowbirds or doing point counts, a significant portion of my soul briefly burns with rage before withering and crumbling away to dust. In a sarcastic--and futile--attempt to prove to myself that I could have just as much fun as they, I decided to stage a Big Lunch Break on Friday at Carl Thorton Park just a mile down the road from work.

Thorton Park is one of those unassuming urban parks with some weary-looking grass, a few small trees, and a murky, concrete-lined pond. Oh, and it is terrible for birding. But, it was with a bold spring to my step that I exited the car while simultaneously stuffing a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in my mouth, positive that I would make great discoveries in this humble place.

The first bird I saw was a Rock Pigeon.

Things quickly picked up--the next bird was a Western Bluebird! I was actually mildly surprised to end up with two pairs of these...they've obviously invaded every little patch of green in the county over the past couple decades with a rigorous nest-box program.

Things went downhill again, with a House Finch. House Finches were actually plethoric, and I was too lazy to obtain a better photo.

chi-BEER! Woot, a Cassin's Kingbird! Surely the best bird of this mad pursuit, I thought. Ah, being wrong can be so enjoyable sometimes...

Lots of Cliff Swallows were flyin' 'round 'n stuff.

Barn Swallows were also present, and, like the Cliff Swallows, they were flyin' 'round 'n stuff.

It was then that I shifted my gaze to the adjacent schoolyard. A lone European Starling waddled about in the grass, but, to my great agitation, it was positioned between my body and a large gaggle of kids on a playground. I had no desire to be seen aiming a telephoto lens at children, so I set off at a brisk walk to gain a more fortuitous angle on this accursed bird. But, this flying rat had other intentions, and took to the sky before I had the chance to document its presence. I snapped a photo of its departure, and it was fortunate, indeed, that I did, as I did not see another starling the rest of my time there.

I thought it impossible, but then I spotted a bird that overcame the Cassin's Kingbird in greatness. A Western Wood-Pewee!

Unfortunately, there were House Sparrows.

A lone Bushtit fussed about overhead in a pine, uncharacteristically without its menagerie of about sixty comrades. Before complaining about the quality--or lack thereof--of this photo, think, have you ever attempted to hurriedly photograph a caffeinated bird the size of a bumblebee?

Speaking of caffeinated birds the size of bumblebees, I also snagged an Allen's Hummingbird. Much coveted by non-Californians, these little beasts are veritable vermin in Orange County.

Two Mourning Doves lurked outside the fence, and therefore outside the park, but I counted them anyway.

A mother Mallard shepherded her ducklings across the barren lawn to a stinky drainage ditch adjacent to the park. I pitied and despised these ducklings for growing up in such a pathetic place.

A murder of crows eyed the exodus of this young family with obvious interest, and, realizing that the wrath of a hen Mallard is something to be reckoned with, prudently refrained from attack.

An irresistibly cute fledgling Black Phoebe added to the surprising suite of flycatchers in the park.

As is horribly typical of these urban parks, one crippled coot was left over from the winter hoards.

My time was running out. At the last possible second, I scored a Great Horned Owl perched on a nearby roof.

I declare this grand undertaking a resounding success. Fifteen species--excluding the Great Horned Owl, whose origin is disputed--were discovered in forty minutes of birding. Jealous?

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