Olive-backed Pipit, Yorba Regional Park, 11/2/14. Photo by Tom Benson. (Thanks, Tom!)
Twitching—that strange pastime of expending copious quantities of time, money, and fossil fuels to lay eyes on some avian waif—is ever contentious in the birding community. The die-hards will drive from San Francisco to, say, Orange County for a single bird. Then there are the sanctimonious types who scoff at such Iditarods and laud local green birding. I align more closely with the latter group but still enjoy the occasional twitching libation.
My surveillance of the rare bird networks is woefully nonchalant. Case in point: when Jeff Bray laid eyes on a funky pipit Saturday afternoon, I didn’t hear of the news until a full twenty-four hours later when I was leafing through my inbox and saw the OLIVE-BACKED PIPIT headlines. Binoculars in hand, I stumbled downstairs, grabbed the car keys, yelled, “Mom, you don’t need the car for the next hour, right? Okay, great, bye.”
I was halfway to Yorba Regional Park (a drive of perhaps ten miles—nice and close for a Code 3) and hearing about the UN’s latest global warming report on NPR when I realized that I should have biked. Oh well.
The parking lot was full of birders packing up tripods and camera lenses. Was the bird gone? I power-walked toward the pipit’s lair, briefly stopping to interrogate a white-bearded birder bearing Swarovoskis and a BigPockets vest (incidentally, the quintessential Birder). “Yup, still there…don’t worry, there’s seventy pairs of eyes on him.”
I found a symmetrical semicircle of birders in the open woodland with all manner of scopes, binoculars, and cameras aimed at the circle’s origin. To the uninitiated, the scene would recall a druid ceremony. The newest convert, I followed the gaze of the dumbfounded crowd to the streaky bird that looked very much like a pipit trying to be an Ovenbird.