I boldly secured my first professional bird guiding job and immediately came to have second thoughts. Firstly, do I know what I am doing? General anxiety about competence plagues many people. Me? Not so much. I’m usually thinking we’ll figure it out somehow. YouTube videos and the internet can help with almost any scenario. Identifying birds in the field with clients watching is high pressure. This was worse than joining a band and standing on stage for two hours and not knowing a single song. My next major concern was the condition of our vehicle. The Exploder has a skin condition, electric windows that require manual assists and a second helper, passenger doors that don’t open from the inside, and the dirt was two years thick. Last week my dad surmised that dirt might be the only thing holding it together. Thirdly was the mystery of the persons behind the email. Would they be world class amateurs looking to expand their list? Would they be aggressive, fit, sparrow-chasing maniacs? Would they ask what every call meant? Did they want a deep biological interpretation of bird behavior? Were they uptight, unfit, vegans? Blind, deaf, and argumentative? Boring? Turning a hobby into a paying gig…People dream of this but I know it is fraught with problems. Number one is the clients.
I prepared by looking up some troubling species and considering the most interesting birds to see. Swifts, swallows, warblers, flycatchers are all difficult. The verdin, woodpeckers, and yellowthroats are flashy and fun. Many raptors have migrated so that makes it easier. Then there’s shore birds. My client expressed an interest in this area and I truthfully told him we don’t have many in our immediate area. I left out the I suck at them bit. I also went out and birded my local patches to see who was still here and where they were. The pre-trip excursions got my brain and eyes warmed up. They are also fun. I also gave myself pep talks. I imagined Peg and Rose Ann telling me I could do it. I chose not to actually call them because I didn’t want them to have to lie. I figured I could just pretend to have their unmitigated support. It worked.
Then I had my man get the car washed. He was soooooo nice about this. I popped it on him with little warning and he got it done without complaint. Maybe not asking for a clean car once in all my years of marriage netted this result. Mostly I think it was because Burt is usually a wonderful man and likes to see me succeed.
Burt was a bit surprised at my chuzpah. For years he’s been facetiously claiming to be a professional birder and here I was turning into one right before his eyes. At first I had no intention of asking him along but the day arrived and he was free and I knew it would be more fun for everyone with Burt on the team so I hired him. I was right.
At 7:30 yesterday we picked up our Canadian clients and headed out. Right away we knew we’d hit the jackpot with John and Aleitha. They came to Todos Santos from Yellow Knife, in the Northwest Territories. That’s some 30 hours of driving north of Montana. People from those extreme parts of the world are not phased by a shabby car with amenity problems. These particular people were funny and light hearted and very good natured. Our day began with a positive sign. On the highway to bird spot number one we saw a Cara-Cara. Life bird in prominent display. And a huge, charismatic carrion eater to boot. You can’t ask for a better start. Burt pulled a quick u-turn and assisted with the mega lens and I knew it was going to be okay.
We did the bird loop at Las Palmas and hit downtown Pescadero. We ate lunch. Split for a siesta. Laughed a lot. The clients asked us how many trips we did a week. Burt was evasive. I presumed they meant personal trips so I said 2 or 3. Later I realized I might of accidentally lied. Or was it on purpose? The brain and my intentions are mysterious. We regrouped at 5. Birded the dam. Uh oh. Shorebirds. Swallows. A freaking vireo. Things got sorted out with the help of iBirdPro. Darkness came. We called in a handful of elf owls. They even flew near us. If we’d had a flashlight we might have seen them. We always have a solar powered flashlight in our car but guess what? Cleaning the car has its downsides. The flashlight was still on the kitchen table. We forgot to return it to the car.
At our 9:30 PM pizza dinner in a mood of post-birding delight I confessed (after being handed a baggy of bills) to our new friends that they were my first paying clients. John and Aleitha were surprised and delighted. Aleitha even said she was honored. Can you get any luckier than this?
I learned a couple of things. A laser pointer would be nice to have. A flashlight, duh. Some snacks are good. And I do know enough about the birds here to lead a productive and pleasant tour. I am no bird expert but I know my patch. And we made two new friends. And life is always better with Burt.
Swamp water and mud has a mighty aroma. Smells like love to a dog. Yesterday we took the dogs to Playa Las Palmas and did a bird stroll. I’m prepping to take out a pair of paying clients next week so I thought I’d tour the local bird hot spots and see what I could see. Most of the water is gone from our local oasis and a bunch of deep dark mud remains. Olive and Elvis plunged into the reeds and found some fetid, foul water and happy danced among the green. Swampy water reminds me of the back of a forgotten gym locker or a particular closet in my grandma’s house. Stale, anaerobic, moist, decay. The decay turned out to be actual rather than imaginary when Olive dug up the skull of a raccoon from her wallow. Mmmmmmm, good!
From the swamp we headed to the beach. My dogs took off at a run and left me trying to decided if I was seeing Common or Belding’s Yellowthroats. I counted 8 house finches and decided it was a Common Yellowthroat. When I finally looked up to find the dogs I saw them about 100 yards away rolling in a dead sea lion. Great Googly Woogly. This was a banner day to be a dog. Not such a great day to be a canine companion. Sara Gay and dad had mentioned seeing this poor dreature the day before and I had forgotten. My poor excuse for a nose could not detect the rotting flesh but it was obvious the dogs smelled it from a long way back. I saw the dogs see me and hear me and they got in one last roll when they decided I was too far away to exact a punishment. As I approached they ran off and kept a safe distance from me. They knew the fun was over. I looked over the carcass and decided it was too disgusting to snatch the skull. The smell was overwhelming up close. The turkey vultures hovered nearby waiting to get back to their feast. I remembered reading vultures don’t like putrefaction and pondered how far along flesh can be before it is too gross for a TuVu. Maybe a sea lion is just too tasty to pass by even with maggots.
Last night I woke up feeling so awful I thought maybe it was the end. The kind of dread filled awful that fills a person when the blankets hurt to touch your skin, joints were burning, the body was hot and then cold. I thrashed and could not sleep. Burt and I had a big day planned and there I was with hands too painful to move and a gut that seemed paralyzed.
My Dad arrives this Tuesday. We picked today (Thursday) as our day to head to Cabo San Lucas and pick up comfort foods for him at Coscto. Potato chips, peanuts, chocolate, wine, parmesan cheese. Things that will help ease his transition into our rustic life in Pescadero Heights. To entice us to make the run Burt decided to load up our Sea King rowboat onto the truck and we’d float out on the San Jose estuary and do so killer birding before we went shopping. All night long I obsessed about our plans falling apart. I Decided I would go no matter how bad I felt. And that is what I did. I figured I could lie in the boat while boat rowed us around. I pondered the inevitability of my gut starting to move again and figured I might have to explode from one end or the other over the gunnels of the vessel. Burt could handle it.
We made it to the Laguna San Juan in record time thanks to the newish toll roads by-passing all of the Cabo hotels and urban areas. At 8:30 we pulled into the lagoon parking and re-read the signs that we just then remembered telling us no boats are allowed on the lagoon. Oops. Funny how we both remembered we knew this fact just as we were reading signs reminding us of the fact. So here I was on an adventure that now required self locomotion. I gathered my wits and slowly trudged about. We checked out the new birding platforms. Be forewarned the steps were designed to give a degree of excitement not typically found while bird watching. The predicted gut explosion came right after I exited the scary bird tower and just as 40 some school children headed our way. Lovely timing body. Thus relieved I suggested we drive to another spot and see what we could see. Time to get some distance between me and my scat.
At the new area just a 100′ away from the previous area (water in between) we got the best look yet at the endangered and endemic Belding’s Yellowthroat. I captured a picture for my eBird records. Soon it was time to address our shopping chores. I gathered my strength and resisted the wheel chair cart at Costco. No actual parmesan cheese was found so we bought the green canned cheese-stuff to tide us over. Dad can have the remaining imported Parmesan and Burt and I will eat the salty, white, sawdust. My legs gave out for Soriana’s and Home Depot. We made it home with an hour and a half to rest before music class. Five new species were added to our Mexico list.
So here are the possible causes of my -lips-hurt-so-much-I-can’t- talk disease: Too much pickleball yesterday? Sunburn? I even tried to convince Burt I must have an invisible sunburn because my skin hurts so intensely. Dengue fever? Food-born illness? I looked up Dengue Fever and I really hope I don’t have it. They call it bone break fever because of the debilitating body pain. Let’s all hope this is just a little food borne illness or too much pickleball.
We heard through e-bird a group of groove-billed anis were spotted in the La Ribera area about a week ago and thought we’d go take a look. La Ribera is about 30 miles away if you could fly over the mountains. It takes two and a half or more hours to drive there because you have to drive around the peninsula. There is no usable road through the corrugated Sierra de la Laguna Mountains. There is a dirt track that some consider driveable but it takes 4 times as much time and an infinite amount more in discomfort. Yesterday after Spanish class, Burt and I and the Olvis hit the pavement. It was an easy afternoon drive.
We found the spot using GPS and it was a nearly empty beach with a small lagoon and a palm oasis. It was great diverse edge to edge micro-habitats. The birding was exciting and netted us a bunch of new species for our Mexico list but we did not see the ani. Anis are described as large black birds of a disheveled appearance. Their wings droop and their feathers are ruffled. Their beaks are very heavy and distinct. Hard to miss a messy giant black bird but four birds in miles of scrub have a lot of cover. They did not come out to the water’s edge while we were looking. Maybe they’ll fly over and visit us.
It was good to go wander a bit. Camping can be an effective cure for hitch itch. The need to wander is abated by sleeping on the ground, missing showers, and eating cold food. But sometimes hitch itch is inflamed by seeing beautiful new spots and doing fun activities. I think I came out about the same as I went in.
We went for a late afternoon walk in the hills with our Montana buddies Aldo and Bequia yesterday. Huge discovery of two burrowing owls on the road as we drove home. The owls were very patient and allowed us all a good look through the binoculars while Burt shined a flashlight. Burrowing owls live underground and prefer to stay close to the ground. They have long legs for walking. Here in baja this species is easy to identify because the other owls are either much bigger or much smaller or have long ears. The squatty head is also a clue to who it is. I played the iBird call but didn’t receive a response. I guess they weren’t fooled.
Burt heads into the mountains on a guided hike Wednesday AM. I’ll be holding down the fort around here alone. I just landed a paying gig as a backup singer so I’ll also be doing that while he’s gone. Side work is a good thing.
On January 1st we had just arrived in Pescadero, Mexico and I was wondering if I would lose my mind to the ant invasion. A month later I am on the cusp of completing a thirty-one day marathon of writing every day. It’s a first in the seven year history of this blog. I didn’t see that coming. Recently I’ve felt like I had nothing to say. I just needed a little motivation and some fresh ideas. Many thanks to Zoë for her stupendous work pushing us along. A long time ago I thought I’d love to be a newspaper or magazine columnist. Celestine Sibley of the Atlanta papers reeled me in with her clarity and down to earth observations of a regular life. Her writing made the mundane spiritual. When I started this blog I thought of it as my chance to be my own columnist. I could write about whatever caught my fingers as Burt and I wandered the country working and playing. Over the years I wished I had some things Celestine had that I lack: an editor feeding me ideas and creating a deadline, a copy writer clearing up my grammatical challenges, a wider audience (for more ideas), and a salary. This writing project gave me a wider audience, a deadline, and new ideas. I didn’t see that coming.
Today’s assignment is to take stock of what we’ve accomplished. My first post of the year exhorted us to be nice. I believed we are going to need a lot of nice. I still believe it. But I also believe we are going to need some backbone and deep reflection on our core values. It’s a time of action. I hope you all are doing what you can to make your concerns heard. Know that I am.
This month we achieved transition into our Mexican lives. We are playing tennis, teaching music, losing and learning at bridge, studying Spanish, eating well, staying cool and warm, visiting friends, doing yoga and writing. We have lost some sleep over our health insurance. We have grave concerns about the choices we will have to make if we lose coverage. We are grateful we have choices we can make. We can stay in Mexico where health care is affordable. We can move to a state that has a good public health system. We can try to get jobs with health insurance that doesn’t exclude pre-existing conditions. We shall see. We shall stay vigilant and try to make a rational decision if the system changes.
Two nights ago Burt and I went birding. Our friend Roc had texted about a flock of dark birds roosting outside his home every night. A raucous bunch of dark things coming in just at dusk. Burt and I thought, let’s go and figure this out as if we could do something a perfectly capable guy like Roc couldn’t do. Ha! We arrived at 5:30. Roc owns an organic farm halfway between town and the beach. His home is nestled in some palms and carrizal. The birds like the thick, bambooish carrizal. Burt and I quietly sat in two different spots. Burt on the roof overlooking Roc’s fields and me on the steps with Capi, Roc’s assistant. Roc was texting for updates from Cabo. Capi assured me the birds come every night. WE sat still. A Xanthu’s, an oriole, a white-winged dove. Nothing more for 25 minutes. Quiet. Darkness falling. Slowly darkness descends but them suddenly it is too dark to see. Right at that moment the tiny birds started darting from I-don’t-know-where and landing in the hedge not ten feet away. They were loudly singing and chattering. I could imagine them saying, “How was your day?” “Meh, some seeds, some bugs…the usual.” We couldn’t see anything but small black silhouettes. I tried to find the call on iBird. I made a recording of their nightly debriefing and emailed it from the scene to two friends in Portal, Arizona. I felt like a naturalist using my skills at observation and problem solving. We realized there was no hope of a visual spot. The birds all disappeared deep into the bushes. We went home.
I listened to my recording and compared it to the ones on my phone. I narrowed the bird down to a sparrow. It sort of made me feel better. I can hardly identify sparrows during the day. A night ID would be impossible. The next morning the word came back from Portal that indeed it was a flock of sparrows. White-crowned sparrows. Oddly, coincidentally, ironically? White-crowned sparrows are one of the few I can identify in sufficient light.
The writing project continues. Today’s assignment is to list writing goals, get juicy. I have juice to squeeze but no energy to confront it today. The list of hot topics is in my head. Safe. They’ve been verbalized but not written. I’ll leave those scary memories and feelings in the ether instead of memorialized. For now.
Here’s some other writing goals. I’d like to do more through and nuanced work on living as an ex-pat in Mexico. I’d like to do some more mini-naturalist/science stuff. I’d lie to write the freaking novel I have a first chapter for and nothing else. Perhaps it’s a short story. I’d like to create a bunch more bird lists.
Above is the list of birds from the pre-dawn excursion we took this morning. Burt, RR, Ed and I met a little after 6 AM and headed over to Las Palmas. It was chilly. We actually wished for gloves. We had, this is hard to believe, cold hands. The birds were so cold that we wondered why we got up so early. After the sun rose and the air warmed things picked up. It was a fun morning. Afterwards I played Bridge. I’m in bed at 5:30 with no plans to get up until tomorrow. Love.
Here’s a fun Christmas-y scene. Pretty red birds of two species mixing it up at a nearby feeder. On the far left with the orangey washed breast and orange bill is a female Cardinal. Next bird to the right in gray and red is a male Pyrrhuloxia. There’s a second male Pyrrhuloxia on the right of the feeder. The female Cardinal and the male Pyrrhuloxia can be hard to tell apart when they are on the move. Sandwiched between the two Pyrrhuloxias is a male Cardinal dressed in red head to toe. These two species are known to ‘mix it up’ and interbreed adding to the overall identification confusion.
Another bunch of birds that can be hard to tell apart are the many different Orioles. Orioles are part of the blackbird family. Most of them are dramatically painted with yellow. Lucky for us we had the inside poop and knew a Streak-backed Oriole was in town. The Streak-backed Oriole is very similar to the Baja homies known as Hooded Orioles. We could not have made this ID without the expert help of friends. Stumbling on this bird alone we would have thought it a Hooded Oriole. Now we know the difference. You have to look for the distinct stripes (streaking) on the back between the wings. There are more subtle difference, too, but I’ll never remember them. The Streak-backed Oriole only occasionally leave the mainland of Mexico to winter up here. While winter is a strange time to leave Mexico this solo wanderer has found bird heaven at the Rodriguez’s famous feeding station. It’s likely he won’t be leaving soon.
The gig at On Broadway is done. I only wiped out on two too fast tunes. Nobody notices when I bail out when there’s a fiddle and accordion playing, too. Despite the rough spots it was a lot of fun and reignited our desire to perform. Expect to hear us near you soon.
We are back up in Kalispell and working pro bono for Burt’s daughter and her boyfriend. These guys have a little cabin in the hills above Kila. We’re helping them add on a bedroom. Burt’s dad Jack is in town visiting as well. Not much new to report. Bridge, birding, walks. I’ve been on the beta blocker a month. I’m doing okay but I’m less energetic than usual. Hard to imagine. On the upside I don’t really care. The positive side of an mellowing drug. I think I’m adapting. We’re going to give it another month.
This morning while Burt and Robin worked and Jack supervised I walked off into the trail-less edge of the Smith Lake Wildlife Management Area. Deep hummocky grasslands guard the water’s edge and I could not get through to the water fowl. I set course for a cottonwood tree I could see over the grass seed head. The grassland was pretty vast and I used the tree as my north star to reach my destination. Near the tree I found the footers of what I came to learn was a log hook in the middle of the lake. Rather than continue on through head high grass with thoughts of hidden moose or grizzlies I climbed up and took a seat and watched for birds from there. From my perch I could see a variety of vegetation and hopefully different bird habitats. Back in the day timber was flushed down Ashley creek and every spring they would blow out the log jams and the logs would accumulate in Smith Lake. The hook would be used to pull the logs from the water and place them on the dikes. Now the lake is heavily protected by reeds and marsh but you can still see the dikes and other remains of the timber industry. My wait was rewarded with a new bird ID. I scored the willow flycatcher.
After lunch and this post I am driving around the lake and going to sit under some ancient aspen right on the water’s edge. We’ll see what I find.
Saturday, May 14th, was Global Big Day. Birders of a certain style have goals of big days, big years, big trips…The goal is to find as many species of birds as you can in a certain time limit. There’s a funny-ish movie about the phenomenon called The Big Year. People make great personal, physical, and financial sacrifices for a big year. Tapping into this idea bird conservation organizations, specifically, Audubon and Cornell University, organized a Global Big Day to get people the world over out and counting birds. With global coverage we get a snapshot of where birds are on that particular day. You can check out the results HERE. Data is still streaming in, but it looks like a lot of people did a lot of work. Burt and I are not extreme birders keeping meticulous track of our observations but we saw a hole in the data and aimed to fill it. Last year only one person birded the entire state of Baja California Sur. That’s one person in over 28,000 square miles. That area figure doesn’t account for the vast surrounding bodies of water, either. Back in Portal, Arizona last year there were scores of people covering a few hundered square miles. At the very least we thought we could increase the coverage. Maybe, we could find a bird or two that would only be found in our area.
For a while when telling friends of our plans I was calling this Big Bird Day. Finally, Aldo and Burt pointed out that Big Bird lives on Sesame Street and isn’t really a bird. But I like that big yellow guy so in my heart I’m still saying Big Bird Day while my mouth says Big Day. So Burt came up with a plan and I signed off. His idea was to go high up in the mountains the night before and camp out so we could make a dawn start at the upper elevations. Past trips into the backcountry we had seen some of birds harder to find in our regular lower elevation neighborhoods. Acorn woodpeckers, yellow-eyed juncos, and the San Lucas robin were the goals. So Friday night team Mittelstadt (Burt, Susan, Elvis, and Olive) headed up the mountains. Our campsite was a vacated rancho at the end of the road. Vacated by humans that is. A burro, two dogs, and a flock of chickens still lived there. It was hard to tell if somebody swung in to feed regularly. One dog looked pretty good but the other was scraggly. A newish car was parked nearby. Perhaps this was a bad idea? Perhaps the owners would come home and be upset to find us in their driveway? Could we sleep worrying about the dogs getting into it with our dogs? Would the burro stop rubbing its head on the Exploder? Burt wondered if we should leave. I was ambivalent. I told Burt I’d expected discomfort both mental and physical. We’d driven an hour and a half and I knew we were coming to an empty rancho. Starving animals and weird scenes are an everyday occurrence in Mexico. Should we stay or should we go? My metal ambivalence prevailed. The ranch dogs disappeared into the bushes even after we fed them a package of tortillas. Many Baja dogs are wary of humans. These two were happy enough to meet us and then go off away from us.
So the four of us piled into the back of the Exploder. For a few minutes Elvis and Olive lolled about in the sleeping bags and pads and made out like they were going to share the space with us. It was a no-go. Wheel well in the small of the back and Olive at the nape of the neck and Elvis behind the knees was not going to work. They got the boot to the luxurious empty front seats. I still had a wheel well in my back but it was better. We passed the night. Not much sleep was found. The car listed a little and Burt was uphill of me. It was cramped and warm. For obvious reasons we were fully attired.
The alarm sounded at 5:30 AM. It was still dark. Elf owls hooted. First bird of the day. We ate some bananas and cereal. The milk was sour so only two bites of cereal. No sign of the dogs. The roosters crowed. The mule was still rubbing its head on the car. As light broke we headed uphill. Burt had the dogs on leashes and a backpack with food and water and binoculars. I had the phone and the iBird app, my notebook, and new binoculars. Orioles, towhees, gnatcatchers….
The Sierra de la Laguna mountains are not supremely tall but they are lung crushingly steep. Covered in thick thorn forest and loose ground these mountains demand serious exertion to traverse. The place is riddled with cow paths. A person might think cows could clear ample passage for a human to easily follow. It’s a reasonable conclusion. After much study I can say if the cows were organized and used the same path over and over again they might eventually make a nice route from point A to point B. Cow paths are short in height and full of loose gravel and sand. They meander with no rhyme or reason. They are unsuitable for humans but it was all we had. We clawed and stumbled up for a couple of hours. We got to a palm oasis high in the mountain’s skirts with water. Cactus wrens, Xantu’s hummingbirds, Cassin’s vireo, Cedar waxwing…Eventually it was clear I could not continue to go up if I expected to get down. It was simply too steep and demanding. Two hours up was enough. Burt went a little further hoping to find the acorn woodpecker. I sat and counted birds from a ridge top. It was glorious.
Our mountain birds did not materialize but we did hit the Xantu’s hummingbird and that’s only found in Baja California Sur. As it would turn out this was the only time we’d see them the rest of the day. All winter these birds are regular visitors to feeders in our yard. As soon as the native flowers bloom they fly and away and live in the mountains. Burt returned and we headed downhill. We arrived at the car at 10:30 AM and drove to the coast. We stopped twice to bird. Road runner, red tailed hawk, western scrub jay… Our plans were to bird Elias Calles, Pescadero, the Las Palmas beach oasis, and Pescadero’s La Poza (the freshwater artesian spring in town). We quickly birded Elia Calles and picked up a white crowned sparrow among others. Hooded orioles and white-winged doves were becoming major annoyances. They are noisy and show up everywhere.
At 2:00 PM we had come birria tacos. Birria is a kind of marinated, sauteed, brisket. Then we went home for a nap. At 4:30 we headed into our very own Pescadero and birded the beejesus out of it. Towns are very good birding. Our twon is specifically good because agricultural fields bump up against home and mango trees and palms. There is a lot of diverse habitat. California quail, great egret, mockingbird, house sparrow, house finch, ruddy ground dove (new for us), grey thrasher. The grey thrasher is another bird only found in Baja California. Go team Mittelstadt! The ruddy ground doves were hilarious. I’d been mumbling about them for months. My research indicated they should be all around yet we had never seen them. Over the winter and this particular day we’d spotted the common ground dove, the mourning dove, the Eurasian collared dove, and the white-winged dove. Finally, here in our town we found ourselves staring at doves we couldn’t identify. One good thing about birding this time of year is most of the harder to identify birds have migrated north. The reason Burt and I can competently participate is the really confusing warblers and vireos and what not are gone. Or at least hiding from us. So far that day only the Cassin’s vireo required research to identify. The cedar waxwing took research to verify that they are found here. That one caught me by surprise but I had a clear sight of it. It’s a distinct bird. The doves were a hilarious annoyance. You’d of thought we’d have seen it before and made the ID before the stress of the Big (bird) Day. Scapular marks confirmed it as the ruddy ground dove I had been trying to find. Our only excuse for not noticing it sooner: Doves are easy to ignore. This will prove to be a great lesson later in the day.
After Pesy-town was done we headed out to the Oasis Las Palmas. This is my favorite local place to bird. Freshwater and salt, desert and palms. Lost of diversity. We’d done two intense evening efforts previously so we knew what to look for. This time my goal was the critically endangered Belding’s yellowthroat. This bird is only found in wetlands and only in Baja California Sur. Like the world over, wetlands are rapidly disappearing and so is this sweet little bird. The males are very flashy. Check it out HERE. My Portal friend Narca Craig-Moore had written about finding this bird in the Estero San Jose. Because of her blog I knew what to look for. I had high hopes. So far this winter this bird had evaded us. It seemed like a remote chance but a girl’s gotta have hope. So we hiked some more. It was wearying work. Look, take notes, watch your step. More orioles and white-winged doves. I was so tired of looking down and making a hashmark for every white-winged dove we saw. Burt brow beat me to keep at it. He scanned the trees. More doves, more orioles, more doves. Then the big payoff. I believe one of the most important aspects of birding is that it enhances your powers of ‘seeing’. Force yourself to pay attention and keep a list and you will learn so much more than just the names of birds. You’ll see things you’d never see by only taking a walk. This seeing is hard work. The brain is engaged. You can’t move fast. Your feet hurt.
Burt spotted a baby Great Horned Owl. It was so freaking adorable. A fluffy mass of down with enormous eyes gazed at us from high in a palm tree. All because he didn’t stop looking for the doves. What a great spot, Burt!! We watched for a while. I tried the app to call in the parent but it didn’t work. It was getting late. We were very tired and hungry. Burt suggested I hit the estuary and he’d cover the desert to the ocean. He told me to go find my little bird.
I crept quietly over the mud flats down a horse trail (horses make passable trails). I saw a common galinulle. I stood about. My feet hurt. I was in full sun. I listened. I peered around a corner. I scanned the reeds with my new binoculars. I heard a sharp and regular cheep from deep in the reeds. I couldn’t remember what the Beldings’ yellowthroat sounded like. I figured it was near impossible to see this mysterious cheeping bird. Then I remembered Narca’s blog and the picture of this bird in exactly this type of vegetation. Other birders had seen this rare species at this location. I decided to make the generic push push pushing sound that my friend Peg employs. It’s a kind of generic bird noise used to draw birds closer. It works well for certain species. Would it work on Belding’s yellowthroat? I tried. My push push pushing isn’t as good as my friend Peg’s but I had been having success this winter. This time I hit the jackpot. My Belding’s yellowthroat came right to the edge of the reeds and looked me in the eye. OMG OMG OMG. There. That’s a good day.
I watched this masked marvel for a few minutes and went to get Burt. We couldn’t draw it out again. Sad faces. At 7 PM we gave up and went to dinner. We abandoned our plans to bird Pescadero’s poza because we’d seen the bird we hoped to find there. At dinner at Hierba Buena we spotted the common poorwill and the lesser nighthawk.
That’s a big day. Burt and I found 46 species of birds in 11 locations over 14 hours and 70 miles. We hiked 8 miles.
I am so grateful to all our Portal birding friends that took as out and showed us how last spring, summer, and fall. Peg, Pat, Rolf, Bonnie, Rose Ann, Richard, Dave….We were blessed to be able to hang with some of the best in the business.