Monday, December 24, 2012

If This Is The End Of The World - I'll Take It!

As the world was supposed to end on December 21st, Kathie and I decided that we wanted to end it birding! It just seemed fitting somehow. It was also perilously close to Christmas so we were both feeling rather as if we were playing hookie from all the endless array of tasks that awaited us at home. In order to salve our consciences we picked a location close to home that would only take us half a day instead of our usual mega dawn to dusk trips!
We arrived at Lakeside Park at 8.30am which may seem way too late to all you hard core birders but it was a chilly winter morning in the desert and there was also a stiff breeze blowing so we felt that the birds would be hiding out until the sun warmed things up and we weren't wrong. There were numerous dog walkers and some hardy fishermen around the park when we arrived. In the water were masses and masses of coots and a few American Widgeons. As we drove up a mixed flock of blackbirds and grackles took to the air but it really was too chilly for much else to be out and about.

We put on our layers and strolled down to the waters edge. There were a handful of Mallards cruising around with the widgeons and on the far bank a Great Blue Heron was fishing for breakfast. 

Other than that there wasn't a whole lot happening and the wind was not too friendly either. We decided to drive round to the other side of the park where there was a little more shelter from the wind and see what we could find there. It was a good call, our first sighting was a little American Kestrel, all puffed up against the chilly air.

As we walked down towards the waters edge a flash of red caught our eye, a Vermillion Flycatcher was on the move. Not as vibrant as some, this looked like a young male who was working up to his full magnificence. We found him delightful none the less.

And he seemed to find us quite intriguing too as he flew in closer to where we were sitting to check us out.

There was a Western Grebe sleeping peacefully on the water with its head tucked snuggly in its feathers to keep out the morning chill.

Slowly the sun was beginning to reach out and warm the earth.

The coots seemed glad of the warmth and began squabbling and bustling about, calling raucously to each other across the water.

As we walked around the lake to a line of small mesquite trees I spotted someone sleeping in the branches.

An immature Black-crowned Night Heron. Our excited chatter soon alerted him to our presence and he kept a very close eye on us from his cosy hide out.

While we were watching the night heron the Great Blue Heron flew in and tried several times to land in the same mesquite tree. He is such a big guy and the tree was just not substantial enough to support him so after a few ungraceful flaps and some irritated squawks he flew off to a bigger willow across the wash. He tried to land on the tiniest of branches right at the very top of the tree as if he were a Verdin! Needless to say this led to a great deal of flapping

And wobbling

And flailing about

Before he finally managed to stick his landing.

I got a very hard stare for having the audacity to photograph such an inelegant moment.

It was time for us to turn back. As we walked back under the row of little mesquite trees we spotted another Black-crowned Night Heron snoozing away above our heads, this time a mature adult in the dramatic black and grey plumage.

Now the sun had beaten back the morning chill and the bushes around us were suddenly alive with bird calls and fluttering little bodies.

One strange looking bird had us puzzled for a while but Kathie knows her stuff and she eventually worked out that it was an immature Bronze Cowbird.

One species that Kathie really wanted me to see was a Lark Sparrow. Now I have to confess I am not usually very impressed with sparrows, they tend to fall into the 'LBJ' category with me. That and the fact that many of them are really difficult to distinguish from one another!
Of course I should have trusted Kathie when she told me that these little characters were worth seeing. When several of them flew into a bush in front of us I could see exactly why she found them so appealing.

What is not to love about that pretty little face. A new bird species for me!

As we strolled back towards the car there were three Killdeer on a nearby playing field. By this time we thought we were done for the morning and were just commenting on what a nice 'End of the World Birding Trip' we'd had. Little did we know that we had one more big surprise in store for us.

Kathie noticed a small raptor perched way up in a eucalyptus tree and initially we thought it was the kestrel that we had seen earlier. I can always tell when Kathie is excited by a bird sighting, her voice goes up an octave! Well sure enough her tone changed and I knew we were onto something special as I raised my binoculars and was a little puzzled not to see the familiar facial markings of the kestrel.

It's a Merlin! She exclaimed with undisguised delight in her voice. This is a very special bird for anyone to see but had an extra relevance to us as it was the very first bird we saw together when we first met back in 2009. What are the chances? A relatively rare bird and here we are being treated to another opportunity to view it together. Needless to say we were both extremely happy.

We watched it for several minutes before it flew off, swooped round and landed in another tree to join its mate. Double delight - not one Merlin but two. It doesn't get much better than this. We decided that this was the best End of the World ever!

There was nothing we could possibly see that could top that so we made our way back to the car and headed back to catch up on all those pre-Christmas chores we had been avoiding.


Kathie Brown said...

Celeste, this is so perfect! Your photos came out great and you are quite the story teller!

Celeste said...

Thank you Kathie, it was a lovely morning and the perfect way to clear our minds before the craziness of Christmas :)