Sunday, November 18, 2007

Raptors Rule!

My fascination with birds took me out on a guided bird walk today sponsored by the local Sierra Club. Our group took a 3 hour tour at the Tijuana River Estuary down by the border. (Here.) Real birders make lists of what they see, so let's get that formality out of the way.

Great Blue Heron
Snowy Egrets

American Coots
American Avocets
Bufflehead Ducks
Surf Scoters

White-crowned Sparrows

American Kestrel
Northern Harrier
Red Tailed Hawk


(Here's a link to Cornell University's online bird identification site, if you want to see pictures of the birds on today's list. The oddest-looking little birds today were the Surf Scoters and American Avocets.)

The Great Blue Heron was our first sighting and a beautiful sight standing alone. But by far the best sighting was the Osprey. We first saw the large raptor about 100 yards away sitting on a dead tree trunk. It looked very ominous, almost like a cormorant. The bird was huge and distinctive looking with its white head. The Osprey then took off and began to circle high in the sky over the creek below. Then it dove and plunged into the water, feet and head first. Unfortunately, it came up empty. It circled and dove a few more times but didn't enter the water again.

Identifying birds does have its appeal. Our leader today was not an expert in identification but that made for a better experience for us because we were forced to consult our own books and make the identifications ourselves. There is a lot to be said for the excitement of making your own identifications without being spoon fed by an expert.

But the most interesting part of birding for me is observing bird behavior not so much the identification. That's why the Osprey was so exciting to see today.

When I arrived home my resident Coopers Hawk treated me to another show. It landed on the utility line above my neighbor's yard. It sat there looking around for a while and then flew directly toward me. It made a sharp turn and climb before diving down into the bottle brush tree that the little birds who come to my feeders use as a sanctuary. There was the sound of rustling leaves from inside the tree and then the hawk jumped out of the top and flew back to the utility line. No prey in his claws. It sat on the line and stared at me for a few minutes as if to say, "there's no way you can protect the birds you're feeding." Then it flew off.

If Eastern religions are correct about reincarnation, I sure don't want to come back as some hapless little seed-eating bird. Put me in the line for the raptors.


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