Monday, July 16, 2012

What field mark?

John had a good day in San Diego County Friday July the 13th. Starting at the picnic ground along highway 76, he heard the thoot call again and again of the Willow Flycatcher, but didn't see it. Finally, the bird cooperated and posed. Quickly, John noted the thin eye ring, empid wingbars, tail wag and short primary extension. How did he know what to look for? He had studied his quarry ahead of time in the book. Within a few seconds, the bird had flown. The call alone was not distinctive enough for John to list. He had to see the field marks. John talked of the thrill he felt, when he finally got a good look at the bird he had been chasing for an hour.

Then John drove up to Doane Pond in Palomar State Park. 34 years ago, the Violet-Green Swallow was a life bird for both of us at Doane Pond. 34 years later, John saw them there again for his big year list.

John drove down to southern San Diego Bay, after the reported Curlew Sandpiper. Amongst the thousands of shorebirds, he saw one that looked redder than others but it had its head tucked in. He took pictures just in case. When it peeked out to fly to another spot, it looked like it had a curved bill. Maybe it was a Curlew Sandpiper still in alternate plumage! When John got home, he reread the Narba entry. The bird that was reported was in basic plumage and should have been just one more little gray bird in a sea of gray birds. Ah, well, foiled by the field marks this time. At least, John got the Short-Billed Dowitcher for sure. They said tu tu tu and were in salt water.

John's big year list is up to 578.

He is gone now on a long road trip. I had to find him maps for most of the western half of the US. He is getting a trifle discouraged. There have been too many birds he was near that he didn't see or hear. It would be great for him to get to 700, at least, but maybe not realistic. Being blind in one eye and hard of hearing makes it pretty tough. Even with expert guides, he sometimes misses the bird. John says he is still having fun. I miss him.

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