Complimentary airfare, freedom to fly anywhere you want, and the ability to eat all day long without getting fat, it is good to be a bird. To become better acquainted with the birds of the central California coast, I kept my binoculars and bird book close at hand, attended a community birding event, and joined a field trip with a local bird watching group.
Until this month, I never really paid much attention to birds. Maybe it’s because I always thought bird watchers were huge geeks, like Miss Jane Hathaway from the Beverly Hillbillies, in her pith helmet, sensible shoes, and oversized binoculars hanging around her neck.
To my surprise, observing and identifying birds is a rather fashionable pastime around here. Now that I have finally begun to notice birds, I have a new-found admiration for birders, their long camera lenses and four-pocket vests. To know the difference between a duck and a seagull is one thing, but being able to recognize a Cinnamon Teal or a Heerman’s Gull is another matter altogether.
It turns out that the central California coast is a major rest stop on the Pacific Flyway, a north-south avian super highway for more than 350 species of migrating birds, extending from Alaska to Patagonia. Because we are located half-way between San Francisco and Los Angeles, these birds find the relatively undisturbed coastal habitat a welcome respite.
On the deck of the single-wide, the first two birds that I spotted were an Osprey and a Great Horned Owl. After that auspicious introduction, I saw hundreds of other different birds, including raptors, shorebirds, duck-like birds, wading birds, and many more.
Walking the beaches, Es and I were never alone. Ubiquitous shorebirds, including snowy plovers, willets, marbled godwits, and long-billed curlews forever escorted us along the surf line. Each possessed a spear-like bill varying in length and curvature, and adapted to deeply dredge the wet sand for food.
Within the local air space, the “top gun” of the flying food-chain is the Peregrine Falcon, the fastest member of the animal kingdom, and the world’s most widespread raptor. I spotted a nesting pair, high on the face of Morro Rock. To demonstrate their amazing soaring and diving maneuvers, they took to the sky and circled above the rock like fighter jets over a terrorist target.
To rub elbows with my new ornithological idols, I tucked my shirt into my khakis, and attended the annual Avila Beach Bird Sanctuary Day. I listened intently as they discussed field marks, rump patches, and wing patterns, and boasted about their recent sightings. At the end of the day, I walked away impressed by the dedication of these bird scientists and devotees, and the breadth and density of their expertise.
By the end of the month, I mustered the courage to join a Central Coast State Parks Association bird watching field trip to Montaña de Oro State Park. The trip leaders and other experienced bird watchers in the group kindly welcomed me and a few other first-timers, and graciously shared their knowledge and viewing scopes with us. With such expert guidance, I was able to add 18 bird species to my list of sightings for the month.
When it comes to bird watching, I began the month as a blundering idiot. With the help of my bird watching group and Peterson Field Guide to Western Birds, I ended the month positively identifying 48 individual bird species. Even so, I still consider myself a complete bird brain, but dream of someday becoming a fully-feathered bird nerd.