Wednesday, April 18, 2007
Wild Thing, You Make my Eyes Sting
According to the directions, the road from Delano dead-ended into the national wildlife refuge; all I had to do was look for the familiar brown sign. I tossed the map into the backseat. Boy, there is nothing better than tooling along a country road in the California sunshine with the windows down when it is cold rainy and miserable at home. Life is good. I was grooving to some Mariachi music and counting Meadowlarks sitting on fence posts, when I saw the first rows of a vineyard. Vineyard? Here? What? Why? How? This was a dry, dusty, brown place, not lush like Napa or Oregon. The vines had not leafed out yet and lots of LBJs were hopping around in the vine cuttings. I slowed the car to a crawl. I like sparrows. I feel like they are often overlooked. I gave up, however, when a truck came hurtling around me tossing sparrows around in its wake. As I looked at the truck diminishing in the distance, I suddenly realized that I had been driving more than the 12 miles I thought was in the directions.
Just when I was beginning to consider retrieving the map from the backseat, the road dead-ended at the Kern National Wildlife Refuge as promised. When I drove past the sign with its accompanying brochures, there was no one in sight. It was just before 9 in the morning. But there were birds everywhere-- Swallows gathering mud, Blackbirds shining in the sun, Marsh Wrens singing in alta voce from every stand of reeds, and ducks, ducks, ducks. Creeping around the 6-mile loop, I saw Coots and Moorhens, Egrets and loads of shorebirds, fabulous White-faced Ibises (close to the road for full-face views), Avocets, and Stilts. I saw courting Harriers and a perfectly still American Bittern, right out in the open. And there were sparrows. Most of them were regular, White-Crowns and the like, but I did see a Golden-crowned Sparrow. Nice.
I also saw something white gleaming in the sun. It was just at the limit of my binoculars. It was fraternizing with coots and appeared to be their size. It was diving below the water, so definitely not a dabbler. It looked to have a black facemask and a stripe going down the front of the throat not the back like a Grebe. The bill looked yellow. There appeared to be some black on the wings. I got out of the car and walk to the edge of the water. I strained my eyeballs to no avail. I got out my little camera and fired off a few shots hoping that on the computer they would look better (not). In the pictures it is a white speck. The only thing I could think of was a partially albino coot. Maybe yes, maybe no.
This kind of thing happens to me a lot. I often bird alone, usually on business trips. With nothing but a pair of binoculars and a local bird book, I try to see what is out there in between meetings. I have seen some fantastic birds. I have also seen some mystery birds. And that is OK. It is all part of it.
I loved this NWR. If I lived nearby, I would go often. If you do, go now!