The Heartwarming Story of Frankie the Gull, who Traveled Thousands of Miles Through Deadly Storms, Devastating Hurricanes, and Worst of All, Kansas, to Finally Arrive at his Cruddy Winter Vacation Home at a Concrete Pond in Orange County
California, for birders, is essentially a 15 hours from head to toe, gazillion mile long, eighth-a-gazillion mile wide mushy pot hole of vagrants.
Cold weather? Birds of a feather will flock Together!
In summer? No bummer! Even in Southern California! If you enjoy birding on the surface of the sun, that is!
Spring? Time for a bird fling.
Fall? It's a birder's mall.
OK, so maybe this wasn't taken in California. This is still the best shot of an Ovenbird I have, if you discount the photos I took of of the little clay bird models I made in middle school that exploded in the kiln.****
Which is heaven if you're a compulsive lister, a twitchy birder, or a birder looking to compose absolutely atrocious poems, but for the average Susan John birder with an average job, I can imagine the tiny stab to the gut that comes with sorting through Listserv reports with photo-contest winning shots of some country bumpkin Rustic Bunting or criminal-looking Piratic Flycatcher or ugly-as-an-elephant Ivory-billed Woodpecker*** that's only a couple hours away and could be accessed if it wasn't for blahblahblahblah.
These giant Christmas-ball-ornament nests that cormorants build are the closest things Southern California has to a white (and smelly) Christmas. In summer.
The worst is fall. A heap of rare bird reports the size of all the swimming pools in Beverly Hills floods every California birder's senses. It can turn any wannabe twitcher more insane than they already are, which is an accomplishment of the highest degree.
Of course, this is all just a small hair on the face of California birders. California is, after all, the place where you can take a leisurely drop-in at a concrete lake with 2 potted bonsai trees and stale water filled with dead koi and get in-your-face looks at an Eurasian Wigeon, or two. Or a Falcated Teal.
Eurasian Wigeons may be considered as a tad rare here, but I still don't think much of their sanitary habits.
This miniature model of my local water reservoir was also a home to a Glaucous Gull and a Cackling Goose two winters ago. Doubtless it will continue to attract exciting birds with its classic concrete charm.
On this particular day, I was strolling along at some hole-in-the-ground lake that was chock full of masquerading coots and frivolous-looking Mallards with pompoms perched upon their head making the lake look like Invasion of the Alien Duck Parasites had dawned. And then, there, sitting on the poop-carpeted fence, was a Franklin's Gull making the most hideous "waffle, waffle" racket I have ever heard from a gull, and considering that gulls don't exactly have the most lyrical of sounds, that means wow, was that sound awful. I scrutinized its ubiquitous plumage from 10 feet away. It didn't budge a Gony's spot.* The first thing I thought was "Shoot, I forgot this darn thing was even here. Of all places." The next was "Crap," because that's what I had leaned on without realizing it.**
A heartbeat later, some cool biker dude zoomed right past the gull. Almost being barreled into by a cool biker dude was apparently too much for the gull, who took off over the concrete coot-filled lake, never to be seen again (or for the next hour or so) by the next two birders who came a second too late.
Cheers to the best kind of bird lifer there is.
Below: The extremely rare Ospgeon, a previously unrecorded hybrid of a Rock Dove and an Osprey,was discovered in California last year, continuing to add to the state's already unprecedented birding fame.***
*The Gony's spot is a part of a gull's bill. On Western, Herring, etc. gulls, it's the thing that looks like a miniature Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer nose. On other species of gulls it can be a lot less noticeable.
**And because I forgot my binos and cam. This time, it was a known continuing bird, so I just enjoyed the view. But imagine being unarmed with Weapon of Vagrant Proof (camera) while being in the same park as a House Finch or European Starling. Yikes. I can imagine the eBird confirmation emails already.
*** Joke. I know, I know... but just remember that people on FB were working themselves into a fit about Jurassic Park because they thought Spielberg murdered dinosaurs to produce the film. And only half of those posts were probably satire, knowing Facebook.
****This didn't actually happen.
You can see the humongous Gony's Spot quite clearly on this Western Gull. The owner of this bag of chips unfortunately did not.