Fifteen months ago I wasn’t a birder. I’m still not. (The obligatory rant about obsessive behavior and about how change is difficult goes here. Take it as read if I
can’t be bothered forget to come back and put it in.)
Despite this, I occasionally do vaguely birder-like things: I sit in the back yard and watch the antics of the local winged fauna. I bribe juveniles into inappropriate (if not downright aberrant) behavior. If it’s not too snowy or rainy (I’m kind of a wuss) I fill the feeders. (Heck, I have feeders in the first place. Five of them, even.)
But fifteen weeks ago I found out that that statement, like most absolute and definitive statements, isn’t actually, you know, absolute and definitive. Not really. But I had to go to California to learn that.
And California is a weird place.
(Not just for this, of course. While I wouldn’t go quite as far as a moderately well-known comic book artist, I will say that during a visit there some years ago (to annoy friends, risk death and gawk at the pretty flowers) it was abundantly clear to me that California is in another dimension at the very least.)
Anyway, despite being in
another dimension (or perhaps because of it) there are lots
of things in California. There’s condiments I’ve never seen. There’s snow which of course I have (Canadian, remember). There’s bizarre public art which is… just bizarre.
And (you knew this one was coming)
there are birds.
And because of them, on a Monday morning in November with the sun barely peeking over the horizon, we (myself, Ms. Rose, TV and LM) found ourselves at the Thousand Palms Oasis Preserve in the Coachella Valley just in time for the guided bird walk. (And not a single lagomorph of unusual size to be seen anywhere.)
We milled aimlessly around the parking lot for a while and at 7:30 (shudder) our little group assembled. At the front was Our Guide — a retired guy with binoculars, a hat that said “I’m a birder” and a notebook that said “What? Didn’t you see the hat?” At the back was the other guide whose job it was to watch the guided (that would be us) to make sure that idiot Canadians didn’t wander off into the desert and take the car keys with him. (Them. Whatever.) In the middle was (were?) the four of us (only one with the correct trappings and attitude of course) and two more folks, larval birders as far as I could tell.
Except for the (patently ridiculous — birders are clearly insane) hour, it was an exceptionally nice walk. There was interesting geography. There were evil trees. There were good trees. There were birds, although I can’t even begin to speculate as to their alignment(s). There were extensive discussions of the evolutionary development of the avian digestive system and the related ecological implications of bird poo. There was bird poo. (Rather a lot, actually.)
Like I said, it was a good walk.
Forty thousand steps later we returned to the bird (and poo) theme when we drove to a place called Pinyon Flats to look for Pinyon Jays. Unfortunately, that day all we saw was poo (kind of a theme, I guess). (It was even the wrong kind.) Forty thousand steps after that (not that I was counting) we went on another bird walk. That one was different from the first one in several ways.
First of all, it was at a significantly more civilized hour of the day. AND since it was less than six kilometers away I got to sleep in more than an hour after sunrise. And it was at a mansion so the gardens were nice and the parking lot was impeccably landscaped. And there were more walkers.
There was the four of us (duh), a collection of mostly larval birders and a significant number of people who had arrived early for their house tour and clearly thought that a nice walk through the gardens would be preferable to sitting on comfy chairs in the vestibule. (Silly people — napping in a comfy chair is one of life’s little pleasures. Innocent pleasures should be embraced whenever possible.)
As the scheduled start time approached, so did our guide.
He had binoculars.
And a hat. (Wait, haven’t I seen that hat before?)
And a notebook. (And the notebook too…)
And a facial expression that said “Oh no, not you again.” (I keep telling myself that he wasn’t looking at me. Eventually I may even believe it.)
The walk started. The dynamics of a group of twenty with one guide is significantly different than a group of six with two but we successfully wandered through the gardens and saw flora, fauna, architecture, technology and groundskeepers. Of course, before we started we were given Instructions: Behave. Follow any orders given by a figure of authority. Stay on the paths. Don’t touch. (You know, the usual stuff you’re told in a public — or in this case publicly accessible but private — space.) To this list one more was added: if you saw a bird, sing out so that everyone could see it and so the Real Birders could identify it. Sometimes birders are sensible.
So we wandered around. And from time to time people sang out. “That’s an Abert’s Towhee.” “That’s a Verdin.” (Which of course I misheard as ‘vermin’ so I was totally unprepared for what I actually saw.) “That’s a road runner, although what it’s doing sitting on a fence I have no idea.” (Apropos to nothing, a google search for ‘birdius high-ballius’ returns — along with the expected — pictures of women in their underwear. Rule 34 I guess.) And eventually one of the ‘we’re really here for the house tour’ folks sang out:
“Oo! Oo! A bird!”
“That’s a butterfly.”
Apparently, even though I’m not a birder I’m closer than some people.