Saturday, November 25

Fancy Bird

As mentioned on prior posts, my dad is a hard core bird watcher (or "birder", as they prefer to be called). Well, last week was an exciting week for So. Cal. birders. A Ross's Gull was spotted at the Salton Sea. This was an extraordinary sighting. So remarkable that dad cut my parents vacation short to get down there to see the gull. It was the first time a Ross's Gull had ever been seen in Califonria.

See, the problem with birding is that you're running around chasing something that doesn't exactly keep a reliable schedule. In this case, the gull had wondered all the way down from the Artic Circle. The poor guy was WAY off course. He was the first Ross's Gull to ever wander into California. He broke the southern- most sighting by hundreds of miles.

I'm happy to report that my dad got down there in time to spend the afternoon observing the gull. Hundreds of fellow birders were rushing to see it, some coming from out of state. The next morning the gull showed up for about 15 minutes in the early morning then flew off and has not been seen since. I feel so bad for those folks who came such long distances and missed it. Then again, that's part of the "thrill" of birding. There are no guarantees.

My dad has always been a birder. It's something I've grown up with but remains difficult to explain to the uninitiated. When asked, I explain that it's like a collection, a collection of sightings. I can't think of many things that would make me leave my vacation at the crack of dawn to high-tail it to the Salton Sea. Certainly not a bird. A dinner with George Clooney might motivate me but short of that I can't imagine anything that would get me moving like that.

I was dragged along on many birding adventures as a child. My brother turned into a pretty good birder while I remain hopelessly bad at it. I can't tell you how many times someone has pointed up and said to me "There! Right there! Can't you see it?" I never could. The one sighting, however, that I vividly remember is that of three endangered California Condors in the wild back in the 70's. We were up on a mountain ridge looking out and watched as a family of Condors flew in circles before us. It was a magnificent sight I'll never forget. I knew then that it was a big deal and to hold on to the memory. Even I could recognize a rare, bad-ass bird when I saw it.

Most folks just shrug when I try explaining the whole birding thing. Now, I point to March of the Penguins to help make my point that, although it's not really my thing, birds are fascinating creatures worth checking out. I won't be rushing down to the Salton Sea any time soon, but I understand the urge to do so.

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