Monday, August 10, 2009

(Southern) California Dreamin'

[From a few weeks ago]... I was with two other guys in the coastal chaparral of southern California (a place I have only been birding once in real-life). We were hiking along, several hundred feet from shore, primarily for wildlife/nature photography. Our elusive quarry at the time? A dove. (Can anyone tell me what dove sp. could possibly be worth the effort in this habitat? Ruddy Ground Dove?)

Heading back down towards dune and shore, we encountered birds worthy of our cameras' attention. I, on the other hand, encountered camera troubles - mostly slow/flakey autofocus. The first scene we shot was a male Calliope and Anna's Hummingbird sharing a perch.

Calliope Hummingbird (Selaphorus calliope)

Anna's Hummingbird (Calypte anna)

I was able to get a few shots off before they both departed, but did not feel confident they would be keepers.

Moving on, I noticed a something taking place near the water's edge below - two mixed-species shorebird flocks going at it after a fashion. Their movements and interactions looked like two rival gangs feel each other out, replete with posturing and machismo. Those defending their "home turf" (I'll call the "Sharks") consisted of a female Red Phalarope, a Semipalmated Plover and some Least Sandpiper. The "Jets" comprised a Willet, a Greater Yellowlegs and few Sanderling. "The Jets are gonna have their day... toniiiiight. The Sharks are gonna have their way... toniiiiight." Though entertaining, the conflict was brief, and the two groups quickly went about their separate ways.

The "Sharks"

Red Phalarope (Phalaropus fulicarius)


Semipalmated Plover (Charadrius semipalmatus)


Least Sandpiper (Calidris minutilla)

The "Jets"

Greater Yellowlegs (Tringa melanoleuca)


Willet (Catoptrophorus semipalmatus)


Sanderling (Calidris alba)

By this point in the dream, daylight was waning, and had achieved that very desirable "magical glow" this photographer loves to shoot.

The next scene took place next to a gate in a chain link fence, which gave access to the back dunes. Nestled together, at the foot of a bush growing against the fence, was a Buff-breasted Sandpiper and another female Red Phalarope
. Not only were they ostensibly sleeping, but they were bathed in golden light. (It was as beautiful as it sounds). I was able to snap off what felt like a few good shots, as the scene screamed "photography me NOW!". But, as I was just about to pull the trigger on a frame-filling close-up, the Buff-breasted awakened. It wasn't slow about it either. Before I could react, both it and the phalarope were filing out of frame, and out the gate.

Buff-breasted Sandpiper (Tryngites subruficollis)

Red Phalarope (Phalaropus fulicarius)

The last scene was of the Buff-breasted, Red Phalarope with a healthy helping of Least Sandpiper and Sanderling, all congregating about some tidal pools along a rocky shoreline.

The lens on my camera was not that big, and was fairly "slow" at that. All this meaning I had to get close any hope of a good image - and fast, as the "magical" light was fading. I scrambled as quick, and carefully, as I could toward them. At one point, the phalarope settled down on the rock, next to a pool; with the ocean and a full moon in the distance. ( Another very memorable tableau). Luckily, I was able to get a few shots of this, before the light faded and the dream ended...

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