Last summer, I moved from New York to L.A. to see about a girl. My fiancée (now wife) had landed a job out here that, I had to admit, seemed more important than anything I had going back east. So I packed up our little Manhattan apartment, took a farewell lap around my circle of friends, and like so many fortune-seekers before me, took the quintessentially American flight:  JFK -> LAX.

So a little over a year ago, my cat and I spent our days wandering our big, empty new home, recovering from jet lag and, in his case, violent in-flight diarrhea. (Pro tip: Don't give your cat Benadryl for the first time right before a ten-hour journey.) I was employed, but working from home, since all my coworkers were in New York. Our girl was at her big new job, our furniture was on a truck in Kansas or God knows where, and we beheld the warm, hazy city outside our windows as cautious explorers, dazed but undaunted, yearning for connection.

One thing we did have handy was our binoculars. (Well, I had mine.) So like any geeky birder in a new spot, I started listing the birds I saw from home. I think fellow birders will appreciate the feeling of being in a new place, where even the ho-hum neighborhood birds are exciting - Black Phoebe, Western Scrub-Jay, Band-tailed Pigeon, Bushtit - none of them lifers, mind you, but birds I hadn't seen in a while. (I once read a comment on a birding blog suggesting that, if you hadn't seen a bird for twenty years or something, you should have to see it again to re-add it to your life list. Of course, an irate mob of birder-commentors quickly came to the defense of their musty old lists. But I think this wayward soul was merely trying to capture the joy of that renewal - how an old, familiar bird, after a while, is exciting again - in the only way he or she knew how - with a list. There, too, lie deep lessons about birding, humans, and how poorly we understand what makes us happy, I suspect. But not today.)
And so I looked, listened, and listed, and I enjoyed watching the list grow. For a couple weeks, a Bewick's Wren would work its way through the neighborhood first thing each morning, singing loudly. A fine song to brush your teeth to. A couple times I thought maybe I'd heard a very faint chickadee call before finally - yes! - I saw one in the cedar next door, Mountain Chickadee, Number 22 on the list. In the winter a White-throated Sparrow came to eat the seeds I scattered on my patio. Rare enough in L.A. to make the rare bird report, but not to lure gawkers. Just as well. Number 33.

Over the course of the year, I got to know the birds of my immediate area pretty well. At least in this one very specific way, I connected with L.A. - and in turn connected L.A. with my personal history, which has involved birds for as long as I can remember. Alas, with connection comes familiarity. Since the spring, new additions to the house list have been few and far between, as have those moments of excitement at renewing old bird-quaintances. For the most part, the neighborhood birds are now just the neighborhood birds.

Two days ago, though, we had our first visit from a House Wren, after all this time. A perfectly ordinary neighborhood bird, even back east. Probably there are millions of people, not even birders, who have them nesting in their yards in cartoonish bird houses bought at Home Depot. But in this time and place, for this guy, it was exciting. It was also Number 45. And thanks to the custom-built database with which I keep track of my sightings (I know), I can tell you that my current home is now in a tie with one other as the birdiest of my adult life.

Does that fact represent some kind of achievement? No. Does it make me happy? Not really. So what does it all mean? Probably not much, but how should I know? I'm just a human, trying to find a bird.

A human - and an Angeleno. By the way, shouldn't I have been discovered by now?


09/14/2013 1:06pm

Nice post. Im working on a new yard list as well. I anticipate absolutely nothing rare,ever.


Joshua Chapman
09/14/2013 1:21pm

Thanks man. No lie, as soon as I submitted this post I went straight to my car and went to see the boobies. Success!

03/24/2014 9:30pm

Geez man, did you die while out there searching for Boobies. Die and go straight to heaven?

The blogosphere misses you.
Also, I'm going to do a SoCal road trip in May, heading to San Jacintos for White-headed Woodpecker, then LA area to get to the Island Scrub Jay, then south and east through Jacumba for Thrice-colored BB, Wrentit, CA Thrasher and Gnatcatcher.
Any info you have to offer, recommendations, etc. would be much appreciated.

Hope you've been well

03/25/2014 2:47pm

LB! Good man. Thanks for the note. I miss the blogosphere too. I think I just have too short an attention span to blog with any regularity. Haven't managed to peck out anything more than the occasional inane tweet in some time now. But I do have some travels coming up soon; hopefully that will inspire me.

I believe I can hook you up with some SoCal tips. I think I found your email address so I'll hit you up there.


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