The causes for this lameness are mysterious and manifold, but I suppose Laziness plays a role in there somewhere. Come to think of it, yeah, it definitely plays the lead role. It is the Jennifer Lawrence of the Lame Birding Playbook. Boredom plays a role, too – maybe De Niro’s. Responsibility is Jackie Weaver; Distraction is Chris Tucker. (In birding, as in my Silver Linings Playbook-inspired fantasies, there is no Bradley Cooper.)
So I’ve been in a funk. Big deal! If Hollywood has taught me anything, it’s that women are for looking at. But if it’s taught me anything that’s not awful, it’s that sometimes life “knocks you down,” and it’s very important to “get back up.” So this weekend I got back up, literally and figuratively, and left my home in search of birds. As an added incentive, I decided to join bird walks provided by local Audubon Society chapters, so that I’d have not only birds but also people – well, birders – to watch.
On Saturday, I drove across the suburban wasteland east of L.A. to check out L.A. Audubon’s tour of Bonelli Regional Park in San Dimas. Heading inland around here is interesting because you sometimes find weird desert birds or plains birds or eastern birds that don’t often show up in L.A. proper. Since all this habitat lies within the generous boundaries of L.A. County, it can help you run up a massive county bird list (if you’re into that sort of thing). I even harbored hopes of picking up a lifer here – the California Gnatcatcher, which is uncommon but “regularly seen” on the Audubon group’s trips.
It was a small group – our leader Rod Higbie, three others, and me. The others all claimed to be over sixty, but they didn't act like it. Plus, two of them were pretty experienced birders, which means you have more eyes capable of picking out good birds, and less… well… dead weight. (Note to beginning birders: I swear, I mean that in the nicest possible way.) So it was a nimble and skilled group that set out into the coastal sage scrub of Bonelli Park.
The weather and the birding were both great. (In other words, it was Southern California.) We turned up a few of those scarce-in-L.A. birds, like Cactus Wren, Rufous Hummingbird, and a Bald Eagle soaring high above the lake. Of course, I’d forgotten my camera, so I have photos of exactly none of these birds, and we failed to find a California Gnatcatcher, so there were no lifers for me. But I have no complaints. We saw lots of cool stuff, and besides, it felt really good just to be out there.
Then on Sunday, I went on San Fernando Valley Audubon’s monthly walk at Sepulveda Basin Wildlife Reserve. This time I was accompanied by my friend Dylan, who’s not especially into birding but is a good sport and interested in everything. It’s a good thing, because otherwise this walk was less interesting than Saturday’s. For starters, the setting: The reserve is nestled between freeways, buzzed by landing planes, and haunted by miscreants. (I gather all sorts of mild criminal mischief goes down here.) Besides that, it was recently the victim of some rather draconian “vegetation management” by the Army Corps of Engineers. The place has its charms, but “scenic” is not the first word that comes to mind.
Then there were the people. Don’t get me wrong, they seemed very nice. But there were a lot of them, and they lacked focus. When you have twenty-some-odd nice folks lollygagging through the park making chitchat, birds often get scared away before you can maneuver into viewing position. Many probably go undetected. It’s OK – I’m not so obsessed with the birds that I can’t appreciate the social aspect of these things, to a degree. It’s just that when you’re with such a diffuse group, it’s a different kind of birding. Different... and a little less awesome.
When the morning reached the point of diminishing returns, we peeled off from the ragtag assemblage and headed home to resume important non-birding activities. In my case, that meant joining the Mrs. for furniture shopping, followed by more lounging and Downton Abbey watching. Because a balanced, happy life includes a lot of venturing out in search of birds, yes – but it also includes a healthy dose of "Jennifer Lawrence." Metaphorically.