Ode to Birdwatching

It’s been a long year, and bird watching has helps us get through the months of isolation. On January 13, 2021, we went to Jacks Peak county park to look around. Walking through the woodland of pine and oak reminded me of birding in Brunswick Heads, NSW, Australia. We found the group through our delightful neighbors, and went on walks with them during our month in the area. It was a high point in a year of high points. The trees and plants at Jacks Peak are completely different from Australia, but the overall environment is a similar mix of forest and open areas.

Monterey Bay from Jacks Peak

The climb to the top of Jacks Peak (a hill, really) isn’t difficult. From many places you can see the Monterey Peninsula and the ocean to the northwest, and from other spots we saw the ocean over Carmel to the southwest. The day was unusually warm for January, in the 70s, and the parking lot only had a few cars. Conditions were perfect. The trails are easy to follow, and I was again reminded of birding walks in Australia where we chatted with other birders as we strolled until someone spotted a bird. We always see more birds when we’re with a group, there are many more eyes, and some are highly skilled spotters. Others recognize birdsong. Still others carry spotting scopes or camera equipment with long lenses. After the day’s outing, we receive an email with photos of many of the birds we saw. Going with a group is the way to go.

On Jacks Peak, we did pandemic birding, just the two of us. There didn’t seem to be many birds at all so we basked in the sun and enjoyed the walk. As often happens, though, our path eventually led through a few trees that suddenly appeared to be full of birds. It was difficult to decide where to look first. All the birds were moving so fast that it took several minutes of trying to follow birds from branch to branch before we could identify any of them. There were ruby-crowned kinglets, chestnut-backed chickadees, and a blue-gray gnatcatcher. These are little bitty birds that rarely stop moving. In the trees nearby, we could hear scrub jays. We spotted a brown creeper climbing up the trunk of a tree.

As fast as it began, the flutter passed, the flock of little birds moved off, and the forest seemed entirely empty again. We congratulated each other on what we’d been able to identify and assumed we’d stroll the rest of the trail back without much more to see. Just as we were deciding which trail returned to the parking lot when we walked into another busy stand of trees. Another mixed flock of small birds was browsing through, and we squinted and twisted and adjusted our binoculars to try and identify them. Though it was a mixed flock just like the others we’d seen, here the birds were a bit different. There was a red-breasted nuthatch, and some other tiny birds including a Pacific wren. There were kinglets, but also yellow-rumped warblers, a bird that time and again we identify as something else until it turns to fly away and flashes it’s yellow backside. Townsend’s warblers have similar colors, yellow with black and white, but there seemed to be something different. After a lot of staring we identified a different warbler, and back at the car with the bird book (Sibley Guide to Birds) we identified a new bird for us, the Hermit Warbler. It’s getting to be a big treat to see a bird we’ve never seen before.

When the flock passed, we continued back to the car. Despite our good fortune, we would have identified more birds if we had been with a group and we would have enjoyed the company. We may not get back to our birding friends in Brunswick Heads, but we look forward to the time when we can go out again with fellow birders. In the meantime, we’re staying in practice and enjoying the outdoors.


Published by winifredcreamer

I am a retired archaeologist and I like to travel, especially to places where you can walk along the shore or watch birds. My husband Jonathan and I travel for more than half the year every year, seeing all the places that we haven't gotten to yet.

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