The hummingbird sat in a tree a mere seven feet or so above the sidewalk, making irritable noises.
This is one of the most memorable things about San Diego (or perhaps just San Diego in early September; I don’t have a large dataset). There are hummingbirds all over the place, and perhaps because of the very high population density, they are constantly cussing each other out like cab drivers. Of course, this is much more endearing coming from a micro-bird than from a dubiously sane dude piloting a multi-ton chunk of metal powered by burning dinosaurs.
Most of the hummingbirds I managed to identify were Anna’s Hummingbirds, a species I already had on my list after my trip to San Francisco a few years back. But this one was different. It was also sitting in terrible light. Still, I was eventually able to determine that I was looking at a Costa’s Hummingbird.
Yes, irony of ironies, my first post about my pelagic trip is going to be about all the wonderful desert species I racked up! But then, that’s the way it is with birders and travel. It’s not like golf; you start as soon as you have a window on a piece of landscape. In fact, my very first life bird of the trip was the Elegant Tern I saw as we walked down to get our rented bikes the night before.
Now, astride these said rental bikes, we’d made our way to La Jolla for one of the best breakfasts ever (and a hummingbird). And then the Inimitable Todd had a bright idea. “We could bike back the long way,” he said, “or we could bike over Mount Soledad.”
The phrases “long way” and “over Mount Soledad” did battle in my brain as I contemplated the angry hummingbird. The long way was the way we had already come. Although charming, and a relatively easy ride, it featured surfers rather than Surfbirds and taco stands rather than Tattlers. The mountain, on the other hand, was a mountain. But it offered the prospect of mountainy birds.
So, with much sweating and gear-shifting, we went up the mountain. A flock of Ravens shouted encouragement overhead; none of them was a Golden Eagle, but that was ok. A couple of drivers also shouted (what they apparently thought was) encouragement; this was less ok. Come to think of it, a clear pattern was emerging that guys in cars are always less ok than birds.
At the top of the mountain, we found a park, and I suddenly remembered why the name Mount Soledad sounded irritatingly familiar. I didn’t waste much time contemplating the giant, upraised middle finger to religious diversity, though, since by simply turning my back to it I was able to look out over stretches of very promising scrubby shrubs falling away in any direction. Also, there was an ocean and stuff.
I tried to track down a thrasher-like noise in the shrubs to no success, but while I did so a flock of White-throated Swifts began to come over the ridge. There’s never a bad time to watch swifts, and so rarely does one get to do so from above! They were followed by another large kettle of Ravens, and there’s never a bad time to watch Ravens either. I walked out as far as I could into the scrub the better to watch them.
I’m not terribly familiar with arid climates, but what stuck me was how prickly everything was. This, of course, is an adaptation to avoid losing water. I, not adapted to be prickly, was sweating profusely and would soon learn to my sorrow that I’d perspired all the sunscreen off my back. But the swifts and Ravens soarded over the brush that seemed to grab at me; and meanwhile the elusive thrashers and other small birds maneuvered deftly through the close-woven branches.
One made a nasal little whining sound behind me.
“Where is that?” I asked the Inimitable Todd, and he, in his Inimitable way, at once spotted the Gnatcatcher. Gnatcatchers are hard to spot. California Gnatcatchers are harder because you have to spot them in California. Nevertheless, spot it he did, and he was able to point it out to me!
After that, the day was downhill. Literally, of course, but my bike also got a flat tire just after I spotted my life Cinnamon Teal and I didn’t manage to find a White-faced Ibis despite earnestly scanning a great deal of appropriate habitat. And, of course, the sunburn.
But nevertheless, there was tomorrow, and the boat.