“Not Your Best Work.”

In a quaint motel in Bridgeport, California, at a tiny table with barely enough room for her laptop, the writer worked feverishly to finish her post before her arbitrary and self-imposed deadline.

The writer alternated between sipping from a plastic cup of warm red wine and tapping out her post on an overheated MacBook. The writer would tap out three or four letters and wait for the laptop to catch up. No one appreciated the 98 degree heat.

The writer wrote a few sentences, researched the mating habits of Yellow-headed Blackbirds and wrote some more. Finally, she sat back in her chair. It was time to turn in her post to her editor.

“Katherine, can you read this for me?”


“You don’t have to get up; I’ll bring it to you.”

“Yes, of course I’ll read it.”

The writer joined Katherine on the bed and waited anxiously as Katherine read the piece.

There was a pause.

A long pause.

Finally, Katherine looked up. “Not your best work.”

The writer waited for Katherine to say, “Just kidding.”

And waited.


“Yeah, I’m sorry. It’s just not as good as some of your other posts.”

We (yes, the writer is me! 😏) agreed that it had been a long day. In fact, it had been a long trip.

We had left Santa Cruz on June 11th and driven with the dogs up to Oregon to visit my sister Carol, and her husband, Rob. We had a wonderful two-day visit with them and their sweet dog, Hershel, before heading out on the road to Montana via Washington. (BTW, Rob, Sam and Sasha are still talking about those Cheerios 😁.)

We arrived in Montana and spent five fun days with our friends, Carmel and Sharon. Thanks again to Sharon for taking us out — twice — in her boat to Noxon Reservoir to see Ospreys, Bald Eagles, fighting Northern Rough-winged Swallows and more (which will be part of a future post). And thanks to Carmel for taking me to Island Park in Thompson Falls where we rooted for a juvenile Canada Goose and its struggles (which will also be part of a future post).

Then Katherine, the dogs and I took a three-day, bird-centric, leisurely drive home to California via Wyoming (passing through Yellowstone and The Grand Tetons National Parks), Idaho and Nevada.

Sam is a great traveler.

Sasha is not.

Sasha does not like car drives. She acted like a prisoner on a hunger strike for the entire trip.

Some prisoners who go on a “hunger strike” will refuse jail food, but will eat snacks they can order off of commissary. Like them, Sasha also refused her food, but was willing to eat the dog biscuits provided by friendly National Park and hotel staff as well as the odd french fry provided by Katherine and me.

So, after ten days of car tripping in a heat wave that affected all of the western United States, and trying to get a seven pound dog who can’t afford to miss too many meals to eat, it’s no wonder that my writing was a little off.

I had been trying to write a post about Yellow-headed Blackbirds.

Katherine’s research for birding in the Eastern Sierras had brought us to Diaz Lake in Owens Valley, Inyo County.. Because the weather was topping out at 101 degrees, we were relieved to see an empty pavilion near the water where we and the dogs could look for birds in relative comfort.

Pretty quickly, I spotted a bird with a yellow chest.

Female Yellow-headed Blackbird. Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with TAMRON SP 150-600mm F/5-6.3 Di VC USD G2 A022, handheld, 1/500 sec., f/6.3, ISO 160. Diaz Lake, Owens Valley, Inyo County, California.

“That’s a new bird,” I thought. I took several photos, and then braved the heat of the parking lot to look for a bird I’d seen on our drive in. The long beaked and long legged bird had been unfamiliar and I was hoping to see it again.

Fortunately, that bird, who I would later identify as a Great-tailed Grackle, was not uncommon at the lake. I soon spotted one near the pavilion.

Male Great-tailed Grackle. Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with TAMRON SP 150-600mm F/5-6.3 Di VC USD G2 A022, handheld, 1/500 sec., f/6.3, ISO 125. Diaz Lake, Owens Valley, Inyo County, California.

I took several pictures of the Grackle. Then I glanced back at the pavilion and saw Katherine waving frantically at me. Had she spotted a cool bird??

I ran (with a six pound camera and lens, mind you) back to Katherine. As I got close, she pointed, “Electric yellow bird!”

I looked and immediately saw a beautiful bird perch near the water.

Male Yellow-headed Blackbird. Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with TAMRON SP 150-600mm F/5-6.3 Di VC USD G2 A022, handheld, 1/500 sec., f/6.3, ISO 250. Diaz Lake, Owens Valley, Inyo County, California.

“A Yellow-headed Blackbird!” Katherine said. “It’s the mate of the one you saw earlier!”

I was impressed with Katherine’s identification of the two birds until she admitted that she read it from the information board in the pavilion.

I would also learn that “the mate” was a phrase that can be only loosely applied to male Yellow-headed Blackbirds. The male claims and defends a territory. He may then mate with up to eight females who nest within that territory. This may make sense from a survival of the species perspective when you realize that the female broods only once a season with a scant two to five eggs. (California Quail, on the other hand, commonly hatch twelve or more eggs and may brood more than once a season.) But it leaves him no time to help build the nest. Or so he claims.

Female Yellow-headed Blackbird — Builder of Nests. Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with TAMRON SP 150-600mm F/5-6.3 Di VC USD G2 A022, handheld, 1/4000 sec., f/6.3, ISO 1000. Diaz Lake, Owens Valley, Inyo County, California.

Is this why the female looks angry? Or, is that just RBF?

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