Our First Attempt at Birdwatching

March 8, 2019. I remember the date well.

(Okay, that’s not true. I had to look it up.)

Our friend, Robin, asked Katherine and me if we wanted to go early to the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum. They were offering an early morning birdwatching event on March 8. “Sure, why not,” we said.

We arrived before the sun was up. The woman who greeted us handed us a sheet of paper with a list of birds we might find at the Arboretum. We looked at it blankly. “This isn’t a guided event?”

Well, nothing daunted and armed with our bird list and my old Canon Rebel, we set off. We really had no idea what most of these birds looked like. We spent the first hour or so admiring the variety of plants.

As the sun came up, the birds came out. I couldn’t identify them, but I was excited to try to photograph them. The first photo I took was a Hummingbird. I did not know what kind–Anna’s, Allen’s and Rufous Hummingbirds were all on our list. I took several photos of one hummingbird, conveniently perched, later labeling them: “Hummingbird Fat,” “Hummingbird Fat 2,” “Hummingbird Fat 4,” all the way to “Hummingbird Fat 8.”

Allen’s Hummingbird perched on a twig in the morning light. Canon EOS DIGITAL REBEL XSi with EF75-300mm f/4-5.6, handheld, 1/400 sec., f/7.1, ISO 100. UCSC Arboretum, Santa Cruz, California.

We continued meandering through the paths of the Arboretum. I took pictures of any bird who’d perch still. Below is one of those thoughtful birds, “Bird Blue on Fence with Nut in Beak.” Also known as a California Scrub Jay and an acorn.

California Scrub Jay with an acorn perches on a fence. Canon EOS DIGITAL REBEL XSi with EF75-300mm f/4-5.6, handheld, 1/400 sec., f/7.1, ISO 400. UCSC Arboretum, Santa Cruz, California.

Another bird that sat still for me was “Bird Light Belly.” I would later come to know this bird very well as flocks of Bushtits can often be heard chattering in the Bottlebrush in our backyard.

Bushtit. Canon EOS DIGITAL REBEL XSi with EF75-300mm f/4-5.6, handheld, 1/400 sec., f/7.1, ISO 250. UCSC Arboretum, Santa Cruz, California

We spent about three and a half hours wandering around the Arboretum. Now we were hungry. Robin, Katherine and I went to get breakfast.

But, the fun was not over.

“There are owls at Natural Bridges,” Robin said. Natural Bridges State Park was up the street from the cafe where we had breakfast.

“Well, let’s go see them!”

As we walked along the drive into Natural Bridges from Delaware Street, I could hear a large bird vocalizing somewhere above us. I craned my neck, looking around. “There!” I said, pointing, as a large hawk-like bird flew into an Eucalyptus tree.

“Looks like a Red-shouldered Hawk to me,” said Katherine.

The Red-shouldered sat perched on a branch, making “kee-yah!” cries. As we watched, another Red-shouldered Hawk flew in behind her.

“What are they doing?”

“Are they….?”

“I think they are!”

Red-shouldered Hawks mating in an Eucalyptus tree. Canon EOS DIGITAL REBEL XSi with EF75-300mm f/4-5.6, handheld, 1/200 sec., f/16, ISO 400. Natural Bridges State Park, Santa Cruz, California.

Click. Click. Click went my shutter as I captured what, for some species, might be something of a private moment.

We watched until the male flew off, vocalizing his triumph.

We never did see any owls that day (though we had seen many owl pellets in a Eucalyptus grove at the Arboretum and in later visits to Natural Bridges we would see the Great Horned Owls on several occasions!), but Katherine and I were hooked on birdwatching.

I also wanted to step up my bird photography game…

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