We Bird for the Birds, Not for the Workout

“Oh, come on!” I muttered to my Apple Watch.


Apple Fitness app. Screenshot. Apple iPhone 11.

Katherine and I had gone on three different bird walks that morning (for a total of over six miles) and I hadn’t closed my Exercise Ring on my Apple Watch.

“Are you kidding me?”

Our bird walks are interrupted by many stops to check out birds (or brightly colored leaves, oddly shaped stumps and rocks, and other non-living artifacts that we think may a bird). I still expected that it counted as some kind of workout. Yet, almost five hours and over six miles of birding resulted in an unclosed Exercise Ring. Perhaps Apple developers need to add a “Birding” workout to that app. (They certainly should add a “Dog Walk” workout!)

Our first stop on our non-workout adventure was Wilder Ranch State Park. We parked off Highway One and walked along the farm field to the cliff. (We were early enough in the morning that we were overtaken by an eager surfer who was heading out.)

From the cliff edge, we saw gulls and Pigeon Guillemot and returning Brown Pelicans and Cormorants flying in single file low over the water.

We continued down to the beach and a small pond where we saw juvenile Red-necked Phalaropes, Ruddy Ducks, Mallards (adults and juveniles) and American Coots. I tried to capture the swallows (Barn, Cliff and Violet-Green) who zipped over the water, catching insects, but they were too fast. Katherine pointed out a Black-crowned Night Heron. We saw it, and its mate that we hadn’t spotted, fly away as we didn’t approach. I swear it was not us that spooked them. We try to not disturb the birds we are watching.

I wasn’t excited by any of the pictures I had taken so far. Then I saw a lump on a bush. I trained my camera on it and zoomed in. Cool! A female Northern Harrier posing for her shoot. When I see a raptor perched on a branch or bush, I try to keep my camera lens focused on it, hoping to catch it in some activity beyond swiveling its head as it looks for its next meal. Sometimes, I miss the shot because the Tamron lens is heavy. But, this was not one of those times.

Female Northern Harrier. Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with TAMRON SP 150-600mm F/5-6.3 Di VC USD G2 A022, handheld, 1/200 sec., f/6.3, ISO 1000. Wilder Ranch State Park, Santa Cruz County, California.

Female Northern Harrier taking off. Canon EOS 5D Mrk IV with TAMRON SP 150-600mm F/5-6.3 Di VC USD G2 A022, handheld, 1/2000 sec., f/6.3, ISO 5000. Wilder Ranch State Park, Santa Cruz County, California.

Katherine and I have noticed that often on our way back to the car, we get the best opportunities to see and photograph a bird. This had been one of those times.

Our next stop, after breakfast at our favorite downtown cafe, was Natural Bridges State Park. We walked into the park and headed down the first path. Our goal was owls. We’d heard through the grapevine that the Great Horned Owl pair that live in the park had three babies this year.

We looked in the usual spots where we had often seen this pair and their two babies last year. We were unsuccessful, but we had a pleasant surprise: Green Herons in the pond.

Green Heron. Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with TAMRON SP 150-600mm F/5-6.3 Di VC USD G2 A022, handheld, 1/2000 sec., f/7.1, ISO 2500. Natural Bridges State Park, Santa Cruz, California.

There were two Herons on opposite sides of the pond. We could not tell if they had a relationship.

We next walked toward the beach. We again saw Red-necked Phalaropes (juveniles) and Mallards (adults and juveniles). It was a busy Memorial Day weekend at the beach so we didn’t stay long. We were headed out of the park. Katherine had gone ahead (to look for feathers beneath a palm tree across the street). I had my camera out, hopeful that I might see the White-tailed Kites, whom we’d seen in the park two weeks ago, building a nest. Even a rabbit would have merited a quick shot at this point.

A slender man on a bike had stopped in front of me.

“Have you seen the owls?” he asked.

“No, we’ve been looking, but haven’t seen them.”

“I can show you where they are if you want.”

Did I want? Hell yeah, I did want!

I called Katherine on the phone. “Get back here! A gentleman on a bike is going to show us where the owls are this year!”

While we waited for Katherine, the man, whose name was may have been Henri, showed me a photo on his phone of the White-tailed Kites. His friend had taken the photo with a 1000m lens. (I asked if the friend had used a tripod; I couldn’t imagine handholding a lens that large. He had used a tripod with a gimbal head.) The friend had caught the White-tailed Kites in the act of mating. Soon we should be seeing juvenile White-tailed Kites perching around!

Katherine and the bicyclist who may be named Henri went off while I paused to photograph a hummingbird. When I caught up to Katherine, she pointed out the “dad” Great Horned Owl. He was sleeping on a branch in the other side of the park. If not for Henry, we wouldn’t even have looked there.

Great Horned Owl. 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 1600. Natural Bridges State Park, Santa Cruz, California.

It was tough to get a good picture of him; he was obscured — as you can see — by what looks like the sawed-off stump of a branch. And he was sleeping. But still. We got to see an owl at Natural Bridges for the first time this year.

We went home to rest (not that this was a workout, remember!) and found two dogs in need of a walk. I ate a quick lunch and we leashed them up for a walk up Meder Canyon.

On recent visits, we had seen — high, high, high up a Eucalyptus tree — a Red-shouldered Hawk nest. The first time we spotted it, we were able to see an adult feeding a juvenile in the nest!

Red-shouldered Hawk feeding juvenile in nest. Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with TAMRON 100-400mm F/4.5-6.3 Di VC USD A035, handheld, 1/400 sec., f/6.3, ISO 800. Meder Canyon, Santa Cruz, California.

However, the lens I happened to have with me was a 100-400m zoom. Katherine and I decided to come back the next day with the larger lens.

Red-shouldered Hawks (parent and two juveniles). Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with TAMRON SP 150-600mm F/5-6.3 Di VC USD G2 A022, handheld, 1/400 sec., f/6.3, ISO 500. Meder Canyon, Santa Cruz, California.

Now, we could clearly see two babies and the parent (partially obscured on the right). Katherine, with her powerful binoculars, had seen three babies.

So we returned yet again. This time, I was unable to get any decent picture of the hawks in the nest. The wind was blowing the Eucalyptus leaves in front of the nest and even on manual focus (which I used on all these photos due to the leaves and twigs obstructing our view from below), I couldn’t get a good shot.

However, I did get this:

Red-shouldered Hawk. Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with TAMRON SP 150-600mm F/5-6.3 Di VC USD G2 A022, 1/2000 sec., f/6.3, ISO 5000. Meder Canyon, Santa Cruz, California.

I was walking down the path with Sasha slightly ahead of me. I saw a runner heading toward us. I also saw this Red-shouldered Hawk perched in the tree about fifteen feet above me. I knew that as soon as the runner approached, it would fly off. I kept my camera lens focused on the bird even as the man stopped to make friends with Sasha.

“She’s friendly. Her name is Sasha,” I said, without moving my camera. Because I wasn’t watching them, I could not see that Sasha was actually making a liar of me. The runner could not get her to approach. Meanwhile, I was still trying to hold my lens steady. But it was worth it. The runner finally approached. He didn’t seem to notice the nearby hawk. The hawk, though, noticed the runner. It crawled down the top of the branch and flew off.

All this activity and I couldn’t close my Exercise ring.

It just seems wrong. ;0

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[…] I’m also trying to keep the house running (laundry and other chores) as well as get in my daily workout (a real workout since we’ve seen that Bird Walks do not count!) […]


[…] Pictures of the juvenile Red-shouldered Hawks and the Great Horned Owl can be found in yesterday’s post. […]

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