I was out in Joshua Tree National Park at 615am this morning – before the desert got hot. My hope was to come across a Road Runner although my hopes weren’t that high as the official National Park Service website suggests there may not be very many of them in Joshua Tree.
This seemed to jar with the fact that Road Runners are liberally spread over the within-park notices and signs – which suggested to me that either they do live here and there is a chance of seeing them, or that the marketing guys in Washington DC designed the displays. Either was possible but I could only control how hard I looked for this bird – so I looked.
I did add 5 species to the trip list by breakfast; Ashy-throated Flycatcher, Scott’s Oriole, Phainopepla, Ladder-backed Woodpecker and Bushtit. But no Road Runner.
As I temporarily exited at about 930am I asked the young lady on the gate what I’d have to do to see a Road Runner and she said they were potentially everywhere – she’d seen one from her seat just yesterday. I immediately looked in the direction in which she had gestured to check that there wasn’t one sneaking across the road – there wasn’t.
I had breakfast in the Country Kitchen Restaurant – my antepenultimate US breakfast of the trip. It was a good 2-egg Denver omelette with ham, onion, pepper and cheese, coffee and rye toast. Not bad.
I popped into the Park Visitor Center to ask about Road Runners and a helpful man told me that they were active at all times of day and in all parts of the park, but he did say that another visitor center often had then running around outside. That sounded good so I filled up with gas and went back to where I had started (almost) and visited the other Visitor Center where I asked a nice young man about Road Runners. He said they were everywhere (which was getting to be a mixture of tiresome and encouraging). He said that they often ran around on the patio outside, gesturing over his right shoulder with his thumb and nodding his head in that direction. I checked where he indicated but there was no Road Runner at the moment.
But there was a rabbit, or desert cottontail, and if it had been a bit smaller, the helpful man told me, it would be potential prey for Road Runners as they are ‘fierce predators’. Only a few days ago there had been a Road Runner ripping the head off a Mourning Dove on the patio there he said, gesturing with thumb and head again.
I was getting the impression that this patio had to be hosed down to wash away the blood from Road Runner kills every evening. The helpful man said that decapitating the Mourning Dove had upset some visitors and I assured him that I would cheer on any Road Runner who did that in front of me, and, if necessary, pay its court fees if it were had up on a charge.
It was now 11am and my original plan had been to leave at 12 and head for nearer to LA to do some birding there but the bloodbath patio seemed a good place to spend time and so I did.
I have the patience of a saint and so I sat still for at least 15 minutes before I decided that going for a walk on the nature trail was just as good as sitting still. And I think I was right as I added another 2 species; Costa’s Hummingbird and Black-tailed Gnatcatcher. There were also lots of lizards of various sizes and some small edible-looking mammals which must have been antelope and round-tailed ground squirrels. All looked as though they might have had LUNCH written all over them as far as Road Runners were concerned.
There were Cactus Wrens aplenty and I enjoyed watching them and the hummers. But Road Runner came there none. Midday came and went and I decided that 2pm would be my cut-off. The temperature in the shade was 98F, but there was shade, and there were free water-bottle filling facilities and free bladder-emptying facilities, both of which were needed as I drank 6 litres of water between 11am and 2pm.
I sat, I watched, I walked, I sat again. Now I think I’d done everything required of me to see a Road Runner – I had risen early, spent time in the field, asked for advice and then followed it, been patient and active. What more could I have done. But still Road Runner came there none.
If this blog were fiction then this is where a Road Runner turns up, stomping down the patio with a bloody ground squirrel in its beak, dripping gore on the patio and scaring the children. But this is an accurate account and the Road Runner is the one that got away. There always has to be a reason to come back.
Perhaps when Rita Coolidge performs at Joshua Tree on Friday evening she’ll have more luck but that’s no good to me, I’ll be in rural East Northants again by then.