Mostly birds

My friends, family and work colleagues (especially my long-time former PA, the saintly Claire) will tell you that they are extremely lucky that I do not have moods.  But if I did, then this morning’s would not have been one of the best.

I woke early (which is good) realising that I was in this grotty motel room (which is not of itself bad as there have been quite a few of them) for which I was paying too much money (which is bad) and also that this was the last full day of my trip and that it was a dull day.

Now the last day of a holiday is always an odd one for me as my mind is half way back home yet my body has to find something to do.  And I’m not looking forward to the long flight back which includes a few hours on the deck in Canada.  And even if all goes to plan I might just miss the last train and spend the night at St Pancras Station.

And then there was the weather – misty and cold.

But don’t worry, Dear Reader, things do get brighter weatherwise and as far as my spirits are concerned.  But I must warn you that this may be a long blog, and for those of you who have told me that you like the bits without birds best, then you’ll have to do quite a bit of skipping over paragraphs although you will learn how daft I can be and get a little bit of chat with a waitress called Courtney.

I had a plan – get up early, have a quick look at the Malibu Lagoon, go up into the hills of Santa Monica to a State Park and then explore the coast some more.

Malibu Lagoon was dull weatherwise but provided some good birds – Caspian Tern, Pied-billed Grebe, lots of Brown Pelicans and Allen’s Hummingbird.

I then set off into the hills to the Malibu Creek State Park and the birds came tumbling out – maybe because the sun was shining up here.  Immediately there was a beautiful White-tailed Kite.  Three seed-eaters followed.  First,  Goldfinch (which I have probably seen already but this was the first definite) and then, at the same time, a Lazuli Bunting and a Blue Grosbeak.  The Lazuli Bunting didn’t look quite as good as in the Field Guide but the Grosbeak was even bluer.  They were both in view at the same time, with the Grosbeak singing, and it was difficult to know where to look.

And then, soon after, in the distance, there were several birds flycatching from a large oak tree.  They looked like flycatchers until I got the binoculars on them and saw they were woodpeckers, Acorn Woodpeckers, who have interesting social systems but we don’t have time to go into that.  I watched this group of 8-10 woodpeckers for quite a while as they were very active, very pretty and lived in a very large, attractive old oak tree.

There were Hooded Orioles and Pacific-slope Flycatchers and I finally was sure that I had seen Cassin’s Kingbird, which is very similar to Western Kingbird, as I saw the white tips to the tail feathers and not the white outer tail feathers of Western. Then there was a non-native Black-hooded Parrot (I never did write about Carolina Parakeet did I?  I meant to, sorry). And then I wondered where my wallet was.

I didn’t have it.  Did that mean I had left it in the car or lost it? At various stages, in less than a second, my mind adopted each explanation completely several times.  Had I put it in my pocket? Probably not.  Had I put it in the rucksack and could I have lost it with all that consulting of Sibley that I had  done? Yes, that’s it. Or had I left it in the car? Not what I normally do but possible.  Which was it?

I assumed the worst but hoped for the best and headed back to the car at quite a brisk walk, only pausing to identify California Towhee and Black-headed Grosbeak.  The wallet was in the car – panic over.  The only thing that would have made it more typical of me was to rush back to the car and find that it was in the rucksack all the time.  I was slightly disappointed that I couldn’t roll out my ‘getting home without any money plan’ that I had developed but maybe next time.

It was only 1015, so should I walk back and see what I had missed in my brisk walk back for wallet or call it a day here and find breakfast.  Breakfast won, so it was back to Malibu lagoon, down the Malibu Canyon Road and into the coastal gloom again.  The coastal gloom is a bit like the haar  of eastern Scotland – a coastal fog that rarely penetrates inland very far but shrouds the coast in dimness.  That was how it was here – hills sunny, coast cloudy and dull.  Through the day I criss-crossed this brightness barrier several times.

The Marmalade Cafe was open, I was glad to find, as I’d seen it earlier and it looked promising.  I sat and was greeted by the second-most attractive waitress of the trip whom, I discovered not much later, was called Courtney.  Imagine Courtney Cox, tone it down a bit, and you have the gist.

On one side of me was a man with a laptop, on the other was a woman to whom I took an immediate dislike and two very handsome young men.  They may have been her sons – they were in their early 30s and she was late 50s but looked well-preserved.  She talked a lot but they only looked animated when they talked to each other – particularly when she visited the rest room and they really came alive in their facial expressions.  When she returned she quizzed Courtney on what type of sausage was involved in this breakfast and could she have this variant or that variant – and it took for ages.  I almost admired her, for the form of ordering breakfast in the US is that the waiting staff ask all the questions and you must get the right answers or no breakfast!  But Snobby Woman, as we will call her, for that is what I had her down as already, was, I thought, asking these questions to make a point and through boredom.  And she was holding up my breakfast.

I ordered a 2-egg Denver omelette with avocado and ham, rye toast and coffee.  It was good, but as I ate my breakfast Snobby Woman was moaning about hers.  Courtney asked whether she would like another egg, done differently, but Snobby Woman preferred moaning to that so she said ‘no’ (but not ‘no thanks’).  Her sons, looked very handsome, very bored, very tanned and very disconnected from their mother ( if that is who she was).

I asked for the check and also for some information.  How long would it take me to get to LA International Airport (tomorrow)? Courtney said about 45 minutes and I said I thought it would take longer as I’d probably get lost.  Then we had a chat about my trip and where Courtney came from (not far up the road) and what her job was like.  She told me she’d been a bit worried about working in Malibu in case the people were, you know, a bit snobby, but actually they were mostly very nice. At this very point, Snobby Woman decided she wasn’t getting enough attention and asked for more toast – I noticed her breakfast had been push around the plate a few times, assaulted but not eaten.

I rolled my eyes at Courtney who was too professional to do anything other than smile back and as I left she wished me a good return home and last day of my trip.  For readers not interested in birds (and mammals) cut to the end now.

And so it was ,following my plan, further West along the coast, to Point Dume, of which I had never heard but which is quite famous.  This was the only bit of coast today that I visited where the sun shone – it was lovely.  Now I promised more than just birds.  Here were some pretty plants – but I have no idea what they were, except pretty and quite a lot of butterflies (which have been in short supply here in the US) and although I have little idea what they were, some were very like Painted Ladies, others were small and milky blue like Chalkhill Blues and one was quite like  a Speckled Wood but had red edges to the wings.

But the birds I can do – there were Short-tailed Shearwaters, Surf  Scoter, Brandt’s Cormorant and a Red-throated Loon offshore, whereas onshore there was my first California Quail.  But as I looked at the scoter I saw that they were not alone in the sea, oh no, there were hundreds of dolphins moving East (and South) along the coast.  And as I looked at the cormorants I saw that they were sharing their rock with Sea Lions!  How great! Some marine mammals at the end of the trip.

I moved further up the coast to Channel Islands Beach where I saw Black Oystercatcher and some terns.

Returning via Malibu Creek Park I saw no new birds but it was a lovely evening.  The Lazuli Bunting sat on the same bush and looked superb this time and the Blue Grosbeak later sat on a nearby perch and looked pretty good too.

Just further up the path was where the TV series M.A.S.H. was set but although I thought of Trapper, Radar, Hotlips, Hawkeye and others I didn’t go look.  And there was no point looking for the last sunset of the trip as the coast was still misty. And, anyway, the most romantic part of the trip was on the Navajo Bridge (I’ve worn the cap all day) with bad lady #54 and nothing can compare with that.

So that’s the last day, rounded off with a steak (passable, no more) and quite a lot of Napa Valley Merlot, Burgess Cellars 2007.  Very nice.

There will be a blog tomorrow, as I’ve already written it.  It contains an ‘ask’ of many of you. But the Napa Valley is making me sleepy and it’s been a very good day despite its grumpy start.

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4 Replies to “Mostly birds”

  1. Think you have had a marvelous time and enjoyed yourself immensely but will be pleased to have you home.

  2. Have a good journey home Mark. I'm really going to miss reading about your travels, I've become quite addicted! M

  3. Someone who knows US birds far better than I says it is unlikely that these shearwaters were Short-tailed. So I wonder what they were...


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