San Diego Digiscoping

Back to more fun at the San Diego Bird Festival! Last time I talked about all the wood duck action at Santee Lakes. I did get quite a few photos of wood ducks, but the main bird species seen at Santee Lakes (and my hotel) was the American coot. While we were at Santee, families came to "feed the ducks." I thought about pointing out that they were actualely "feeding the rails" but abstained. The coots get an odd diet of bread and I even watched a kid toss them some gummy bears. Perhaps gummy bears are kind of like the aquatic insects and animals they are supposed to eat?

Santee Lakes is a beautiful little chain of lakes. The palm trees were a welcome site to this Minnesota girl. The San Diego Bird Festival originally was held in January. Last year they were kicking around the idea of moving to March. Someone asked, "Who wants to come to California in March, when it's practically spring?" I added my two cents worth by saying in my area of the US, it's still very much winter in March--and it is. As I type this, it's five degrees in Minnesota.

A treat for me was being able to watch ring-necked ducks up close and not freezing my tail off! Some readers of this blog may remember a series of photos I put in the blog last year from my buddy Clay Taylor of a ring-necked duck trying to swallow a snail. Clay got that footage here at Santee Lakes.


We were so close, we could kind of see the ring around the neck for which the duck was named...again, those wacky ornithologists naming a bird for a hard to see feature and some something obvious like ring-billed duck.

Keeping with the theme of ultra-mellow birds, our group found a rather easy going pied-billed grebe. In many places, you so much as make one furtive sidelong glance and they dive. Not this grebe, it went as far as to go into a ten minute preening session.

Then came the stare down. It was fun and I never really noticed the black chin on a pied-billed grebe before.

There were some ruddy ducks out on the lakes too--but they were much more camera shy, or just tired. Many of the males with the bluest bills were more interested in sleeping and preening. I started to video a male as he was swimming around and towards the end of it, he started doing his mating dance--he raises his tail and two little tufts on his head. He creates some bubbles underneath his body and then slaps his bill against his chest several times while making To attract a female the male swims around her, his tail tilted forward and neck outstretched. He then slaps his chestnut-colored chest with his bright blue bill while making his courtship call. The video didn't capture the call, but you can hear it at Xeno-canto. Here's the video:

The park is used by several members of the public, it's not a quiet park, but there's room for everybody from birders, duck feeders and people who like to go fishing. As we were working the lakes for digiscoping, there was a guy who was fishing--his line even got stuck in the tree and Clay helped him get it out. But we birders must have out stayed our welcome because he started to complain about us. I heard him behind me mutter to his friend, "I think watching birds is stupid, you can just go to the pet store and buy them. Why don't these people go and just buy some birds and leave us alone."

Irritated that he was complaining about us, even after Clay had helped him, I started to defend our group by saying, "You can't buy these birds in a pet store."

And he retorted, "Yes you can, bird watching is stupid."

I turned to look at him and he was not facing me.

But based on what I saw, I chose not to engage any further with a man whose butt was hanging out of his trousers. Perhaps he is not the world's authority on whether or not bird watching is stupid.

I was grateful when a western scrub-jay popped up as a nice cleansing bird.