Silhouetted tufts
July 4, 2022

"A cool summer day," I heard muttered to myself under my breath as I stepped into the chilly morning air. I even briefly wondered whether I should have packed a thicker layer to accommodate for the surprisingly low temperatures. "No matter," I thought, as I embarked along the shrub-lined path; I was anyway expecting the environment to heat up within the hour under the stark morning sunshine.

The day, overall, could be best described as mildly frustrating by the consistently uncooperative birds; every fluffy one that I would see would pause just long enough for me to pick up the camera, before darting off to a highly inconvenient location. It began with a gnatcatcher, then a few jays, and even a medium-sized owl. To change the paradigm, I decided to sit and watch some Anna's hummingbirds. As expected, the highly-territorial creatures buzzed around their invisible circuit to ensure all was in order before returning to their daily routines. These few I closely observed appeared to be juveniles of varying ages, sporting developing plumages and notably compact territories.

There was a lull in the hike, and birds were neither seen nor heard above the persistent wind that raced through the brush. And then the silence was broken by a western wood-pewee, rushing across the pines in its fancy buttoned-down vest. Swooping and hovering and cyclically perching on the branches, the pewee would call to its mate every other second, and between those calls, I could hear another reply, and the two would never miss a beat.

A few other birds were seen along the way. Small gregarious flocks of nuthatches and bushtits would flap back and forth along the path with unrestricted chirping. They were unsurprisingly difficult to photograph, but I managed one usable image from each group. And at least one mammal shared a moment with me: a cautiously weary cottontail, looking around constantly for predators.

Lastly, we have a new bird for my life list: the phainopepla. When I started the hike, I did see it dart by along the tree tops with its distinctive tufted silhouette, but I couldn't get a view of it until the hike was nearly over. With the bright sun high in the sky, I noticed the same tufted shape jump to the top of a tree. The plumage was purely black, but when it turned its head, I could see the glimmer of its fully red eyes. As if that wasn't entirely exciting already, it flew down and its mate, in a drab gray plumage, flew into the same tree. The encounter with the pair only lasted a few seconds, but I managed to capture a few photographs to present here.