Friday, January 2, 2009

The Hunt for the Cedar Waxwing

Every year during the holidays, I am not just hunting for the perfect gift, I am hunting for a bird that only comes through around this time every year: the Cedar Waxwing. To me, this masked, crested bird is part of the holiday season. Winter berries are on the Toyon and other bushes throughout wildlife areas and parks and neighborhoods. Even on trees you will find fruit that Cedar Waxwings and American Robins delight in eating. Cedar Waxwings gorge themselves on fruit. It's like watching teenage boys at a buffet. They chow down like no other bird I have seen.

I searched everywhere hoping to find them. I searched Huntington Central Park with its many bushes festooned with red berries. I would often hear from another birder that, gosh, they'd just been here near the volleyball court or here near the fence. However, when I was there, they were not.

Cedar Waxwing in an Industrial Complex in Orange County, California. Taken through the window.

One day at work, my supervisor had brought us bagels and English muffins. The toaster is near the window. I was toasting an English muffin when what to my wondering eyes should appear, but a flock of Cedar Waxwings in the Liquid Amber trees outside my office window. They were resting after picking the trees and bushes clean of berries and fruit. I just happened to have my camera and clicked away since I was on a break.

Cedar Waxwing photographed from my office at work. "Through a glass darkly..." To misapply a quote.

But the camera focused on the reflection on the window, and I had problems getting clear shots.

Cedar Waxwings --notice the yellow waxy substance on the tail, and the red waxy substance on the wings--hence the name Waxwings.

So I kept snapping, hoping some would be okay.

Cedar Waxwing in Orange County business complex.

And snapping.

Cedar Waxwing in Orange County.

Cedar Waxwing in Orange County.

Cedar Waxwing in Orange County.

Then I got another chance at some clearer shots. I drove over to San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary and went into the Butterfly Garden area. There were over a hundred Cedar Waxwings fluttering and gorging themselves at several Toyon bushes. Wahoo!

Cedar Waxwing at San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary

After I had snapped a few pictures, my camera flashed a very unwelcome message--"Card and Internal Memory Full." I ran home cleared the card, grabbed another and went back as fast as I safely could. Alas, when I went back, the feast was over and a Cooper's Hawk sat in a nearby tree waiting for his own banquet to begin.

Feather fluffed and puffed to conserve heat in the cold afternoon, a Cooper's Hawk waits near the Toyon Bushes in the Butterfly Garden for the Cedar Waxwings to return. San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary .

Cedar Waxwing at San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary--up a tree.

As I headed toward the car, I saw that there were many Cedar Waxwings silhouetted in the trees nearby. A hint worth keeping in mind when looking for Cedar Waxwings: they often roost in large numbers in trees near their food source. As I walked closer, I saw them in the Toyon bushes in front of the cars in the gravel parking lot. Eureka! Got my camera at the ready.

Cedar Waxwing with a Toyon berry at San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary in the lower part of the picture.

I moved closely into range just as a couple got into separate cars and left. The man hesitated before he got into his car watching the Cedar Waxwings retreat into the trees. "Perhaps they will come back when we've left, " he said apologetically. I waited after they left.

After a long while, the Cedar Waxwings began to fly back into the bushes in front of my car just as a noisy group of children went by. The birds flew back into the trees. I breathed deeply. Then I had an idea! If I used it as a blind, I could get even closer. After all, the bushes they were interested in were right in front of my car! It was perfect.

Cedar Waxwing at San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary eating Toyon Berries.

So I got in my car and rolled down the window. I positioned my camera. After a few minutes, the crested gluttons returned to the bushes and began to eat the berries whole. Now, you might guess that birds that gorge themselves on fruit probably poop a lot. I had never contemplated this logical biological fact until suddenly I heard "Plop, plop, plop." Their poop fell like rain onto my car's pristine, white hood. I was torn between watching these wonderful birds and the fact that these wonderful birds were pooping on my brand-new car! I prayed the protective coat which was sold to me as protecting the car against bird poop damage was really working, and kept snapping. I am, after all, a birder which is why I bought the poop protection in the first place.

Gulp. Another berry down the gullet!

What a birder will do to see birds! So when you are out birding in Orange County, search the berried bushes and fruited trees near you for this gregarious, fruit-gorging group. You may see a flock of Cedar Waxwings in a Toyon bush near you.

Places to find Cedar Waxwings:

Huntington Central Park --including Shipley Nature Center

Irvine Regional Park in Orange, California

Mason Regional Park

Oak Canyon Nature Center

Peter's Regional Park

San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary

Santiago Oaks Regional Park

Yorba Regional Park

And any place with berries or fruit in the winter!

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