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Cliff Swallows!

Monday, April 14th, 2008

Cliff Swallows

Score. This is a new species for my list of birds observed at Lake Merritt Channel. This is excellent news for me as a novice birder because, as any birder can tell you, the fun part is checking things off a list. I mean, experiencing nature is great, and becoming a keener observer of color and motion is cool, too, but the sexy part of birding, the secret thrill of it, is absolutely about creating and maintaining a well-organized, comprehensive list. Sort of like XML, only with sunburn and binoculars.

Of course, as I said, I’m a novice birder, so perfectly common species (like this one) are still a matter of novelty to me. Some day, when I’m a jaded and dissolute bird connoisseur, I’m sure I’ll look back on the eager completism of my youth and chuckle knowingly as I sip my absinthe. Meanwhile, though, it’s still exciting.

Cliff Swallows

This was one of those days when the gods of photography decide to tap me on the shoulder in the morning and suggest that I take my 300mm lens along with me. It’s heavy, and bulky, and I don’t always carry it — and often when I do carry it, it just takes up space and wears out my back. But every now and again I have a little intuition that I need to pack the big guns, and usually when I have that feeling I get rewarded with…something. A sight I would not otherwise have been able to see.

These Cliff Swallows (aren’t you impressed that I’ve gotten this far without making any double entendres?) certainly qualify. There’s a strange quality to their motion, both in the air, and, especially, on the ground. Alien, insectoid. They don’t fold their wings when they land; instead, the stretch them out and upright and move them continuously back and forth. This gives them the aspect, somewhat, of gigantic, misshapen butterflies. This impression breaks down as soon as they burst into the air, because they cease moving like butterflies, and instead begin moving like wasps or flies. They do not flock; they swarm.

Very, very strange, and a little unnerving.

The Kaiser appears to have some avian squatters

Incidentally, I’m pretty sure I’ve seen these guys before, on the wing, and just been unable to identify them. They’re fast like the dickens, and they don’t usually feed on the banks of the channel like this — at least, I don’t think they do it that often. But I believe I’ve seen their nests before, too, on the side of the Kaiser Center (see at right, a shot from last June) — not sure, because nests are not something I’m all that familiar with, yet, but it seems to be their MO.

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