A hawk circles lazily overhead. I turn my binoculars skyward and directly into the morning sun. I am momentarily blinded, but I can hear the distinct kee-eerrrrrr echoing through the valley. I track her by sound as her call grows faint and fainter still, until altogether it is lost. When I am able to see again, I continue on in my quest to photograph the Red Tailed Hawk.
Bird photography is my latest passion and I carry both a camera and a pair of binoculars with me wherever I go. Today, I am just a few miles from home at Mission Trails Regional Park in San Diego. The park encompasses almost 5,800 acres of both natural and developed recreational areas and is a favorite place for hiking and birding. I start my expedition at the Old Mission Dam, which turns out to be a good spot since I heard the hawk within minutes of leaving my car. The dam is a nationally registered historical landmark and was built in 1803 as the first major irrigation project on the Pacific Coast. I linger near the pond watching an American Coot and hope to see some of the other birds that frequent the area. I spot a California Towhee hopping along the rock wall of the dam. I take a few shots of it with my camera. A cheerful ta-witchety sound draws my attention to a bright yellow bird perched on a reed in the water. I am not proficient in my bird identification and refer to my Field Guide to Birds book. It is a Common Yellowthroat and as it floats along on the reed, I snap a few pictures. Finally it tires and flies away. I too am tiring and have yet to see or hear the hawk again. I decide to leave the dam and hike one of the short, looping trails. As I come over a rise, I see something moving in a grassy field. My first thought is that it is a chicken and I can’t understand why a chicken is pecking in the grass or how it got here in the first place (this is a prime example as to why I should wear my glasses). As I get closer, my bewilderment turns to excitement. It’s not a wayward chicken, but an owl! I hunker down with my camera and creep along the trail thinking I am in stealth-mode, but in reality I am loud and large. The chicken-owl thing watches me closely, but does not fly away. It is important I stay on the trail since this is a fragile plant area but it makes it difficult to get close.
I focus carefully and take a few pictures. I decide to ignore the sign and step off the trail. With my first step I stumble and fall. The chicken-owl gives me a look of disgust and flies away. I take this as punishment for not adhering to the rules of the park and call it a day. I am anxious to get home and see my photos. However, when I upload my pictures, it is not an owl or even a chicken mousing in the field, but a juvenile Northern Harrier! Even better!