This is where the magic is happening; the Los Angeles River just north of Willow Street in Long Beach, CA.
After dropping off Booby Brittany at LAX Tuesday morning, I was driving back to Ventura when Dipper Dan alerted me to the presence of a Red-necked Stint on the LA River. He implored me to turn around and get the bird, although I had no optics of any sort. Alas, I chose not to, as it was not a life bird and I was loathe to brave the snarled LA traffic without any sort of birding weaponry to deploy once I got there.
But by late that afternoon I found myself again in LA gridlock with Officer Searcy, a belligerent and oft-maligned member of the State Bird Police. The traffic was so bad we were beginning to worry the sun would set before we would even get there, but the congestion finally loosened and Officer Searcy's filthy patrol car was coughed up from the 710 onto Willow Street, where the bird was located.
Finding the bird took a mere 60 seconds of scanning. The peep that was colored more like a Red Knot than a Western Sandpiper stood out like a sore thumb, in the very patch of mud that it had been frequenting all day. Aside from this being only my second Red-necked Stint, it was a life plumage...and my 500th California bird.
500 has been a long-time coming...over 18 years, in fact. My ability to add to this precious list has been at times very limited over the years for various reasons...being too young to drive, too busy with college life, living out of state, bourbon and bastards, etc. But none of that matters now...the blood, sweat, tears and other substances wrenched from my body over these 18 years by 500 species of birds has all led up to this moment, this bird.
The stint was extremely cooperative, always out in the open, never flying, and usually just a few yards from Western and Least Sandpipers for comparison. Although the bird wasn't very close, it might as well have been staked to the same patch of mud, as it was very territorial, terrorizing any unsuspecting Least Sandpipers that tried to encroach.
After soaking the bird in, we walked back across the river to Officer Searcy's patrol car. With the colorful stint seared into my brain and the exalted figure of 500 achieved, it was not the Los Angeles River below me...I was crossing the Rubicon.
Things will never be the same.
A Least Sandpiper yearns for quality mud as the Red-necked Stint glows behind it. Bad photo, exceptional bird.