Saturday, December 18, 2010

Chirstmas Bird Count

After last night's howling winds and slashing rain and despite another major storm threatening (2010 is proving to be a wet year) we head out anyway. Maybe we'll get lucky and catch the trough in the storm. It's clear at 8 AM and the radar map looks free of rain clouds for a couple of hours at least. Who'd go to the beach today? We're surprised that the parking lot at Abbotts Lagoon (the beach just before Kehoe) is loaded with cars. Pretty rough weather coming, chilly but not too much wind yet. So many cars?

We start down the trail in our companionable silence. So nice to be together and quiet in nature and let the sounds in. Let the thoughts in. Surf in the distance, a lot of chirping in the marsh. We scare up a bunch of quail; their wing beats drum in the chest. Some paw prints in a slick patch of mud, fresh - we'd like them to be something exotic- fox, maybe weasel, but more likely a small raccoon. We have seen weasels here.

At the rise of the trail just before it dips down to the beach we see a group of four loaded with spotting gear—scopes and binos. They ask, "Are you doing the CBC? It's the 111th annual Christmas Bird Count." This explains the cars. "No, we're doing the Christmas Plastic Count," we say. They've seen Oyster Catchers, Kestrels, Virginia Rails and more. Numbers are rising and falling, mostly falling. We tell them about the Peregrine nest with four chicks we saw last spring.

After the night's windstorm, the sand has blown over everything: rocks,driftwood seaweed. It looks like a tan snowstorm. It's covering the abundance of plastic we expected to see. Still, we are able to gather a couple of bags full. The distribution for unusual things is so random. We find three soft rubbery fishing lures; white ones adding to the twelve-year total of 37, along with a coveted umbrella handle and a Mexican candy squeezer.

The water bottles we usually find are mostly local but there's one from China and then one with the label "Diet Aqua." Diet Water? Really? Yep, 0 calories. Turns out, it's from India, from the southeastern tip of the sub-continent near Chennai, on the Bay of Bengal in the Indian Ocean. Chennai used to be called Madras. How did this bottle get here? Googling it, we get a YouTube of the purification process. Bottled water is a form of consumer madness here,but makes sense in a place like India where bacteria and parasites thrive in damp tropical heat; where over a billion human digestive systems are hard at work.

The road to the beach follows Lagunitas Creek, the last really viable breedingplace in Central California for Coho Salmon. On the ride back we stop at a good place to look for them, where for years we've watched salmon thrashing in a mating frenzy. Last year, though, none. There is encouraging news this winter—after two years of calamitous drop in salmon populations, there seems to be an upswing.This spot's become a Bay Area destination so the Park Service has put in an observation area- a parking lot and interpretive signs. It's stunning to see the bright red males, big as your arm flipping themselves up the rushing waters, the females whooshing the gravel in the streambed to make nests to lay eggs. Today there's too much silt in the runoff to see any fish but the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle had a big story about the increasing numbers. You really get a sense of deep instinct seeing the fish.

What got us up this morning into the cold and wet? Some deep, very human instinct to make something in this world. To make something beautiful, even out of the trash we find at the beach. We've lately been reading The Art Instinct by Denis Dutton.

It surely is evident that the human will toward beauty and the hard, sometimes uncomfortable journey is as strong as those salmon swimming back to the bed of their making. We go the beach on a crappy day; the birders are out in numbers...people like something beautiful.

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