Wednesday, May 4, 2016

It's my "tern" now - and a sad turn of events

Last Saturday while birding at the Glendale Recharge Ponds Mark & I ran into Tommy D and he told us there was a Forster's Tern in Pond 3.  Awesome!  At the time, we were on the east side of pond 1 making our way over to the north side so I could show Mark the Burrowing Owl, and then go up to the bike path to check out the riparian area.  After a pleasant conversation with Tommy and admiring the two bald eagles in a large tree, Mark & I continued on our path and veered over back to pond 3.  We looked and looked, but guess it wasn't our turn to see it - the tern was no where in sight.   

Over the rest of the weekend I received several eBird Rare Bird Alerts of the Forster's Tern at the Glendale Recharge Ponds.  I wanted to see that tern so bad, but wasn't able to get back up there at that time.  Monday morning came and there it was again.  Another alert email of the tern.  I decided to start in the studio earlier than usual and then head up there.  I'm only about 20 minutes away, so it was doable, considering what all I had on my plate for that day.

Back tracking a bit, I did get to see a tern on April 27th at the GRP - Caspian Tern (lifer).  There were actually 3 of those very large terns together flying between ponds 3 and 4.  The photo is not great, but the experience was pretty darn cool!

Caspian Tern - Glendale Recharge Ponds

Back to Monday.  While driving to the GRP all I could think about was finding that tern.  I only had an hour to spare that morning, so it wasn't going to be my usual scan and count.  When I arrived, there were 4 other vehicles there.  I parked on the west side of the parking bridge, got out, grabbed my gear, threw on my floppy hat and headed straight over to pond 3. 

I usually look down and over the bridge on both sides, but because I had tern on the brain and no time to spare, I didn't.  Thankfully, I didn't.  More about this after my quick morning birding. 

Arrived at pond 3 and spotted 3 Semipalimated Plovers.  Started scanning for the tern - nope.  Made my way down the path and ran into Steve, a fellow birder.  By this time there was another SEPL that joined the other 3 - awesome!  I asked if he seen the Forster's Tern - yep, earlier that morning in pond 3 and then it flew off towards the canal.  Of course it did.  Well, I wasn't giving up so we bid farewell and on my way I went.

I did see several species on my way, but I was on a mission.  I arrived to about the middle of pond 6 and started scanning.  No tern.  Maybe it just wasn't my turn to see it yet.  I then looked over in pond 1 which had very low water in spots when something caught my eye.  What a surprise - a Long-billed Curlew - a lifer for me!

Long-billed Curlew
While the rest of the photos are not that great either, I'm a birder first and an amateur photographer second - but I surely try.

Long-billed Curlew

He was all by himself in that section of the pond.  While keeping my eye on him, I would scan all about looking for the tern.  Still nothing.  Looked at the time and realized I was just about at my time limit, so I started back down the path and figured I would check pond 3 one more time before leaving.  I only took a few steps when...

There he was - the Forster's Tern - right above me!  I do believe I heard him say "it's your turn Rocki!"  Okay, so maybe that's not exactly what I heard, but it was close ;)

I went over my time limit a bit watching him fish, which was the coolest thing ever!  I'll let the following photos do most of the talking and pick up from there.

Fishing in the canal

spotted a meal while hovering

aerial acrobats

getting ready to plunge into the water



I'm not sure which was more exciting - seeing the tern (lifer) or watching his acrobatic skills.  I think they both score a 10!  As much as I didn't want to leave, it was time for me to head back to the car and get home to finish my work.  I took about 40-50 steps when...

two Forster's Terns

Two of them at once flew past me!  Yep, it was my "tern" to see not only one, but TWO Forster's Terns.  I didn't blink.  I did a 180 to go see where they were headed.  They ended up fishing in the canal for a little bit and then flew off.  Kind of hard to see, but they are in the middle of the photo.  What a very cool experience!

Walking back to the car I could feel the huge smile on my face. I think it's permanent actually.  I was almost to the bridge when I noticed a few SRP employees hanging out there, no other cars but an older vehicle on the east side opposite of mine.  No other birders or anyone else, just me.  I put all my gear away then decided to sit in my car and enter my eBird checklist before I left.  I turned on the ac, grabbed my snack and began entering.  A few moments later two police vehicles and a fire truck pulled up.  Then a third police vehicle.  They all walked over to the east fence of the front entrance, looked down and I knew by the expression on their faces that it wasn't good.  I snapped the below pic and then called Mark.  A few moments later a police officer walked over to my car and needed to speak with me.  In short, this part was a lot of questions - which I basically knew nothing.

I won't go into all the details, but there was a sad thing that happened to someone (not caused by a crime, it was later told to me by a fellow birder who spoke with the victims family member that it was self-inflicted).  The body was directly under the bridge on the east side - opposite of where I was parked.  If you've never been to the GRP, the bridge is not a huge thing, its just a small parking area above the canal.  Behind where I'm parked is the entrance into the ponds.  Two more police vehicles pulled up (now a total of 5) which completely blocked me in.  After being interviewed by the police I was told to wait again, this time for the detectives to arrive.  I explained politely of course that I had no info at all as I was birding (had to explain what that was), but was told I had to wait since I was there when they arrived.  A few bystanders showed up and I called Mark to fill him in that I was still there.  The officer finally said I could leave and if the detectives had any questions they would call me. They guided me off the bridge between their cars then put up the yellow tape to block off the bridge.

I drove to the park at the end of the street, pulled in and sat there quietly.  I wasn't freaking out, just shaken and unnerved.  After a fun and exciting hour of birding with two cool lifers, it ended this way. Realizing that fellow birders go to the GRP, I posted brief info in the birding group so they would know that it was currently barricaded so that they wouldn't waste a trip.  I sat there a few more minutes to gather myself then drove home.  I understand the heartache of this tragedy, and my heart goes out to the victim and his family with hope they will be able to find peace. 

Originally I was going to leave this out, but it was part of my morning experience and I felt the need to share it.  Life is very precious, take care of those you love both near and far. 


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