I have always believed that if you’re patient and wait, the birds will come to you. It also helps that I live in a city that is surrounded on three sides by water and is situated on the western edge of the North American continent. I am also aided by the small army of birders that prowl their patches and report their sightings, both mundane and unusual, on the internet. Birds frequently get lost during migration and head west instead of east on the journey to their tropic wintering grounds. There has been times where I have contemplated travelling to the North Midwest to see the mystic snowy owl only to find that one appears only an hour and a half drive from San Francisco. Or a large seabird, which has never graced the west coast, has taken up residence on Alcatraz Island, or that a rare warbler is spending some time in Golden Gate Park, fueling up for it’s epic migration. This is exactly the bird I spotted, early one foggy Sunday morning, sipping nectar from the monkey hand tree in the San Francisco Botanical Gardens. This magnificent bolt of sunshine was the prothonotary warbler. This oddly named bird with the nearly unpronounceable name gets it’s moniker from the Late Latin word: protonotarius (according to Dictionary of Birds of the United States) which refers to a Vatican notary who wore a yellow robe. I think this is my sort of Sunday worship!
After the horde of binocular wheeling and zoom lens canon bearing vikings moved off into the arboretum, having checked this bird off their life list, Lecy and I lingered to spend some time with our visitor. It paid off as the the warbler paused near a monkey hand tree blossom, ten feet above our heads. I lower my binoculars and and looked at the bird with 1x magnification. It’s not often that we simply have the time to look at a bird, to notice it’s feather patterns and the rich tones of it’s plumage, the shape of it’s beak, and color of it’s legs.
One of the strangest San Francisco life birds has to be the Northern Gannet that was spending time on Alcatraz, displaying to the resident cormorants. One morning I strolled out to the end of Aquatic Park Pier and was helped by a birder with a scope. The East coaster was easy to spot, it was the largest white bird on the island. This gannet was the first record on the west coast and it was fitting that it was taking up residence on Alcatraz, a Spanish word meaning “pelican” or “strange bird”. This gannet was a strange bird indeed.