Saturday, February 03, 2007

Not Bad for My First Week: The True Story of Peltz & the Rhinoceros Auklet

It's been a month since my last post and needless to say I have now arrived in Southern California and am very happily settled in my new home along the Orange Coast: a cozy apartment in Monarch Beach (a community within the city of Dana Point). And my universe would be a completely perfect, sunny California one if only my wife were here with me...

I haven't posted in nearly a month. Here's a story I've been meaning to post--definitely Peltz At Hand-worthy for the month of January:

While walking along Aliso Beach at sundown (South Laguna), I stumbled upon an apparently sick bird, which from a distance I took to be a raven. Upon closer inspection, however, I realized this was not the case and was immediately bothered at not being able to identify it.

I did not have camera at hand (lesson now learned, of course!). I wanted to take in and remember its details, so that I could later look it up, so I quickly looked over its major features and helped myself remember them by giving each a short description in my head:

1. coloration: purely black on top, purely white on bottom--sharp divide between the two colors
2. body shape & size: about the same size as an adult Mallard duck. Shape is penguin or puffin-like.
3. feet: webbed, duck-like.
4. bill shape & size: tubular, almost gull-like--not broad like a puffin's bill.
5. distinctive features: It also had a fine, white feather filament on the side of the head--very distinct.

With the exception of the bill, I decided the bird was essentially very puffin-like, and that this might be very odd, given that to my knowledge there are no puffins along the Pacific Coast, much less in Orange County!

While standing there with the bird, using my cellphone, I called Laguna Beach Animal Control, and received an answering machine, so I left a message and gave them my thoughts on the bird's identity. They did not show up, but I had managed to flag down a passerby, and collectively, we attracted the attention of the owner of nearby house overlooking the Beach. He informed us of our precise location, which information I passed on to the Animal Control's answering machine--just in case they might receive the message later in the evening and try to act on it after dark.

Sitting with the bird for nearly an hour, I gave up in exasperation around 6:30pm, sensing full well the possible rarity of this bird.

That evening, I posted the details of this event, along with my description, to the Orange County Birding email list. I was delighted to receive, the very next day, the following message from someone on the list, who is also affiliated with the Laguna Beach Animal Control:

"We received a Rhinoceros auklet (Cerorhinca monocerata) from Laguna Beach animal control yesterday evening at 7:30pm. I believe that is the same bird that you saw. Unfortunately the bird did not make it. It will be going to Kimball Garrett at the Natural History Museum for their display."

It turns out that the Rhinoceros Auklet is one of three members of the Puffin family, and the only member to reside in the Pacific Ocean.

Did you get that? So in my first week of residence in Orange County, I used my budding knowledge of birds to correctly identify a somewhat rare bird for the county, which is going to be placed on display at the Orange County Natural History Museum.

I couldn't be more smitten with myself.
A native of the Pacific Northwest & Japan, the Rhinoceros Auklet comes to the Channel Islands to breed in winter, but not usually to the Orange County coast. So it is in fact somewhat rare--I think thus why the Natural History Museum would have an interest in obtaining it.

Below is an illustration of the bird--it's the only picture I could find in the public domain. (Note that the illustration refers to it by an older common name, the Horned-billed Guillemot):

No comments: