For the last five years that I’ve been taking kids to the train station, I’ve hated getting up early. But I’ve loved the birds. Especially the weird ones.
My kids attend the Orange County School of the Arts in Santa Ana, which means a lot of early mornings dropping them off at the train station and late afternoons and evenings, picking them up. It’s unusual for a kid to take public transportation in So. Cal. Weird, and wonderful.
When my oldest daughter was a freshman, I started noticing the weird birds in the culvert that runs alongside the train station. Flocks of them floating lazily on an updraft as I raced very morning to beat the left turn light and pull into the station before the train pulled out.
Whenever we got stuck behind a rock laden truck I kind of savored the few extra seconds. It gave me a chance to watch the the birds diving for breakfast, or crapping on the plastic owl perched high on the fence above, meant to scare them away.
“Is that an ibis, or an egret?” I’d say. Then my daughter would roll her eyes at me, and her friend L. who carpooled with us, would visibly shudder. She had a phobia of birds that I somehow kept forgetting about. “Mooooom! Shut up with the birds already!”
After I dropped off the girls, if I didn’t have anywhere else to go, I would slow down for a moment, stop, park, and sidle up to the chain link fence opposite the tire place. Sometimes I’d snap some photos of the birds on my iPhone. I’m no ornithologist but I can tell a robin from a crow and did love “The Big Year” with Owen Wilson and Jack Black. These birds were not robins or crows. A few of them were seagulls, but that was as boring as it got. Even the ducks were barely recognizable versions of duck. They were technicolor ducks. Fake looking. These birds were weird birds.
I was mesmerized by the exotic and strange looking specimens, pausing to socialize in the midst of their world travels. It was like being let in on a really good secret. Apparently this culvert between Costco and the railroad station was the avian equivalent of Times Square. Everyone landed there, eventually.
One particularly cloudy morning I counted over 40 different types of birds simultaneously swimming, hopping, swooping and pecking in the marshy concrete wash. These included what appeared to be a black swan, a puffin, several ibis, egrets, and something I later identified as a bufflehead after an intense bit of googling (that’s a bufflehead pictured below – it is the b&w duck).
I felt weirdly protective of my weird bird sanctuary. Whenever I tried to explain it to people they looked at me like I’d clearly put three hits of acid in my morning coffee. The weird birds, and my fascination with them were my weird secret, mostly.
“You’re not taking pictures of the birds again, are you Mom?!” my daughter would reprimand, when a stalky feathered creature made it’s way into my instagram stream
About a year ago, I noticed bulldozers dozing along the side of the road. Fences and pavement were being laid alongside the culvert. A sign made reference to the nature trails that were “coming soon”, well timed with the opening of some high density housing being built a little ways away down the parkway, near the freeway entrance. It all seemed like a bad idea to me, and pissed me off. What if the birds got scared away?
For over a year I stayed away. I scanned the sky at every pick up and drop off, sure that I was seeing less birds. Naturally I imagined entire Disney movie plots around the destruction of this magical bird habitat. I imagined hordes of joggers, bikers and screaming children chucking rocks and empty juice boxes at the poor deposed black swan.
This was silly of course. The birds were already living, albeit part time on their migratory flight routes, between Costco and a train station in a concrete no man’s land full of dump trucks hauling big rocks and recycled tires. The birds didn’t care about joggers and strollers. I did. I would never have the early morning birds to myself in quite the same way again.
Today, a little after noon, on my way to Costco for groceries, I finally checked out the new trail. Armed with a bottle of water and my camera I decided to take a quick walk to see what had become of my friends. I half expected to see the culvert empty and abandoned. I went ready to mourn.
But the weird birds are back. Not in the numbers I saw them before, but in all fairness this is likely due to migration patterns and the time of day that I visited. Regardless, there were plenty weird birds present on my quick walk. Plus the trail was uncrowded and pleasant to walk on.
I thought it was time, at last to share the weird birds with the world. I just can’t keep this all to myself anymore. Who knows, maybe some one will read this and offer to lend me a guidebook so I can identify a few more of them. Like the guy below with the weird feet.
If you have kids, especially young ones who like birds and trains, this newish trail by the Laguna Niguel train station might be a fun place to take a quick stroll or trike ride. It’s not a real workout but it’s a good time/energy buster on the way to Costco or to picking someone up from the train and you might see some weird birds too! Just don’t tell too many people, ok? Just in case?