Today we took our former rabbi on his first birding trip.
You know those moments — maybe real, maybe in a dream — when completely unconnected parts of your life suddenly bump into each other?
Birds! Judaism! All I needed to fill out the circle was to find a literary agent standing amidst the sandhill cranes. Stranger things have happened.
In any case, Sam and I had long planned to introduce Rabbi Steven Chester to birding now that he is basking in the leisurely fields of retirement. It just happened that the date we picked came two weeks after the start of my new job at… Golden Gate Audubon Society.
It was a gorgeous day — sunny, warm, not even a breeze until the mid-afternoon. We’ve been on birding trips in the past where it was so cold and foggy outside that the kids refused to get out of the car to see any birds. Today was the opposite of that.
- Lots of ducks, including cinnamon teal, which were Rabbi Chester’s favorite. These rich brown birds look like someone dipped them in cocoa or cinnamon.
- Stilts, which I love for their dramatic black and white contrast. (It doesn’t hurt that this also makes them easy to identify.)
- TONS of black-crowned night herons. Now, I’ve seen individual night herons before. But they must have really liked this patch of marsh in Merced National Wildlife Refuge, because there seemed to be another heron every five feet or so. At one point there were nine within our field of vision, perching among the reeds, motionless as gargoyles.
- Sandhill cranes! Snow geese! Tundra swans! Giant birds that are 100 percent guaranteed to impress novice birders, or your money back.
- A bald eagle flying overhead as we ate lunch – wow.
- And, as we packed ourselves into the car at the end of the day, a flock of snow geese soaring in formation like Blue Angels over our heads.
Rabbi Chester had a great day. He brought his point-and-shoot camera, which has an impressive zoom, and practiced wildlife photography for the African safari he and his wife Leona plan to take later this year. Cranes and herons are certainly not as exotic as lions or elephants, but they are a heck of a lot more accessible.
So what’s the news behind this blog post?
Rabbi Chester: For those of you who know him, I’m happy to report that he’s enjoying retirement. He’s contemplating several writing/photography projects. At Leona’s request, he has joined a group that goes bowling once a week! But he’s also looking forward to returning to Temple Sinai as a congregant once he’s done with his year of staying-away-to-give-space-to-his-successor.
Me: With two weeks under my belt, I’m loving my job at Golden Gate Audubon. So far I’ve managed to set off the burglar alarm and program my voicemail greeting as the incoming message for the whole organization. But beyond those little bumps, it’s all good. My colleagues are really talented. The office is funkily nice. My job involves a variety of different tasks, some of which are familiar (press outreach) and some of which involve learning new skills (managing the web site and social media).
I tagged along on a GGAS birding event for kids at Lake Merritt last Saturday and posted photos on the GGAS Facebook page. You’re welcome to view them here. It wasn’t the Central Valley, but hey — we saw a night heron there too, as well as a lone tufted duck that somehow makes its way to Oakland from Eurasia each winter. And this was just a ten-minute walk from BART and City Hall.
One beauty of birds is that they are such an easy way for anyone to connect with nature, even in the middle of a city.