On Friday evening I passed a corral located near a pond at the ranch. Since I was on the way home and Linda was expecting me, I didn’t spend much time looking but I couldn’t help but notice the number of doves. While driving, I couldn’t get the birds off my mind. I’d been wanting to hunt doves, but it hadn’t been working out.
The ranch is not usually a good dove hunting location. The elevation, about two thousand feet, is not ideal and the cool evenings with bay fog generally discourages doves by the time September arrives. Apparently not this year.
Saturday evening couldn’t arrive soon enough. I loaded my shotgun into the Ford and headed to the ranch a little early. I figured that maybe a few of the doves would arrive early and Linda would be happy if I came home before dark – or even sooner. So, at 1:00 PM I was on the road.
I arrived at the hot spot about 2:30 and set up in the shade of the largest post at the corral. Making myself comfortable, I began to bird-watch. Not just for doves, but for anything interesting. I brought along my Nikon in case something interesting came along while I waited for the doves to show. Three-thirty turned to four.
A phoebe arrived at the corral, and without a lot of thought, I watched it fly-catch for a while and decided not to photograph it as I have quite a few good shots of black phoebe’s. But, there was something different about this phoebe.
About the time when the bird decided to move off, I realized that this was a Say’s phoebe, a bird which I seldom see and have not had any luck photographing.
I made some feeble attempts to photograph the bird from far away, without any notable success. Then the bird disappeared.
Now, with camera in hand, I was looking for something to photograph. Turkey vultures began to circle overhead. Their numbers began to increase and before long there were about fifteen of them and they were coming pretty close. Maybe they thought I was dying, but I was only dying for something to photograph so I snapped a few photos. Reviewed them and they looked pretty good.
Now I really wanted that phoebe to come back. The doves were still not flying. When the phoebe did come back, it stayed a little too far off and I kept trying to make something out of nothing as the bird refused to fly into good photography range.
All of a sudden a rock wren landed about ten feet away. Any bird looks good at ten feet in perfect sun and this bird had no fear.
Now I was really feeling it and as soon as the wren left, the phoebe flew up and landed about 20 feet away. It was heavenly.
Then it happened. I saw a dove fly by and turned around to look as another one landed on the corral. I bent over to grab my shotgun and realized there were several others already landed. They had sneaked in while I was in bird nirvana.
I shifted into hunter mode and quickly dropped two doves. In the next 45 minutes I was covered up. There was no reason to keep shooting after I’d knocked down twelve – enough for a couple dinners. As I plucked the birds it was clear that most of them were birds of the year.
What a great hunt, and I made it home before dark.
Tonight Linda watched as I barbecued up half the beautiful doves. They were very good. She was not impressed.