One of my techniques for spotting rare nature is to mosey up to the person with the nicest binoculars and politely ask them if they are looking at anything interesting. Since I haven't been taught the Secret Bird Nerd Handshake, I've learned that I've got to be cautious about approaching people with multi-thousand dollar optics. These Serious Birders often treat idiots like me with undisguised disdain.
Today, neither Robb nor I were feeling up to much activity, so we decided to go down to Lake Merritt to see if we could get a better look at the Tufted Duck that has been hanging around. We brought our camera gear and spotting scope. A little chatting with the local birders clued us into the fact that there was another rarity on the lake; a Long-Tailed Duck (formerly known as the Oldsquaw). Just like the Tufted Duck, this seabird isn't supposed to be found anywhere near Downtown Oakland.
Almost immediately, Robb spotted an odd duck on the lake. He set up our spotting scope, and got a good look while I took some pictures. Our scope is really cool, because it functions both as a scope and also as a camera mount. When I turned to give Robb the camera, he was fishing around in the lake with the crook of his cane. Somehow he had lost his grip on the mounting collar, and the collar rolled -- comically -- into the lake.
Once upon a time, this would have really stressed me out.
When we realized that the lake shore was too deep for either of us to reach into, I drove back to our apartment, and grabbed Robb's reacher tool, a couple of rare earth magnets, some string, a tea towel, my galoshes, and a field guide to Western birds. After some splashing around and one admonition from a passer-by that we were breaking the law, we were back in business.
"Owl Omelette," by the way, is the phonetic representation of the cry of this adorable little sea duck.