Archive for MEGA: Great Birds
Alison had a morning assignation in Newark, and I was due in Philadelphia in the early afternoon: How better to fill the space and time between than with a little birding? Central New Jersey has been as hot as a spot gets lately, and the weather–snow here, slush in Newark, dank drizzle everywhere else–doesn’t make much of a difference when your target birds come complete with drive-up addresses.
By 9:00 Gellert and I were slowly cruising up and down the condo-corn ecotone in Hightstown, sorting through the Canada Geese in search of anything bright-backed or pale-footed. Nada, and within the hour I was bored (the dog had reached that same state quite a bit earlier). Time to move south a bit in search of the New Egyptian plovers.
It didn’t look too good there at first, either. I stopped to check the first, smaller pasture, and found nothing; the signs grew even worse as I turned the corner and saw a birder car moving–moving–slowly along the road a ways ahead of me. Even in these days of tick-and-run birding, you stop the vehicle if you see a rarity this rare. I scanned the muddy floodplain of the little creek, to no avail, and started creeping along behind the other car–which suddenly came to a manic Keystone State Kop stop and disgorged a flailing tangle of arms and tripod legs.
Huh, bet they found ‘em.
I was much too cool to speed up (and the birds had been sitting in the same mud on the same pasture for three days at that point), but as soon as I pulled up behind the others, I could see the white bellies way out on the field. Scope up, all-too water-permeable cap on, and my heart leapt up as I beheld three gorgeous Northern Lapwings in Ocean County, New Jersey. The birds stayed distant, occasionally wandering into the sight line of the two Sandhill Cranes just across the fence, and did their lapwingy things while we watched for a little more than an hour.
Gellert’s baleful glance and the forward speed of the hands on my watch told me it was time to go, and I spent the rest of the rainy drive to Philadelphia wondering why I felt the way I did about the morning’s mixed success. I’ve seen thousands–yes, literally, thousands–of Northern Lapwings over the years, and the only living Pink-footed Goose I’ve ever seen remains the superannuated bird (surely dead by now) bird at Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo. The lapwings were an ABA bird, my first in that badly gerrymandered listing region, but the goose, had I found it, would have been (gasp) a lifer, my first wild one anywhere in the world or elsewhere, as Jack Siler used to put it.
So why did my delight in the lapwings–common, familiar, unmistakable, and just a little out of geographic place–so much outweigh my only mild disappointment at failing to find the goose–scarce, new, and subtle? How had my birding pleasure been increased by seeing the one so much more than it had been diminished by missing the other?
We think of birding as being all about novelty. And I think for all of us, it is–at the beginning. I remember years’ worth of early mornings when I itched to see something I’d never seen before, when I measured the success of a birding month by the new year birds, yard birds, life birds. And this time of year, with the calendar still freshly turned, I still play that game for a while.
But most of us outgrow it. Returns eventually diminish if all you’re out there for is something you haven’t had before–true, probably, of many things other than birding, too. And even the infrequent life bird, such as the wild goose I chased would have been, can come to mean less, to feel like an isolated event that just doesn’t fit into the narrative of a birding career.
The birds that mean, the sightings that move the story of our lives along, come to be those that come with a context. Some life birds do that: my first Bridled Sparrow, or my first Spoon-billed Sandpiper, or my first White-faced Storm-Petrel will all be “new,” but I think when the day comes, I’ll watch each of those birds against a mental background of longing, expectation, and hope. Other, equally flashy birds don’t matter nearly as much.
The Northern Lapwing loomed large on my horizon of hope from the very beginning, from the first time I opened my field guide to see an enormous green and purple plover waggling its unlikely crest at me. And when I finally saw my first, in the summer of 1986, the thrill of a life bird was more than matched by the satisfaction of bringing long anticipation into line with the even wilder reality of the beast. Every time I see one now, in the Old World or (now, at long last) the New, the sight (and the sound, oh the sound) takes me back to damp spring mornings on a bicycle.
And Pink-footed Goose? The bird no doubt resonates in the emotions of some, but much as I’d like to see it, the gap my first will fill will be on paper. I have nowhere to put this one but a checklist.
Now be honest: does this look like the sort of place you’d go to see a Brown Booby?
No, me neither.
Thanks to Alan for discovering what has got to be the craziest bird of the year in New Jersey so far–a tropical sulid on a wooded pond in the mountains of western New Jersey.
A Great Bittern, the first for the ABA Area, has been on Alaska’s Buldir Island for nearly two weeks. There are photos at the ABA Blog–many thanks to John for posting the exciting news.
Exciting as this bird is, it seems only fair that “we” should finally get one. After all, the first American Bittern described to science was found not in a New Jersey marsh but in the market at Piddletown (now Puddletown–not much of an improvement), England, two hundred years ago. They owed us!
A Nutting’s Flycatcher was photographed and recorded this morning at the Bill Williams Delta in western Arizona.
This is a v e r y good bird north of Mexico.
Now this is interesting: a male Costa’s Hummingbird has been in attendance on a feeder here in Vancouver for the past couple of days, where it has been seen by a few birders and handsomely photographed by at least one.
One of the observers did her or his duty and submitted the record to eBird, where it promptly showed up in my “needs alert” for British Columbia…
…complete with the physical address of the feeder.
The owner of that feeder fears, rightly so, a deluge of photographers, and was, rightly so, unhappy to find his or her address on line with the exciting news.
The lesson, from an article published at eBird some months ago: “Delay reporting observations for a week to keep these reports off the ‘eBird Notable Birds feed’. This way news of a rarity will not show up on everyone’s desktop and cause birders to come to your friends’ yard!”
I’d been toying with the idea of asking if I could come see the bird, but now I think I’ll wait a few days and enjoy our own Costa’s at our own feeders in Tucson.