rotating banner

Saturday, September 8, 2012

For Those About to Twitch - WE SALUTE YOU!

You loyal readers may have noticed I’ve been absent lately. There’s no excuse, really, but if I had to create one – work, life, and writer’s block got in the way of my blogging. That isn’t to say that I haven’t done anything lately. Over the past couple weeks, rare birds have been reported across the Triangle, and I’ve gone to chase them. This is the tale of three twitches – one that worked, one that didn’t, and one that was so ridiculous I honestly didn’t have a chance in hell.

We’ll start with the ridiculous. Last Sunday, a Magnificent Frigatebird was reported flying over the local mall. But the local mall is several hundred miles inland, you say? I agree, but the prevailing theory is that the bird was blown in by Hurricane Isaac. The frigatebird made its way down Jordan Lake, and the whole Triangle birding community took up the chase. One other birder saw it on the way down – Ali Iyoob, lucky birder extraordinaire, found it along the lake just after it was reported. The rest of us twitchers missed it by a good hour. No other good birds were to be found, so a couple of us headed towards the local water treatment plant, only to find a single Least Sandpiper to console us for our disappointment.

To be fair, it's a very fresh-plumaged juvenile. I've never seen a Least Sandpiper so rufous!

The next day, being Labor Day, many birders were out and about. And sure enough, a second rare bird was found – this time a Lark Sparrow, out at Lake Crabtree. Through texts and emails, the word spread, and soon enough I found myself at the parking lot of the lake, looking through the scope at a large sparrow chowing down on a huge caterpillar.

Apparently, the edge of a recreational volleyball court is the perfect habitat for hungry Lark Sparrows.

The bird was a lifer for me, and a welcome one – I’d missed seeing one earlier this year by just a couple minutes. But somehow the victory seemed bittersweet. The bird before me was drab, dingy, first-year – not the crisp white bird I’d always dreamed of seeing. Still, as the bird foraged for grass seeds on the edge of an unused volleyball court, I couldn’t help but enjoy it. Maybe it wasn’t the lifer I felt I deserved – but it was the lifer I needed.

It's a bird I've wanted to see for a long time... but this plumage? It's 'eh'.

For the most part, the birders stayed far away, viewing the small bird through high-powered spotting scopes. I find this to be a very European style of birding – enjoying the bird from a distance. To me, birding is a personal experience, best had when you’re feet away from a bird and you can view its habits without the need of binoculars. I’ve only experienced this with a couple of species, and I wanted Lark Sparrow to be one of them, so I moved closer.

Out in the Great Plains, Lark Sparrows frequent the volleyball courts that abound in the prairie.

I soon found out why this bird was called a Lark Sparrow. As I got closer, the bird flew a short distance down the shoreline. Immediately, it’s demarcated characteristics disappeared, and all I saw was the drab, streaked back of an apparently boring bird. While this description fits the larks of Europe and Africa very well, it’s not the most telling feature of the Lark Sparrow. Instead, I noticed its flight – bounding, flying high and then shooting down to a much lower level. A sparrow, though one immediately reminiscent of a lark in its breeding display. A Lark Sparrow.

Looks pretty much like every lark I've ever seen... not that I've seen that many larks.

Giving up on the perfect picture, I opened the door of my car, and took one last look at my lifer – hundreds of feet away, still, foraging on the sides of a recreational volleyball court. I’ve no idea why the bird chose this morning to hang out at one of the local birding sites, but it wasn’t the only one. A Willow Flycatcher was reported in the area just a couple days later, and as our current picture of the species is quite frankly terrible, I decided to chase it. Unfortunately, the reportedly vocal individual was gone – I blame the service guy who just finished mowing the trail. Certainly the noise of his John Deere ride-on mower proved too much for the bird to handle, and it vacated its premises. This obliging Eastern Cottontail was a partial consolation prize. But even a rabbit can’t take away this sting of missing a bird.

If you look closely, you can see a fat mosquito turgid with this rabbit's blood. I'll bet I fed many mosquitoes that day.

But, as James says, c’est la birding. Sometimes you get want you want, sometimes you get what you need, and other times you get nothing at all and you’re super disappointed for the next couple weeks. Each time you decide to twitch a rare bird, you take on a gamble, one you’re likely to lose. Every once in a while it works out for you, but for the most part I find twitching a hostile and soul-crushing activity. That’s why I give a shout out to all you birders who seek rare birds on a whim, traveling for miles to reach your potential quarry. I know it’s hard, I’ve been there. I wish somebody were rooting for me too. So, in the slightly modified immortal words of AC/DC, I pledge: For those about to twitch – WE SALUTE YOU!

No comments:

Post a Comment