A Bird That’s Worth It
The email dropped into my inbox the minute I returned from putting my son down for a nap. I sat there for a minute, still processing the information contained therein. Then I stood up, walked over my phone on the kitchen counter and texted Ali Iyoob, who in doing an NC Big Year would find this information extremely interesting. Then I returned to the computer to consider my options.
Vanellus vanellus was in a field not more than an hour away from my home. Northern Lapwing. One of NC’s more confounding species which has only been seen in the state on two occasions. The first a collected species in Chatham County in 1926. The second a one-hour wonder, beautifully photographed, at Mackay Island NWR, which isn’t even accessible by land from anywhere else in NC. We all expected it at some point, particularly this year where the Euro crested plover has been seen from Maine to Georgia. And here it was. The red phone was ringing.
But still, my wife had just left the house for a run. My son was sleeping. How was I going to manage this?
So I did what any self-respecting birder would do. I marched back upstairs and woke him up.
Thankfully he wasn’t asleep yet, and completely game for anything that would prevent him from taking a nap. He even got his shoes and sock on, like pulling teeth of late, in record time. So I packed a few snacks and a few toys in the travel bag, grabbed the optics, threw the kid in the car seat, and made tracks to Person County up near the Virginia border. And for the record, the Raffi station on Pandora is not an entirely uncomfortable way to spend travel time.
I had been communicating with a couple other birders on my way up to the lapwing spot, but I was the first one on the scene when I pulled into a church parking lot and set up my scope. The spot was a fortunate one, as the church was not only off the road, but hosted a little playground not more than 50 meters away. I unloaded the material as Noah ran off to play on the slide. I spotted a small flock of Killdeer and started examining them. This was looking better and better.
Jeff Pippen was next to arrive. Followed shortly by Robert Meehan. We lined up three abreast on the hill and went to work on the Killdeer in the field. One odd bird stepped out from behind a clod of dirt and started preening. It threw its head this way and that and I kept thinking that it sort of looked like it had a little crest. A pause confirmed it. “I have it”, I said. Well, I sort of yelled.
My own photos are fairly awful as the bird was about a quarter mile away. Close enough to see something that looked absolutely nothing like the Killdeer it was associating with though. Bigger, fatter, and with the killer chapeau. High fives were exchanged, good-natured ribbing at the expense of those birders who were not able to drop everything and rush out to Person County ensued. Everyone was in a pretty excited mood, not least of which because it took about five minutes to find it.
My son, fresh off of collecting every acorn cap in the vicinity for me to shove in my pockets, even got a look at it. Or so he says. Not a bad bird for a 3 year old. Or any year old for that matter.
The parking lot kept filling up. Two members of the NC Bird Records Committee were there in short order. Ali Iyoob, he of the current attempt at the NC Big Year record, rolled in with tires squealing. Two women, on their way to see the lapwing currently in Georgia no less, were happy to avoid that multi-hour trip. Everyone was in a great mood as the bird, in the parlance of our community, showed remarkably well but for the fact it was fairly distant. No one went away unhappy, though. Lapwings make everyone glad.
We stayed for an hour before leaving, making it home just in time for dinner. The kid was great, a real pro even without a nap. After all, some birds are worth sacrificing just a little bit for.