When birding goes wrong
I’ve got a few nemesis birds. Those birds that, no matter how hard we try, we just seem to miss. Over the years I’ve been birding I’ve managed to track down most of them, and a lot of the time I’ve found birds I considered to be nemesis just require a real concerted effort to track down. Perhaps that’s the difference between fake nemesis and real nemesis. The fake ones fall by the wayside in the face of dedication, leaving the real ones, the ones for whom luck, especially the bad kind, is the real obstacle. For me, that bird is the Black-headed Gull, a bird I’ve chased and missed no fewer than six times in the last two years. When one was reported not an hour away from me last week I was chomping at the bit to put that nemesis to bed.
The bird was reported at a wastewater treatment facility in Goldsboro, a place I’d checked before but at which I’d never found anything particularly great. The big ponds are crisscrossed with wires intended to keep waterfowl out. They never seem to work especially well as the ponds were filled with newly arrived ducks. Ring-necks and Lesser Scaup and Shoveler and plenty of little Ruddy Ducks.
I pulled into the office buildings expecting to wave my binoculars to the guard, but there wasn’t anyone there so I just drove right on in. Ponds in the back supported the same diversity of ducks, a few late-staying Great Egrets and clots of Coots, but oddly not a single gull of any variety, let alone Black-headed.
I drove around the ponds a couple times, pausing to scan here and there but found nothing new. I was forced to accept that my bird must have flown the coop (or, as it was a wastewater facility, the poop?). This was not entirely unpredictable, a couple weather systems have moved through since then that could have pushed it out. No lucky number seven. That’s why it’s a nemesis bird I guess.
I hit a few fallow fields on my way out to see if Pipits had returned but didn’t find any. Pipit habitat is good for other birds and I found lots of Mourning Doves, Meadowlarks, Killdeer and a nice Loggerhead Shrike.
The most abundant birds were the blackbirds though, having begun clustering in advance of winter. There were at least three flocks of several hundred, mixed Cowbirds, Starlings and Red-wings, and I failed trying to pick out a Yellow-headed or the extremely unlikely Brewer’s. But this is the sort of place to find those rarities, and now that the blackbirds are clustering again, it gets a little easier.
I headed home without my nemesis, but hopeful that a Black-headed Gull that hangs out every winter at Lake Mattamuskeet (that has been my regular nemesis since I moved here) will again return so I can have another shot. You can’t find a bird that’s not there, anyway.
Until a message came out on the listserve stating that the bird had indeed been found again.
It was about then that I ripped out the Black-headed Gull page from my field guides.