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My Life’s Birds: #413

August 4, 2010

January 28, 2007 – Goldsboro, NC – This wasn’t the bird I was looking for.  The bird I was looking for was one of those rare ones, a vagrant flycatcher of the sort that gets it bearings screwy and ends up heading east when it should be heading south.  For a couple months starting in January, a Say’s Phoebe, the cinnamon sister of our resident Sayornis, had taken up residence in a feedlot in Goldsboro, about an hour southeast of Raleigh. Several birders had gone to see it, it was the fifth record for the state but as the fourth had been found only a month earlier, the excitement surrounding this particular bird was somewhat muted.

For whatever reason I didn’t chase it immediately.  While the bird was doing everything it could do to ingratiate itself with the birding community, practically posing for photos and generally being the most accommodating vagrant one could expect, I sat at home wondering whether I was making a mistake by not making the hour or so drive to Goldsboro and picking up an easy lifer.  Eventually, I found myself with a free afternoon, and with the Phoebe’s schedule well-established down to the minute in that it would arrive daily just after sundown to roost in the rafters of an open hay barn, I bit the bullet and headed to Phoebe land.

Feedlots are strange habitats.  The grass is cropped to the ground and cattle wallow in the mud pits that are created where water congregates in the few depressions that exist in the highly partitioned, and level-flat, paddocks.  Scanning the area produced a few notable species; a Loggerhead Shrike on a telephone wire, a passing American Kestrel, a handful of Eastern Meadowlarks, and several American Pipits milling about in the soil turned up by hundreds of passing cattle hooves.

The birds were completely off my radar though in retrospect they shouldn’t have been, this is precisely the sort of habitat and situation I’ve seen them many times sense.  Watching them wander closer and closer provided a distraction from the looming sense of dread that sundown was coming soon, and even though I’d been hanging around the feedlot for a couple hours, I hadn’t seen the Phoebe.

Soon the rain began to fall and I retired to a covered equipment shed where I was soon joined by a handful of other birders who had come to see the nightly show.  We chatted about the vagaries of vagrancies until it got darker and darker and the shed where the bird regularly roosted was no longer in view.  So I missed the Phoebe, the expected lifer, and left with an unexpected one.  Funny how things work out that way, and even though I picked up Say’s Phoebe on a trip out west a few years later I still wouldn’t turn down a Say’s Phoebe in North Carolina.  There hasn’t been one since.

AMEPIP from wikipedia


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