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My Life’s Birds: #485-489

April 6, 2011

January 24, 2009Essex Co, Ma – By 4:55 am we were standing shoulder to shoulder in the snow, looking out into the darkness towards a small pond in Lynn, Massachusetts.  The soft clucking of roosting waterfowl tempted us to put on the spotlight but Christopher hesitated, knowing that in the minute of fluorescent dawn, the birds we sought would scatter to the other side of the pond and make it that much harder to find our target, American Coot, apparently the only wintering birds in the whole of Essex County.  At 5 on the dot the light went on, the Coots, along with a handful of other waterfowl, were counted and we were on our way to 12 straight hours of no-holds barred, nonstop, intensive birding.  This was the Super Bowl of Birding, and the original Bloggerhead Kingbirds (Corey, Patrick, Quintus, and me in addition to Christopher) were competing for the first time.

For a full play-by-play of the day, I suggest clicking on the first link, but it’s enough here to point out that there’s often a disconnect between birding for lifers and birding for sport, and that attempting a Big Day – in spirit if not in the actual 24 hour fact – is not ideal when visiting somewhere as potentially lifer-rich as the Massachusetts coast in January.  My first Iceland Gull was a brief look at a subadult bird tucked into a flock of Herrings.  There was no time to linger, however, as the harbor in Gloucester still needed to be scoped.  The first (of what turned out to be many) Black Guillemot was a blurry individual on the far side of Brace Cove, but the opportunity for longer looks was scuttled when a 5 point Dovekie required all hands on deck to get the requisite number of teammates on the bird.

So be it, life birds are life birds nonetheless.  And Christopher was generous enough not to turn his Italian temper towards me (I keed, I keed) when I turned my attention to the little Common Redpoll at a feeder instead of picking through a gaggle of House Sparrows looking for a vagrant Dickcissel (that we never found) like the rest of my northern-based Redpoll indifferent teammates, and he even slowed down to allow a look at a flock of Lapland Longspurs along the side of the road instead of ticking and leaving.  And we all enjoyed the opportunity to take in the irruptive White-winged Crossbills, spectacular birds that we all agreed required a separate, less time-crunched, trip the next day.  The goal of our trip was to take part in the competition, true, but it was also to enjoy a great day birding with a bunch of guys whose online personas I had always enjoyed.

And Big Days, whether competitive or not, are fun.  There’s no getting around it.  Regardless of the focus on acquisition of birds for an ultimate list rather than the birds themselves, the challenge is one that most every birder should take on once in a while.  Birders aren’t exclusively twitchers or photogs or feeders, we’re able to switch back and forth as time and birds require. Sometimes it’s really nice to step into the phone booth and become super-lister one day and settle back into the mild-mannered patch birder the next.  It’s healthy even.

So when we rolled into the church parking lot around 5:20pm for the tally rally – exhausted but exhilarated following a fantastic time in the field – it was ok that we were unlikely to come home with a prize.  We had a few frustrating misses, like you always do, but even more lifers and laughs.  Plenty good enough for all of us.

ICEGUL by drewweber via flickr (CC BY-NC-ND-2.0)
COMRED via wikipedia

One Comment
  1. April 6, 2011 7:11 am

    “Sometimes it’s really nice to step into the phone booth and become super-lister one day and settle back into the mild-mannered patch birder the next. ”

    Love it.

    That is all.

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