AVES 127: Introduction to Birdmissing
This one’s for all my friends, teachers and students, starting classes this week and in the upcoming weeks. It is more appropriate than you know, because this weekend I could have conducted a master class on how not to find the birds your looking for, which, of course, is not a particularly unusual aspect of birding in and of itself. The dissertation, as it were, the topper on the giant fail sundae that was this weekend’s birdwatching adventures, would have to be the hundred page (including appendices and half page graphs) showing how adeptly the birds I was looking for avoided me and showed up to those who I had been birding with only moments before. I will, thankfully, give you, dear reader, the shortened version. What follows is the class syllabus.
1) Seek out mudflats that have, heretofore, provided visitors with decent hauls of migrating shorebirds including, but not limited to, Stilt Sandpipers, the recently and apparently extirpated Western Sandpiper, and even one flipping Dowitcher, none of which I’ve come across in the Triangle this fall. An excellent choice this year would be the Ellerbe Creek arm of Falls Lake, henceforth referred to as “the mudflats”.
2) Early Saturday morning, repair to the mudflats to find nothing but the regularly occurring shorebirds including Pectoral, Least, Semipalmated, Spotted and Lesserlegs. Under no circumstances find any additional species. Pore over ever Semipalm and find all wanting in the Western Sandpiper department. Leave the mudflats to head to another part of the lake to find flipping invisible Caspian Terns, passing a bird club walk on the way out. Exchange pleasantries with those people you know. Wish them luck. Dip on Terns, but pick up long overdue Snowy Egret. Return home disappointed, but satisfied.
Recoil in horror when group reports no additional shorebirds, but yes on Caspian Tern, one Anhinga and an incredible 50+ Wood Stork squadron flyover. Fight urge to weep in front of family.
3) Return Sunday morning, with child, to attempt to find Tern, Snakebird, and fingers crossed for Storks. Haul 30 pound child in backpack, scope, tripod, camera, and binoculars one mile down railroad tracks to the mudflats. Run into another group of birders. Bird with them, finding the exact same species, until schedule, and child, requires heading home.
I tried to be satisfied with absurdly naive juvenile Least Sandpipers. They’re nice, but….
4) Return home to find that a Caspian Tern, that blasted Caspian Tern, circled the mudflats as I walked away. Anhinga makes a second appearance. All birding companions get excellent looks.
5) Curse when afternoon plans prevent return trip. Throw binoculars in yard. Turn spotting scope into wine rack, tripod into spare table leg.
6) Retrieve binoculars. Repair scope and tripod. Make plans for a return to the mudflats next weekend.
There will be a quiz.