Many times I have written that in chasing a bird, Rule #1 is to “Go Now!” and then I add that Rule #2 is that if you do not follow Rule #1, you cannot whine or cry about it. Yesterday I was birding with Bruce LaBar at the incredibly beautiful Point Defiance Park in Tacoma, WA and we talked about these rules and hoped there would be an occasion to apply them soon. Wow talk about “soon”.
This morning I was home in Edmonds working on some trip planning. I had not showered or even dressed for the day. At about 11:45 an alert came from Ebird saying that a Phainopepla was being reported by Bob Boekelheide near Sequim. This species has only been reported in the state of Washington once before – a sight record only – no photos. It is a desert bird that is found in Southern California and Arizona. It is a mega-rarity for Washington.
I called Bob immediately and he confirmed the sighting but said that it had disappeared – then as we were talking it had reappeared and he was looking at it. Time for Rule #1. The bird was 56 miles from my house — BUT I also had to take the ferry across Puget Sound from Edmonds to Kingston. I did not check the schedule – it would be what it would be. I threw on clothes and left immediately. Fortunately the ferry terminal is less than two miles from my home.
It turned out that the next ferry was leaving at 12:05 p.m. And it turned out that I arrived at the ticket booth at 12:03 p.m. and was the last car on the ferry. I took this as a very good sign. I called Bob again and got excellent directions and made it to Railroad Bridge Park a little after 1:40 pm. Birders were there looking at the bird through a scope. I took a few quick photos and then caught my breath and enjoyed great views, visited with the birders and called or sent emails to some of the people I had notified of the observation before I left. I also had some excellent prunes that were growing wild in the thick vegetation where the bird was located – my lunch since there had been no time for any before I left and I sure was not going to stop.
Phainopepla – Railroad Bridge Park – Near Sequim Washington
After the other birders left, John Gatchet and I continued to watch the bird from a couple of different viewpoints. At one point it flew out from the Elderberry tree it favored and caught a crane fly right over our heads and then returned to its perch. We also watched it being attacked by an Anna’s Hummingbird.
Phainopepla with Crane Fly
This execution of Rule #1 ranks right at or near the top of my successful chases applying the rule. The other one that shares that ranking was the chase for the Swallow Tailed Gull that Ryan Merrill reported from Carkeek Park on August 31st last year. I read Ryan’s post at approximately 7:10 am while again in my pajamas in Bellevue. I got dressed and dashed out and despite it being 20 miles away, I was looking at the bird by 7:45 a.m. No ferry but it was rush hour. As it turned out the Gull stayed for a week so the rush was unnecessary, but you just don’t know. I have missed other birds because I waited and I whined about them. Now I follow Rule #1 whenever I can and if I miss – I live with Rule #2 because I know better.
A last Phainopepla story – repeated from an earlier blog post. My first photo of one was at Julian, CA last January on my way from San Diego to Anza Borrego. I was with a non-birder and had some very specific Ebird information about a good place to find one. We stopped at a big field with some brush in the back and barbed wire near the road. I played the Phainopepla’s call and one immediately appeared on one of the short bushes. This amazed my friend who was even more amazed when I climbed through the barbed wire and got the photo below.
Phainopepla – First ABA Photo – January 31, 2017 – Julian California
I hung around the Phainopepla today and was very pleased that Steve Pink, Ann Marie Wood and David Poortinga all got there to see it. Hopefully it will remain and continue the show. If it doesn’t – those who miss will have to live with Rule #2.