Georgia – Great People and Great Birds – Especially a Sedge Wren FINALLY!!!

As with my previous post about South Carolina, I am going to start with Connections – a critical, challenging, essential and incredibly rewarding part of my 50/50/50 Adventure.  My goal is to bird in each of the 50 states with a meaningful local connection – hopefully a local birder or maybe someone with just local perspectives and insights – ideally both.  In a pre-trip exchange with Ken Scott – my new found birding friend in South Carolina, I asked if he might know someone to work with in Georgia.  He connected me to Buddy Campbell who was compiling some of the South Carolina Christmas counts and was “well connected”.

Through Buddy I connected with Diana Churchill – no not Diana Spencer Churchill, the eldest daughter of Sir Winston Churchill.  That Diana died in 1963.  This Diana Churchill has been writing a twice-monthly column, “Birder’s Eye View,” for the Savannah Morning News since 2001 and in 2011 published a book, Birder’s Eye View: Savannah & the Low Country.   Despite being busy with the  publication of the sequel Birder’s Eye View II: The Low Country and dealing with family health matters, she was very helpful both in suggesting places to visit and also connecting me first with Pam Smith, an avid but relatively new birder in the area and then with Steve Calver, who Pam described as “the best”.  I would very much have loved to have met Diana but those two connections were fantastic and I ended up birding two days with them.  They were both “the best”.  Steve was an incredible birder and knew every nook and cranny in the area.  Pam was a lot better than she gives herself credit for and was as nice and friendly as anyone I have met.  And Pam hooked us up with Russ Wigh – another great birder and great guy and we all joined him for a second day of birding at The Landings.  More on all of this follows.  It was a great visit.

With Pam Smith and Steve Calver

Pam and Steve

Pam was dealing with some lower back issues and the original plan was for me to bird a bit on my own the first morning with her meeting me after a doctor’s appointment.  When Steve joined the program, that changed to starting early with him and having Pam join later.  Steve had a special place in mind to start the day.  At first the location was confusing to me but when I actually mapped it out, it was literally three minutes from my hotel – something he had not been aware of.  When I got there to meet him, I wondered why he had chosen this spot – some woods next to a parking lot behind the Comfort Inn.  But the forest edge was quite birdy – especially with Yellow Rumped Warblers – a theme that would continue all day.  But then we headed off on a nondescript path that I doubt I would have noticed myself and we birded through some woods until we came to a wetland and pond.  It was a wonderful place and definitely something I would never have discovered on my own.

We spent two hours there and had 33 species with a few Wood Ducks, a single Great Egret and a single Great Blue Heron as the only “water birds”.  There was also a constant flow of Ring Billed Gulls.  American Robins, noticeably few in South Carolina, were constantly flying overhead and we estimated over 1000 Red-winged BlackbirdsYellow Rumped Warblers were everywhere – a nuisance distraction as we were constantly seeing them flit about forcing us to be sure they were not something else.  Steve estimated at least 60 and I think there could even have been twice that many.  There were also more Ruby Crowned Kinglets than I think I have ever seen elsewhere – at least 15.

Ruby Crowned Kinglet

Ruby Crowned Kinglet

But Steve had not brought me here for any of those birds.  This was also a great place for woodpeckers – and particularly for Red Headed Woodpeckers which I had mentioned to him in an email as a favorite.  We got to an area with many snags and sure enough two Red Headed Woodpeckers came in.  The lighting was terrible and they were distant so no great photos but still a great find.

Red Headed Woodpecker

Red Headed WP

Other woodpeckers included Northern Flicker (Yellow Shafted), Downy, Red Bellied and Pileated Woodpeckers and Yellow Bellied Sapsucker.  I got a nice photo of the latter when there was some sun.

Yellow Bellied Sapsucker

Yellow Bellied Sapsucker

I had also mentioned Winter Wren as a desired species since I do not have a photo of one.  Steve took me to a very specific spot where he had found them before.  We searched diligently and tried playback to no avail.  Just as he was when there was not a better photo op for the Red Headed Headed Woodpecker, I think Steve was more disappointed than I was that we did not get the Wren.  That’s how he was the whole visit – caring and considerate and giving.  On the way out we stopped again at the forest edge near where we parked.  I got a quick glance only at a small bird with a bright yellow belly.  It was a spectacular White Eyed Vireo.  I wish it had posed for a photo.

Our next stop was the Chatham County Wetlands Preserve, an Ebird Hotspot that I had originally planned to bird on my own before meeting up with Pam Smith.  It was another good spot with even more Yellow Rumped Warblers.  Pam did come to meet us there arriving just after I found and finally got a life photo of a Sedge Wren – making it pretty clear that the bird I had seen at Caw Caw was a Marsh Wren.  Not world class photos but they made my day.

Sedge Wren – ABA Photo #695

Sedge Wren Best

Sedge Wren4

We had 24 species at this spot in a bit less than an hour and a half and I was at 43 species for the day.  Now a birding threesome, we headed off to another local Ebird Hotspot – Hutchinson Island where Steve hoped there might be a very rare Western Kingbird,  Sure enough we found two.  This was a lifer for Pam and it was super to see her excitement as she added this species to her Life List.  Being there with her was one of the best parts of my visit.

Western Kingbird (one of two) – Distant Photo

Western Kingbird

We again spent about an hour and a half finding 25 species but ten were new ones for the day and we were now over 50.  One very nice bird was a very bright Prairie Warbler.  Only a quick but good look – no photos.  Other new species were Field and Savannah Sparrows, Osprey and Red Tailed Hawk, Gray Catbird, Killdeer, Double Crested Cormorant and a Loggerhead Shrike – the only one of my entire trip.  Before a quick lunch at Subway and a visit to Steve’s home with its very productive feeders, we made a quick stop at a field where I found a Wilson’s Snipe and where we also had a lovely Red Shouldered Hawk.

Wilson’s Snipe

Wilson's Snipe

Red Shouldered Hawk

Red Shouldered Hawk

Steve was very kind inviting us to his home – clearly a birder’s home with photos of favorite birds and a very bird friendly backyard with a number of feeders.  In less than an hour we had 17 species and a number of great photo ops.  Most interesting to me were the 4 or 5 Baltimore Orioles.  Steve said he has had as many as 8!!  There was a very active Ruby Throated Hummingbird but not the quite rare Black Chinned Hummingbird that he has had on occasion.  As we prepared to leave we had two more very nice visitors – a Painted Bunting and a bright Yellow Throated Warbler made appearances.

Baltimore Oriole Female

Baltimore Oriole Female

Ruby Throated Hummingbird

Ruby Throated Hummingbird 3.jpg

Painted Bunting

Painted Bunting

Yellow Throated Warbler

Yellow Throated Warbler1

We made one more stop together – Lake Mayer where we added 4 duck species, Brown Pelican, Anhinga, American Coot and Forster’s Tern for the day bringing us to 70 species.  Anhingas are sometimes called “Snake Birds” coming from their behavior of swimming with body submerged and their long, thin snaky neck the only thing seen above the water.  We watched one catch a good sized fish and others drying their wings – quite beautiful.

Anhinga

Anhinga GA

Larry Calver bid us adieu and said he would try to join us the following day.  Pam continued as tour guide and took me to Priest Landing on Skidaway Island.  We were beginning to run out of light but she wanted me to have some targets there for our day.  In about 25 minutes we had 20 species including 7 new for the day – mostly waders including a Wood Stork and a Tricolored Heron.  For me the two best birds were our last ones we found.  Pam has a great birding ear and she picked up some Brown Headed Nuthatches feeding high in trees right next to the road.  Then the coup de grace was just after me mentioning that I was surprised that we had not had any Blue Gray Gnatcatchers, she heard two and in very little light we actually found and photographed one – species 77 for our great day together.

Blue Gray Gnatcatcher

Blue Gray Gnatcatcher1

It had been a very enjoyable time with great birds and two really wonderful people.  The photo of a Sedge Wren was of course the highlight, but it was just one of those days that flowed easily and well.  The good news was that we were going to reassemble the next day and bird a private community – “The Landings” with Russ Wigh, a resident.  But first I celebrated the day with a rare for me steak dinner.  Birding can be a lot of fun!!!

We reconvened the next morning at a “retail center” on Skidaway Island next to The Landings.  I use quotation marks because there is no way that anyone would have believed it was a retail center – designed to fit into the planned development without a hint (and barely a sign proclaiming) of what it was.  Russ Wigh is another well traveled birder who has relocated to South Carolina.  The Landings is a golf-centered community with numerous ponds, some native growth and well groomed homes and landscaping.  It is a gated community open only to members with a number of courses and an architectural consistency that works even though there is a wide range of home prices and sizes.  It was attractive but not ostentatious – a very pleasant place – and full of birds.

Before entering The Landings, we got 23 species in 23 minutes at the University of Georgia Aquarium including a Black Bellied Plover, a Willet and some Dunlin.  We then returned to Priest Landing and found NO waders at all.  The preliminaries over, we now entered The Landings itself.  I will not catalog observations chronologically – just some standouts – like hundreds of Hooded Mergansers.  Every little pond, and there were many of them, had scads of these gorgeous ducks and they are all tame as apparently they are fed regularly by the residents.  If you walked up to the water’s edge, the Hoodies would swim over looking for a handout.  This unnatural behavior does provide photo opportunities,

Hooded Merganser – Up Close and Personal

Hooded Merganser

Russ was familiar with every tree and lawn and pond in the area having kept a running count for many years – definitely over 170 species but I cannot recall his list total.  Knowing that I was looking for a species count, we went to a pond that had a female Lesser Scaup – the only one around.  It swam nonchalantly with more Hooded Mergansers.

Lesser Scaup

Lesser Scaup

To add another species we also visited “the best” pond for roosting Black Crowned Night Herons – and found many – adults and juveniles.  Yellow Crowns are found sometimes but not this day.

Black Crowned Night Heron

BCNH.jpg

At the next pond we had one of several Ospreys meaning of course that there are fish in the ponds.  I never followed up to get the full story, but Russ had told us that we had to be careful with our sightings because there are decoys in most of the ponds and they are there somehow related to helping the fish populations.  We came close to falling for “new” species a couple of times but plastic ducks don’t count.  By the way as you can see from the photos it was a fine and clear day with temperatures starting in the low 50’s and ending up just over 60 degrees.

Osprey

Osprey

There were many habitats in The Landings including a salt water marina and beach where we had Horned Grebe, Least Sandpiper, Ruddy Turnstone, Herring and Ring Billed Gulls, and Forster’s Terns.  It was becoming easy to see how the area had such a big species list.

Ruddy Turnstone

Ruddy Turnstone Landings Marina

We also spent rewarding time at Russ’s yard and feeders.  As at Steve Calver’s this was a great opportunity not just for good birds but also good photos.  I include just a few.

Downy Woodpecker

Downy WP at Feeder1

Brown Headed Nuthatch

Brown Headed Nuthatch GA

Carolina Wren

Carolina Wren

Pine Warbler

Pine Warbler Singing

About those Carolina Wrens…they were everywhere and it is amazing how such a small bird has such a loud song.  They were often the first bird heard each morning  and they continued to be heard throughout the day – welcomed every time.  Another bird that was heard frequently was the Northern Cardinal.  I was often struck though by how hard it could be to actually see such a bright red bird as they often remained buried in the branches and foliage.

We ended the day around 1:00 p.m. giving me time to visit “Historic Savannah”.  Hugs goodbye to great companions.  We had seen 55 species that morning bringing the two total up to 95 species – a fabulous visit.  I am sure I did not do it the right or best way but I was disappointed with the Historic Area in the city.  Some interesting architecture and lots of park blocks interspersed within commercial and residential areas, but it seemed helter skelter without there being a consistent interesting core.  I had not done my homework and I am sure I missed some treasures.  Around 3:00 p.m. I abandoned the city and headed out to Tybee Island to see if I could get to 100 species for Georgia.

In my initial planning for the visit, it seemed that Tybee Island would be a great spot to go for 50 species in a day.  On this visit I concentrated on the beach and jetty only.  Given all the no parking or paid parking areas, I can only imagine the crowds in the summer, but on this day I essentially had it all to myself.  Although the first bird I saw was a Chipping Sparrow near where I parked, most of the birds were shorebirds or water related.  A small flock of gulls included some Laughing Gulls and Sanderlings ran along the beach next to them.  Both were new for the trip.

Laughing Gull

Laughing Gull - Copy

Sanderling

Sanderling

The only birds out in the ocean were a Common Loon and some Brown Pelicans and the only shorebirds continued to be Sanderlings.  I would need some help to get to 100.  Help came in the form of a nice group of shorebirds at the south end of the Island by the jetty.  There a small mixed flock had more Sanderlings, a Ruddy Turnstone,  two American Oystercatchers and three Piping Plovers, the latter two new for the day bringing the count to 99.

Ruddy Turnstone

Ruddy Turnstone Tybee

American Oystercatcher

AmericanOystercatcher

Piping Plover

Piping Plover Tybee

Where would 100 come from?  I would walk back along the beach and maybe something new would come in.  Nope did not have to wait, a flock of 8 Black Skimmers flew by and then landed right next to me.  Beauties…

Black Skimmer

Skimmer GA

It was getting late and I had a very early flight the next morning.  Time to leave.  I was pleased with every part of the day at least related to birds and people.  Somehow it seemed fitting that I had made it to 100 species.  Then there was a surprise.  When I got back to the car, I heard a familiar call and found a single House Sparrow.  I had expected to see them in many places including in Savannah, but I had not.  It was species number 101 and I had to chuckle when I realized that it meant one more species than the 100 I had in Alabama earlier this year.  Alabama had just beaten Georgia in a hotly contested and close SEC Football Championship Game.  This time Georgia came out on top…with me being the only one that noticed.

I arose early the next morning to get the car back to the airport and make my 6:01 a.m.flight to Dallas and then off to Seattle.  The Savannah Airport is small and very lovely – a little gem – and very easy to navigate.  I probably could have gotten there 15 minutes before departure and been ok.  It was a long flight home after a very fun week in the Lowcountry of South Carolina and Georgia.  As good as the birds were and as lovely the area, without any question it was the people that made this visit special.  Ken and Betty and John and Karen in South Carolina.  Pam and Steve and Russ in Georgia.  And Buddy and Diana behind the scenes making it all possible.  I truly regret not being able to meet those two but will be forever grateful for their support and aid and will long remember my time in the field with the others.

Having found my 50 species in a day in each state, my “completed list” now stands at 23.  I am off to New Mexico in January and Hawaii in February and then it gets really busy,  Been a blast.

Interactive Map as of December 31

The South Carolina Lowcountry and the Beaufort CBC

The Connection

The pelagic trip out of San Diego on August 19 this year has already been featured in one of my blog posts (https://wordpress.com/post/blairbirding.com/21064).  As I wrote there, I had many frustrations, but there were many great birds including 4 Lifers, but for the purposes of this post, it was the great people – one in particular – that were more important.  Among those on board were 8 birders doing Big Years of one sort or another.  They include the top 6 ABA lists for 2018 with the other 2 being within the top 11.  Another birder on the boat was Ken Scott from Beaufort, South Carolina.

We had only a brief intersection onboard that was interrupted by the appearance of a Red Footed Booby.  But I remembered that he was from South Carolina, so when I was planning my visit there as part of my 50 States adventure, I hoped we might intersect again.  I found an email address and contacted him and it worked out perfectly to be able to join him for a day of birding on the Christmas Bird Count in Beaufort County, South Carolina – midway between Charleston, S.C. and Savannah, GA the two cities I wished to visit birding near each as part of my project.  Ken felt there was a really good chance to get 50 species on his CBC especially if I birded his area in the morning and then went with a different team to a different habitat area in the afternoon.  So my plan was to fly into Charleston and combine some sightseeing with some birding before joining him.  This area stretching from just north of Charleston to the Georgia border is called the “Lowcountry or Low Country” – a geographic and cultural region along South Carolina’s coast, including the Sea Islands with many resorts and beautiful sandy beaches.

Charleston to Beaufort

Before the Count – Charleston to Beaufort

Charleston was founded in 1670 and grew as a seaport with a healthy economy from that activity and the cultivation of rice, indigo and cotton.  The wealth brought the development of many historically and architecturally significant homes and buildings. In April 1861, Confederate soldiers fired on Union-occupied Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, beginning the Civil War.  The War brought significant damage to the City but the preservation and reconstruction of the old homes and buildings became a foundation for a thriving tourism – the major driver in its economy today.

My plans to spend a lot of time in the Old City were dampened – literally – when torrential rains and surface flooding came on my first day.  Plan B was to do some birding in the morning and hope it would clear for tourism in the afternoon.  I headed to Fort Moultrie (pronounced “Mool – tree”) National Monument dating back to Revolutionary War days and continuing as a fort in the Civil War.  More than 3 inches of rain fell that morning and I made good use of both rain pants and parka.  I was greeted by a flock of White Ibis on the grass by the Fort and found a number of passerines as I walked the grounds.  The Fort was on the water and this produced a good mix of birds as well including a surprising Black Scoter.  Even in the poor conditions, I had 35 species including hearing a Clapper Rail and seeing a pair of American Oystercatchers.  I had picked up 5 other species before even getting to the Fort

White Ibis – Adult and Juvenile

White Ibis White-Ibis-Immature-.jpg

It was 11:00 a.m. and still pouring.  Coming onto Sullivan Island to get to the Fort I had crossed a causeway and had noticed some shorebirds.  Having found many more species than expected at the Fort,  I thought it might be possible to make a stop on the causeway and maybe one more spot and actually get to 50 species for the day and then hope it would clear for some time in the City.  I added several shorebirds on the Causeway.  Four to go.  An Ebird Hotspot called the I’On Rookery was nearby and promised some ducks and maybe a few passerines so off I went.

It turned out to be one of my favorite stops.  I added seven species to get over 50 for the day (removing any concern about doing so for South Carolina) including a Blue Headed Vireo, one of my favorites, and a very nice Orange Crowned Warbler.  It was good that I found them because there were only two species of waterfowl and I had expected a few more.

Blue Headed Vireo

Blue Headed Vireo 2

Orange Crowned Warbler

Orange Crowned Warbler1

The birds were nice, but the real appeal was that the pond I visited was in the center of a beautiful planned community of lovely homes and beautiful landscaping.  It was extremely well done and as attractive as any I have seen anywhere.  I later found out that the homes were quite expensive – certainly for the area or for my preconceived notions of housing costs in South Carolina.   Even without large lots, home prices began at $1.3 million and some were substantially higher including the ones in the photo below which were located on the pond. They would have been much higher still in Seattle.

I’On Village Pond and Homes

I'On Pond

The rain had slowed and I headed into Historic Downtown Charleston.  I did not go into any of the old mansions but walked through the Historic Market and enjoyed the streetscape.  I did make sure to visit Christophe Artisan Chocolates.  Earlier I had discovered this great chocolatier when Pat Lueders took her Naturalist Journeys group to Charleston.  I arranged chocolates to be delivered to her while she was there as a thank you.  It worked very well and I wanted to personally thank the folks there for their efforts.  It also allowed me to get a wonderful almond croissant for myself, too.  The shop was amazing – beautiful pastries and chocolates – yummy, too.

Christophe Artisan Chocolates and Cafe – Truffles

Chocolate

Truffles

I did not have time to visit but wish I could have gone to Henry’s for jazz and food.  Not so great on the outside but it was highly recommended.  It seemed to me that there were restaurants everywhere.  Many downtown but also in every neighborhood and historic area.  Charleston has a reputation as a “foodie paradise”.  I believe it.  That night I did not go fancy but I went “excellent” with barbecue at Bessinger’s – basic, filling and very tasty.

Jazz.jpg

BBQ

The next day I headed to Beaufort (pronounced “Byoo-furt” in South Carolina as opposed “Bo-furt” in North Carolina with birding stops at two great places – Caw Caw Interpretive Center and Donnelly Wildlife Management Area.  Beaufort was  70 miles from Charleston and the entire area looked like great birding habitat. But there had been so much rain that many areas were flooded and when I got to Caw Caw, many of the trails and paths were impassable.  There is a terrific visitor center and an extremely friendly and helpful person there opened early and got me hooked up with a naturalist walk that was scheduled 20 minutes after I got there.

You know that you are not in Washington when the naturalist describes changes that will be made to the usual walk because of the flooded fields and explains that we cannot just go through the brush because while the probability is very slim for Coral Snakes that there is danger from Copperheads, Cottonmouths, and two or three kinds of Rattlesnakes plus Alligators.  Easy decision — I will stay on the trails…

In just over two hours with an amiable group of birders, we saw or heard 39 species including some heard only Wood Ducks the only waterfowl of the trip despite habitat that looked good to me.  The highlight was unquestionably the medium sized (6 foot) Alligator that was on the trail ahead of us with what appeared to be a rabbit in its fearsome jaws. It slithered backwards into one of the canals as we approached – carefully.

Alligator

Alligator with Prey1

It was now almost 11:00 a.m. and I had another area to visit – and I also wanted to break away from the group and try to find a Sedge Wren – a species high on my photo wanted list as I did not have one for the ABA.  I thought I had thought I may have heard one as we walked but our guide was not sure and felt it was useless to try to get it to come out.  Not more than 5 minutes after separating from the group I stopped at what seemed to me to be good habitat and got an immediate clear response after a brief playback of Sedge Wren calls.  (Which by the way the guide was not averse o using.)  A small Wren came up into the reeds  and remained hidden – but noisy.  I grabbed a few miserable photos as it darted around never completely in the open.  Even though its calls were dead on for Sedge Wren I am still not sure if the photo is of a Marsh Wren or a Sedge Wren and I got differing opinions from two locals.  The supercilium and clear breast say Marsh to me despite the calls.

Wren – Sedge or Marsh?…Marsh

Marsh Wren

After Caw Caw, I moved on to the Donnelly Wildlife Management Area.  In my early pre-trip planning I had identified this Ebird Hotspot as a great place to either find 50 species in a day or to supplement a list from elsewhere to do so.  Since I was not sure that the Beaufort CBC would produce 50 species, I thought I needed a backup plan.  The only problem was that the Hotspot name included the seemingly limiting “(partial fall and winter restricted access)”.  What did this mean?  When I asked Buddy Campbell – the compiler for the Beaufort County and some other Lowcountry CBC’s that Ken had gotten me in touch with, he said it was related to hunting and would probably not affect me.

Donnelley.jpg

It was a GREAT area – and another example of where hunters and birders share interests in habitat creation, preservation and management and where coexistence can be very positive.  My first stop was on a dike along a wetland barely into the park.  I expected many ducks and found many – well over 100 Wood Ducks but unlike our experience with them in the open in Washington, these ducks were hidden away in the wooded marshy areas, detectable only by their constant calling and then their flights when I got anywhere close.  Buddy (and Ebird reports) said this was also a good Sedge Wren area. I heard at least one but got only brief distant glimpses.

I could write many pages about this place – really fun visit of almost 3 hours.  It was mostly thin forest and wetland.  A good mix of passerines and one spot with some shorebirds (both Yellowlegs and both Dowitchers).  Ebird reports included many waders but other than a couple of Egrets, a Great Blue and a Green Heron, I had found none…until…I discovered the large pond/lake behind “the Lodge”.  What a great spot!! In addition to other species there were 53 American White Pelicans, 6 Great Blue Herons, 18 Great Egrets, 11 Snowy Egrets, 4 Little Blue Herons, 1 Tricolored Heron, 1 Green Heron, 2 Black-crowned Night-Herons, 20 White Ibis, 5 Roseate Spoonbills, Forster’s Terns, an Osprey and a Wood Stork.  A great way to pad a list.

Lesser Yellowlegs

Lesser Yellowlegs

Snowy Egret

Snowy Egret 3

Little Blue Herons (Juvenile and Adult)

Little Blue Heron  Little Blue Heron Adult

Roseate Spoonbill

Roseate-Spoonbill.jpg

White Pelican

White Pelican.jpg

When I tallied my list after this visit, it was 67 species.  Added to Caw Caw and a couple of species on the highway (American Crow and European Starling), I had 84 species for the day (and over 100 for the trip) – and the planned big Day was yet to come – the Beaufort CBC on the 16th.  I thoroughly enjoyed Donnelly.  In addition to the great birds, it was the feeling of unity with the place.  Very peaceful aided in part by the fact that for the entire time I was there, I did not see another human being – just me and the beauty and wonder of nature.

Beaufort and the CBC

Ken and his lovely wife Betty picked me up at my hotel that evening and we went to dinner at Panini’s on the Waterfront in Beaufort.  I had been hearing about how great the oysters were in the area but Ken said we would have them at lunch the next day.  I chose a Greek Shrimp Panini.  It was exceptional.  After the very short visit on the pelagic trip it was nice to spend relaxed time with Ken and with Betty.  Both, like many people in the area, are transplants and their perspective on the area was very interesting.  Definitely gave me a different take on preconceived notions of South Carolina to some degree.  Like most places there are people of all sorts, cultures, beliefs and attitudes.  This is not the place to go into these matters but it was easy to discuss politics, race, and the culture of place.  Discussing birds was great too as Ken and Betty are well traveled and have many stories.

Panini’s on the Waterfront

Panini Beaufort

The plan for the next day was simple.  I would be meeting them at 8:00 and we would bird one habitat area on St. Helena’s Island and then I would join another group in the afternoon to bird a very different habitat on Harbor Island.  The morning was steady good birding with a mix of passerines, waterfowl, waders, shorebirds and raptors.  I particularly enjoyed a grassy field and trees that had numerous Palm Warblers, Pine Warblers and Eastern Bluebirds.

Palm Warbler

Palm Warbler

Pine Warbler

Pine-Warbler.jpg

Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird 4

Raptors included both Black Vulture and Turkey Vultures (some consider them raptors), Northern Harrier, Bald Eagle, Red-shouldered, Red-tailed and Cooper’s Hawks,  and American Kestrel and Peregrine Falcon.

We finished the morning with 59 species, so I guess I needn’t have worried about 50 species in a day.  We then met up with my “afternoon group” led by John Fisk and spouse Karen at a very unique restaurant, the Johnson Creek Tavern.  It was “oyster time”.  Tradition at the restaurant is for visitors to put dollar bills on the wall for good luck. Every inch of every wall was full. When the walls were last cleaned in May 2018 more than $17,500 was collected…and donated to charity…a veterans group.  There was no room for my dollar … but I enjoyed the oysters!!

Johnson Creek Tavern – St. Helen’s Island – South Carolina

Dollars on Wall

With Ken and Betty Outside the Restaurant

Ken and Betty

It was then goodbye to Ken and Betty and off with John and Karen and 4 others.  John Fisk is a retired orthopedic surgeon and both he and Karen were interesting, excellent and avid birders.  Our afternoon would primarily be at sand beach habitat on Harbor Island with a couple of wetland areas thrown in.  We had good shorebirds including Black-bellied,  Semipalmated and Piping Plovers, a surprise Marbled Godwit, Sanderling, Dunlin, Least Sandpiper and Willet.  Hard to beat Piping Plovers as favorites.

Piping Plover

Piping Plover

Marbled Godwit

Marbled-Godwit.jpg

I was not able to get on it fast enough for a photo, but we also had a flyby Northern Gannet and at the very end some Black Skimmers which are always a treat.

Black Skimmers

Black Skimmers

Much of the time was spent walking on a beautiful sandy beach.  What was not as beautiful was the impact of storms and erosion on the beach and the homes built there.  Many homes were damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Mathew and other storms.  Some have been torn down but there is a lawsuit underway to require removal of six severely damaged homes that are eyesores to say the least.  We walked through some of the ruins as we birded.  John had studied beach dynamics and I wish I could have recorded his discussion on how the beach was reforming.

Hurricane Destroyed Home on the Beach

Hurricane Damage

We called it a day around 4 p.m.  I made another stop on the way out of town and headed off to Savannah, Georgia where I would be birding the next day.   We had 26 species on our count and I added a couple more on my last stop.  This brought the species count for the day to 73 and for my visit to South Carolina to 116.  It had been a great day for birds, people and places (and oysters) and a wonderful visit to South Carolina.  I hope to get back sometime and spend more time in Charleston and to visit places like Kiawah Island and Hilton Head.  Time with Ken and Betty was too short.  Maybe our paths will cross again.

Thrush Dreams

As I was writing up my previous post on the successful Fieldfare chase, I had ‘thrushes” on my mind recalling some new observations or photos the past year or so.  Feeling very full of myself, I listed all of these great birds and found I had decent photos of them.  Then I made the mistake of asking the question, “I wonder what thrushes I have not seen?”  Yikes – there are a lot of thrushes that are included on the AOU/ABA list and a lot I have not seen.  Granted the ones I have not seen are very rare for sure, but that was the case for the Fieldfare too – so why not dream.  There are far more species than I was aware of.

Below are photos of the thrushes I have been fortunate to have seen in the ABA area – followed by photos of ones I have not – but hope to someday (most are highly unlikely).

15 Thrushes I Have Seen in the ABA Area

Rufous Backed Robin – California

Rufous Backed Robin 2

Fieldfare – British Columbia

Fieldfare1

Redwing – British Columbia

Redwing

American Robin – Washington

American Robin with Worms

Eastern Bluebird – Indiana

Eastern Bluebird 4

Western Bluebird – Washington

Western Bluebird

Mountain Bluebird – Washington

Mountain Bluebird1

Townsend’s Solitaire – Washington

Townsend's Solitaire

Swainson’s Thrush – Washington

Swainson's Thrush1

Wood Thrush – North Carolina

Wood Thrush

Veery – Washington

Veery

Clay Colored Thrush – Texas

Clay Colored Thrush1

Hermit Thrush – Washington

Hermit Thrush1

Varied Thrush – Washington

Varied Thrush

Gray Cheeked Thrush – Alaska

Gray Cheeked Thrush 3

I have also seen and photographed Northern Wheatear and Red Flanked Bluetail which used to be grouped with the thrushes but are now Old World Flycatchers.

12 Thrushes I Have Not Seen in the ABA Area – Yet (Photos not mine)

Bicknell’s Thrush                                                Aztec Thrush

bicknell's thrush - Copy  Aztec Thrush

Eurasian Blackbird                                       Eyebrowed Thrush

Eurasian Blackbird  Eyebrowed Thrush

Dusky Thrush                                                Mistle Thrush

Dusky Thrush    Mistle Thrush

Brown Backed Solitaire                               Orange Billed Nightingale Thrush

brown backed solitaire - Copy  orange-billed-nightingale-thrush

Black-headed Nightingale Thrush            Red-legged Thrush

Black Headed Nightingale Thrush - Copy  Red Legged Thrush

White Throated Thrush                                        Song Thrush

White Throated Thrush  Song Thrush

A Fieldfare in British Columbia

I very much enjoy my birding travels – new birds, new places, new people.  BUT…one negative is that it seems like there is always some great bird that shows up near home when I am gone.  Two distinct memories of such occurred when I was in Maine and Massachusetts in late June and early July 2015.  The first was a Great Shearwater that was found on a pelagic trip out of Westport on June 27th.  A very rare bird in Washington, it was supposed to have been a “given” on the pelagic trip I took in Maine 10 days earlier through a wonderful program at the Schoodic Institute.  Nope first time ever they had missed it on the trip.  Sigh… But I did see one later on my North Carolina pelagic trip on June 30th this year.

Great Shearwater

Great Shearwater

Earlier that month a Crested Caracara was reported in Skykomish – perhaps the first accepted Washington record.  Every day in Maine and Massachusetts I saw reports coming in for this incredible sighting.  Would it stay?  I was able to see it on July 4th after I got home – and then it was gone – possibly killed by the mad man goat farmer.  So at least that had a happy ending for me if not the Caracara.

Crested Caracara – Skykomish, WA – July 4, 2015

Crested Caracara - Copy

On December 16th, a Fieldfare was found on the Salmon Arm, B.C. Christmas Bird Count.  On that day I was doing the Low Country Christmas Bird Count in Beaufort County, South Carolina.  I learned of the Fieldfare the next day.  Fieldfares are Robin-like thrushes that are common in Europe and occasionally show up in the Northeastern U.S. and Canada.  One was seen in Idaho in 2015 and there is a possible record from B.C. in 2003.  So a VERY rare bird.  I still had three more days in Georgia ahead before flying home on December 19th.  Would it stay?  And it was a very long ways away – 350+ miles from Edmonds.  But quite a great bird…

On December 18th – Ann Marie Wood and John Puschock – Washington birding friends had made the long trek and found the bird.  Others had done so on the 19th.  It was still there.  Figuring that I was still on East Coast time and still high from my great South Carolina and Georgia visits (soon to appear on other posts) I decided if nothing else it would be an adventure and committed to go on the 20th.  Taxiing in to the gate at Seatac Airport, I posted that on Tweeters to see if anyone else was interested.  I got an almost immediate response from good friend Steve Pink that he wanted to go.  A bit later I got a message from B.C. birding bud Melissa Hafting that two of her friends desperately wanted to go but had no car.  Could I take them?  Mel had seen the bird on the 17th and was the first person to tell me about it.  Sure…I would be happy to help.  I then got inquiries from another half dozen people – but my car was full.

This would be a long trek so an early morning start was essential.  Steve came to my house at 4:30 and we headed off to the Sumas border crossing.  It took a bit longer to get there but we sailed through the crossing – “Where are you going?”  – Salmon Arm.  “Why?” – to hopefully see a rare bird.  “Really?” – Yes.  “OK”.  Five minutes later we met Joachim Bertands and Graham Sunderland at the Abbotsford Costco, loaded up and were off.  A complication was that bad weather – lots of snow – was predicted for the Coquihalla Highway (Route 5) so we had to go the even longer route of Highway 1 – the Trans Canada Highway.  This would add almost 90 minutes to the trip – but that was better than getting stuck.  It was 6:15, dark, raining and miserable driving.  Not going to go through all the details, but with a stop for bathrooms and gas, we finally pulled onto Krick Road just south of Salmon Arm around 11:20.  We had a report earlier that one of Joachim’s friends had seen the Fieldfare an hour or so earlier and there was a birder at the stakeout site as we approached.  It wasn’t sunny but it wasn’t snowing or raining…things looked good.

Fieldfare Stakeout Site – Krick and Kernaghan Roads

Intersection

He had a smile on his face – a good sign.  He had indeed seen the Fieldfare – about five minutes ago – but it had flown off to an area behind one of the houses.  He left and we searched – and searched – and searched.  We found a single American Robin, heard a Black Capped Chickadee and watched a small group of European Starlings come and go.  It was QUIET!!!

When I first conceived of this chase, I felt it was a 50/50 proposition.  When I heard that it was seen on the 19th, I raised the odds to 75% and when we hear that Joachim’s friend was successful, I was at least at 98%.  Hearing that it had been seen 5 minutes before we arrived I was now at 100% BUT as it remained quieter and quieter, I was not so sure.  We spread out and after maybe 25 minutes of searching Graham said he saw a group of Robins.  He had not seen the Fieldfare, but Joachim (definitely the sharpest – and youngest – eyes) was able to ID the Fieldfare buried in a distant tree.  We got horrible views and even worse photos but at least we had the bird.  AND then – thank you Bird Gods – the flock flew closer and then even closer as they returned to their favored Mountain Ash trees to feed on the berries right at the corner of Krick and Kernaghan roads.  Great views and great photos – and we all had a new ABA Lifer!!

Fieldfare – Salmon Arm, B.C. – June 20, 2018

Fieldfare1

Fieldfare3

Fieldfare7

We watched the Fieldfare for another 30 minutes – very happy indeed.  We knew we had a long return trip and checking the road conditions, things looked good for the shorter Coquihalla route if we left right away.  So we were off – way beyond satisfied.  It was mostly clear and beautiful as we retraced part of our steps through Kamloops and then hit the Coquihalla – beautiful multi- lane divided highway.  Conditions were great until we hit maybe the last 30 miles where we encountered snow, ice and slush.  All was good until I hit one curve a bit too fast and felt my left front wheel spin and then pull us into a dangerous condition.  Many years ago I had taken a course on driving in snow and ice and the training paid off.  I was able to steer into and through the slide and just missed an area where plowed snow had piled up and after a few seconds that probably seemed much longer top the passengers – got complete control without any harm done – just increased adrenalin and heart rates.  I went slower the remainder of the way and we made it back to Costco safe and sound just before 6:00.

Steve and I said our goodbyes and then continued on for the last 100 miles back to Edmonds.  This border crossing took a bit longer but the guard was very friendly and smiled about our bird.  I had expected to be very tired from the 750+ miles of driving but the good company in the car and then successful chase overcame that and we were back home before 8.

Joachim and Graham proved once again that my enjoyment is as much from the people as from the birds. Joachim is a graduate student from Belgium who has an amazing life list both in the ABA and in the Western Palearctic areas.  He was a fountain of knowledge and stories and taught us a lot.  Graham, like Steve Pink, is a former Brit.  Very interesting bloke who has never driven a car!!  He worked for a cruise line and has traveled the world.  He, too, had many good stories. One was about a Sedge Wren on the Falkland Islands.  Steve and I wondered if maybe this was a misidentification as we could not imagine a Sedge Wren there.  Research confirmed – there is a race of Sedge Wrens there – who knew.

A long almost 16 hours for just one bird.  Non-birders don’t understand but most birders do.  After all it was a Fieldfare!!  It was ABA bird #730 and ABA photo #696 – very nice…

Why We Chase…A Wild Goose Chase with a Happy Ending and Self Questioning

Background

On October 25, 2018 two Finnish birders reported seeing a Bean Goose at the William L. Finley NWR south of Corvallis, OR.  This undocumented sighting made it onto the American Birding Association (ABA) Rare Bird Alert (RBA) on October 28th and the Portland Audubon Society RBA on November 1st.  Then silence and no reports or observations followed…until November 25th when it was located at the McFadden Marsh at the NWR and reported by many.

The ABA and the American Ornithological Union (AOU) currently recognize two species of Bean GooseTundra Bean Goose and Taiga Bean Goose.  The Finley bird was believed to be a Tundra Bean GooseBean Geese breed across Eurasia from Norway to Siberia, and winter south to southern Europe and China, favoring open grassland and farmland – including bean fields – hence its name.  It is a rare but regular visitor to the Aleutians and the Bering Sea region of Alaska during its northward migration in spring but has been seen only extremely rarely elsewhere in North America.  Bean Geese are common in Finland so the initial report by the two Finnish birders was credible if incomplete.

And my research is also incomplete but I found only 6 records on Ebird for Tundra Bean Goose outside of remote Alaskan Islands.  All were of single birds.

  • October 1982 – Quebec Province, Canada
  • October 1999 – Whitehorse, Yukon Province, Canada
  • October 2013 – Salton Sea, California
  • November 2013 – Nova Scotia, Canada
  • December 2014 – Nestucca Area, Oregon (continued for many months)
  • January 2018 – Bird shot by hunter in Arkansas

My focus was on other matters when the Nestucca bird was reported in 2014 and 2015.  Friends made the journey and readily found it.  I did not.

The First Chase

On the afternoon of Sunday November 26th I was on Facebook and saw a report on the ABA Rarities page there that a Tundra Bean Goose had been seen at Finley NWR in OR.  I paid it little attention at first.  Finley NWR is about 290 miles from my home, a distance I have traveled on chases before as part of a Washington Big Year or for the Red Flanked Blue Tail in Idaho.  As rare as that bird was, it was not even a life bird as I had seen one previously in British Columbia – but in miserable rainy conditions and I had no photo.  Photos of the Lewiston, ID bird were exquisite and birding friend Keith Carlson was a willing local guide, so I made the long trek (over and back in two days) and had a great time with great photos.

Red Flanked Bluetail

red-flanked-bluetail1r

Last year in addition to a constant first priority of adding birds and photos to my Washington State List. I set a goal of reaching 700 species on my ABA Life List.  The Island Scrub Jay seen on December 1st accomplished that.  At the beginning of this year I set a goal of getting as close to 700 ABA photos as I could, but knew it would be unlikely and more realistically I could maybe get sufficiently close to reach that goal in 2019.

Island Scrub Jay – Santa Cruz Island – December 1, 2017

Island Scrubjay 1

With some changes in my personal life mid year, I came up with a new “project/adventure” – observing 50 species in each of the 50 states on a single day in each – my so called 50/50/50 Project and my attention lately had primarily been on research, logistics and arrangements for that – maybe adding some of those ABA photos along the way.  The Tundra Bean Goose would be a new ABA Life bird and if photographed a new ABA photo but it was not a Washington bird (first priority) and Oregon was already in the “Done” column for 50 species in a day.  But…what if I could find it, photograph it AND find 50 species in a day?  My previous Oregon 50 was very lackluster.  Another 50 species day with this mega-rarity would be special – adding a new dimension to a chase.

Somehow within a few minutes of first giving it thought, remembering Rule 1 for any chase which is “Go Now”, I decided to give it a try.  I think the key factor was simply that it would be a rewarding thing to do.  And this is important: while in no way thinking I would not find it, my approach to birding had changed.  I had evolved.  I now valued the chase experience itself independently of the result.  Whatever the birding result, ALL of my chases had given me stories, lessons, satisfactions and rewards.  There was nothing on my agenda for the next few days — why not.

I made a couple of calls to see if friends had some interest.  It wasn’t a lot of notice, so maybe that was unlikely, but company is always great.  Several people had made the trek to see the Nestucca Tundra Bean Goose in 2014 so not this time.  I was on my own.  I had seen a comment that many geese roosted at night at the McFadden Marsh. There was no certainty that the Tundra Bean Goose would still be present but I calculated that the greatest likelihood would be that if it was, it would roost with the big flock and that getting there early was wise.  I decided to leave VERY early – around 2:00 a.m. to get there at first light.  I was out the door at 2:15 – at least there would be little traffic.

With only a single stop along the way I arrived at McFadden Marsh at 6:45 a.m. just as there was some light in the sky and some visibility.  I was greeted by thousands of birds – geese, ducks, and swans.  Reports had mentioned “the bridge”, “the blind” and “along Bruce Road”.  I tried them all scoping every bird that I could – some relatively close and many quite distant.  I got excited as I found one goose that was “different”.  But when it finally raised its head, it was a Greater White Fronted Goose – not our guy.  Mostly there were hundreds of Mallards and Cackling Geese.  Within the hour many other birders showed up – on their own “wild goose chases”.

Greater White Fronted Goose

Greater White Fronted Goose

Even with all the eyes on the search, we could have missed the target.  It could have been mixed in and behind others, or behind clumps of grass, or just too distant.  Whatever the case, no success.  Not too long ago, the feelings of disappointment would have been overwhelming and I would have been quite unhappy.  No, I was not thrilled, but somehow it had still been “fun”.  After three hours I decided to head off and explore some other areas including the Cabell Marsh where the Finnish birders had first reported it.  I tried there and visited many other places within the NWR returning to McFadden three more times hoping the Bean Goose had been found.  It was great birding – even without the Bean Goose.  Some highlights:

Red Shouldered Hawk – One of Three Seen

Red Shouldered Hawk1

Red Tailed Hawk – Bathing in Puddle on Road – Allowed me to Get within 6 Feet

Red Tailed Hawk in Puddle1

Wild Turkeys

Wild Turkeys

California Scrub Jay (seen with Acorn Woodpeckers and Western Bluebirds)

California Scrubjay1

At McFadden there were always hundreds or even thousands of waterfowl, with geese flying off and others flying in.  Nobody found the Tundra Bean Goose.  Maybe it had been a one-day wonder.  There was one really odd goose though.  Others had noted it before – either a hybrid or an oddly plumaged Cackling Goose or Emperor Goose mix. It and other waterfowl are below.

“Odd Plumaged” Goose

Odd Goose

Tundra Swan

Tundra Swan Standing

Aleutian(?) Cackling Goose

Cackling Goose

Cackling Geese in Flight

Geese in Flight

Snow Goose

Snow Goose

I hung around until 3:30 – almost 9 hours all told.  No Tundra Bean Goose, even more disappointing since I had found 55 other species that day.  But it was time to leave – fight the traffic around Portland and be home by 10.  Sigh…

And Now for the Rest of the Story…

I wish I had seen the Tundra Bean Goose.  But I also wish that my camera had not malfunctioned as I tried for a photo of a Yellow Rail at the Yellow Rails and Rice Festival in Louisiana.  And I wish that I had bought Amazon in 1998 or Microsoft in 1986.  None of those happened and I am still alive, healthy and looking forward to “next” and I continue to collect experiences, stories and enjoy the process.  That said, I definitely watched the Ebird reports to see if someone else had reported the Tundra Bean Goose from Monday.  Nobody had.  BUT a report did show up for Tuesday, and another for Wednesday and again on Thursday.  Good for them.  Happy for them.  Not competing with them.  But damn…it would have been nice.  I kept working on my trip plans for South Carolina and Georgia, finalized plans for Hawaii and began looking into a winter trip to New Mexico. I also had a couple of social engagements.  But those everyday observations by others did register.

I had dinner with my sister Saturday night.  Literally an hour before heading down to Seattle to see her, I made an executive decision to try again.  Why?  I asked myself that as I made the decision.  There is almost certainly more to it – some psychology – as will be discussed later, but the answer was simple again.  Successful or not this would be a good story, a good experience, something to look back on with a good feeling and something to write about – and something to affirm that I was “ALIVE” – doing something I loved, following a passion and just getting out there and trying.  AND I had a calm sense that I would find the goose and put an exclamation point on the week and the previous attempt.

The Second Chase

After a great dinner at 8:00 p.m. I said goodbye and told my sister I was off to Portland.  She thought I was nuts, and that is likely not the first time she has felt that.  I had thrown a sleeping bag and some pillows in the car and figured I would stop at a rest area somewhere and grab at least a few hours of sleep.  That worked perfectly as I got into Oregon, found a rest area bout 90 minutes from Finley NWR and actually got almost 4 hours of sleep before heading off again around 4:30 a.m.  It was very foggy and pitch black as I pulled into the parking area on Bruce Road near the path out to the blind which is where I planned to start my search.  It would not be light for another hour, but I could already hear geese, swans and ducks cackling, quacking and whistling at the marsh.  I was worried about the fog, but there was nothing I could do about that and I am getting better at not stressing about such things out of my control – unhappy maybe, stressed, no.  I dozed for about 45 minutes and then walked out to the blind with binoculars, camera and scope.  There were thousands of birds – barely visible.  I was  somehow confident that I would find the goose – even if not just then or right there.  But moreso, I truly was already very pleased, because I had followed through on a wish and executed it well – so far.  I was completely alone and completely engaged in my life and a passion for it.

Just after 7:00 a.m. there was enough light to be able to meaningfully start my search through the scope.  Within not more than 5 minutes among the thousands of birds in front of me I found one that raised my heartbeat as it was a goose that was NOT a Cackling Goose and NOT a Greater White Fronted Goose but it had its head turned away and I could not see the tell-tale bi-colored bill that would confirm the ID as a Tundra Bean Goose.  Turn, damn you turn!!  It must have heard me.  It turned and even at 20x magnification in the poor light, I could see the orange marking. Eureka!!!!!  The light was weak.  My ISO was high, the shutter speed slow, but I got a photo.

Tundra Bean Goose – First Photo (ABA Photo 694#)

Tundra Bean Goose First Photo

There was nobody there to share a high five.  Nobody to watch a Snoopy dance.  No congratulations.  On other chases there have often been others or if not, I still gave a shout or did a dance or a jump or a fist pump.  Not this time.  I just savored the moment as deeply as I had any moment.  There was not a need for any outward expression because it was so completely internalized.  This confirmed a really chancy decision and was like the proverbial cherry atop the sundae.  But it was going to get even better.

The goose was resting and I kept my scope on it hoping for better views as the light improved.  About 10 minutes later I heard someone approaching the blind.  When she came in with her birding gear, I asked the almost unnecessary question:  “Would you like to see the goose?”  She beamed.  I lowered the scope and she saw the bill and had a new life bird.  This was the second try for Janet Kelly also.  She had made the 3+hour trip up from Medford, OR earlier in the week on a day the Tundra Bean Goose had been seen by others but not by everyone looking.  She was one of the unlucky ones.  This made up for that.  I was almost as happy for her as I was for myself – almost.

We watched the goose for about 15 minutes and then without any warning it and maybe 2000 other birds took off in a noisy flight and were gone. We had been very fortunate.  We had been at the right place at the right time.  A little bit later and we may have missed it.  I have been in that spot before.  Not more than 5 minutes later, two more birders arrived at the blind and we delivered the words we have all heard and hate more than any others:  “You just missed it!” Our visitors were Bert Filemyr and Casey Weissburg.  To say they are both serious and accomplished birders would be an understatement.  Joining with Laura Keene –  an extremely accomplished and serious birder – they had arrived at the Refuge the day before and had missed the Tundra Bean Goose.  Casey immediately expressed her disappointment and asked which way they had flown.  All we could say was “away”.

Meanwhile Laura Keene had positioned herself at the bridge and this strategy had paid off as a few moments later she texted Casey that she “had the goose!!”.  Casey took off imploring Bert to race along with her.  Let’s just say that there is a significant age difference between the two and as I accompanied Bert running with gear on the icy boardwalk, I felt I had to comment that it was not worth a heart attack.  Bert joined Casey in their rented car and they drove the 1/4+ mile to the bridge where Laura had the Tundra Bean Goose in her scope.  Not the world’s best view but when it raised its head, there was that bi-colored bill.  This was ABA life bird 801 for Laura, and number 748 for Bert.  I don’t know about life birds, but it was ABA number 642 for Casey – this year.  As I said – serious and accomplished birders.  It was wonderful to see and feel their excitement as they found this extremely rare species – a sign of its rarity being that none of them had seen it before.

The Tundra Bean Goose was cooperative in that it remained still, but not so much as it mostly rested with its head tucked down being essentially a lump of brown feathers.  Other birders arrived and we were able to show them the mega rarity.  After more than an hour with an only occasional head lift to show its bill, it joined many other geese and flew off – eventually landing across the road in an even more distant spot.  But in flight, it gave us the best views including it bright orange feet.  It also gave me my best photos.

Tundra Bean Goose Flight Shots

Tundra Bean Goose Flight

Flight in Group

Among the birders to join our group was a father with two young boys and a couple of other young birders.  I would wager that this day will be part of their cherished memories forever.

And I can say the same for me.  A favorite day.  Anyone reading my blogs or talking to me about birding knows that for me birding is that wonderful activity that inserts me in situations where there is the chance to visit interesting places, meet interesting people and see great birds.  There is never a day of birding that does not provide one of these rewards and on days like this, I get all three.  Pretty great!!  And this day it was in spades.  The refuge is not Cascade mountains beautiful, but it is a lovely place and now had given me two days of special attachment.  All of the birds and their movement at the marsh were majestic with the Tundra Bean Goose being as good as it gets.  And how wonderful to share this time and this bird with these folks.

Knowing of her and especially her incredible Big Year in 2016, I had contacted Laura Keene earlier this year as a resource to find contacts in states I would be visiting during my 50/50/50 adventure.  She was gracious and most helpful getting me in touch with someone that I did bird with later.  It was a great treat to meet here in person.  I hope to see her again some day either on her home turf of San Antonio or in the field.

I had not had any previous contact with Bert but had seen his name on Facebook and Ebird.  He is from Philadelphia.  We exchanged “birder cards” and I will contact him for ideas when I will be visiting that area this Spring.  If life is really good, maybe I can join him in the field.

Casey Weissburg describes herself as a nomadic bird biologist living for the love of birds and the natural world.  Her youthful energy, and knowledge of birds, were abundantly clear watching the Tundra Bean Goose.  We have become Facebook friends and I am sure she knows birders out there that may be able to help me in my quest and I hope our paths cross again.

Seeing the Tundra Bean Goose was immensely satisfying.  Sharing the wonderful birding experience with Janet, Bert, Laura, Casey and the young family and others there made it magical.

Final Thoughts and Questions – Why We Chase…

What all is behind our “wild goose chases” and others?

What makes me drive 5  hours from Edmonds to look for a goose in a marsh in Oregon twice in less than a week?

What brings Bert Filemyr from Philadelphia to Seattle to join friend Laura Keene who had flown in from San Antonio and drive 4 and a half hours to to look for a goose in that same marsh, joined by Casey Weissburg who came from I don’t know where?

What moves Janet Kelly to drive 3+ hours from Medford to to look for a goose in that marsh?

What brings us and others – many, many others – to look for “special birds” with “special” defined differently by each searcher – in marshes and sewage treatment plants and forests and deserts and feeders and mudflats and mountains all over the globe.  Why do we travel miles and miles for hours and hours, give up sleep, endure heat, cold, bugs, flat tires, lost communication and miss birthdays and other important dates?

Why do we chase? Why do we chase again and again when too often our chases do not find success – at least in terms of  finding our targets?

  • “Compulsion” is variously defined as “a very strong feeling of wanting to do something repeatedly that is difficult to control” or a “strong and barely controllable emotion” or “any powerful or compelling emotion or feeling”.
  • “Obsession” is variously defined as  “a compulsive preoccupation with an idea or an unwanted feeling or emotion, often accompanied by symptoms of anxiety. – a compulsive, often unreasonable idea or emotion”; or “a persistent disturbing preoccupation with an often unreasonable idea or feeling”; or “an idea or thought that continually preoccupies or intrudes on a person’s mind”.
  • The American Psychiatric Association defines “Addiction” at least as related to substance abuse as a complex condition, a brain disease that is manifested by compulsive substance use despite harmful consequence. People with addiction (severe substance use disorder) have an intense focus on using a certain substance(s), such as alcohol or drugs, to the point that it takes over their life. They keep using alcohol or a drug even when they know it will cause problems.
  • Albert Einstein is widely credited with saying, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.”
  • “Passion” is defined as a strong inclination toward a self-defining activity that one likes (or even loves), finds important, and in which they invest time and energy on a regular basis.  Passions are seen as existing in two types: harmonious and obsessive.
  • Love”  – one theory developed by psychologist Robert Sternberg, says there are three components of love: intimacy, passion, and commitment where intimacy encompasses feelings of attachment, closeness, and connection.  Poets may define it differently.

To differing degrees and in different ways, I believe that chases have elements of all of the above.  The definitions I have used for compulsion, obsession and addiction are at least somewhat pejorative if not downright negative.  I think there are other takes on all of them but these potentially negative aspects cannot be ignored and if they are not outweighed, balanced and driven by the far more positive aspects of love and passion, we are possibly in dangerous territory for ourselves, others and even the natural world that we engage.  Our chases are driven by these factors and are not always successful.  It took a while, but I have come to so enjoy the attempt, the pursuit itself, the intersections with people, places and the birds so that I am now at peace with finding my target bird — or not.

And besides, there can be another chase tomorrow…