50/50/50 Oregon – A Tundra Bean Goose and a Passion for Birding

On November 26, 2018 I chased the Tundra Bean Goose that had been reported at the William L. Finley NWR in Oregon.  I failed to find it.  Not my first miss on a chase, but it had been a long one and it was a mega-rarity.  Was it just another of those one-day wonders – here today and gone tomorrow?  As it turned out – not at all.  It took a day or so for it to be relocated but then as none of us could have known, it moved in seemingly permanently and stayed for several months.   As I wrote in an earlier blog post [See https://wordpress.com/post/blairbirding.com/21387] after dinner with my sister on the night of December 1st, I drove back to Finley, slept in the car and was able to find the goose the next morning.

William L. Finley NWR

Finley NWR 1

I had intended to return to that post, amend it and use it for my 50/50/50 experience in Oregon, replacing the experience on the day that I had failed to find the Tundra Bean Goose, but had found 50+ species.  I thought I had done so, but I got caught up in the planning and trips for 2019 and apparently forgot about it.  Actually I just discovered this as I am going through a lot of catch up work and writing after having completed that 50/50/50 Adventure – getting ready for the next phase of it – hopefully a book and a big scale project that I will keep to myself until it happens, if it does.

Better late than never, I am incorporating much of that earlier post into this one and expanding upon it.  I decided to keep much of the non-bird part of that post because there has been much personal reflection as I visited state after state and then completed the project with a wonderful trip to Kansas, Oklahoma and Arkansas and that was a big part of that earlier post.  Much of that reflection has been about “Why?”.  Why do we do what we do – at least if we have choices?  There will be more about that in a wrap up post about the 50/50/50 Adventure, but repeating some of that earlier post still applies.  Now on with the story…

I had missed the Tundra Bean Goose on my first attempt but it had been seen again.  It would be another long trip, should I try it?  Literally an hour before heading down to Seattle for dinner with my sister, 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.  I wrote those words just after succeeding in the quest to find the Goose.  At their core they are at the heart of my 50 State Adventure as well – following a passion and confirming and affirming that I was ALIVE.  There is a lot to that.

The Second Chase (Again repeating the earlier post)

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 at McFadden Marsh 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 #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 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 Shot

Tundra Bean Goose Flight

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.  And it was still early.  There was time for more birding.

People – Knowing of her and especially her incredible Big Year in 2016, I had contacted Laura Keene earlier 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 her here in person.  I hoped to see her again some day either on her home turf of San Antonio or in the field.  And I did – finally birding with her briefly at Magee Marsh the following May.  And I would intersect with Bert Filemyr again – not in person but indirectly as he got me in touch with Gregg Gorton who I joined at Heinz NWR near Philadelphia the week before meeting Laura at Magee – which is where Bert was while I was in Philly.  Casey Weissburg describes herself as a nomadic bird biologist living for the love of birds and the natural world.  Have not crossed paths again – yet, but I bet we will someday

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.

I had seen 21 species at McFadden Marsh.  Surely there would be another 29+ around somewhere.

Finley has mixed habitat with some forest, open fields, ponds, oaks and farmland.  Often retracing my stops from the previous visit, it was not hard to find most of the same species as before.  Since I do not have my notes and specific places from that trip and memory has faded, I will just add photos of some of the birds seen.  A lowlight was trying to find a Wrentit and failing, but that has happened often.  It would be a long trip back again so I did not stay as long as I had previously.  I am pretty sure that with more time and trying to add species I would have found at least another 10 or so but nonetheless was pleased with 62 for the day.

Tundra Swan    Snow Goose

Tundra Swan Standing  Snow Goose

Greater White Fronted Goose

Greater White Fronted Goose

In the oaks – California Scrubjays, Western Bluebird and Acorn Woodpeckers – always a favorite.

California Scrubjay                                                                 Acorn Woodpecker

California Scrubjay1 Acorn Woodpecker

Western Bluebird

Western Bluebird

California Quail                                                      Wild Turkeys

California Quail  Wild Turkeys

Red Shouldered Hawk                                      Northern Shrike

Red Shouldered Hawk1Northern Shrike Juvenile

So another great day with 50+ species, one exceptional bird and some very exceptional people as well.  As I said in the beginning, I wanted to revisit this day and the previous post because of the introspection.  This was before meeting Cindy Bailey who has become another important passion in my life and has participated in several of the 50/50/50 states even though she is not a birder.  Having her in my life has changed some of my priorities but it has not changed my feeling about the role of passion in driving our lives forward and rewarding our commitments of time, energy and action – but two passions is better than one!!  So repeating from that earlier post:

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 who knows where?
  • What moves Janet Kelly to drive 3+ hours from Medford to to look for a goose in a marsh after she head done it days before without success?
  • 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?

Those are some questions.  Are the answers in these defined terms?

  • 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”.
  •  “Addiction” is defined by the American Psychiatric Association (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 for me, my birding is very intimate as it without doubt encompasses feelings of attachment, closeness and connection.  And when shared with others – even better.  And now in addition to my relationship with birds I have one with a special lady.  Even better.






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