Friday, July 12, 2013

The Least Likely

Bosque Del Apache
Rarely does something as epic as a first ever mega rare bird come along and pull the entire US birding community together as quickly as the Rufous-necked Wood Rail did a few days ago.  And it would happen 6 hours away(5 if you push it) from Tucson in the beautiful Bosque Del Apache Wildlife Refuge of New Mexico.
Red-tail Hawk nesting
Twitchers, people who chase these mega-rare birds, fly and drive from all over the country to find these rare gems.  People doing Big Years join together and rush to the scene to get the "tick" that will possibly give them the edge in the competition.  I wanted to experience this event (and possibly see this bird).  But to drive all of this in one day and be back by the next day.......well that's something quite different.
Green Heron
This past week the bird has been spotted around the Marsh Loop basking and playing in the sun for hours.  Birders spy upon the bird with their scopes and binoculars.  The Rufous-neck Wood Rail performed several dances, a couple of songs and taught me a lesson I won't quickly forget.
Western Sandpipers
This bird, common to tropical and subtropical conditions, found its way into New Mexico.  It is a US first and driving birders mad!  For several days this past week, it has been out in full sight, but as we'd find out quickly, our luck would run out.  We left early in the morning from Tucson and arrived at 12:45.  And what's the line birders hate to hear the most? Oh yeah....."You just missed it!"  But my ears could still hear it.  It was still there.  And I heard it fly through the reeds away from us.  Then far away from us.......
Least Bittern
We spent over 6 hours with many birders searching the reeds.  North. South. East. West.  Nothing.  Wait???!!!  Is that a Least Bittern out in the open?  Why yes it was!!!  A lifebird.  I would get distracted by these little surprises and forget about the time. But back to this bird.  I've been doing this long enough to get "feelings in my gut".  When the bird stopped calling from a far distance, I knew that the honeymoon was over for many of us. I spent a week hemming and hawing over going to this place.  Each day the reports would come in with positive observations and I felt drawn to this event. Not drawn.....more like pulled.  Eventually, I convinced myself to go with Pat.  If I didn't try, I'd regret staying home for what will probably be the biggest show of the year for many birders.
Western Sandpiper-note Rufous-y Colors and patches on wings
And yet I learned a lot about the people behind "twitching".  They are addicted to the hunt.  One woman said that it was a "bad carbon footprint" to chase rare birds.  Another said that she had a disease.  I asked her if she was sick.  She responded yes......"Sick in the head for chasing birds."  Another told me a story about how he left to chase this bird in the middle of a family event.  Yet another older woman drove alone from a far away place to find this one single bird out in the middle of nowhere. One man came from work and had a head piece that spoke directly into his head.  No scope.  No binoculars.  Fancy clothes and a head piece.  The stories went on and on like this.  I discovered a whole new level of birders that I hadn't met before.   True dedication.
Least Sandpiper-note yellow legs.  Also the smallest of sandpipers
There was one stylish lady with a cowboy hat from Southern Arizona who made me smile on our hot and muggy hunt.  She was fun to pass the time with as we waited and listened for "the bird".  She had been everywhere during her life.  And by no means was she finished! I really liked her. Overall, the experience was a bit overwhelming.  Like any community, there are those who are cocky, hilarious, smug, humble, etc.  This crowd had them all.  They rattled off refuges and wildlife preserves from all around the world.  They were world me.  But not me because they must have had a little money:)

While waiting for this bird, I became antsy and dehydrated.  There were so many other things flying around us that captured my attention.  How in the world did I stand in one place for 6 and half hours???!!!!!  Well the Least Bittern was one of the reasons:)
Desert Spiny Lizard
I began to walk.  Pat went to the car and saw a bird that looked like a cross between a turkey and peacock. My brain began racing.  What in tarnation was Pat saying???  Big as a turkey.....but not.  Like a Peacock.....but not.  I pulled up my data and discovered that this peacock may be in fact a "Ring-necked Pheasant"!!!  And there were coati, deer, snakes and other critters out there!  Why was I wasting my time on this boardwalk??!!!
Monarch Butterfly
The people waited and waited.  The sun became brighter and brighter.....hotter.  Muggier. The mosquitoes became very bad.

That was it. I walked from the boardwalk lost in the world around me.  I am not a Twitcher.  Yes I chase birds but I will not twitch again. And yet....:)  Seriously, the whole reason why I bird is because I love the hiking and wildlife photography. 
Western Meadowlark
And when I did this, things became clear.  No more.  I'll hopefully one day see this bird down in Mexico or Central America, but for now, I will not miss out on what is PRESENT.
And that's how we found our Ring-necked Pheasant.
People are currently finding the Rufous-necked Wood Rail from the same location at the Marsh Loop area of Bosque Del Apache.  It was a no show last night and this morning, but as of this write, it's back!  There are lots of happy birders out there.
Eventually we ate at this place near Socorro
 For the latest information on rare birds around the US, the ABA Rare Bird page can be found on Facebook.  The ABA Listserv is a also a great place to find out what's going on in your area.  I put the video down below from when it was first discovered by Matt Daw.  Finding Least Bitterns out in the open is amazing.  But having it photobombed by a rare bird?  Well now that's epic. More coming up.......


  1. the video is pretty amazing. :)

    i'd never cut it in the 'twitcher' crowd. :)

  2. Jak szukane ptaki zobaczyły taki tłum ludzi, to nie chciały się im pokazać. Pokazane też są śliczne. Pozdrawiam.
    How searched birds seen such a crowd of people, it did not want to show them. Also shown are beautiful. Yours.

  3. Guauuu!!!. Qué lugar tan chulo para ver aves y pasear. Me encanta. Un saludillo..

  4. I could never be a twitcher! For one thing working full time gets in the way. I loved this post and your photos. Congrats on your lifers. Nice shots of the Bittern and the Pheasant. The video is awesome! Happy Birding!

  5. Hi Chris, fascinating post! Twtichers as a species are as interesting as the birds they chase. I realize I could never be a true twitcher either. Not focussed enough on the birds, but on the ecosystem in general.

  6. Great post and photos Chris - glad you managed to see such great birds.

    I don't really twitch only occasionally when its very local. The only longer trip we once went on was to see a pair of Bee-eaters nesting in Herefordshire. We got there and there was no sign of the birds - a fox had predated the nest the previous day!! However, we did get to see a recently fledged cuckoo being fed by a dunnock and I was as thrilled as though I had seen the Bee-eaters!

  7. Great set of pictures - nothing like a mega rarity to get the blood pumping.

    Stewart M - Melbourne

  8. Truly a GREAT post! I love to see new birds - but i don't think I would chase them down. There are so many "regular" birds that are just outside my door - the cardinals, the blue jays, the catbirds that are begging to be noticed. I have many of the "regulars" to add to my life list - so I'll stick with those. Still - what a great experience for you - AND - you got some cool shots in the process!! That is what I like about going out on a "hunt" - you never know what you might find AWESOME butterfly or a VERY COOL lizard!! and a ring-necked pheasant :)
    (sorry to ramble but I really LOVED your post)

  9. Great post. I like the idea of getting lost in the world, not missing out on what is present. Had you not seen a ringed neck pheasant before or was it a first for Pat?

  10. Thanks Kerri! I was thinking about you when I took that photo of the Monarch:)

    Kathryn, I remember Pheasants from my childhood and they were the coolest birds to me. They would roost up into the trees as a kid in the dark woods and I fell in love. But I never counted them like I do now with Ebird so it was a lifebird according to this program which was exciting:)

  11. I posted my comment in the wrong place. It's on the previous post which also has some pretty amazing shots.

  12. "True dedication" to what Chris? I think yuor perception summed up the twithching scene here in the UK (and in the US?) Most of those involved have no interest, knowledge or understanding of the things they seek - it is just literally a tick in a box on a piece of paper. As our common birds decline all over the world it is like Nero fiddling while the world around us burns into oblivion.

  13. Phil, that is a great comment. I saw something that was quite interesting. Several of the "pros" couldn't ID the sandpipers or plovers correctly let alone the godwits......and it was fascinating. It was an interesting lesson for the day.

  14. Terrific video.... I enjoyed it...

    I would never chase down a 'rare' bird --unless I just happened to see it. That 'would' be nice to see one, but there are so many other things around us to see.... As you said, we don't need to lose the 'present'.... That pheasant is so pretty...


  15. hey chris, to each his own, right? you don't have to twitch the same as everyone else. be your own twitcher i say! ha.

    i agree though, i wouldn't want to stand on that boardwalk and wait...and wait...when there is so much nature surrounding you... whispering, 'come! explore!'

    i've missed you...and all your amazing & gorgeous pic's. oh, maybe i've kept a little caught up on FB since i've jumped out of i'm back...slowly...

    beautiful, awesome shots...all of 'em!!

  16. Hi Chris, your report from the front lines was very interesting! I'm glad you were able to find so many other cool things to see on your adventure:) The pheasant is so pretty!

  17. So sorry you didn't find your Holy Grail Chris but it sounds as though you made the best of the day anyway. I did hear a little rumour that you were planning on taking it easy on the birding front for a while - I guess not eh? ;)

  18. Bird twitching doesn't sound very relaxing and usually your birding adventures sound relaxing. Good for you to find the difference. See a lot of those pheasants here. Never considered they'd be in the desert. Seem to belong on the prairie to me.
    Always enjoy your posts. Thank you for sharing.

  19. the headpiece was Google Glass?

    Yesterday we saw our malachite sunbird flashing his yellow shoulders. My twitcher/birder niece has never seen that. And in our garden ... just glance out the window ...

  20. Great photos and especially the Sandpiper, superb.

  21. Looks like you've found the adventurous birding life Chris.
    What a thrill to see so many beautiful birds.

    I just read a book entitled "Two Old Twitchers" - a good read if you like funny, mystery and birding.


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