Saturday, May 10, 2014

A Rogue Agent

Often, I find myself alone on many of my birding treks these days.  By all standards, I am a rogue agent. Once and awhile I join teams, but it is often I slip off into the night sky like a nighthawk.

The sleepy Elf Owl
In the birding world, there is a lot of great support and structure for people. I record for Ebird.  I help Audubon with bird counts when I have the time.  I assist researchers out in the field when I have the time.  And I sometimes host as a bird guide.......when I have the time. I am also a photographer at heart. Many birders find themselves caught between such wonderful options. And whatever they choose to do, they directly or indirectly define who they are to the larger birding community. Some are more aligned to their Audubon agencies while others stand guard over the data of Cornell University's Ebird.  The Listserv crew shares rarities and first of year sightings with all the detailed information about where the birds are being seen to the birding community.  Meanwhile the smart ornithologist organizes events communicating between these various organizations to help aide in their research. Sometimes they tempt us with the taste of Bairds, Longspurs and Grasshoppers. And we can't refuse:)  Oh and did I forget to mention that there were working expert birders in the bunch who serve as guides? They add their useful tips for ID's and locations. And within all of this, there are various degrees of birders. It's a complex web of people all centered around the magical world of birds.  Yes, it could be a TV show full of drama.

A Cactus Wren guards the nest
And yet I am still a rogue agent.  Perhaps it's the way I look at things?  I can't commit large amounts of time to any of the organizations other than what I do now because I work full time.  My ears are powerful tools.  I found that whenever there is a group of people, there is often talking. So many times I need to go solo so that I can focus on sounds. I do like people but I have to concentrate. My eyes are so weak.  Sometimes when Pat is along, I need help locating the bird calling from the mass of vegetation as was the case with this Rose-breasted Grosbeak below.

The Rose-breasted Grosbeak is a super rare bird for Southern Arizona
Recently, on a journey into Sweetwater Wetlands after school on Friday, I needed to unwind.  It began like most of my Sweetwater treks......begin at the stream and walk around the ponds.  It was dead quiet.  Hot and sunny.  But my thoughts were my own on this day.  As the sun began to set, I noticed the swallows and Lesser Nighthawks come alive in the sky.

The Lesser Nighthawks inundate our skies at twilight
I dig deeper into the magic of the Cliff Swallows as they feed in mid-flight.  I imagine it's like one motorcyclist trying to share a burrito with the other while going 55 miles an hour down the road.  I have a private laugh.

Cliff Swallows feeding
I stand under the gazebo and watch the dark shadows fly by me.  Wait?!  What was that?!

And then a miracle happened.  A bird with a looooooong tail flew past me.  Not a swallow nor a nighthawk!!!! No way.  IMPOSSIBLE!  No one was around to share this epic moment. I couldn't do anything other than quietly follow the bird and watch as it perched briefly for me to snap a few photos with my shaky hands. There it sat and there it watched me.  Me, the Rogue Agent. Or was it the other way around?  I'd need to prove to them, the guardians of data and rare sightings, that the near impossible had happened.  No one was going to believe this.  I was Big Bird with his imaginary friend Mr. Snuffleupagus.

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
I contacted the necessary people, but by the time all was said and done, the sky had darkened.  An alert was sent out and people went to find the bird at sunrise the next day.  It had been too late.  The bird decided to continue its journey.  And this Rogue Agent felt bad.  How many times have I used the Listserv to find rare birds found by others?   This was my opportunity to help others find an amazing bird and I failed. I know I shouldn't be too hard on myself because I've chased other's reports only to come up empty handed.  But this was a chance to contribute something wonderful for my community.  When I help others find life birds, I get excited because there is nothing quite like the satisfying feeling of contribution.  But this life bird for many would not

So as I keep my eyes open for rarities during migration, I begin to plan for June. My eyes look to the North now because that is what the Rogue Agent does. I am constantly on the move like the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher. I belong to no one because I am a world birder.  Not of the US.  Not of Arizona. I am a detective. This world has a few secrets left and I hope to unravel some of them. And even if I don't, I will die trying.  More to come.....

When the world comes crashing down upon us, all we have to do is step outside the door and look up....or find Mother Nature's beauty. 
For more birds from around the world check out Wild Bird Wednesday!


  1. Hi Kreesh, still remember me? We have not been visiting each other's sites for quite a while, now am here again. That is a lovely post, i've known you as a birder but not as full as after reading this. God bless, be happy!

  2. A lovely post Chris with some great photos :) I often go birding on my own - it means I can do things at my own pace and linger just in one spot if I want to. Don't worry about the bird having flown after you'd reported - things like that happen all the time. I went recently to a local nature reserve looking for a rare gull reported the day before but it had moved on. At least if your bird had stayed around you gave others the chance of seeing it :)

  3. Chris, your Elf Owl is cool! Great shots of all the birds. Happy Birding!

  4. All great pictures today Chris!

  5. Hi Andrea! I'm still here and glad you stopped by:)

  6. Hi Andrea! I'm still here and glad you stopped by:)

  7. i'm so excited sitting here in my chair. what adventures you find yourself on. i can't begin to say which pic i like most... that elf owl is awesome... the cactus wren protecting it's nest or the swallows feeding in mid air... i thought they were fighting at first until i read your words. and the greatest of all you experienced a rare sighting in the scissortail flycatcher... again, i say how awesome. hope all is well. have a great day~

  8. Sounds like the 'birder' in you could be a full-time job EASILY if you could make it on a birder's salary... ha ha

    Sometimes groups are great and yet, other times--it's just fun to be alone in your own world doing your own thing. I relate to that....

    Great photos... Glad you saw the Flycatcher --even if he moved on so that others couldn't find him!!! Birds will do that --as we know! ha

    Happy Mother's Day.

  9. Chris, how magical and wonderful. This is so well written and it makes me miss birding with you even more!!!!!

  10. Sweet post Chris, and such a cool find! Thanks and congrats : )

  11. Awesome captures especially the cactus wren. :)

  12. Wonderfully interesting post and great that you got a shot of the flycatcher. Love the OWL shot.

  13. i love the scissor-tails. always love their return here in spring and their lovely, burbling calls. :)

    the owl is too cute.

  14. Great photos! Especially the action shots.

  15. Great narrative and photos! Yesterday a Fork-tailed Flycatcher was reported only about 5 miles from our second home here in Illinois. We were occupied with our granddaughters and figured it might stay there for us in the morning. Wrong! We missed it. I think I don't have enough time to be retired, so I don't know how working stiffs like you find the time to get all that birding in! My hat goes off to you!

  16. You are quite the story teller ... I feel like I have been on a journey with you and yes, I agree, when life gets hard to take, nature has many answers ... and some peace. Lovely post, Chris ... enjoyed all of it and admire your commitment to your fellow birders and to nature.

    Andrea @ From The Sol

  17. Hi Chris, an exciting and eloquent post, add those amazing photographs and this is top notch. Thank you and thank you also for visiting and positively ID'ing my hawk for me.

  18. Oh, Chris! How exciting! When we lived in Texas, we often saw Scissortail Flycatchers when the season was right, and it was such a thrill. The first one I ever saw did a loop in the air in front of my car, and my mouth dropped open. What kind of bird does loops!? And that TAIL! Later when they visited the field next to my yard every year, I LOVED it! I had no idea they could come through here on their journey. Or at least ONE did. Don't feel badly that others didn't get to see it. You tried.

  19. Post Script to my last comment....I was telling my husband about your wonderful sighting, and he said, (way too nonchalantly I might add!) "Oh I saw one when we went to Sweetwater that time." Well, it was this time last year! He is disabled and as you know we don't get out to do any birding much. We only got to Sweetwater together that one time and he was sitting at the lake under that gazebo while I went on short walks to the different areas. He hadn't even mentioned it to me before now because he didn't know what a rare thing that is! Oh my! Maybe we need to go to Sweetwater again right away!


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