Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Nick of Time

At the 11th hour, things became stressful.  I had to find one last life bird.  I left the downtown area of Monterey and headed to the airport.  It was here that I would make my last stand.  It was time to find the Chestnut-backed Chickadee. 

A birder looks at the "green space" for proper habitat of expected birds
The Monterey airport is VERY small with a great restaurant. So I dropped off all my stuff and began to scan the area outside near the parking area. This Chestnut-backed Chickadee was supposed to be easy! Enough was enough.  Time to get that bird! With my birder eyes, I scanned a small patch of woods by the control tower.

The right circle was off limits but the left one was not:)
The control tower was off limits and protected behind a fence, but the left area was totally ok for birding.  After an hour of patient study, I finally had several chickadees fly into the area.  It would be my last lifer on this trip!  And just in the nick of time. My flight left 25 minutes later. 

Chestnut-backed Chickadee
I arrived back in Tucson that night and would be meeting Kathie Brown in the morning.  I had put a lot of thought into the next several days.  For almost 2 weeks, every birder and their mother had been reporting the very rare Lesser Sand Plover on reservation land near Flagstaff.  It was an AZ first and a bird that I had expected on not seeing because of my work schedule and trip to Monterey. Plus, it'll probably be the only time this bird is EVER reported in Arizona again. It was all bad timing. And quite honestly it caused me a lot of anxiety! What were the chances that this bird would still be in Arizona when I got back? It would be a lifer for both myself and Kathie.  So to kick Kathie's vacation off proper, we headed ASAP to find this rare(for the US) plover.

Kathie Brown explores Outer Mongolia....I mean Round Cedar Lake in Leupp, AZ. 
The Lesser Sand Plover hails from the continent of Asia and more specifically Mongolia. Sometimes during migration, a few of these birds cross lines and take the "wrong" route.  Several posts ago, I complained about the chasing of birds all over the state and about how tired I was from running after far away birds. You don't go to Flagstaff without staying there for a short visit! For this bird, it would be an 11 hour drive back and forth from Tucson and I couldn't justify that kind of drive for one bird.  But this wasn't ANY bird; this was an amazing lifebird. The thought of dipping on it festered in the back of my mind. Every day, I received the reports that it was still hanging around the "lake".  I am not exaggerating when I say that several hundred people saw this bird. What if we made that long trek and the bird wasn't there?!!  I remembered the painful experience behind the dip of the Rufous-necked Wood-Rail at Bosque Del Apache several years ago.  I was afraid that this gamble might end the same way. 

But Kathie was there this time.  And we laughed and had fun driving up to the spot together as a shared experience.  It felt better because our friends offered us places to stay as we birded our way down afterwards.  I didn't want to waste gas for one bird.  Instead, we made a fun several day birding trek out of the adventure.  

a happy Kathie
When we arrived at the location, we had thought we were actually in Mongolia. For a half hour, we searched and searched for the bird.  I was beginning to feel like the bird had finally flown.  Wouldn't that just be our luck?!  It sticks around for just two weeks and then on the day we can go chase it, it disappears. But then Kathie spots a plover and shouts out, "Oh oh oh, I think I have it!"

I put my binos on it and discover it's a Killdeer playing hide and seek with us.  It was actually quite cute. My heart sank as I scanned right and.....

It all looks like dirt until it doesn't(left is the sneaky Killdeer and the right is our Lesser Sand Plover)

Kathie spots another plover!!!!  And not just any plover but THE PLOVER!  A small group of birders quickly assembles with scopes and watches the bird from a safe distance. Everyone is so happy. 

a resting Lesser Sand Plover
I am so thankful for this new lens this year.  It allows me to get photos from a far distance. We are always conscious of our treatment of birds when these photos are taken.  We never want to endanger a life while out in the field.  That goes for all biological creatures...including humans:)

As a nod from the bird gods, we'd be the last to see this bird. We were lucky.  VERY LUCKY.  Had we waited a day to go find this bird, it would have been too late.  What are the chances of that happening??!!!  I don't believe in a higher power, but after this experience, I might change my tune:)  Well maybe not.  But still! What an amazing moment that we had all shared together! 

My favorite Mexican place in Flagstaff is MartAnnes!  We celebrate our lifer at this delicious Mexican restaurant.  Try their chilaquiles!  Green or Red Salsa.  It's all good!
A big year birder(and many other birders) would try to find the bird over the next several days without luck.  Some think the bird flew to California.  Others think that maybe a Peregrine Falcon was hungry.  As for me, I'd like to think that the bird made it to California.  We'd feast in Flagstaff to celebrate our lifer and then head to our friends Cynthia and Roger White's home where we'd bird in Prescott the next day.  But that is another adventure.......

Ebird Reports
Round Cedar Lake(Lesser Sand Plover) and 
Monterey Regional Airport(Chestnut-backed Chickadee). 


  1. Well done on those "lifers". Looks like you had great fun birding with Kathie - oh and the food looks delicious :)

    1. It was fun......and the food was amazing! Love Martann's

  2. Hello, congrats on your Chickadee sighting. The Plover is adorable. I am sure you had some fun times birding with Kathie again. Happy Wednesday, enjoy your day!

    1. Thanks Eileen! It's time to slow down again:) Catch up with everyone:)

  3. I could feel your excitement and you and Kathie scored. Nice when a plan comes together.

  4. What fantastic little birds to see! They look quite fragile but cute.


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