Wednesday, December 27, 2017

The Zen of Birding

A Pronghorn is crowned by THE bird of Southern Arizona, the Vermilion Flycatcher
Before I begin, I'd like to wish everyone across the globe and living here in the US a Happy Holidays.  Have you ever purchased a holiday card and not want to give it up?  Well that's what happened to me with this pic above.  While down in Bisbee, I discovered Prescott based artist, Carolyn Schmitz's amazing talents. She captures Southern Arizona perfectly in this image of the Pronghorn and Vermilion Flycatcher!  Now onto this week's crazy adventure......

Bright and early on a cold crisp San Diego morning, we watch the Nazca Booby as the sun rises
 During the holiday season, I reject all things "holiday" because every day should be a celebration of life and kindness. However, I do love the family and friend time we get to share because of the time off.  Friend and crazy ABA birder, Magill suggested we go for the mega rare Nazca Booby in San Diego(still currently being seen).  I was exhausted from work (just finishing up the day before) and well, while this bird would be a lifer, it was a 5 hour drive to get to the bird. Thankfully Magill is head strong about these mega rarities and the twitch was on! 21 hours of non sleep would begin.......and life birds were to be found. 

Photo credit: Max Leibowitz.  He went out with several birders on the same day we were there and took this great pic! Nazca Booby

I always think, What would I do if I didn't chase these mega rare birds?  Sleep?  Drink coffee?  Be a normal human being? 🙂 This is the difference between birding and bird watching. When you're a birder who birds, you choose the bird and go without question. It didn't take long for us to find the Nazca Booby.  With the scope we saw the bird well on the buoy.  However, the details were blurred with the shimmer of the sun above the ocean water.  Now, when doing these mega rare bird chases, it's all about the speed birding in a limited time period because there are people waiting at home for you.  They are patient for only so long with our addictions.  There are, after all, human rituals like birthdays and holiday parties that we are required to attend.  It's spousal abuse I tell you! 

What do you get that special weird birder for the holidays?  A one way plane ticket to a Birder's Bed and Breakfast in some new birdy place. If you're (un)fortunately married to a neurotic birder, make sure you strategically find a place for your bird lover and YOU.  While you may like nature, you'll sometimes need a break from people who talk non-stop about birds and bird migration patterns. I'd equate the birding crowd conversation to men who love talking about statistics and football players or people who get into scrap booking while drinking white wine(from the box). Yuck! So I understand that non-birders after awhile tune out:)  It's only a matter of time before you burst forth with, "Those damn birds!"

Ok. Let's get back on point here:) Mega rarity chases require the proper use of time during this highly restrictive holiday season.  Would I have liked to take the boat out to see the Booby better?  Yes.  But if you have a time restraint, you have to get the birds.  So our next bird was the underwhelming mega rare Red-throated Pipit in the same general area as the Booby. 

Red-throated Pipit
 I'll be honest.  Pipits aren't my favorite birds.  While it took us 20 minutes to locate and ID the Booby, it took me an HOUR to properly ID this bird.  Magill found it and tried explaining the field marks to me.  I was stumped.  I didn't see it.  I'm really good with bird ID, but not with this bird.  So she patiently waited for me to get my act together and get comfortable with the ID of this tricky pipit.  An hour later, after a lot of observation near a dead skunk, I can now say that I know what a Red-throated Pipit looks like in winter plumage.  It's boring:)  But here are the markers for the serious out there.  Pink legs, streaky back, low to the ground and a tad smaller than the nearby American Pipits.  Of the three pipits I've seen, my "favorite" continues to be the Sprague's.  

A real Vermilion Flycatcher
 We drove back home through the agricultural wasteland known as Yuma. There were points where I almost dozed off but Magill masterfully brought up politics to keep me awake. Then we stopped in Dateland for a date shake.  I should have gotten the smaller size.  It tasted good for the first few sips and then there were chunks of dates. And that was gross. Someone recommended that I do a strawberry date shake next time. I'm not sure there will be a next time:) After our crazy and fun speed birding, I did my slow and methodical birding the next day. I went alone and closed my eyes.  Then I followed the bird song. 

Neotropic Cormorants
 While the wild and crazy holiday traffic (and shopping) was going on, I enjoyed the quiet of the parks and trails. 

Bird guide, Richard Fray mentioned that there were Lawrence's Goldfinches near my home. So got in my car for a quick drive.  These goldfinches are tricky and not always reliable.  On top of that, they are tricky to observe as they are often skittish and like to hide in thick vegetation.  

I've seen these birds often enough but never quite like this.  Again, I was alone and followed their song.  Patiently, this time, I waited for them to come down and feed in the open.  I didn't move.  I didn't flinch.  For an hour, I became part of the landscape until they were comfortable with me. Then I slowly moved towards their area and had this magical moment of perfection. 

Lawrence's Goldfinch

Happy Holidays everyone!  I'll be back in Maine next week with friend and birder Kathie Brown. I'd also like to thank Max Leibowitz for sharing his photo on this blog. Our scope pictures weren't pretty but thanks to Max, you can see the details of this beautiful bird from the Galapagos Island area.  Until next time.....


  1. The life of a birder seems like a good one, although tiring. Would love to capture the Lawrence's Goldfinch. Beautiful birds.

  2. A fun post. Loved the vermillion flycatcher both in the photo and on the card. They are one of my favorite birds! Hope you have an awesome 2018, Chris!

  3. Sometimes you just gotta do what you gotta do Chris! It certainly paid off for you this time!

    Best wishes for 2018 to you and Micheal - - - Richard

  4. Love those goldfinches and those jewels of cormorant eyes!

  5. Twitched it good ya did! And excellent photos of each.

  6. Thanks all round for a great post. Happy New year

  7. Wishing you Happy Holidays too Chris and best wishes for 2018 - may it be filled with happiness and good wildlife.

    Loved reading about your latest birding adventures :)

  8. Hi Chris!!!.. Happy New Year .. Best wishes for 2018

  9. Hi Chris...

    wow... that is a beautiful card...I can see why you wouldn't want to part with it...I too have a few like that.

    Your trips always sound fun and you make them more funny ...

    Have a great year in 2018 and I hope you see some rare and wonderful birds ...


  10. Happy New Year -- thank you for the pictures and sharing your knowledge. And I certainly agree with you that every day should be a celebration.

    I hope you are not freezing 'up North'.

  11. Chris, what a crazy adventure. I am glad you got the booby, and that Lawrence's Goldfinch photo at the end is stunning!


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