Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Wild Goose Chase - Part 2 ( X 2)

Saturday, November 20, 2010
After getting out of bed at some seasonally stupid hour and having a quick bite at McDonald's (no coffee), I found myself at the Auto Body Shop 20 minutes outside of Shediac, New Brunswick enjoying a KILLER sunrise.  The pinks and reds were stunning.  After realizing the owl decoy was not the target bird, I was shuffling through my notes for the next preferred goose location when Gandalf arrived on Shadowfax, his horse.

Okay, it wasn't Gandalf. It was Stu Tingley. And it wasn't a white horse.  It was a white Ford. But, put on a cape and pointed hat and add a walking staff and you have Gandalf. Okay, grow the silver beard much bigger. 

Anyway you look at it, he was a very knowledgeable man.  A wizard, you might say. It turns out he has been birding forever and was a leader for WINGS back before “eco-tourism” was even really in the lexicon.  The opportunity to bird with someone like this was a treasure.  He knows the Americas and he knows New Brunswick.

After parking on the causeway to Treasure Island (really, that was the name), we found the treasure of the morning –Pink-footed Goose (#636). We enjoyed wonderful views of this great rarity.  While others had the chance to see it walking on grass, I had to settle for views of it swimming.  However, at one point, I caught a glimpse of the feet as it tipped up for some feeding. Bubble-gum pink.   Awesome.

My travel plans involved me spending most of time in Massachusetts.  Lots of good stuff can get reported there and that was a solid place to secure another target bird, Black-headed Gull.  As I geared up to hit the road for the goose, Stu suggested I could head over to Halifax, Nova Scotia. The gull there, he said, is common enough that people don’t always report them.   Basically, bird long enough in the right spots and I should get one without too much trouble.”Nah”, I thought, “I’ll get one in Massachusetts…”

Realizing I had to move along to Truro, Nova Scotia, for Part 2 of my day, Stu and I parted ways.  But not before he made sure I knew exactly where I was going next. Much appreciated.  A first class guy.

After a 1 hour 45 minute drive to the target site in Nova Scotia, I went to the field where the key bird had been seen the previous day. Fresh manure had been laid out in the general area.  Mmmm. After sifting through a hundred Canada Geese, I did not find it.  A 5-minute drive took me to the gravel pit where the bird had originally been seen in previous days.  It wasn't there. Back to the farm fields I went, as I noted flying geese heading there....

“Why are all those geese landing on the damned hill where I can't see them?” was a question that had been nagging me.  The hill was by the field, but could not viewed from the road (birding ethics, and common sense, prevent trespassing).  After checking the field one more time, I was startled by the noise behind me.

Hundreds....and hundreds.....and hundreds of geese erupted off the hill and headed to the field. The feeling was completely overwhelming. At one point, I felt my shoulders slump like the 4th grader who did not get picked for the dodge-ball team.  My bird could be in there.  How the hell am I going to find it?  A brief, but futile, scan turned up nothing as they landed in groups in the field.

I was feeling pretty low.  I was cold.  I was hungry and the huge tea from breakfast was ready for departure.  After sifting through the new arrivals as best as I could and thinking back to Gandalf's advice – be patient, it's there -  I realized something pretty cool. The geese seemed to have missed the landing zone. All the new arrivals started to walk, in a single file line or small clusters, towards the original group.  This was my chance to get clear views without corn stubble or furrows as they had to walk across bare ground.  Black head. White chin. Black head. White chin.  This went on for 10 minutes.  Finally, woah – gray head with pumpkin  orange bill.  BINGO!  Graylag Goose, life bird # 637.  A mega-continental rarity with crystal clear views in a scope.    Awesome.

In my elation, I found myself stepping into an almost alter-ego.  I don't bump fists. I don't high five.  I think they are both pretty dumb. Just shake hands, okay?  But, for whatever reason, I found myself pointing, shaking my fists, and yelling - “I see you!  I see you! I got you, dammit! I got you! “  Other words were said, but I can’t mention them here…

Suddenly, I realized I was standing by myself, next to a farm field where the air smelled like stool, a bladder ready to burst, fingers numb, and yelling obscenities at a bird that can neither hear me nor understand.

That, folks, is the unscripted, spontaneous life of birding......

(As an aside, you might be wondering about the status of this bird. The Graylag Goose is, after all, basically a barnyard goose. However, all barnyard geese have to come from somewhere and it turns out the original wildstock of the barnyard goose is the Graylag. So now you might be wondering how one knows that this is a wild bird and not an AWOL bird from some farm or private collection.  The day is showed up, it was with Canada Geese wearing fresh bling (necks backs colored coded to indicate they had been banded in Greenland) and a White-fronted Goose of the Greenland race. Guess where the wild Graylags breed?  Yeah, Greenland.  All indications are that this bird is wild, and therefore, one of the rarest birds on the continent.)

There is that M*A*S*H episode where Winchester is doing his taxes on a hot day.  Everything is in order when Klinger walks in and turns on the fan.  Papers go everywhere.

That is exactly what happened to the geese. No, it was not a big-beaked clerk, it was a big-beaked bird – a Bald Eagle, to be exact. Intent on nailing a Herring Gull that was near the geese, everything took off.  Geese went everywhere, but not all of them returned.  With NO interest in spending 2 more hours finding the Graylag again, I set a course for Portland, Maine.

At one point, I needed to pull over.  Stretch? Sure. Car trouble?  No.  Restroom break?  Nah (astronaut diapers, remember?).  I needed to talk to a reporter.  It turns out the local newspaper was doing a story on the Pink-footed Goose.  They wanted to talk to somebody who had been coming from a long distance to see the bird. The reporter had contacted Stu and he, in turn, put the reporter in contact with me.  You can read the article here.  I hope you speak French.  Anyway you look at it, I’ll be signing autographs at Border’s before too long, seeing as I am famous now…….

The snowstorm was not fun.  While it was not bad, traffic was certainly hampered.  Despite the on-again off-again snow squalls, I scored Merlin and Rough-legged Hawk in what was truly a winter wonderland. The thick, wet snow covered trees in the way we all like it.  By the time I cleared New Brunswick, everything was fine. 

I crashed in Portland, Maine. Not crash crash, crash sleep.

1 comment:

Rachel said...

Ok, I'm so glad you got to see the pink feet. As I was reading the name I thought "But this picture doesn't show the feet!" and then you saved it saying you'd at least SEEN them. Phew. Had me worried. :)