Monday, April 11, 2011

Black And White Beauty : # 641

When Brad calls, I get excited.

No, he is not a drug dealer or anything foul. He is a birding buddy of mine who likes to make sure locals know about hot birds in the area. 

My phone rang Saturday morning with news before the word went world-wide on the Internet.

White Wagtail. Pointe Mouilee State Game Area. 

Oh my....

Lemme see.... I did the Alaska thing.  Twice.  Never got it.  That is basically the most reliable place on the continent for this Old World bird and now one is 20 minutes from my house? 

Check this range map. The yellow indicates where it breeds while the blue is the wintering range.  Green would be the locations where it could be found in migration. Notice that Michigan is gray! For that matter, so is most of the Western Hemisphere!

After realizing I could not get out there until after work, I took a few seconds and made two calls to two birding buddies.  

Don, despite a bum knee, was up to it despite a three mile  walk to the spot.  He was soon on his way.

Natalie, my co-worker and up-and-coming birder extraordinaire, was up for it too, but she could not get there until later in the afternoon. That worked fine for me!  We could do the trudge together.

Throughout the day, I received text messages and calls from Don and Brad with nothing but good news.  Not only did they see the bird, but dozens of obsessive/compulsives, er....I mean birders were on site and enjoying this mega-rarity.  The bird's known haunts, a mud flat at Cell 3 and a mowed field in the Vermet Unit a half mile away, were nailed down.  It would disappear for minutes at a time, but was bound to show up in one of the two locations.  

The plan with Natalie was simple. Meet me with with take-out food (six total miles on an empty stomach is no good), hoof it out there while wolfing down the chow, secure the bird,  and go home before the sun sets.

Part One was easy.  Most of my dinner was down the hatch before we got the parking lot!

Part Two? Well, three miles is a long walk, but I have long legs.  As a 6-footer, I can cover ground pretty quickly.  Natalie? Well, she would be a giant in the company of  Hobbits, but barely.  Not 5 feet tall, her stride length just does not compare to mine.

That did not stop her.  While carrying her spotting scope and mine, we took off.  Never once did she complain. Not once. Never once did we stop. Three straight miles.  Granted, Gunnery Sgt Hartman would have been disappointed, but we did damn good.  Not one hour later, we were on site.

(Of course, the whole time I'm thinking to myself "We had damn well better see this bird or she is going to plant that scope tripod somewhere really uncomfortable....")

As we reached the Cell 3 site, I was wondering why the observers were not looking off into the mud flats.  They were all looking the wrong way.....

(That tripod is really gonna hurt.  I know it is.....)

"It was last seen flying that way....." as they said pointing off into oblivion.

(Oh my, this is really going to hurt.)

But the word was out - patience.  Basically, we were told by others who had been there all day to stay put. It will  show up again.  Be ready.

Within minutes, Adam Byrne, who found the bird originally that morning, re-located it back at the Vermet location.  A half mile away? We took off.  Running? Oh, hell no. Jogging? You bet. With just a few hundred yards to go, I noticed something odd.  Everybody was looking the wrong way....again. Absolutely refusing to finish the final stretch, I pulled my cellphone and called a buddy, Caleb,  who was right there in crowd.  

Using hand-signals akin to wigwagging, Caleb made it clear what the bird had done.  After they saw it on the mowed field, it apparently took off in the direction of Cell 3. The pattern was clear.  It likes both spots.

Realizing the complete stupidy of the Keystone Cop birding style (chasing the bird all over while it makes us all look dumb), I made a simple suggestion - "Caleb - stay there.  If it shows up, call me. If it comes to Cell 3, I'll call you."  Done. Natalie and I trudged back to the mud flat. Another half mile.

Upon our arrival, Joe (?), a birder from Ohio, had nothing good to say.  He had not seen it in the few minutes since Caleb and company watched it fly off in the the blue yonder.

("How many ways can a person be killed by a tripod?", I asked myself.)

"I got it." Joe said.

Within a few seconds, we enjoyed the White Wagtail from about 100 yards. Jerry Jourdan, a photographer on site earlier in the day, let me post this photo. Be sure to check the link for the video, too. Cool stuff.

Interestingly enough, as far as I know, the fine black line that runs through the eye is key. That marks this as a bird from the eastern part of its range. It would be possible for this little fellow to be from England, but the field marks don't add up.   England to Michigan is quite far, but this bird is basically from Siberia. Siberia to Michigan?  For a bird that is only seven inches long? My goodness....

So, we watched the bird for a few minutes.  Before long, it took off again to parts unknown. We assumed it was headed back the Vermet Unit which was right on the way during our three mile return to the car.  We didn't see, but who cares.  With the target bird accounted for, the pace was soooooo much nicer.  In fact, even slow. By the time we got back to the car, a mere three hours had passed since we first set out.

So where does this put me? My life list now stands at 641 species while my Michigan list is now 346 species.  I have also recorded 171 species for Pointe Mouillee State Game Area. Natalie, by the way, despite a trip to India a few years ago, did not see them there.  This was her 301st North American bird.

If the cards fall in the right places, I could see 650 species by the end of year.

We'll see what happens.....


Rachel said...

So, explain why Natalie was carrying YOUR spotting scope?!!

Paul said...

Oh goodness. Sentence structure can be a good thing. After reading that sentence, I can see how someone would think she carried my scope. Not true. *I* was carrying *her* scope!