Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Damon Wants in on the Snowy Owls

I've been on a bit of a roll lately in terms of getting to rare birds after people have been posting them. Note, this doesn't mean that I've been good at finding rare birds, but instead that I've been good at going to locations that people have reported a rare bird is and seeing it. That said, I did find a Connecticut Warbler at Taylor Arboretum near my house earlier this fall, but for the most part when I see a rare bird it is because I've just been following others who post it.

Sometimes they come with a good surprise, like when I went over to the Newark, Delaware reservoir to see the Red-necked Grebe (if Paul's hometown was a grebe, this would be the species). I saw the sighting and went the next day (luckily I was working relatively nearby, but I would have driven there anyway) and saw it very easily, except before I actually saw it I saw something else: a Great Cormorant! That was unexpected.

Now, when I got back later and checked my email, I saw that others had spotted the Great Cormorant earlier, but I had no idea it was there and was ecstatic to see two rare birds in one little trip (the other birds I saw on that trip were Buffleheads, Canada Geese, Ring-billed Gulls, and Turkey Vultures). It was nice. I don't think Paul believed me.

The other major sighting around here was a freaking Scissor-tailed Flycatcher in the middle of Philadelphia. I saw the alert on the Saturday, but family commitments kept me from going to see it until Monday. Luckily the weather was actually really warm, so it stayed around for those days and I got to see it.

I watched it for almost two hours (when will I get to see one again?) and it was awesome, putting on a show flying around and flycatching, but the best part was I got two fun interactions stories from it.

First Story! When I pulled into the parking lot, I jumped out with my binoculars around my neck and field hat on when a guy who was leaving pulled up with his car and said, "go down until you see a path, take a left and walk down until you see the guys with the scopes. It is right there." He didn't even ask why I was there; it was awesome.

Second Story! I'm not the only one who has had good luck riding the coat tails of rare bird sightings in the area. There is a couple of people who I see on the eBird alerts with a sighting in the Philly area within a day of someone posting the same rare bird alert. Hell, I've seen them hit a couple rare birds on the same day in different areas, so you know they are going after them. They even found the Virginia Rail that I found (well, I wasn't the first one, but the most recent) soon after I posted it. They seem to be doing similar things as I do, yet I have never run across them. Plus, one of them is approaching my number 9 ranking eBirder for Philadelphia. We seem to run in the same circles, but I have yet to meet them.

So, when I was about to leave the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher area, I saw another group of birders (from New Jersey) coming in and I showed them where it was (it wasn't there, but it came back after about 15 minutes). One of them told me that she had a flicker account (or one of those photo accounts), and later in the day I went to check out the pictures. In it, they captioned that she was shown where the bird was by nice Philly birders (that's me!) and she repaid the favor by showing a young birding couple where it was when she left.

I checked the eBird alerts later and saw that young birding couple is the same Philly birders that I mentioned above. Just missed them, but still doing the same things they do.

Yeah, I've been chasing rare birds a bit around here and I got those birds that other reported, no problem. I even got a Brant that was reported near my brother (though missed the Glaucous Gull, but I didn't know about it until later). I am on a roll!

So, on Sunday I was working in Delaware on a cold and very windy day; no one was around. I had time to check eBird and WOW, a Snowy Owl was reported. Now, there have been actually quite a few reports around of Snowy Owls, but this this one was just across the bridge in New Jersey. Just 15 minutes from my house!

But I had three more hours until I was off work.


I kept checking eBird, and kept seeing the sighting increase. I even recognized some of the people as Philly birders. Everyone was seeing it.

I finally got off of work at 4:00, and you better believe I made my way to the spot. Now, the problem is that it takes around 25-30 minutes to get there from my work, and the sun sets around 4:45, so I had very little time. But have you seen the roll I've been on? I had this! I even emailed Paul and told him that I was about to email him a bird that he wouldn't believe me when he saw it. Easy!

I got there and had about, oh, 20 minutes of daylight to find that bird. I even saw another birder, and we went looking together. We saw yet another birder (who wasn't a chatty friendly type and did not join up with us) looking for it. It wasn't a good sign that there were punks on dirt bikes riding around, nor was it a good sign that the owl was nowhere near where it was reported.

The sun was setting and the already sub-freezing temperature (with strong winds off the Delaware River) was dropping, so we threw in the towel and went back to the parking lot. The park ranger was kind enough to open the gates that close at sundown for me (yeah, yeah, yeah, I know), and I've been checking the eBird alerts all day today hoping that others saw it so I could go over and try again (I have to pay $5 to cross the bridge, I'm only going if I know). There were no reports of it today.

I guess I never sent Paul that email.

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