Monday, June 05, 2006

A Lifer for Patrick?

In Pete Dunne's book, Tales of a Low-Rent Birder, there is a story called "A Lifer for Roger" (which you can read here). It tells the story of his "Guerilla Birding Team" at the first World Series of Birding whose members included David Sibley, Bill Boyle, my friend Pete Bacinski, and the father of modern birding Roger Tory Peterson. The lifer in the title was a Fork-tailed Flycatcher that had been seen in Cape May the day before the World Series and luckily stuck around for the Big Day. It was Roger's 697th North American bird.

The breaking news came over the wire (AKA my email) last night. A Fork-tailed Flycatcher had been seen all day in Morrisville, PA right across the Delaware River from Trenton, NJ. This is a bird that lives in Mexico and South America, but for some reason wanders into the eastern US on very rare occasions. This was the first time one had ever been seen in PA. I wanted to see this bird! I googled the directions and it turned out to be an easy 1 hour drive from my house. Seeing as how I had to work in the morning, I figured I could wake up early, swing down there, and swing back to be at work by 8:00. It worked last August when I saw the Green Violet-Ear in NJ, so why wouldn't it work again?

I woke up at 4:45, showered quickly, dressed for work, grabbed my bins and I was on my way. Traffic is extremely light at 5:00 AM, so I easily found the location in 45 minutes. The viewing location was a dike along the river. I saw 4 other birders standing atop the dike, panning with their binoculars. I quickly climbed the steep steps and grabbed the attention of one birder. He told me he'd been there since 4:30 and the bird had not been seen. Fork-tailed Flycatchers are notorious for not sticking around for very long. I walked up and down the dike looking at every feathered creature that passed by me. Swallows, tons of Cowbirds and Grackles, Chimney Swifts... no flycatcher. An Eastern Kingbird buzzed overhead and fooled me for a second with his similar plumage coloration. Other birders arrived and the feeling of dread began to sweep over us. Perhaps the bird had moved... Perhaps the Cooper's Hawk I saw earlier had a bad case of "flycatcher breath"... 45 minutes quickly passed. The air was chilly and we were all feeling antsy. A few more minutes passed and the need to go to work was pulling at me. I decided to call it a day. I walked back towards the steps to the parking lot, but hesitated when I began my descent. I decided to walk a little further past the steps where no one had checked since I first arrived. I walked to the end of the line of trees along the river. All of the sudden a bird zoomed over a tree towards me and then around the back of the trees. The bird's forked tail stuck out like a sore thumb, but the bird disappeared in an instant! What else could it be??? Maybe a Blue Jay? No.... Another Kingbird? Not with a tail like that... It had to be it! The other birders were about 100 yards down the path from me. I shouted at them, but they couldn't hear me. I started flailing my arms and jumping up and down to get their attention. Finally they saw me and all started running down the dike (quite a sight to see!). They arrived and I told them what I had seen, but no proof of my bird existed. A fellow birder yelped, "I found it!" There it was, plain as day in front of us - a lifer for Patrick.

Good photo of the bird by Frank Haas of PA. It's probably an immature bird due to its shorter tail.

Crappy photo of the bird by me


MojoMan said...

Very exciting! Congratulations! I could feel the thrill of the hunt.

Mike said...

Congrats on a successful twitch!

LauraHinNJ said...

Good for you! I don't envy you being up at 4 in the morning, though. Sure it was worth it anyway.

Anonymous said...

Congrats. I saw it Sunday night about 1/2 hour before dusk. I'm not sure I agree with your conclusion about it being immature. I've seen some close-ups of the tail and it looks like the tail feathers simply broke off, which means it could be any age.

Patrick Belardo said...

Anonymous, I just saw the close-up pictures that you're referring to this morning and you're probably right. They definitely appear to have broken off.