Friday, July 19, 2013

To Chase or Not?

While I don't care much about the numbers, I enjoy seeing things I haven't seen before - particularly when it comes to birds.  In recent weeks there have been two lifers found within relatively easy driving distance from home.  An Arctic Loon and a Rufous-necked Wood-Rail.  The Loon was discovered 31 May 2013 on Puddingstone Reservoir in Frank G. Bonelli Regional Park.  This is east of Los Angeles and “only” seven hours driving from Green Valley.  Arctic Loons are incredibly rare in the lower forty-eight (typically along the west coast) and apparently rare in Alaska.  This is a species I did not see on my two adventures to Alaska and I thought I would never have a chance unless I returned to Alaska.  The Rufous-necked Wood-Rail was a species I had barely heard of and never dreamed of seeing unless I birded Central America.  The Wood-Rail was discover at Bosque del Apache NWR on 7 July 2013.  Bosque was a mere five hours away.  The closest known location for this species previously was south Sinaloa, Mexico.
I meet Ed Wetzel on Thursday 6/20/2013 night at 10:45 and by 11:15 we were driving through Tucson on our way to Los Angeles.  Ed had come to Tucson to see the Buff-collared Nightjar and hoped to find a Plain-capped Starthroat.  Hours before Ed boarded a plane in Dallas, we decided we would drive the seven hours to see an Arctic Loon and then drive back in time for me to guide a client for the nightjar Friday evening.  The drive back and forth from LA was uneventful except for the traffic delay on I-10 east of Palm Springs where a semi-trailer had overturned.  We arrived at Frank G. Benelli Region Park at 06:39 and within three minutes were looking at the Arctic Loon in the scope.  We could have jumped back into Ed’s rental car and started the long drive back to Tucson.  Sore butts and the need to stretch our legs kept us at the park for more than an hour.  We watched the loon and birded the immediate vicinity.  I of course expended most of my energy trying to photograph the loon.  A few other interesting birds for us included: a Ross’s Goose flying with a flock of Canadas, a single Nuttall’s Woodpecker, and heard only Wrentits & California Thrashers.
Arctic Loon - 6/21/2013 Frank G. Benelli Region Park, Los Angeles Co., CA
On Sunday 7/7/2013, a Rufous-necked Wood-Rail was discovered at Bosque del Apache NWR and reported to the AZ/NM Listserve by way of the ABA Rare Bird Alert Facebook page.  The Wood-Rail was seen again on the 8th and that evening I text-messaged Andrew to see if he wanted to go chase.  It turned out that Andrew was on his way to Colorado, stopped at Bosque to see the bird, and replied to my text just after seeing the Wood-Rail.  Being that this was a bit far for me to try alone, I put the idea of seeing the Wood-Rail to the side.  On the evening of the 9th, Molly Pollock asked if I was willing to chase the Wood-Rail on Thursday or Friday if it was reported again on Wednesday. The Wood-Rail was seen again on Wednesday and Molly & I met at 4am Thursday to begin the quest.  After a very non-eventful, full of nice conversation, 4 hour 22 minute drive Molly and I arrive at the Marsh Overlook Trail at Bosque del Apache.  We step out on the boardwalk, ask the first person we approach about the Wood-Rail.  He began to say something about it just being across the way when he says “there it is”.  We watch it walk along the mud between the cattails and water, I take several images and we could have left in less than a few minutes.  We both decided to hang around for at least a few more minutes, I wanted some better more close photos and Molly had seen some people she wanted to say hi to.  We stayed at the Marsh Overlook Trail for 35 minutes, completed the Marsh Loop drive and were again on the road. 
Rufous-necked Wood-Rail - 7/11/2013 Bosque del Apache NWR, Socorro Co., NM
<see a few other images on my Flicker site>

Within three weeks I have chased and “easily” seen & photographed two very rare birds for North America.  I don’t like gambling but the odds have been working in my favor recently, maybe I should go buy a lottery ticket.

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