One Sunday in late November I went chasing. In other words a sighting of a rare bird, rare in the sense that it is “rarely” seen in my area, had me up going out to see if I could spot it. I had been sitting, sipping coffee and bouncing around the internet reading a little bit of this and a little bit of that. As always, I had Face Book open in a separate tab. This way if a family member, or a friend posts or sends me a private message I will see the notice in the tab header. Then it’s a simple matter to click over to that tab and see what’s up. I am also a member of three Face Book groups devoted to local birding. So when my little tab said I had a notification, and the notification told me of a rare bird sighting, off I went to chase it.
I live on the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay, which is considered the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States, at least according to the bird guides. The bird I was chasing was a Black-legged Kittiwake . Now, during their breeding season Kittiwakes are found much further north than where this one had been spotted. And the rest of the year they normally are found living out to sea, far from the of sight from land. It took me less than ten minutes from seeing the notification to being in full chase mode. Spotting scope, tripod, camera, binoculars, appropriate clothing for a bay side beach the last day of November, cash money to get into the park. The beach where the bird had been found was in a state park. During the off season there are no toll collectors and the the auto-lift gates at the entrance do not take credit cards. And soon I was in my car making the long five mile journey to the park. There I waited impatiently while the driver in the car ahead of me dug through his wallet and glove box to find enough money to get in. Finally I was in the park and a moment later pulling into a parking spot at the beach.
First step, as always if the parking is close, I leave all the gear except my binoculars and camera and dash to the appropriate viewing spot. This allows me time to actually see the bird if it’s there,take a quick photo, and decide where to make camp. This time a friend of mine arrived just as I did and we walked onto the beach to look for the Kittiwake. No luck. But we did see a nice group of gulls, mostly sleeping and a Sanderling. The Sanderling was rare in itself as the poor thing should have already been in Florida. Obviously it had missed the memo telling it to fly south earlier in the year, As Black-legged kittiwakes look like gulls, until you see their black legs and facial markings, we decided to set up our gear and wait for the gull flock to wake up.
After close to two hours of watching, waiting, using my camera off the tripod, I was close to giving up. More and more birders came as the word had spread. Always the same greetings. “Is it here?” asked by the new arrival. “Haven’t seen it.” answered by the slowly growing throng. And another birder joins in scrutinizing each arriving seagull with binoculars.
Since I still had my binoculars out I decided I wouldn’t miss any bird action if I put up my spotting scope. So I put the lens and eye piece cap on the scope, took it off the tripod and closed it in it’s case. Now that it was protected the scope was carefully laid down and my camera went onto the tripod.
I am not a bird photographer by any stretch. Don’t get me wrong, I am a very enthusiastic birder, and I do enjoy taking photos of birds, but a true bird photographer has much more talent than I do. The Sanderling seemed oblivious to our presence and I was able to take many photos of it. The one I posted is my favorite but after looking at it closer I realized that my focus was in the wrong place. The ring-billed gull photo is, in my opinion, is technically more correct but the subject doesn’t “move me” as much.
This wasn’t the first time that I have “chased” a bird only to have not found it. Last Saturday though I had better success. Not the best of photos but I didn’t have my tripod with me at the time. Meet the Snow bunting. A bird from the Arctic tundra who prefers to winter in the balmy south. Of Canada that is.