Monday, March 12, 2012

Double Indignity

Ever since I got a copy of the National Geographic Guide to birds, I have salivated over the numerous species on the other side of the country. Among them was the Rosy-finches. I can’t say why for certain, but there was something about them that was particularly appealing.

So when I made a trip out to Colorado in 1999, Rosy-finches were high on my most wanted list. I went with Ian Resnick, and long time Compuserve friend Ann AJ Johnson joined up with us for several days. We had a blast.

When we got to Rocky Mountain National Park, the rangers informed us that the high mountain pass was closed due to snow, and might not be opened during our stay. Thankfully, the road was cleared and we had an opportunity.

It was particularly rewarding for AJ as we all got the White-tailed Ptarmigan; but for her it was after way too many years of trying. 40 years is undoubtedly a long time! But while we got the Ptarmigan at the Alpine Visitor’s center, there were no Rosy-finches around the pass and this was supposed to be the place to look for them. We celebrated our collective Ptarmigan at a local establishment with some excellent Elk burgers, and ~several~ celebratory shots of tequila.

That night it snowed an awful amount and the pass was closed again. Inquiring of the ranger, he said that it would take a week or more to remove the snow! Drat! ( a euphemistic approximation of what I actually said)  I did my best to convey the urgency and importance of seeing the Rosy-finches to the ranger, and he offered as much helpful information as he had. And then I pushed a bit harder, so he then offered to contact a local birder with the Audubon Society who might perhaps have more knowledge...

Speaking with this woman, she gave us the location of a home in town where the finches had been reported coming to a feeder. I thanked her profusely, did the same to the ranger, and then Ian and I beat a hasty retreat. Persistence pays!

Arriving at the address, we immediately saw the finches at the feeders and set up our scopes from the street to get a good look. In short order, one of the residents came out to see what we were up to. I excitedly showed them a picture of the finch in my guide, and explained that we had come all the way from back east to see them. She then went inside and told her daughter, who had recently moved from Manhattan to Colorado, and was tickled to know that she had such good birds at her feeders. The best part was when they invited us to sit on the porch and get a better view; at times too close to focus with my camera lens!

Expected in Colorado were Brown-capped Rosy-finches, but as an added bonus we also had a Black Rosy-finch. It would have been nice, but we could hardly complain about not also having a
Gray-crowned Rosy-finch.

Fast forward to December 2011, and a birder named David Rankin hiking in the Catskills of New York happens upon one! { must be related to Doug Gochfeld with luck like that!}

His picture left no question as to ID; but the wisdom of chasing this bird on the summit of Black Dome Mountain in the Catskills in the throws of winter was certainly questionable. But not by me so I did it.

It would be a lifer, and a cherry of a NYS bird. And besides, who needs sleep? I coordinated with other foo... Ahem. ...other enthusiastic birders and a group of us met at the trail-head at 7am. Mind you I could only manage to get to sleep by midnight with the prep and excitement, and woke up at 2am to drive upstate to meet Tait Johansson, and from his digs we car pooled to meet the others.

When we arrived it was still dark and it had snowed the night before. So here we are, in bitter cold, hiking up a trail with loose rocks and covered with snow, all in search of a bird. One bird. In a whole lot of mountain. The third highest in the region.

Well it was a beautiful hike. The scenery was breathtaking, truly. The sun was glistening off of the snow that heavily weighted down the branches of the conifers. Besides I like hiking a lot too. Corey Finger, Tait Johansson, Rich Fried, Lila Fried, Jacob Drucker, Rob Bate and his wife all made the attempt. I tried to talk two others into doing it, but in the end it may have been wise that they did not. Rich Fried, intrepid and successful champion 2011 NYS year lister that he is, tried to add this bird to his astounding accomplishment, but instead got a number of bumps and bruises instead, from the less than safe conditions of the hike. Some might think him a bit foolhardy, I admire his dam the torpedoes attitude. And he’s only been birding a few years to boot! I must have a pocket full of kryptonite.

Fast forward once again and its march 2012 and a Grey-crowned Rosy-finch is discovered at a feeder in even further upstate New York. No rigorous hike in below freezing weather, but a shlep non the less. A 275 mile shlep to be exact.

Of course those with union jobs or work with animals were able to make a mad dash and see the bird, while us mere mortals had to wait for a more opportune time. In my case this would be Thursday, my day off.

Historically, Thursday is a great day to chase a bird. Reports are usually generated predominantly on weekends, and a disappointing number of good birds move on before the next weekend arrives. But not so for Thursdays, they usually stick around...

So calling around, I searched for co-conspirators. Most could not go, had earlier plans, or already had gone. Bob Hayes called me, and then winced when he heard how far away the bird was. Then he caved in. I also called Ian Resnick, my co-conspirator or enabler, depending upon your point of view, but also knew that he ~never~ takes a day off from work.

I have been trying to corrupt him for years and to date had not succeeded. Perhaps it was something that Donna Schulman said to him that changed his mind, but I suppose it was bound to happen at least once. It is after all, one of the signs of the apocalypse.

So the three of us set off at a reasonably early time to make the long drive to Boonville NY. Traffic was light, the weather was beautiful, and we arrived on location an hour ahead of schedule.

Along the way as the light came up we amassed a nice list of sightings. American Crow was our first bird of the day, and Red-tailed Hawks were plentiful as expected. Blackbirds appear to be on the move and Grackles and Red-wings were all about. I even spied a Piliated Woodpecker as it flew across the road!

Most pleasing to see, and continuing a trend that I am enjoying is sightings of Bald Eagles- we had at least three along the way, and Ravens are becoming more plentiful too. Both were birds that one used to have to ‘work’ for.

But as omens go, once we got off the thruway and headed up into the Adirondack region, the clouds got thicker and it began to drizzle. As suspected, the address location was not completely accurate either as far as Loretta was concerned, but I have come to not rely 100% on GPS and we did get to the correct location.

Nancy Loomis, the home-owner, is to be commended for her quick thinking and extraordinary hospitality. We arrived to find an area set aside for visitors to park, and she even left the door to her garage open and welcomed visiting birders to make use of the restroom within when necessary.

So upon arrival we knew we were in the right place when we saw other birders. Getting out for a look though, we were told that it was last seen at 6:30 am, and not since! It was now 9 am.

Well the wind really picked up, and it started to rain heavily so I pulled the car up so that we could be sheltered while looking at the feeders. The three of us were amazed at the other birders who were happy to stand outside in the wind and rain, but not us. We’re smarter than that I thought, until I remembered that we just drove 275 miles....

So I enjoyed all the goldfinches coming to the feeders, and hoped as had been reported that the GCRF would be amongst them or the other birds it had been associating with. And then I saw one! A Grey-crowned Weaver-finch. And another, and about 20 or so hogging the feeder.
But no Rosy finch. Also present were Downey and Hairy woodpeckers, as well as a White-breasted Nuthatch, but no Rosy.

It was not to long into our vigil that I began to feel the oncoming sting of irony poisoning. Yes, irony poisoning. I had tried to convince Ian to take off from work literally for years, and now that he finally does so, it is on the occasion when the bird ~doesn’t~ stick around. Obviously, he is to blame. He didn’t even proffer a consolation beer. I also began to wonder if Thursdays had lost their touch, but in fact the GCRF was present, just not long enough!

We stuck it out, and Bob, a new initiate to the irrational world of chasers kept a good attitude regarding how long we kept vigil. When we finally gave up, we stopped at the Sugar River but none of the previously reported goodies were about. I did spot Wild Turkey, and that was a year bird for me.

In town, we ate at a pleasantly anachronistic diner where burgers are still under $5 and you get chips instead of fries. Due to the proximity,  of course I  suggested we give it one last try, and the others were amenable.

But no GCRF. So I can claim to have tried twice for this bird in NYS and achieved a double dip. Like a birding George Costanza, I fear someone might try to wrestle my binos away from me. I wonder where my feathered fatale with lead me next, and if and when I will get to consummate the relationship.


Monica said...

Sorry you didn't get the bird but your story was quite amusing. Long live the long form!

Queensgirl said...

Here are the magic words said to Mr. Resnick: I saw the bird.

Everyone needs a Nemesis Bird. Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch is a good one.