Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Ptarming is Everything

7:30 am Friday April 25 the phone rings.

     Terek Goosepiper: { in a casual, nonchalant voice } Hey, what're you doing?

     Me: {slightly perplexed } I'm having a coffee and getting ready to go to work, why?

     Terek Goosepiper: There is a Willow Ptarmigan upstate NY.

     Me: WHAT?!!

Much excessively adrenaline charged conversation ensued. Was it legit. Was the ID correct? Would it stick. What the heck is it doing in NY? When could we go... Well despite every hint just short of 'take the day off and lets go get the bird now' I informed Terek that I had to work, and that the next day, Saturday, I had a scheduled trip I was going on in NJ. Damb.

Later on while at work, Terek called again, and told me the bird was relocated and in relatively the same area. Doh! I called Junco Lins and inquired about our trip. No one else had contacted him about it so it would be me, Avian, and one other who was dependent upon us for a ride.

I informed Junco Lins about the Ptarmigan, and his interest was piqued too. But he had obligations later in the day Saturday, and could not get out of them, nor Sunday for that matter. He wanted to go after the Ptarmigan, but he would have to wait until Monday if he were to go. I reluctantly but dutifully told Junco Lins that we would attend.

I called Avian, and updated him. We discussed various permutations of how to go after this bird, with departure after the trip Saturday, spending the night, and searching Sunday morning, or early departure Sunday... But the more we talked, the more we were steering towards going Saturday and skipping the NJ trip all together. Avian enthusiastically agreed, so all that was left was to tell the others.

Having told Junco Lins that we would be attending earlier that day, I felt kinda guilty. Doh! So I suggested [pleaded ] Avian pass along the change in plans, while I gave the 'bad news' to our car poolee. I then called Terek...

We were all set. I thought we should leave Queens by 5am, but Terek said he'd be at my house at 3:45. Somehow, I knew it would be pointless to try to change his mind. Bah, who needs sleep anyway, and this would put us in Queens to pick up Avian at 4:15 and to get the hell out of Dodge.

Or so I thought. It was early and there should be no traffic. HA!  It is the law, There must ALWAYS be traffic on the Cross Bronx Expressway. Here we were at a standstill with nowhere to go. Groan. The traffic crawled, and it had yet to merge into one lane. Finally, we got to the 3rd Avenue exit, and Terek used his phone to search an alternate route. A delay of 1/2 hour: inauspicious.

Success! We made it around the jam and got onto the highway just before the bridge. From here we had smooth but oh so very long sailing. It was very easy, heading west on I-80 to catch I-81 all the way to Watertown. For the next few hours I was amused as Terek kept saying “I can’t believe were going” and “ I hope the bird is still there” and “Are we there yet”.  Avian said Zzzzzzzzz.

With much anticipation we got to the turn off from Watertown and Terek navigated us the rest of the way. Closer and closer we got, and he checked in with his friend who had found the bird, to learn that it was resting comfortably under a tree.

I’m not certain the car came to a complete stop before Avian and Terek ran off.  I joined them shortly for delightful looks at the bird as it rested under a tree on the beach, alternately opening and closing it’s eye.

For the next hour or so all that was heard was the constant clicking of camera shutters, and  exclamations of “I can’t believe we got it” and “I can’t believe there are not more people here”

I sent out confirmation and coordinates to the listserve for those anxious and still on their way.
We scoped the bird until it awoke, and then the cacophony of shutter clicks began again as it walked around  to get a drink and began to feed on willow buds.

Mmmmm. This Zebra Mussel broth is delicious.

This bud's for me.

It was aware of our presence, but clearly was not even slightly concerned. All kept a good distance, but the bird approached us! In fact it got so close that my telephoto was rendered useless and I switched to taking a video with my cell phone.

I ain't afraid of you.
The bird continued walking towards us eventually getting to less than 5 feet from us.

"No, I don't need a loan, now get out of my way." 
Said the bird to someone sitting on the beach.

The bird took flight but probably to get around the tree it had to pass and its not wanting to go into the water, although at one point it had walked into the water and got its feet wet!

We followed the bird as it walked down the road and asked “why isn’t the chicken crossing the road” and “why aren’t there more people here”?

At this Point we had been awake for 9+ hours, and it was time to contemplate the long ride home. Except for intermittent rain, the ride home was pleasantly traffic free and uneventful.

Yes! A perfectly executed twitch for another lifer, another first New York State record bird, and ABA bird # 698 for me! And yet another completely unexpected bird. WOW!

As of the following Monday, the bird could not be located. It may have wandered onto the private areas, or it may have met its demise. either way, when it comes to  getting a rare bird, Ptarming is everything.

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