Monday, February 15, 2016

Lord I Was Born a Brambling Man

Lord I was born a Brambling man
Trying to make a living while birding as much as I can
And when its time for a road-trip, I hope you’ll understand
That I was born a Brambling man.

I am quickly moving up the ladder to more and more difficulty getting lifers here in the US. Some travel is almost always involved, but clearly some forms of travel are “normal” while others are less so.

Take road trips for example. I am blessed to enjoy the journey part of travel. Sometimes a trip to nowhere on a scenic road is all I need to vicariously amuse myself; be it by bicycle, motorcycle, or car. Others though, cannot fathom the idea, and with time constraints flying is certainly more expedient. Or is it?

I look back fondly to the days of yore when I could simply show up at the airport, wait for the shuttle, and pay on the plane en route. No more. Now it’s a lot of wasted time trying to find a flight that doesn’t break the bank, and can bring you there and back without wasting a lot of time on the travel part. Add in the getting there before the flight part and waiting for luggage and then getting the car yada yada and a road-trip is not nearly as bad as some describe.

My choices were spend a lot on flights and car rental, or look at a map, figure out travel times and logistics, and get a willing co-conspirator. Earic Miller took another more expeditious approach. He simply coerced me into going by playing upon my weakness.

Among the ABA code 3 birds I have lusted after, the Brambling is right up there. The problem has always been that they had tended to show up west of here and usually way west. Earic claimed that someone had boasted about how he had ventured from Maryland to Ohio and back in one day.  Sounded impossible to me, but nevertheless it was in fact closer than from here.

But the damage had been done. I started to look at maps and plan and ruminate. Could it be done...? And then to make things worse he threw in that there was a Kelp Gull there as well. I have already seen a Kelp Gull, but another opportunity at a rare bird when in the vicinity would be a waste. A look at the maps some more and they were separated by a mere 30 miles... Hmmmm. 

The window of opportunity was coming up fast and a decision had to be made. The best plan of attack would be to leave after work on Wednesday, and return Thursday. Eminently doable, but what about the weather?

There is so much information available to us nowadays, yet some things remain not as refined as we would like sometimes. For example, wouldn’t it be great if we could get the weather forecast along a route? Well as reported they were predicting more than 50% likelihood of precipitation yet only 0.2" accumulation. Seemed to be not insurmountable...

Despite some understandable trepidation and questioning as to whether I had completely lost my mind, { some say yes, and long ago...} I made the decision to go ahead with our plans. After all, I have met several other birders over the years who have done far longer {worse?} as well as read the accounts of the others who also did this sort of trip. So why not?

Why 'yes' some of you may ask as well. Opportunity for seeing a great bird, of course. But not to be ignored, an important factor is gasoline prices are at remarkably low levels that just ~beg~ you to road-trip. For those who would decry carbon emissions; sorry, a flight would still burn far more fuel. What was the lowest price we saw? $1.25!!! That just SCREAMS road-trip. Screams I tells ya.

I picked Earic up and we departed by 8pm. We stopped for fuel and food after a couple of hours. So good so far.

By 3am we stopped for more gas, and a snack, and to stretch the legs some more. But now thar be snow. 

The 'check-in' thing caused some minor confusion and / or guessing on FB. This was mildly amusing.

It has been a long time since I traveled this far west on I-80. I forgot that there are no street lamps, and worse yet - no roadside reflectors. I still have pretty good night vision, but at times the snow became quite dense and hard to see through. Following trucks and heeding their speed ‘suggestions’ seemed prudent, and helpful in telling where the road was located much further away than could be seen otherwise. 

By 5 we got to Ravenna Ohio where a rest-stop provided welcome warmth and a bathroom break before catching some z’s in the car. We were essentially mostly there, and this was a good place to rest. My bones are a lot older than from the time when I might have chosen to snooze in the car, but I am pleased to say that as far as discomfort levels go, it truly was not that bad. A down vest on me and a thick parka as a blanket and I was toasty warm despite the temperatures in the teens.

good power nap of an hour and a half or so, and we awoke to continue to our first target: Kelp Gull. By this time there was a good 3" of snow on the ground; a significant underestimation by the meteorological community. What a great profession! Be wrong most of the time and never get fired! Though concerning to me, the snow was dry and not a significant hindrance to travel. Removal by plows was now beginning.

Arriving at the Springfield rink, the daylight was just making its presence known. We looked out onto the lake and could not see any gulls, but noises made us look up to see hundreds circling above. Oh no! Were they departing for the day already?

They had been spooked by ? but eventually most settled down onto the lake and we found a good vantage and began scanning with scopes. Among the many Herring and Ring-billed Gulls we finally found a black backed gull, but it was just a Great Black-backed, not a Kelp. We kept looking, and a few at a time other birders joined us. A few more candidates appeared, but clearly none was a Kelp Gull.

A short time later, someone announced that they had begun to plow the lot where we had parked, and we made tracks to go move our vehicles. I got a look at an adult bald eagle that was flying by and that had just flushed the resting gulls again. Then I arrived at my car to see the tail light, bumper and hatch smashed. The plow driver got out of his truck and apologized, saying of all things that he had not seen my car! Sure a gold station wagon completely devoid of snow in a pure white lot, and he somehow overlooked it. 

My car,er was a parked while looking for a Kelp Gull
When it wound up being wronged by a pick-up truck
He plowed the snow and into me and hey, what the f...
dings dents and dipping on the bird sure sucks

He did give me his insurance info and even suggested calling the police for a report so one can say he was careless, but at least he did not act like a jerk. Keeping fingers crossed re the ins co. though...

My visit to Ohio had a real impact
I was in a sleep deprived haze so if I should have had a more angry response I could not muster one. Wow, two strikes. One figurative: we never did see the Kelp Gull. The second unpleasantly literal. And here I thought with the snow and all the time spent on the highway an incident would be more risky, but while the car was parked in the center of a lot? At least the damage did not hinder our safe return.

With police report filed and a final fruitless last look for the gull, we set off for our second quarry.  It was a wee bit solemn: Earic having dipped on a lifer, I having been dinged and dented. But far worse things could have happened. 

By this time much of the roads had been cleared and driving was less stressful for the 30 miles or so to the next location. We arrived and found a sign that said Allerdale Park and entered, only to find it was the wrong parking lot. The bathroom gods were smiling upon us though, as this was the lot with a restroom, so the wrong turn was fortuitous and as I told Earic, ‘intentional’. Yeah, that’s the ticket.

We drove a short way further and stopped in front of the house hosting the feeders. With the teen temperatures and the snow that had started to fall again, I was hoping we might have found a place to squeeze into and be lazy from the road. No luck. The road was way too narrow, too busy, and there was no place to pull off. For a country road it had more than its share of traffic, so as planned we bundled up and walked back from the lot. 

We set up scopes and hoped for the best. I told Earic, who was complaining of the cold, that some folks said the bird was seen within a few minutes while some reported having to wait a few hours for it to show up. He was confident that with the current conditions the bird would be by shortly, and hopeful. He was wearing rubber boots for the snow, but not so good for the frigid temperature. His feet were freezing.

While we waited we enjoyed a nice variety of 20 or so visitors to the feeders. Finally, and off to the side easily obscured from view by the tree in the front yard, I spotted the bird! It was a Brambling in fine display! ABA #707 for me even if I suffered a fender bender to get the lifer.


A very nice bird, and I was glad I was encouraged to go see it. With a distance as large as this, the intel from the Ohio lists was helpful because this species { same bird? } was in the relatively same vicinity in the recent past, was site faithful, and lingered to about April. So yeah it was a ways to go but I felt confident that we would be able to score this beauty and score we did. 

Earic not wasting time returning to the car for warmth

Having enjoyed the bird and cognizant of the return trip that awaited us, we set off home. Thankfully the roads had been cleared and the snow had abated making for travel at a more relaxed and accelerated pace. Earic drove while I snoozed. We were back by 7pm. Another successful epic journey. 

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