It is a common year round bird in Europe, Asia, and North Africa, but it is an ABA area first, a code five bird. It would be a potential lifer.
Liz Ardcuckoo is an impetuous one, and without hesitation suggested that we go for it. The 'we' included Pelican. And though the latter is more the 'feet firmly planted on the ground' type, she seriously entertained the thought. How long would it take, when would we leave, and other logistical and practical concerns were bandied about. At one point we came close to agreeing upon a plan of sorts.
I offered that while I would LOVE to see this bird, it was newly discovered and its stickiness or site fidelity had not been established yet. That and I had appointments scheduled for that evening...
As the day wore on on Monday, positive reports appeared, and calls were exchanged. Problem one: the weather was not ideal. Problem two: I had appointments for this evening too. Problem three:Pelican was having second thoughts.
It was after all, a 12hr drive each way, and the forecast was not good - her reluctance was not only understandable, but perhaps wise. Understandably throughout the day participation wavered in and out. Eventually, Pelican put her foot down and bowed out. I did my best to convince her with guilt, regret, and "facts". I recalled how on a trip south some 10 hrs to see a Green-breasted Mango in North Carolina, I witnessed folks with license plates from Ontario and Michigan! A trip from New York paled in comparison. But she wasn't having it.
|An Overview of where the bird located|
While I was waiting for my appointments to arrive, I browsed FB and came across an article on how the Black-backed Oriole added $220,000 to the local economy. I did not chase that bird as I thought it was most likely an escaped pet bird like the Troupial that was around Nassau County a few years back. As far as this thrush was concerned, I predicted similar if not greater interest.
Was the timely appearance of this article an omen? Did this portend well? I would have to wait and see...
On December 9th, 2017 Peter Gadd of Miramichi, New Brunswick Canada found a odd looking thrush in his back yard. At first glance one might think juvenile American Robin, but this was not quite right. Photos he had taken were circulated and the excitement began to build. It was definitely not a Robin, and the ID had been narrowed down to either Song Thrush, or Mistle Thrush. Both (or either) would be an excellent find.
Various features were examined from the photos and additional definitive field marks were captured with the ID pinned at Mistle Thrush! The bird exhibited a pattern of favoring the Gadd's Mountain Ash tree. Commentary was shared that they are known to vigorously defend food sources ie. stick to a good location, and that it was seen chasing off competition conspired to make the adrenaline flow.
So the three of us decided upon a plan of attack. I would depart after my last appointment and meet them in Queens. Liz's husband dropped her off and I'm almost certain he muttered something about our questionable sanity. And with car packed we headed off on our long journey.
The next leg was not so bad: up to Portland and then onto 295. But in the dark and with the almost completely straight road made for a less than interesting driving. And it seems to make the drive longer. Not that it needed any help!
I did the lions share of the driving, with Avian spelling me for an hour here and there. A power nap refreshed me to go on. Those two mostly slept while I listened to music to entertain myself, though at some points their snoring in harmony was quite artistic.
It was still dark when we got to the border. The border agent asked the typically odd questions in addition to the more predictable ones. We all enjoyed him asking how do we know one another and for how long; Liz almost making a smart ass remark which thankfully she did not. This is not a place to do so. But boy did he look like he needed a reason to smile. That we were on our way to see a bird did not seem to phase him one bit.
We headed north a bit, then onto the route that would take us east across the New Brunswick Province. Approaching 7am, the first vestiges of dawn were appearing. It was beautiful countryside, but cold, snow covered, and desolate.
The only birds present albeit here and there were crows. The one exception was a bird Avian pointed out, which flew from atop a hemlock, and was a Northern Shrike. Otherwise it was a remarkably un-birdy place.
As we made our way, a gas stop was needed, and though a highway sign indicated there was one, it was located about 5 miles away! I was thrown by the pump's operation, and stepping inside they told me to just pump first and pay later. This was clearly a town of folks who know one another, and sensing strangers they asked about our trip. It seems that even here the news of the bird in Miramichi was big news. The most unexpected comment however, was that the clerk thought that I did not have a New York accent. Go figure! Nice people. Why are Canadians so darn nice?
Eventually we got to Fredericton, and the last leg of the journey, a mere 2 more hours to Miramichi. More mostly desolate highway, but with the daylight it was far more picturesque. Miramichi for the non native, is pronounced 'Mira me she'.
It was about 10:30am by the time (adjusted one hour ahead for AST: Atlantic Standard Time ) we arrived at the home of the Peter and Deana Gadd. We turned left and right to get to the proper street in the neighborhood, and then with our last turn we saw what we hoped for: birders standing there looking at the bird!
It is important to note that along the way Liz was ever so annoyingly taunting me that the bird would not be there. I informed her that if she was correct, it would mean her demise. She lived.
It was cold! Single digits, but somehow it was not a concern as we fought our car-ride weary legs to hobble over for a look. A fellow with a scope offered us looks. We were thankful because spotting the bird the 50 feet or so away, in the camouflage of the tree, was at first a challenge.
This kind gent hailed from Iowa; he had flown for the bird. He has also flown in to try for the Corncrake that was present in Babylon back in November, but unfortunately he arrived after its demise. And because its a small world he knows a friend of Avian's and mine from Iowa, Ajay.
It was cold. Very cold. Despite this we stood out in the street and enjoyed views of this splendid rarity in the beautiful Mountain Ash tree with the bright red berries. The birds position behind twigs and the overcast conditions did not lend itself to good photos, but hey, thats the story of my life. OTOH, I was there to see and experience this bird - photos not necessarily a priority.
Liz found the 1809 Restaurant & Bar on the shore of the Miramichi River. Nice view of the frozen river highlighted by several Iceland Gulls and a few Great Black-backed Gulls.
|A Well Deserved Reward|
After lunch Liz wanted to search out other birds, but I wanted another look at the Thrush. We returned and enjoyed additional views, but noticed the beginning flurries. Mission accomplished, we decided to hit the road.
Unfortunately for us, or our plans anyway, the snow intensified. by the time we got to Fredericton, 2 hours away, the roads were such that further progress was imprudent. Despite our desire to get home, we much prefered to get home in one piece. Liz found us rooms, and I promptly passed out!
To say I was running a sleep deficit would be an understatement. Doing my best to maintain regular sleep habits means that on an occasional basis I am able to pull an 'all-nighter', in this case, driving more than all night.
A few hours later I awoke, showered, and joined the others for a splendid dinner at Issac's Way. Liz found another fantastic restaurant that supports regional artists with an in house gallery and sources food from local farms.
Driving in the rain is much preferable to in snow. Thing is, our route took us west and inland and away from the warmer coastal area so the snowing returned. Fortunately, Canada is pretty good about clearing roads, so while less than optimal, they were not horrible.
Unlike our trip up, we were able to make stops along the way. We stopped at the border duty free shop in Woodstock, and I stocked up on remarkably inexpensive booze.
Over the border we found that the roads were being cleared and so travel was not horrible here either. Our next stop was 4 hours away in Portland Maine. We went to another restaurant found by Liz ( who else ) called Eventide. A selection of several Maine oysters, their excellent take on clam chowder, and of course, Irish Goodbye Nitro Stout. Epic Journeys deserve epicurean gratification, especially with success!
Sated, we hit the road again. We arrived back in Queens by 8:30pm, and surprised everyone by crashing the Queens County Bird Club Meeting. This is by far the most extreme trip I have ever undertaken and I am grateful for my co-conspirators. It is worth contemplating that in retrospect one may regret more the things not done, rather than the things done.
Update: A reporter named Alain Clavette posted a request to interview folks who had gone to see the Thrush, and Liz contacted him to set up an interview with us and the result is >here<. More clips with Alain are present if you scroll thru the previous segments on the page.