11 June Update

Mega update - 11 June
Three rarity twitches briefly recounted, plus a bit of gooey big year stuff

Feeling on top of the world, after a trifecta of rarities – all nearly within a 24 hour period. After a sleep-fest layover in Anchorage post-Nome I flew the crazy distance to Syracuse New York to twitch the Gargany (a Eurasian/African duck) at Montezuma NWR in New York. I got to the site at 10AM, and scoped with other birders until 2PM when the bird was found, where after it allowed a prolonged but very distant scope view. On to Arizona that night for a shot at two ongoing rarities – Slate-throated Redstart in the Chiricahua Mountains, and first ever ABA record of Pine Flycatcher – only a few  hours from the Redstart location, in the Santa Rita Mountains. On the way into my first of the two twitches I ran into one of my birding heroes – 2011 big year birder John Vanderpoel. He and his friend John had just left the Pine Flycatcher stakeout and gave me terrific directions to the site, as well as the Redstart site, where they’d been a day before. Tellingly, John V was wearing a familiar T-shirt featuring two stunning Grey-banded Kingsnakes. I own two copies of the shirt, but didn’t want to risk soiling one in 2016. In preparation for this year’s American birding experience I spent many hours in 2015 poring over John Vanderpoel’s (and Jon Dunn’s) Peregrine Productions bird videos on gulls and hummingbirds, and followed his 2011 big year blog intently.

The ‘road’ into the Santa Ritas past Kentucky Camp and to the Pine Flycatcher stakeout was almost impossibly rough, which is why I’d rented a big bruiser of a 4wd for the day. The site – a Creekside camping area predominated by shady oaks at the end of the road was a welcome relief, as was the obvious focus of ‘the gallery’ – a half-dozen birders, all with either binoculars or long lensed cameras directed at a tree not ten metres in front of them. The flycatcher was indeed on hand and cooperative, and I was driving out of the ravine twenty minutes later. Two and a half hours after that I rounded a bend on the narrow and scenic drive up the Chiricahuas from the west to find a similar small group of paparazzi – this time with attention directed to a pair of Slate-throated Redstart that took turns flitting in and out of a thick clump of bushes on the lower side of the road – at one stage seen carrying out what looked to be a faecal sack. On a couple of occasions, the birds briefly expressed a stunning spread-tail display (see photo below) that reminded me of Rufous Fantails back in the old country. 

These are spectacular locations, and I did my best to drink in the scenery in the short time available before, as always, high-tailing it to the nearest airport. 

With the inclusion of the latest three rarities, my species list has hit 690, while my all-important rarities total (Codes 3-5) stands at 80 + 3 provisionals. Time now for a slowdown in incoming rarity chases (unless something juicy shows up…) so as to allow me to chase down the remaining 60-odd ‘common’ species, especially springtime breeders before it’s too late. Tick-tock!

It seems appropriate at some point to write briefly about the competitive aspect of a birding big year. During my travels I’ve met a number of other birders undertaking an ABA area big year and have made instant yet rewarding friendships with most of these enthusiasts. We all have different reasons for doing a big year, but share a lot in common: passion for nature. But of course I couldn’t have expected to come to a different country than my home (though I did grow up in the US, and have plenty of family and many friends here) without raising an eyebrow or two when it comes to what is shaping up to be a serious challenge to the ABA Big Year record. It’s no surprise then that not everyone involved in this year’s ABA big year chase is gushing with warm and fuzzy feelings toward the interloping Aussie. And of course in this day and age it isn’t hard for anyone to mount a negative and unpleasant campaign of a personal nature. However, my focus has been, and will continue to be on the birds and the extraordinary experience that is an American Big Year, while maintaining my own personal integrity and values. This will be my one and only comment on this subject - I’d much rather be burning my personal energies searching for birds.

After five and a half months on the road – mostly solo, never with a down-day, I admit it gets a little rough occasionally. The good news is that within the constraints of time differences, Robyn is always just a phone call away, and is able to lift my spirits. I also get much-appreciated encouragement from ‘the guys’ (basically, the entire Australian birding community) as well as workmates from the Reptile Park, and other friends. Thanks everybody, it so often comes at the best possible moment. Oh and happy Queen’s Birthday holiday!

Finally, just a forewarning that as the year progresses I will devote more energies to supporting the important fundraising work that Global Wildlife Conservation is doing in conjunction with Devil Ark – a big vision approach to ensuring the long-term survival of the iconic Tasmanian Devil. Keep those credit card accounts cashed up.

I’ve got it! No wait a minute… Yeah, I got it! The upstate New York Gargany gave only distant, but precious views.  Off to airport, then back after realizing my scope was still at the Gargany site...

Trust me, its a Gargany. Dream on Rohan!

Pine Flycatcher in Arizona - my second ‘First ABA record’  species for the year, and a smashing bird.

Wow! Slate-throated Redstart bodylanguage. Birders on the scene were respectful of keeping well away from nest area.

Three ABA Big Year birders on one boat - what are the chances? Christian Hagenlocher, JW, and Laura Keene. Great times and incredible birds on legendary Attu Island!