15 January update

Feeling a lot better! I no longer feel as though fate had it in for me, with the healthy trend of more wins than losses emerging.

From the -33C Duluth disappointment (missing the Ivory Gull by hours) on the 12th, I made it to Vancouver lickety-split and the next morning I had poor views of the Siberian Ascentor at Surrey just before 8AM. Other birders began arriving an hour later, and many of us stayed right up until near-dark at 4PM. Long, long, stand-around wait, which takes a toll on my back. The site is a dilapidated house with blueberry farm behind, all fenced off. The bird was hanging around with Dark-eyed Juncos and a range of sparrows including Golden-crowned, White-crowned, Song and Fox.

Had to speed to get to the Vancouver Island ferries, but got on the 5PM, arriving at Victoria an hour and a half later. The ferry is like a luxury cruise vessel, amazing. Unfortunately on both the outward, and the return trip next day, I had too much organisational things to do on laptop to look for Alcids. 
The captain called a Killer Whale on the return trip, but I really couldn’t afford the minutes, while trying to get flights, cars and rooms, the usual activity.

Spent night in downtown Victoria hotel, not far from the Redwing site in time to do laundry and some calm planning. Nice. Next morning I was on the job at early light before 8:00 at the vacant block in affluent neighbourhood where the bird had been making appearances in a row of dense Holly trees in generous berry providing status over the last couple of weeks. About a dozen Canadian birders eventually arrived, and 11ish, Mike gave the much-appreciated ‘There it is!’. I’d been looking the most intensely, but fine, got to see it well and photograph to the usual sub-standard standard.

On ferry back to mainland, in luxurious sunny conditions for seabirds, as I mentioned earlier, I was bound to the laptop, organising a trip to Kodiak Island, Alaska for the Common Pochard that had made a reappearance, with sightings on 11th, 12th, and 13th. The reports had all come from Rich Macintosh, who gave the comforting advice that the bird seemed settled with a group of Ring-necked Ducks, and since the lake was unlikely to freeze in the near future, it should be around for a while. Very exciting news – I began to breathe for the first time in a couple of weeks. But then I hit the US customs officer from hell at the Vancouver airport, where all the immigration screening happens prior to getting on US bound planes. Because I’d booked my flight at the last minute, my boarding pass had the ‘SSSS’ high-risk code – I think that started the trouble. He then couldn’t find my stamped one year visa in the passport, somehow thumbing through it too impatiently. When he did find it he mumbled, took a scan of it, and said there was a problem as I’d already been to the US, so I can’t use that Visa. Holy f%$k, end of my year in under two weeks. He paged someone to take me to the immigration office, where I waited with my stomach in my mouth for ten minutes, thinking that even best-case scenario here, I’m gonna miss my flight. I could hear two officers talking about my passport and boarding passes, and though I couldn’t hear what they were saying, I didn’t like the tone. Finally I was called to the counter. The fellow was nice! He said that the rubber-stamp wielder hadn’t come across that sort of visa before, but that yes, its multiple-entry, and I’m free to try to catch my flight. In shock.

Got the flight, had the red-eye 6 hour layover in the Anchorage airport, and got to Kodiak at 7:15. I was surprised that the airport and area was as developed as it was. I picked up car, made my way to Lake Louise, and waited in the car for first light. It was cold, but minus 10C kind of cold, not Duluth killing cold. I could see starlight, and was confident of a successful morning – I had until 5PM to get to the airport for my ongoing flight to St Louis for the Black-tailed Gull. I waited some more. It became 9AM and still dark. I googled to find that sunrise would be at 9:40. I bundled up on the warm outerwear, strapped on the camera and binocs, and walked up to the lake, which is pretty much surrounded by barracks-style housing for the (interruption to typing, just hit bumpy patch on flight from anchorage to Seattle and I’ was soaked with spilt water on the crotch and the keyboard, which somehow seems to have survived. I wont be able to get out of my seat til it dries or people will think I pissed my pants.) coast guard personnel who have a huge presence in Kodiak.

So, with heart pounding, in the usual pre-game excitement, I crept up to the lake for a scan in the earliest scannable light. What was it that Rich said in his positive report of the Pochard? “Lake unlikely to freeze in near future”. The  thing was frozen over its entirety. Only a half inch thick, but absolutely quackless. I was devastated, thinking that maybe there is some sort of conspiracy of gods emerging. Over the next hour I drove and walked to all corners of the lake. Where the water was flowing into it, there was a canal-like passage with clear surface, but only 6 Mallards and a Common Merganser. Sick in the guts. I calmed down and resolved to search surrounding lakes. In getting online to more thoroughly read earlier reports of sightings of the Pochard, I got onto an Alaskan bird discussion group where Rich Macintosh had left his telephone number in one of his posts. I rang him to ask where he might suggest I could look. Wow, he was amazing. He said wait twenty minutes, he’d pick me up and we’d look together. Amazing – and a lesson that maybe I need to ask for help much more regularly. So we went for a drive to Lake ?? where straight away we could see two separate groups of ducks way way way far on the other side. We drove to a position that’s as close as you can get, and quietly walked to shoreline to scan the two groups that I’d guess would be 300?M away. Rich picked up a Tufted Duck – a code 3 bird that I’d already seen in NY, but still, nice to see through Rich’s scope. Then “a candidate – definitely a candidate…” followed by “naw, another Lesser Scaup”. Then a soft but confident “Bingo”. Yeah baby!! That’s one of my favourite words. So again, I didn’t find the bird, but who cares? I got plenty of time watching it in the scope. I’ll be eternally grateful to Rich, whose generosity then extended to giving me a quick tour of some saltwater duck sites, where we saw tonnes of birds, including Code 3 Steller’s Eider, and plenty of Emperor Geese. So many beautiful duck species – things like Buffle-heads, Common and Barrow’s Golden-eyes, Long-tailed Ducks (very nice), Ring-necks, both Scaups, Gadwells, Harlequin Duck (wow) and more. Also my first Acids, with Pigeon Guillemot and Common Murre. Great views of majestic Bald Eagles, and time to go. My all-important rarities list is now at 13.

So feeling much better now, I got to Anchorage by early night, got a good sleep, and am enroute to St Louis, with two hours to get my crotch dried before layover in Seattle. Because I’m wearing long-johns, it’s a good and proper soak, so I’m not confident. The Black-tailed Gull has been showing well each day, and in fact there was an Ebird sighting already this morning (6AM Anchorage time). Excited! But I won’t get to Saint Louie til nightfall, so it’s a tomorrow morning job, with onward flights organised in avo to San Antonio, from where I’ll drive to Refugio for a second go at the Golden-crowned Warbler, and also with hopes to see the Flame Tanager that arrived in same small Lion’s Park three days ago.

Still unhappy about Bowie passing. That wasn’t supposed to happen.