What a difference a day makes. Yesterday I awoke at 4am and spent 12 hours on a boat being sick and being sick of being sick, and sick of boats that made me sick.
Just before tucking myself into bed at the Anchorage Motel, and after a wonderful hot bath, I was talking to Sue, who had a much better day than me. She was telling me about her day at Amherst Island, where she got to see a Long-eared Owl, Barred Owl and just to make me jealous, as I haven't seen one yet this year, a Rough-legged Hawk. I was planning on sleeping in a bit, going to the beach to look for Purple Sandpipers, then take the Ferry back to New Jersey and head up to Philadelphia by way of Brigantine, when my e-mail dinged with a notice from NARBA.
PINK-FOOTED GOOSE IN PENNSYLVANIA
Not only was it only about 3 hours drive from Lewes, it was less than an hour from the Philadelphia airport. I GPS'd it, set my alarm and fell asleep with images if pink-webbed feet, dancing in my head.
This is what A Big Year is all about. The Chase.
It was the prospect, and dare I say, expectation, of seeing a Pink-footed Goose, ahead of all other birds, that has kept me chasing for nearly 11 months now. Seeing this bird was one if the reasons I had to do a Big Year. And I was in nearly the right place at exactly the right time to chase this little pink footed wonder, who had wandered off course from Greenland, and plopped himself into Peace Valley Park, Pennsylvania.
When I arrived at the park I started scoping each and every one of the hundreds of Canada Geese floating peacefully in the lake, when I caught sight of a couple of other birders on the other side, scoping birds too far away for me to see. If you can't find the bird, find the birders. This kind of hunt requires team work, and as it turned out, it was a well coordinated team. I drove over to where the other birders were and we were joined by more goose hunters who were in both phone and e-mail communication with still more birders who were spread about the park. As we planned to head east to another set of geese, to scope, having found nothing pink footed on this end if the park, yet another hunter of pink feet had just heard from someone who had seen it just 20 minutes earlier at the north east corner of the park. And as we were trying to figure out where the north east corner of the park was,(two of us had compasses out), another birder with a scope, Shannon Thompson, who had driven from New Jersey early this morning for the goose, had just heard from a friend that he was, at that moment, looking at the goose near the Nature Center. The chase was on and we formed a 4 car convoy over to the reported location.
Whew, I'm out if breath, after that run-on paragraph.
We parked our cars, grabbed our scopes, binoculars and cameras and raced down the road, along the path to a spot where a scope was already set up and after 4 hours of driving, looking and more driving and hiking, the hunt was over in 30 seconds. I didn't have to do anything other than look into the scope of the already present birder to get the bird. Too easy. But I deserved it after yesterday's ordeal. It just occurs to me that Sandy Komito got his Pink-footed Goose in nearly the exact same way, in Pennsylvania, back in 1998,(the book is my bible, what can I say). There was also a lot of talk of "The Big Year" movie and the Pink-footed Goose Jack Black chased.
We stayed nearly an hour as birders came and went. Took lots of scope looks and lots of photos. Shannon even let me get an iPhone photo through her scope, as I had forgot my digi-scoping adaptor at home. She's pretty good at it, a kind of digi-scoping savant. I got lots of photos with my SLR and then headed back to Sailor's Point where I had seen a pair of Snow Geese I wanted to photograph. Along the way I ran into more birders who were looking for the Pinky, and guided them to the right spot. I believe it was a lifer for everyone I encountered today.
It was for me, not just a lifer, but year bird number 555.
The Snow Geese were very cooperative and I got some nice photos. Back in Louisiana they were very far away, and I could only see them through another birders scope and didn't get any good photos. They have pink feet too.
I am, once again, typing from 30,000 feet, and oh so tired. On the drive to the airport, though I was still high with the excitement of a Code 4 bird, there came a point where I hit the proverbial wall. I just wanted to pull over and close my eyes for an hour or three. But I was on a highway with a flight to catch and had to keep going. Now that I am on a plane, flying 4 hours to Phoenix, as I head to Tucson, I doubt I will be able to sleep. I need some rest, as I am up at 4 am birding tomorrow morning. But I am not complaining. I have no right to complain. If I did, I am sure Sue would sentence me to a year of litter box cleaning and we have six cats. As it is, I owe her a year of chores to make up for all the time away this year.