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WORLD SERIES OF BIRDING
"ALL I WANNA' DO IS HAVE SOME FUN"*
HOW THE NIKON/DVOC LAGERHEAD SHRIKES ENJOY THE WORLD SERIES OF BIRDING
*with apologies to Sheryl Crow
by Paul Guris
Aaaah! The World Series of Birding. The approach of this event brings angst, anxiety, stress, and occasional loss of bladder control to some of it's most staunch participants. How should we tweek the route this year? What if we can't find any raptor nests? What if so-and-so fouls up? What if I foul up? What if we all simultaneously go deaf, dumb, and blind at one minute past midnight!!!
The WSB is first and foremost a fund raiser, but it is also a competition. And like all competitions, there will be those who feel their competitive juices rise as the event approaches, just like that convenience store microwave burrito at 3:00 AM after you have once again forgotten that you are no longer 23 years old and have consumed way too much beer and tequila. Yes, there are those to whom this event is immensely and gravely serious ... and then there's us.
When Peter Dunne called in early October and asked me to write this article, he referred to our team as "the most recent dynasty of the World Series". I believe my reply was a pointed and witty, "huh?". You see, we've never viewed our team that way. The competitive nature of the event has always been secondary to having fun. Make no mistake, we scout hard and try our best, but on "game day" our van sounds more like a high school locker room than a special forces tactical squad. It's this atmosphere that makes the WSB so special to us.
As you read about some of our experiences, try to imagine our team as a small party of best friends, only without beer. I know that's hard to visualize, but for the most part you really do have to find a way to mentally block out the beer.
I think that every WSB I've ever done has had it share of the good, the bad, and the ugly. I'll describe what we've faced, which is pretty much the same stuff that all teams face. Just keep your sense of humor, and you'll end up with your own stories.
First, let's start with the good. Those are those instances when something just goes unexpectedly and wonderfully right. Like having an adult Goshawk fly right up the Delaware River when we were looking for Great Cormorant just south of the Tacony Palymra Bridge. Or the Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow that felt the need to sing its head off at the end of the day when we were just waiting for dusk. Or the surprise Turkey Meagan Edwards-Crewe found perched 50 feet up a tree, back in the days when Turkeys were quite a bit tougher to find. Or that marvelous "Hail Mary" stop in Linvale one year that netted us a Pheasant, a Pipit, and an Upland Sandpiper in 20 minutes, about 17 of which was spent driving in and out. You may find this about as surprising as George Bush ignoring basic environmental science, but most teams deal with these moments quite well.
Then there's the bad. These are the moments that test a team's mettle and humor. The obvious "bad" is the bird that won't show up for you, like that irrepressible songster (Blackpoll 2003) that you've scouted, re-scouted, and re-re-scouted, only to have it suddenly contract stage fright when it counts. Or a Wizard of Oz kind of wind at dusk when you're trying to get your Whip or Chuck. Or those years when you can meditate over the large expanses of beautiful, pristine (and oh so silent) marshes at night. Or those nights when the marsh is not silent, and you strain to hear the soft "per-wee" of the Sora over several hundred male Bullfrogs doing their version of dialing 900-HOT-FROG.
But the birds that reveal themselves to just one of your team members are even worse. Remember? All birds have to be identified by at least two observers! Like the year that despite constant immersion in Pileateds for an entire week of scouting in High Point and Stoke's, we couldn't buy one on game day except that one #@*&$% Pileated Woodpecker that called on a ridge at least a mile away, and I was the only one to hear it simply because I was faced in the proper direction. Or the Tricolored Heron that Mike Fritz called as it flew threw his scope and into a tidal creek at low tide, never to been seen again or counted once.
And then there's that truly demonic of creatures; the bird that is seen or heard JUST before midnight, never to appear again. Like the Nighthawk we flushed off the road as we were driving to our starting place in Great Swamp, never to be seen or heard after midnight. You see, the difference between a "good" and a "bad" can simply be a matter of minutes. And then evil thoughts run through your head like "if I just drove a bit faster, we could have counted it twitching in our grill". Er, ignore that last comment.
Then there are those birds that are just a bit too far. Like the two terns that were WAAYYY out in the heat shimmer. Two of us thought Gull-billed and one thought Forster's. Try as we might, we couldn't reach consensus, so we gave our little friends a one fingered wave goodbye and moved on. Or branches that look like hawks. Or plastic bags in a field that look like Cattle Egrets. Heck, they even moved!
Sometimes, you just have to say "AAAARRRRGH"!!!
Next, there's the ugly. These are the birds that you do actually get for the day, but at a cost of time, effort, or even physical injury. Like the year that Blue-winged Teal was a slam-dunk, or so we thought! Four sites up and four sites down. Finally, there was one desperation pond that Mike had us try. I jumped out of the door, scanned the pond, and only found a Wood Duck. As I climbed back into the van, Mike points and asks "what just flew in"? And what to our wondering eyes does appear, but a FILTHY, STINKING, BLUE-WINGED TEAL! Or the day we almost missed Carolina Wren. In late day desperation, Mike actually remembered a place where one was singing continually for the entire week and, amazingly enough, it actually sang. Who ever thought we'd be forced to make a route change for a Carolina Wren?
Frustration and time off of your route are one thing, but physical injury can put a serious crimp in your day. Parasitic Jaeger is always a toughie on Big Day, but every once in a while we get one with a bit of effort. Well one year we lucked into one, but we had to jump down an embankment to see it. Unfortunately, Bill Stocku's thumb fell prey to a rusty piece of wire on an old snow fence. Yes, Bill made a blood offering to the Sea Gods, and we were rewarded. He wrapped it tight and refused to go to Wawa for a real bandage. (Wawa South Jersey's answer to extra emergency rooms.) Thank heavens for tetanus shots.
And then there's that stop I made (yes, I was driving) for Green Heron at a little pond along the road. You know. The one with a guardrail and no shoulder. You know. The guardrail that feeds on van doors. I swear that it maliciously grabbed the van. I'd like to take this moment to thank our corporate sponsor Nikon for covering the insurance deductible on that little error. Let that be motivation to all of you to get a corporate sponsor to look out for you.
So as you can see, your day can be filled with all kinds of adventures. Just keep your head, don't take it too seriously or personally, and remember to have fun.
Finally, I'd like to leave you with one non-bird tale from a few years back. It's Friday night just 30 minutes before starting time. We have just arrived at Great Swamp and are preparing ourselves as well as doing a little pre-scouting. The air is still and we hear the occasional call of Virginia Rail, Spring Peeper, and Green Frog. Suddenly, the sounds of this peaceful wetland are pierced by a stream of truck-driveresque comments in a beautiful English accent. Adrian has just discovered that he has brought along his wife's rubber boots rather than his own. Let me tell you folks, it's an amazing sight to see 280 pounds of pissed off birder attempting to walk in a pair of women's size 8 Wellies. He moved with the grace of a drunken Musk Ox. The entire foot of the boot pointed up from his toes making him look like an enormous and deranged elf ... as compared to the enormous and deranged Brit that he normally is. And while other teams might be shushing and cursing him, or at least supporting him in his plight, we simply laughed, made snide remarks, and swore that we'd pay $100 on the spot for the loan of a video camera. Hey, isn't that what friends are for?
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