Sunday, March 16, 2008

Running off to a Rare Bird sighting

Photo taken by Todd Kitzler
12/24/2000 in Rossford, Ohio

I will never forget the time I spent 3 hours driving around an 8-mile loop four times in an attempt to see an immature Snowy Owl after reading about the rare sighting on a list-serv posting on the Net. It was on a late March afternoon, and I was at Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge in Port Republic, NJ. Although the sky was lightly overcast when I started out earlier in the day, the temperature was now in the 20's, wind gusts were 30 mph, and there was a thin curtain of snow flying. I was determined, however, and I drove slowly along the loop peering out at the desolute wetlands and backwater ponds. After my third go-round, I ran into someone at the visitors hut who gave me the location of the owl. I finally arrived at the spot, and, for the 3rd time that day, I fought the wind pushing my car door shut against me, forced my way out of the car, and dragged out my tripod and scope. I flung myself down on the ground, sat, and aimed the scope at a flat sedge island in the wetlands.

Wow! I could see a large smudge 200 or 300 yards away, but even with my tripod at its lowest position, I couldn't focus with the wind blowing so hard! I got on my stomach as low to the ground as possible, placed the scope on the ground and held it as steady as I could out of the wind. Finally I discerned the shape and the mottled white and brown markings of the Snowy. Eureka! I saw enough to add it to my list, but oh, how I wish I could have seen it more clearly! After 5 minutes lying on the cold, wet ground with the wind howling around me, I struggled to my knees, crawled over to my car and pulled myself up. I virtually heaved my tripod and scope onto the back seat (oops) and then squeezed myself through the front door and fell into the driver's seat, exhausted, cold, and windblown...but jubilant. My feelings of satisfaction on my drive home were tempered by the fact that I had no one with whom to share my experience since the death of my husband two years earlier.

Part of the wonderfulness of birding is the camaraderie shared by complete strangers all pursuing the same goal and helping each other to achieve that goal. Sometimes the strangers become friends, and sometimes even buddies. So, I am upfront and vocal about being a birder, nerd that I may be, and I pity those who scoff about hiking out in the woods, in the muck, in the raw, biting cold or in hot, sticky weather, just to see some bird ?! Yes, just to see some bird - hopefully, to see a lot of birds - but it's also about celebrating life.

Photo ©Ted Clark

Massachusetts Audubon Snowy Owl Telemetry Project


Owlman said...

You've been tagged:

LauraHinNJ said...

Hi.. thanks for stopping by my blog.

Jeez... your photos are gorgeous!

You reminded me of chasing snowies here in NJ - I never got one at Brig, but was lucky to find one closer to home at Sandy Hook - I too had to search for hours in the dunes - cold, but well worth it!

Elaine @ floridabirder said...

Thank you, Laura. Thank you for visiting here, too. I spent many happy hours at Sandy Hook back in the 70s - sunbathing, not birding. I didn't really get into birding until I moved to South Jersey and discovered the loop at Brigantine. I'm glad to hear you have been there. I fell in love with that place. Even in the dead of summer, there is something to see. One year I witnessed hundreds of blue damselflies hovering over the small pond at the very beginning of the loop. It was awesome. I wish I had had my camera.