Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Breaking the Duck

To break one's duck...I've always liked that British-ism, an idiom meaning someone has done something for the first time. It's awkward; it's nonsensical, and it's also kind of scandalous to use in a conversation about birding. But, as far as the British are concerned, every time we birders see a new bird we're 'breaking that duck'.
Within recording a lifer bird there is another phenomenon, a type of synchronicity many birders have experienced, especially if they see a new bird in the first few years of rookie birding. The phenomenon is that once a bird is finally seen, all the sudden one will see it fairly frequently, or at least unusually frequently given how, up until a point, you had never seen it before. This could simply be because the birder wasn't aware of the bird before or capable of recognizing it, or because they only recently started seeking out the sort of habitats that would support such a bird. Sometimes there isn't much of an explanation.

Last week I saw my first Greater White-fronted Goose, an uncommon migrant, at an old birding haunt in west Phoenix. I birded the heck out of that place but never saw a White-fronted. Finally everything lined up and I got my first, not from lack of effort or knowledge but just from lack of circumstance and luck. While spending the weekend in Iowa, my cousin Mike and I then found another Greater White-fronted Goose in west Davenport, another rare find for the time and place. While scanning hundreds of Canada Geese out on a frozen lake, Mike heard a different vocalization and was able to pick our the conspicuous impostor.

So, I broke my duck last week, and now there's a watershed of White-fronted Geese. I predict I will now see them everywhere always forever.