Thursday, January 14, 2016

Starting a New Streak

New Year's resolutions have always bugged me a little bit. If something is worth doing, or a change worth making, why not make the change immediately? Sometimes there are good considerations for waiting, but an arbitrary date? Nah.
That being said, I made a new resolution that does, indeed, coincide with the new year. This also coincides with the fact that I had not been birding much in the weeks preceding the close of 2015, and then did some hardy birding. At this point you're probably thinking, "Get to it already man, this is sorry stuff. Your exposition is boring and you should feel bad. Why are you belaboring the point? God you're like a filibustered on c-span 2." Well who's being long-winded now eh? eh?

That's the rub, fellow Impatients, because my resolution was to be a much more patient birder. My recent trip to Minnesota had some success and some failures that were down to weather and bad luck (or, more specifically, a lack of good luck). But plenty of it also fell on my impatience, an unwillingness to spend long enough in one area or another so that, in effect, I rushed between spots looking for this or that species and ultimately seeing neither. Especially in winter, when the birds are sparse and shy, one has to wait...and I really hate waiting, especially when it's for a cool bird that hangs out at a less-than-cool spot (or a really frigid spot).
I really hate waiting. The DMV gives me ulcers. I take red lights a suggestions. I burn down orphanages while on hold. I hate waiting for my laundry. I hate waiting for videos to buffer. I hate waiting for my waiter at a restaurant because, then, do I not become the waiter??? 
Alas, the simple, prolonged reality is that sometimes, as birders, we have to plunk down in less-than-ideal spots and wait.

While I was out of town over the winter break, a Streak-Backed Oriole turned up in Yuma, about 200 miles west of Phoenix. Rather improbably, this handsome bird stayed from end of December up through my return to Arizona Jan. 6th, and after re-igniting my bird-chasing engine in Minnesota and re-igniting my resolution-motron as well, this bird demanded a chase.

It had been seen foraging in some California fan palms in a little RV park near some wetlands. The dilemma was that in any given day, it would feed in these palms for one or two short increments, and then disappear into the recently flooded wetland area.

So I arrived at sun-up, at this little park without much else by way of birding, and waited. I was determined not to abandon my post. Eventually the bird would come. It's the motto of RV parks, "if you park it, they will come."
Orioles, like vampires and pizza-faced teenagers, need to feed. But 7:30am turned into 8:30, turned in to 9:00am. By 10:00am my species list had climbed to about 6 and the Oriole still was a no-show. My hope had been to snag the bird by 9am and be back in Phoenix by noon time. 10:30 and still nothing. 11:00am came and now I was looking at a 2:00pm return, still with nothing to show for my efforts.
When does one cut the losses? When does one try something new?
Well, the patience wore off and in one last desperate attempt I decided to do what came natural--I went bush-crashing into the wetlands, figuratively speaking. Despite all my lessons learned and promises made about being patient and waiting, I found the skulky bugger in about 10 minutes. 

At first the bird did not show very well, staying deep in the riparian thickets, but of course it was readily identifiable and gave its rattle call on several occasions. Patience and waiting be damned! I had the lifer! Other birders in the area were on the bird quickly too, and pretty soon there was a parapazzi blitz in progress. What happened next? Of course the bird flew across the canal and over to the RV park where I had been waiting dully for 3+ hours.

Photo-ops were a little better there until the paparazzi peloton caught up and the bird flushed back farther into the wetlands, at which point I called it a day 2.5 hours later than I intended. So what are the takeaway lessons? I did indeed exercise much more patience/endurance/perseverance and stayed until I found the bird. On the other hand, this was done by roving and wandering around per the old motions. Should I have stayed at the park and let other birders find and flush the bird over to me? Would the bird ever have turned up that day?

I don't know. Everything is bad and nothing is good. Except for Streak-Backed Orioles. Streak-Backed Orioles are good.