Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Uhtceare about the Rock

It was all dark, I could feel a presence looking at me, maybe many presences and then the light shined and the familiar music started with a finger running down the piano.  I didn't like my hair at all, my shoes were wrong, and the Rainbow flag I was wearing seemed ill fitting and a bit drafty.  I noticed the mike in my right hand and then I had an urge to sing: "Go on now, go walk out the door..just turn around now.."  Why was I singing the Gloria Gaynor's song, but I continued and then in the chorus out comes Bart Simpson wearing only a thong, but also colored like the LGBT flag like my dress and then also out comes Robin Williams, he was all pale and gray but was wearing even less, LGBT colored socks and red 1970s Converse high-tops.  "You look terrible, Robin."  I said in a pause.

"I'm just dead, Olaf."  he smiled and then said "Just go with it, man...go with it."  Bart was singing I will survive alone so we had to catch up.

Then the music stopped and Robert Wuhl (may favorite actor) came out, he was teaching a class, the spectators were graduate students, he was lecturing on LGBT anthems of the 1970s...."Now let me introduce the late Freddie Mercury...."

I woke up with a start..."What the...?"  I said sitting up in bed and where even was I?  Then I felt women looking at me...I laid back down....I was in the safe confines of my bedroom with the beautiful models of the 1920s and 30s of Marcel Herrfeldt paintings looking at me.  Brighid the dog groaned un-approvingly, it was too early...even for her.

For the next hour I was taken over by a terrible case of uhtceare

 UHTCEARE. (n.) Pronounced- oot-key-are-a. An Old English word meaning. 'lying awake before dawn and worrying'

and it had nothing to do with that strange dream, well maybe not.  One shouldn't be too concerned about being oneirocritical (pertaining to the interpretation of dreams) so I won't be.  I was worried about whether going to St John's Newfoundland, the "Rock" was a good idea.  It is the best palce to see two coded birds, but I already had the tufted duck.  It was a long way for a black-headed gull.  I would need to get up in an hour.  The marquis bird, the yellow-legged gull hadn't been seen for a while, the ice had melted 2 months early and a snow storm was imminent.  It would be a long trip for just a black-headed gull.  Then what?  The uhtceare just continued until the alarm sounded and soon, Allwin and I were heading to Minneapolis.  I was going birding alone, he was just off to visit college and the airport in Minneapolis was on the route to Ripon. Oddly Sirius radio was on the 70s channel and then as I danced to some mighty fine disco tunes, No "Ex's and Oh's for me today.  My son just looked at me like I had a disease.  I then sang to "I will survive" and I looked at him staring at me like was I truly okay...."What?"  I said.  "It is a powerful song, the narrator discusses her refound strength after a devastating break up.  It is sort of analogous to the refinding of the strength of the late seventies after the breakup of the sixties culture for the baby-boomers if only to be crushed again as they became 40 a few years later in the eighties..."

"Where did that come from?"  I said quietly to myself I wasn't even thinking about that.

Then I added when he asked me a question about things I regretted from the past.  Sigh, more thoughts I would rather not think about......but I discussed how I felt like I had arrived to a party just as the Baby-boomers were turning off the lights.  I was 10 days below the cut off for the 18, then 19, year old drinking age as they raised it to 21 in 1984-87.  The boomers had their fun and now they stuck the 1980s with us, Aids, Reagan, Inflation, bad music, conservatism, and Walter Mondale and Dukakis....They had given the tail end of the Boomers or GenX the shaft, that was my one regret, missing the all the fun...but as the song goes, I will survive.


Newfoundland, Canada

Big Year Days 64-67

Big Year Total:  474
Coded birds:  34
Cool animals: Bobcat, Harbor seal, gray whale, California sea lion, pronghorn, porcupine, sea otters, Island gray fox, 

Miles driven.  14,900
Flight Miles 43,200
flight segments: 45   Different Airports: 26
Hours at sea: 25
Miles walked 66
Miles biked 2
states/ prov. birded:18

Where to start....I arrived at 1230 AM, almost wanted to hug the cheery Hertz rep at the airport and went to my hotel, a B&B in downtown St. John's, which I might add as it turned didn't offer breakfast, in fact, it was devoid of any hosts at all, and was above a very noisy nightclub which kept going to 3am.  It is called the Duckworth Hotel and was warm and the bed was night but lacked much of anything such as some direction to the stay which I guess for me was okay.  It was cheap.  The Quality Inn is the the old birder standby and well, the bed was nicer here but it was easier to figure out the bar and get a direction to visit there but it wasn't bad.

The local young birder el-primo, star medical student, and all-around nice guy Alvan Buckley picked me up before 6am outside and while I waited on the cold dark streets of the capital of Newfoundland for him, it seemed like I was in a move scene with Peter Sellers "The Pink Panther."  A cab came by going left and then turned right up the hill.  A moment later the same cab retraced it's step down hill.  He then went by me slowing....I waived him off.  I sat, just like the observer in the movie did.  Then he came around again from same direction.  He came around from three directions 5 times stopping twice.   In the movie the three cars doing such can't leave the neighborhood and end up crashed at a fountain, luckily Alvan showed up before that happened.

We joined what appeared to a gathering of the St John's birding community at Cape Spear, looking for a white gyr, I had seen a gyr already but white ones....while waiting in the cold, I observed the first point of sunrise on North America, its easternmost point is Cape Spear.

While I was there I added a couple of new birds.

#471  Black Guillemot

 way out in the sea and so windy, I was unable to use my digiscoping equipment, but it was the bird as were the five common eiders Bruce McTavish called out which after they flew by, I sort of looked at everyone and then had a vision of another movie....Rare Birds. With William Hurt in it and it was filmed here.  The birders were all searching for a not real "Labrador Duck" to get birders in to save a restaurant.  Bruce MacTavish was almost in the movie but didn't make the editting, today, the dean of Newfoundland birding looked at Black Head, maybe even with his naked eyes a mile plus off, and called out a white morph gyrfalcon, which everyone was there except me to see.  He should have been the movie in my opinion.  

The gyr landed and Bruce found it in his scope and after he let me look, I found the bird sitting on a rock in my scope once I got bearings.  It was a dot on full power but impressive none-the-less.

So I was plus two birds for the year before my coffee had gotten cold which I would be soon, and Alvan, Chancey, and me (hope I spelled his name correct) who was another local birder took off on what would become a generally futile attempt to see a yellow-legged gull, a black headed gull, and a Bullock's Oriole at a feeder.  Eventually we did find a Thayer's gull that they were looking for.  I did get better looks at a couple of birds I had seen before....

Tufted ducks...

Eurasian Wigeon

Alvan sent off SOSs, APB or what ever they call it out there for the gull.  We looked everywhere ...but no coded gulls, just the usual, Iceland, Herring, Great Black backs, a couple of European subspecies Mews, and black-legged kittiwakes.  The weather was changing and a big storm was coming in, the wind was picking up and the ice was being tore from the ponds and all the gulls had gone away to hide.  Then something worse happened, the Fieldfare was reported five hours away and right in the middle of what would become the teeth of the blizzard.  The storm seemed to make a donut around St John's but eventually it started here and soon it was too miserable to bird.  I turned in early tried to sleep, and continued to experience uhtceare about the Rock....

Morning came and the snow had came, then rain, it was a mess outside, but where the fieldfare was, worse--70 mph winds and 16 inches of snow....

I forgot Newfoundland is one of my mermaid birding spots...spots with mermaids adorning them, I like mermaids....

Ventura harbor California

Catalina Island

and the Chocolate mermaid princess of St John's Newfoundland

Why a chocolate mermaid...?  Why not...but things always happened to the good when I am blessed by a good mermaid.....

I needed to be patient and let the Chocolate mermaid do her magic...

I got picked up and we looked and looked, but no oriole, no yellow legged gull, and even no black-headed gull and then after a full 2 hours of staking out a feeder for what was for me a near backyard bird...a friend of Alvan's named Bill (last name?) spotted three BHGU and off we went.  Had the mermaid helped me?

Out in the surf, there they were...

#473  Black-headed gull, my first coded bird for a while and a lock bird as Alvan said unfortunately we must have lost the key, albeit only temporary, thanks Bill.

It was a still a tough go for the yellow-legged gull as the gulls had there own agenda wherever that was and didn't show up with their European visitor in tow.  Of the 20,000 gulls hanging around, we maybe saw 10-15%.  My scheduled plane was set to go out at 5am, in general, this trip had been a bust, the uhtceare had been warranted, like a premonition...what singing I will survive had to do with it...IDK.

I went to bed early and woke up at 0130, I had said I was chasing the fieldfare, but had second thoughts, I hadn't cancelled anything.  I sat there, more worry, and then "F this, the mermaid is on my side." I said, bolting out of bed.  I fired up the computer booked a flight a day later and sprinted for my car.  I drove to Hertz, up-rented a car, wanted to hug the woman again, she is so nice, and took off on a 500 mile round trip odyssey that in many respects will be the pivot point of this year of birding....in many respects, it was wasteful, stupid, idiotic, name an adjective,  but I was going.....

driving at night in moose country...bad idea...but I ran across no moose.  Driving on little sleep....I didn't nod off...bad roads....they weren't too bad........at dawn, I pulled into Lumsden, NL a town of a few hundred and found Forest Ave, the sight of the first sighting at Trace Stagg's house and then also with Bill Bryden next door.  Bill had photographed it on Saturday.

 My day in Lumsden was just really indescribable.  These people are some of the warmest and friendliest people in North America.  They have such warmth, they even, I think, they melted a little of the snow and warmed my heart.  They are almost too friendly.  Can that be?  Bill and Trace gave me the once over, some direction, I gave them some dog berries I swiped from a cemetery in St John's as the woman buried under them didn't need them any longer and the robins and the fieldfare had largely cleaned out most of them in the village.  We laid them out for the birds....first they had to find them.  I began the stakeout as the entire town drove past me to school.

I was certain I heard the fieldfare at 0730 and a little later, but all I saw was a robin in plain view looking at me acting stupid.  They had said the fieldfare was skittish and well they appeared correct.  Bill took me on tour.  We even went down looking for eiders and only found a few common eiders.  I came back and staked out the feed, generally blocking traffic to and from the school, or more so when the locals stopped to see how I was doing, or while I was walking around lurking in the neighborhood with camera in hand.  Why they put up with me and seemed friendly doing it, IDK?  At 1030, I got antsy.  Then I thought about it all.  One robin up looking stupid, the others hidden or feeding...lookout bird...crap.  sparrows do that all the time and Bill had said they had a very aggressive sharpie around, the birds had adapted to a lookout, and also they were on the lookout for me  or any human.  It was simple, find the lookout, find the fieldfare.  I drove the streets....

Then I saw a robin land in the top of a larch tree (or whatever shedding conifer they have)...and I turned down that street to check it out.  There wasn't any berry trees nearby and I was about 500 meters from Bill's.  The robin flew as i approached and then a second one and then a large dark thrush with an undulating flight, robins fly straight...while belly...the fieldfare.  I ran the stop sign on the main road, accelerating and then as it dove into a spruce and shrub thicket I slammed on the brakes on the side of the road.  It was standing up so I could see it well, good look, gray head black-brown saddle, white underneath, large bill for a thrush, I've seen this bird in Sweden many times, and to be honest never got a good photo then ....satisfied with the look, I grabbed for the camera, then it dived down and I waited.  A local man with his husky saw me and walked over..."Good day!"  I was greeted.  Then I had to explain myself, then talked about owls, eiders, the dog had to lick me....I got invited to lunch and then....the bird popped out of the undergrowth and flew west and then i could see it circle.  I bid my chum adieu and chased after it, but i lost it as seemed to head down towards Bill's.  Just near the village office, I saw the lookout bird and then it saw me and spooked, three birds went three directions and one suspiciously the fieldfare....a man named Barry Hall, another of Lumsden's nuevo birders came over to Bill as I drove around and parked and gave Bill the thumbs up on seeing it.  Barry reported having seen the bird right when I did.  Now Barry had a big camera out, and then the three of us cased town for a picture.  This went on until nearing noon when Frank King, another Newfy birder drove up and now four of us looked along with Trace through her window and then she drive us around town.

At 2 pm I needed a bathroom break and at the convenience store, which didn't have a bathroom, the clerk chatted me up about America and the bird.  I got invited to dinner.  Then returning to Frank, he reported it again, hearing it and seeing it fly by...dang thrush...skittish bird...no photo.  So that was the way the day went.  We walked got invited to things, chatted up the neighbors, and even almost crashed a burial but gave someone directions at the burial...I guess the next step was an invitation to the event.

We looked and looked, but except for along ways away from the sightings, never encountered a lookout bird except a group that I think was a second flock of robins, which eventually came in that evening to the stakeout to eat our offerings of dog berries and then blueberries as Bill added some of his remaining supply for pancakes....but no fieldfare....alas at least I saw it but neither Frank nor I got pictures.....

we did see some very photogenic white-winged crossbills...

robins at the stakeout

pine grosbeak which came up as rare on ebird

We gave up near dark and I headed the 250 miles back to St John's and my next chase, I was beat, but the people of Newfoundland are just great, thanks to Alvan, Bruce, Trace, Bill B, Bill ?, Chancey, Ed, Frank, tanks everyone. Everyone who invited me into their car to warm up, thanks too.  Just out of Lumsden I turned on the radio, the first song started....It was Elle King singing the Big Year anthem, Coincidence....?  I'd have no uhtceare anymore, this was righteous, both the Chocolate mermaid and Elle King had blessed it.

I had bird #474 a fieldfare which I now consider the bird of the year....maybe I could have got a photo but I'm a birder first and a photographer second and I think that way....hard to not to in a car with a skittish bird.  No yellow legged gull but there would be a Rock II trip, I knew it and Alvan hoped so too, as that would mean a really good bird.

One last look....

Good day!

Thank you Newfoundland!  I love you guys!  I promise to never sing disco music EVER in your fair province.



  1. A while back you were wondering about the number of coded birds that Sandy Komito had in 1998. All the Big Year geeks out here and I'm the only one with Sandy's books? Of course the species list has changed a bit, but here's what he says in "I Came, I Saw, I Counted." He had all the Code 1 & 2 species. He went 53/57 for the Code 3s, had 54 Code 4 and 16 Code 5 birds. You're already ahead of him on Code 6 birds: 1-0! The three species added later are included, but obviously they were coded birds.

    1. I meant to say, "are not included."

    2. Didn't he miss great gray owl or was that first time? No agree it is all code 1 and 2 plus 75 to 80. I guess for coded total I should include condor. I keep think it is a 2. It should be but isn't.

    3. He did miss that in 1998. Maybe it was a Code 3 at the time, as some numbers have changed. You should include condor on your coded list, I think. Not because it's actually a 6, but because it's not included in the total of 1's and 2's, and that's the point to keeping the running tab of the coded birds.

    4. Interesting information, Joe.
      So that is 53+54+16+3=126 coded birds. Subtract that from his final total of 748 leaves 622 regular (code 1+2) birds. I had heard the 622 number somewhere else, so that jibes.

      However, there was clearly a major change in the coding system between 1998 and 2005. In 2005 there were 660 code 1+2 birds on the checklist. There is no way that 38 regular birds were added between 1998 and 2005. Unfortunately the ABA website only lists changes going back to 2005, so I haven't been able to check this directly.

      However, the fact that Komito says "53/57" code 3 birds is a clue. Today there are 83 code 3 birds, and it is unlikely that this number has changed much due to additions or subtractions over the years (splits and exotics usually enter the checklist as code 1 or 2, ABA firsts enter as code 5). So apparently a large number of code 3 birds were shifted down to code 2, and an even larger number of code 4 birds were shifted down to code 3.

      If we knew what checklist changes (splits, lumps, additions) were made between 1998 and 2005 we could pin things down pretty closely. If there were few or no changes, then an estimate of Komito's coded birds total according to today's system would be 126 - 38 = 88. This is likely a bit low, I bet it was in the low 90s.

    5. Sounds like the Fieldfare was a challenge. Feels good when you nail one of those.
      Glad that you were able to experience some of Newfoundland's famous hospitality. Best in the world, or at least, North America, in my humble opinion. Onwards and upwards.

    6. My words don't give justice to how nice everyone is

  2. I like Big Year projects (I've given a program on them a number of timeless; once with Greg Miller in the audience!). Sandy's complete list is in his book. I'll plug them into the current ABA excel sheet and report back later tonight. While Olaf goes birding!

    1. That would be cool! I'd love to take a look at his 1998 list actually.
      By the way I used to live in Evanston and I remember running into you in the field a few times. I live in Boston now.

  3. Thx. On day two of pink footed goose stakeout I feel like jack black aka greg Miller. Maybe I should set up hot tub and it will come in like movie. ???? I think that was made for tv moment lol.

    1. It was.
      Jeff, I thought it was you! Email me and I'll send the list. Olaf, you, too. trptjoe@aol.com

    2. Olaf, so you stopped in Connecticut for the goose. I hope you still can go for the Grassquit. Neil Hayward, John Vanderpoel, and Bob Ake have all seen it in the past few days. I guess once you do a big year it's hard to stop chasing...

    3. I scrapped Florida for the Fieldfare chase one of the reasons I was having trouble sleeping, had to burn 2 plane tickets on the deal, not complaining just truth of it all. So have a fixed Arizona trip with daughter (has 3 day weekend) tomorrow, so in time went here to Connecticut, bnecause couldn't get to FL and west and the silly goose won't show, will look a last time in morning, so now can't leave again for florida until tuesday, I have business at home on Monday i think...will try to do in AZ...life getting in way of birding...

  4. There's a great article by Greg Neise that compares the Komito/Hayward Big Years: http://blog.aba.org/2013/12/hayward-vs-komito-a-look-at-the-playing-field.html

  5. Following up on Jeff's comment: as close as I can ascertain, by the standards of the current checklist Sandy had 486 Code 1 species, 166 Code 2's, 68 Code 3's, 22 Code 4's, and 6 Code 5's, for a total of 96 coded birds. Olaf is doing quite well, I think.

    1. split canada goose, oriole, ridgeway's, sage sparrow, 3 parakeets, I think, swamphen, egyptian goose, condor, munia, maybe woodhouse'e, the Xanthu's murrelet made a coded bird, as did the scoter's so nothing there...so checklist at least a dozen more, not sure what got changed in codeds.....unless I don't chase anything...I get in the 60s for coded birds just playing out the clock with my scheduled trips, which isn't good enough but gives me some hope

    2. Thanks, Joe. So we can now calculate that the total number of regular (code1+2) birds on the checklist in 1998 was 657. Sandy missed five of these: Common-ringed Plover, Mottled Petrel, Great Gray Owl, Gray Vireo, and McKay's Bunting. The first two are tougher than most code 3 birds and have been missed by many big year birders. The owl and vireo are pretty big misses for a big year birder, and I understand he was very close to seeing both. McKay's is sort of in-between. The strategy of going up to Alaska to see it in the winter was developed later.

      Since 1998 there have been 8 splits, no lumps, 7 added exotics, and one deleted exotic, leaving the current number of regular birds officially at 671. This does not include the condor, which is still code 6 but probably will be changed to code 2.

      It is also likely that there will be one more split when the next checklist comes out this year, which would raise Olaf's effective maximum to 673. That is four more than Neil Hayward had available in 2013.

    3. as I've noted the magic number is all plus 80
      big undertaking.....


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