Thursday, October 15, 2020
RVing in the time of COVID 3: Chasing European birds from Arizona
I am a lollygagger, which in 2020 just means to dawdle, but historically in the early 1900s it meant to fool around sexually, and when that changed to meaning to just be slow or dawdle, was somewhere before I was born. One thing, I haven't been guilty of that. I'd be dead. I use this in the birding sense I use this word and it is a word that should be in the "birding" dictionary, along with words like dip, chase, armchair tick etc. I define lollygagger in birding: as a birder who for various reasons waits unusually long to go on attempt to see a desired bird.
I lollygagged on going and getting the great black hawk for months but it remained, came back, and I got it. I lollygagged on the Antillean palm swift, but if left, came back, and remained for weeks until I got around to go and get it. I did the same on a white cheeked pintail and a crescent chested warbler. This week I lollygagged on going and seeing my fifth of my last six straight lifer birds, only on the quetzal did I do what is supposed to be done, drop everything and go in an attempt to see the bird. Curiously, like the rest, quetzals are still being seen in Arizona and even New Mexico. I could have waited.
Shorebirds don't usually stick for very long (stick is another birding term). They are migratory, and they can stay a few days but unless there is something wrong with the bird, they won't usually stay, but yet, this one has. I have spent three trips in Newfoundland in the spring hoping one of these would show up, none ever did. Going to the Rock is not an easy last-minute adventure assuming the border is even ever to open again. So, I am not sure why I was dithering. I guess, at heart, I am a lollygagger.
So, when 11 days ago when a report of an European golden-plover in northern New Mexico, a place I had driven through just the day before, I dithered. First, I did not believe the ID, then I looked at a picture of the bird a day later when it was still there, yes, I would agree with that. Then it stayed...and stayed. I am a retired RVer and we had parked for a while in New River, Arizona. I had things to do: I had a birthday party to go to. I had to pick up a package. I had a book to edit. I had a pickle ball tournament to see if I could repeat as being in 'last place.' I got 4th to last!!
My wife kept asking me, "is that bird still there?" I'd mutter "yes." Part of me was hoping it would just leave. It was 635 miles back up the road to go see, and shockingly 5 miles short of being exactly half-way home. It would be a commitment to get there. I asked my friend, Thor, what he was doing. To see if anyone would share the drive, get this lollygagger off the couch and down the road. He was in California and would not be back until this week. I sighed and went back to doing the "nothing" I had been doing. Lollygaggers do that. We think about the things we need to do and don't do anything.
So on Sunday, the bird still there, I decided I'd leave after Monday night football. It was Vikings-Seahawks....I had to stay. OMG, the Vikings gave it up. I should have left.
During the game and not from the game (I think) my wife starting retching and vomiting. During halftime, the Vikes had a big lead. I went to the store for illness supplies, Gatorade and the like and the Vikings gave up 21 points. The game ended, Vikings lost, and my wife got worse. To say she was "sicker than a dog," would be wrong as I've never seen a dog that sick. I couldn't leave, and two hours later, I was dropping her off at an Emergency Room in north Phoenix.
It was an odd experience. First, they allowed visitors, so preparing to nap in the car, I came in, secondly, they weren't wearing PPE, my daughter wore more PPE observing at a dental clinic in Milbank SD, thirdly, the ER doctors never even saw her skin, examining her belly through her gown and never using his stethoscope. I was like they were scared of her. I'd have said something but we knew what was up. We were sure she had eaten either some bad lettuce or bad potato salad so all she needed was some Zofran (anti-emetic) and IV fluids but sheez.....so we left at 2AM and went home.
By morning, Silja was eating bananas and on her way to recovering, I never got ill, even though I ate all the same things so it was all perplexing. Tuesday, with her blessing, after the Tennessee Titans game, I took off on an all-nighter.
It was like a good old-fashioned bird chase. I drove to I got sleepy, which was all the way to Las Vegas NM, when I slept in the back of my Volvo, which is why I own this model (as I fit). A truck was in my primary spot, but I found a good secondary parking location and woke up at 0630. I needed coffee to finished the last 100 miles, but shockingly, the McDonalds is a good two miles off I-17 in Las Vegas, and they weren't open at 6:45, frustrated, and I don't really like Las Vegas NM, nothing good has ever happened to me in this town. I even got food poisoning here from a Truck stop back in 1994.
I just took off and hoped something would be up the freeway, there is nothing between there and Maxwell. One couldn't spend a dollar in Maxwell unless they wanted to by stamps. At half-light, still on I-25, I saw something I have never seen on the road. One of the classic road stories. I have seen just about everything or so I thought. I've seen bigfoot and UFOs, or maybe bigfoot and maybe an UFO. I'm not committing to anything. I've seen crimes and deaths. I've had everything come bouncing at me from loaded beer barrels to entire axels complete with wheels and tires. I've seen naked drivers, and people doing things that lead in 9 months to more people being around. I've had sightings of wildlife, from cougars, wolves, bobcats, moose, bears, people dressed as bears, a person dressed as a dinosaur, and well I even even seen things quite bizarre, so bizarre, it takes too much write about it. Come to think of it, I've never seen a person dressed as bigfoot...
So, I was trying to get the sleep out of me and I saw this old dodge pickup ahead of me. It was doing about 70 and I was at 80 and was looking at the tailgate thinking was if it was a 1980 model or exactly when they changed that body style when something caught my attention. I pulled up to pass it and then my mind clicked. Stuck in the gas cap was a gas nozzle and trailing 15 feet behind and bouncing all over was the hose. The driver had driven off while pumping gas in Las Vegas. I started to laugh. I pulled up along side the guy and matched his speed.
The older driver, who reminded me of Denver Pile in "Dukes of Hazzard," Maybe itt was the 1980s! Uncle Jesse Duke was driving next to me! He looked at me and gave me the "what the F%^% are you looking at?" look. He rubbed his beard and before was looking to give me the finger or possibly the hose would hit the side of my car, I drove on, wondering if the gas station would even know they were missing something. How many times a day in America does that happen? I've heard about it but never seen it. Now....I have.
Seeing a plover was almost a secondary event. Maxwell NWR had some Google map issues. The direct route to the bird was blocked by a pipeline crew and then I got lost before driving 6 miles around to get to Lake 14, the site of the bird. Someone was just leaving, said, "It is on the west shore."
I stood up on the dike and surveyed. The west shore was too far to even use my spotting scope. I wasn't sure if I should circle the 40 acre lake or what. The water level was down a lot so not knowing the rules I just walked out on the lake bottom. I set up and began to scour the birds on the far side. There were some dowitchers that were so far away, I couldn't ID them, I saw some killdeer, and every once in a while a flock of ducks spooked and left. Then I saw the bird or I thought I had but a group of ducks in front spooked and I lost it. I was about to start over when I saw a shorebirds fly right at me landing twenty yards in front of me. I looked at it with my bins. It was the golden plover. Then it walked towards me. Three other birders walked to me and asked me if I had seen it. I pointed right in front of us. I took pictures and the bird fed like we weren't there.
European golden-plover lifer #807
I hung out for a while but there was nothing more to see and as one of the birders from Colorado Springs left, I did too. I had 635 miles to get back to my RV and that was a long drive. It showed us its underwing when asked. It turned on all sides. Now I had seen all three species of golden-plovers in North America. I didn't have to go to Newfoundland to see this one. I'm not sure how many lower-48 sightings of this bird there have been. I heard of a couple in New Jersey on the coast but this was a great New Mexico bird....but...I don't keep a New Mexican list. But a lifer bird none-the less...and those are about as rare as this bird.
My first sighting of a European Golden-plover in Iceland 2004, in summer plumage. My only other photo of one.
This wasn't a world lifer bird so my paltry number of 1503 remains where it is, but I am drinking a beer tonight for bird #807/860 in my ABA list, which isn't so paltry. I-40 was a traffic disaster on the way home, and the only thing of note was the Popeyes in Holbrook, where I had some great chicken. They were almost out and I was worried a riot of truckers was going to occur, but they found another package and I left before they had used up these.....that Popeyes chicken, addictive like crack cocaine, maybe there will end up being a law against it, guess it depends on who is elected next month. I for one, yearn for an end of the campaign, if I see one more McSally versus Kelly ad....OMG, I just want it to stop, do these two campaigns have such little good to say and this is how they think they should campaign? Two asshole candidates, that is all I hear. I guess anything to get elected. I fully expect to see one with a baseball bat on a commercial beating up the other in effigy. This is what he or she wants to do with retirees, the other party, babies, minorities, the voters....sheez. What ever happened to great Americans being above the fray? If Arizonans are this shallow, the state is doomed...IMHO, maybe we are all doomed. I'm glad I don't vote here, I wouldn't vote for either. I don't care what party they are in, I can't tell what they stand for because they spend all their effort telling me their opponent is the Devil personified. Kevorkian has better PR.
Popeyes chicken, now there is an ad I yearn to see. I'll vote a straight Popeyes ticket....but who is Pro-Popeyes?
Well, back to the ranch, I will have a book out shortly and then a second, a history book on my home town, and last year's adventures so stay tuned.
Sigh....Olaf couldn't have done a sequel, could he?
COVID, well, I think we'll stay isolated due to being in the hospital but staying out IN the sun and hopefully, staying healthy, just avoiding potato salad.
Lollygagging? Don't do it, get up to New Mexico and see this bird, it is a lot easier than going to Newfoundland.
One wonders, did Olaf like his Popeyes so much, that maybe, just maybe, he too drove off with this gas nozzle in his Volvo, the hose trailing behind him on I-40? No! No? ...
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