Rare Birding: British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, California

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Rare Birds! I hear about a sighting and I go looking. It’s fun, like a treasure hunt. And frustrating too – also like a treasure hunt. Half the time, I feel I’m on a futile quest, like the folks on TV looking for the Lost Dutchman Mine, Sasquatches, or Blackbeard’s hoard of gold and jewels. You know they’re not going to find anything and you know why.

Then there are those birds that everybody sees but you. In March, I spent three hours watching two piles of brush in Golden Gate Park in San Fransisco for a Rustic Bunting — nothing. I didn’t have the courage to check the reports for the day because I know for a fact that somebody will have seen it five minutes after I gave up. At other times, a long wait is rewarded with the briefest of glimpses, as happened to me with a Brambling up on a mountain road near Issaquah, Washington.

“Don’t play me for a sap!” — that (or something like it) is Humphrey Bogart’s line in The Maltese Falcon, which, by the way, is another rare bird. More than one bird played me for a sap over the past year. That’s how I saw it at the time anyway. Cold, wind, rain, hunger, need for a washroom – and nothing nowhere. Need I say more.

Which brings me to method. You can spend a good deal of time watching an empty field, stretch of water or patch of brush when you don’t know exactly where is da boid. Boy, have I done this. Last winter, I spent several days watching a feeder for a Common Redpoll (a rare bird where I live), when the right feeder was a half a block away. Luckily, on one of these days, I happened to look up the street where a small knot of bino types were glassing some other poor soul’s back yard and clued in — I was watching the wrong back yard! You had to be there.

Which brings me to the best way to hone in on a rare bird. Find the birders who know where the little devil is hanging out and most of the work is done. This works, believe me. A good GPS helps too. Still, it’s a thrill when you find the bird when you’re all by yourself. I reported a Tropical Kingbird near Ocean Shores, Washington in October – a first sighting. That’s a kick.

Speaking of birders. The folks that find these treasures and report them, often with detailed directions as to where to find the little rascals deserve huge thanks. Such generosity.

On that note, I rely hugely on Rare bird alerts on eBird. Checking Washington Tweeters has helped me a lot and many thanks to the folk that post there. In California, I checked Calbirds. ABA posts are very helpful. Thanks to all.