Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Of Mice and Men

The best laid plans of mice and men was the theme of yesterday. I was all set to catch a mid day flight up to New York City in order to have a chance to see the gray headed gull, which is also called a gray hooded gull. But the first sighting of the day did not occur until about 1 PM. As a result, I booked my flight to leave Chapel Hill at 5:20 to fly to LaGuardia. I arrived at the airport at 4:20, and settled in to wait to board the flight when I noticed that the flight to JFK was on a ground delay. I asked the agent about my flight and was told we were still going to leave on time.

So I am thinking if JFK is closed how is LaGuardia still open. Sure enough 10 minutes later my flight is put on ground delay. At 6 PM they load us on the plane, taxi out and shut down the engines because now there has been another ground delay. At 8 PM we taxi back to the gate, but are told we still will be flying to NY that evening.

I am at this point highly skeptical, so I decide to see what the prospects are for getting on the flight to Washington, DC. John Vanderpoel and 2 other birders were driving from Hatteras north, and I checked to see if they might pick me up there around midnite when they passed thru the city. They said no problem. The gate agent said that both DC flights were also grounded, and I should wait for the NY flight. At 9:45 PM they announced my flight was going nowhere, and the earliest flight out today would be at 11 in the morning.

About 10:20 we were informed that the DC flights were also going nowhere. All of this was very perplexing since my son, who I had planned to stay with, kept telling me that the skies were clear or partly cloudy in Brooklyn. As it turned out, there were massive, 40,000 feet high thunder storms in the DC/Philly area that had messed up the entire flight corridor. That said, somehow the JFK flight that I first noticed was grounded did get off while we were sitting in our plane from 6-8 PM.

I called John, Doug and Ken to tell them I could not get to NY or DC that night. Given that they were going to be at the gull site at first light, and the earliest I could get into NY was around 1 PM today, I told them as much as I would have liked to see the gray hooded gull with John during his big year, I was not going to fly up this morning.

It proved to be the right decision when I received a call from them at 8:30 AM telling me that they were standing looking at the gull, and were ready to head off to catch flights home, or to drive home. Doug said he would send me photos of the gull as my consolation prize.

The gray hooded gull raised John's year to date bird total to 691. In the ABA coding system, this gull is an accidental, code 5 bird which is the 2nd code 5 bird for John's big year list. As a reference, last year I had four code 5 birds. John is in excellent shape to pass the 700 level by the end of August. He will be going to Alaska again in September and October, so with some good luck he could end up with a very good total for the year.

For those who have followed this blog, I have discussed the significance of passing the milestone of 700 birds in a calendar year in the full ABA area. Last year I did some research, and based on American Birding Association data, and Wikipedia, as best I could determine, only the following 11 people have seen at least 700 birds in a calendar year:

1) Benton Basham in 1983, 710 birds
2) Sandy Komito in 1987, 721 birds
3) Steve Perry in 1987, 711 birds
4) Bill Rydell in 1992, 714 birds
Sandy Komito in 1998, 748 birds (full ABA area record)
5) Greg Miller in 1998, 715 birds
6) Al Levantin in 1998, 711 birds
7) Dan Sanders in 2005, 715 birds
8) Lynn Barber in 2008, 723 birds
9) Bob Ake in 2010, 731 birds
10) John Spahr in 2010, 704 birds
11) Chris Hitt in 2010, 704 birds in just the lower 48 states (record)

So John should soon be joining a quite small group of birders in the "700 club". I have also mentioned that Matt Stenger is doing a full ABA big year, and provided a link to his blog (716birds). Matt recently passed the 600 bird level. Finally, Gabriel Mapel, an 11 year old from Virginia, is doing what he calls a junior big year (see his blog link). He is currently in Alaska, and has reached this week 334 birds for the year.

Back to the gray hooded gull, I will keep checking to see if it is still at Coney Island over the next few days. I might make a quick trip up soon, or since I am going to Brooklyn on August 17th, I might wait to see if I am lucky enough for it to hang around until then. Stay tuned!

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