Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A Wild Goose Chase!

It is Wednesday afternoon and I have just returned from a "Wild Goose Chase". I decided late Sunday afternoon to fly up to Burlington, VT so that I could be picked up by John, Doug, Ken and Liz on their way to chase the graylag goose that has been visiting Chambly Basin just outside of Montreal. Having birded with all of them earlier this year as part of John Vanderpoel's big year I thought it would be fun to chase the graylag since it would be only the 3rd wild graylag recorded in the ABA area, and a life bird for me.

I arrived at midnite, and immediately hit the rack at the rendezvous motel to be able to get some sleep before getting up to leave at 5 AM Monday. We left as planned, made it across the border about 6 AM after raising the eyebrows of the French Canadian custom officer who just could not understand why people from CO, CA, NY, NC and MA would meet up to come into Quebec to find a graylag goose. We were at Chambly Basin by 7:30 AM having already seen several thousand snow geese on the river nearby. It was sunny but only about 30 degrees and windy. I really had not brought the right cold weather layering, so I was pretty chilly, retreating to the warmth of the car regularly.

We met Raymond, the local birder who had found the goose, about 9:30 at a different location on the basin than we started. We went there because we saw some Canada geese fly in across from our position. He told us that there were not nearly as many geese on the Basin as there had been earlier. This was not an encouraging discovery, but we kept our hopes up nevertheless.

Once we found the new spot, many birders kept stopping in to check on whether the goose was there. By mid day we had carefully scoped all the Canada geese we could see but had not found the target bird mixed in with them. We decided to have some lunch and warm up. We then returned to the prime viewing spot about 1:30, and began our vigil again. More birders continued to cycle thru, but no one had seen the goose. As the sun got lower in the sky we hoped more geese would fly into to roost for the night. In fact the opposite seemed to happen as many of the geese that were already on the water flew off to feed very late in the day.

As the sun went down we found ourselves at 5 PM checking into a local motel, and then walking quickly down the road to eat dinner at Tre Colori, a recommended Italian restaurant. We ended up having a very good meal, including talking with the chef owner who told us his parents had moved from Calabria, Italy and started the restaurant 45 years earlier, and now he and his brother were running it.

After a much longer night's rest, we were back at the prime roost location at 6:30 AM to find at least 1000 Canada geese just waking up for the day. This was still well below the 2-3000 geese that had been on the Basin last week. While the wind was not blowing like the day before, the temperature was 17 degrees. One of the local birders from the day before joined us soon after our arrival, and then a few more. Alas, by 9:30 not only had we not seen the graylag goose, but most of the Canada geese had flown off to feed in the farmlands nearby.

Because John needed to be back in Boston by 7:40 PM to catch his flight home to Colorado, we reluctantly packed up and began our drive back to Boston--a drive that was much less exuberant than it would have been if we had found the graylag goose. John not only did not get the graylag, but he also did not see a great skua on his pelagic trip last Saturday which leaves him holding at 734 birds for the year. Even though Thanksgiving holiday traffic slowed us down as we approached the airport, we did get John to his plane on time so he would get home to spend Thanksgiving with his family.

Before closing out this posting, I want to respond to the comment on my last entry. A reader referred me to a short interview with Sandy Komito in which Sandy explains that he believes his final record number of different species seen in 1998 is actually 748. After reading his book recently, I understand the point he was making in the interview. Specifically, there were 3 birds he saw in 1998 that were accepted by state bird record review committees after 1998--Belcher's gull (CA), yellow-throated bunting (AK), and Bulwer's petrel (NC).

But in reviewing his book, and applying the same rules by which birds seen during a big year typically are counted based on state bird record committee reviews, he counted 2 species (Xantu's hummingbird in British Columbia, and a white-cheeked pintail in Florida) that were not accepted after the fact as wild birds by the state/province committees. Also, Sandy says in his book that after discussions with Jon Dunn, he decided he was not certain that he had seen a gray vireo in 1998, and therefore was not counting it in his total. As a result, I would suggest that Sandy's record total is still 745.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving--my favorite holiday of the year. I hope everyone has a great day tomorrow. When I will be birding next is not clear, but you never know, so stay tuned!

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