Sunday, August 26, 2007

Have You Ever Chased A Rare Bird?

I check these reports each day to get an idea of what types of birds are being seen around Connecticut. For example, there were several reports of Red-breasted Nuthatches showing up around Connecticut last week. I kept an eye on my feeders each day, and sure enough a Red-breasted Nuthatch showed up one morning.

There is another reason that I like to check these reports. Occasionally, there may be a particular birds that I may decide to chase (Brits call this twitching). If a bird that interests me shows up on the rare bird report, I may go out to the reported location to try to find it.

How I decide which birds are worth chasing?


  • Probably the first thing that I look at is distance. If it is further than 40 miles away, I probably won't bother unless it is very rare

  • That would be my second consideration- How rare is it? If it is very rare, then I might be willing to drive a little bit further.

  • Another consideration is-How interested am I in seeing this particular bird? This one is hard to put my finger on. The idea of seeing some birds intrigue me more than seeing other birds-Is it colorful? unusual looking? Challenging to find or identify?-that sort of thing.

  • Will I need a scope to see this bird? I don't have a very good scope. If the bird is at too great of a distance to get a decent view, I probably won't bother.

  • Do I have enough free time on my hands. Some times, I just don't have the time to drive out of my way.

There are those who are very critical of people who chase birds. Some birders will travel long distances just to add one bird to a list. I'm not going to pass judgement on this practice, but you can if you so desire.

There are several reasons why I find this aspect of birding enjoyable.
  • Some times several birders show up looking for a particular bird. It's kind of fun to run in to some of these birders and make conversation.

  • At times, it can be a test of your birding ability to see if you can locate the particular bird.

  • It is a way that you can learn about new birding locations. You may see other birds of interest while you are there as well.

  • It can give you a particular purpose when you aren't sure what type of birding you would like to do on that day.

  • You can see birds that you otherwise might never see.

  • This can help you become a better birder, if you study the bird's field marks carefully.
I have seen several interesting birds this way including Townsend's Solitaire, Swallow-tailed Kite, Painted Bunting,White-winged Crossbill, Lazuli Bunting, Northern Wheatear, and a Rufous Hummingbird . I "dipped out"(failed to find the bird) on a Western Tanager, Blue Grosbeak (twice!), and a Sandhill Crane. The Kite was my favorite. It put on an hour long show as it fed on insects in mid-air flying directly over our (about 40 people) heads.

The other day, I took a short ride over to Rocky Hill Meadows to see if I could find a Buff-breasted Sandpiper that had been reported on B-mail. This was not a very rare bird, but it is very uncommon in CT. I had seen one at the same location the year before, but wanted to view it again so that I could identify it on my own.

When I arrived, a more experienced fellow birder by the name of Andrew was there. He put me on to the bird right away. This certainly takes away some of the challenge, but I don't mind. I would have had a tough time locating this particular Sandpiper. I had a clear but distant look through his scope. I noticed something that I hadn't the first time seeing one. It had a big, black, expressionless eye. To me, the side of the face reminded me of seeing a Mourning Dove. Adding that to other field marks, I felt much more confident that I might be able to identify one on my own.
Fifteen minutes later, another birder named Sarah showed up. I had run in to her once before, when we were both searching for a Painted Bunting. She found the Bunting first, and pointed it out to me. This time, I was able to relocate the Sandpiper so that she was able to see it. It all works out in the end.
If you are interested in checking rare bird reports, here is a link that should lead you to your state's birding hotline.

Have You Ever Went To See A Bird That Was Reported On The Rare Bird Report? If so, how do you decide which birds you are going after?
How far would you be willing to travel to see a particular rare bird?

If You never have, is this something that you might be interested in trying in the future? Why Or Why Not?

13 comments:

mon@rch said...

I have gone after an anna's hummingbird that was 4 hours away! B ut normally I don't chase unless its in the same county that I am in! Even if it's VERY RARE! But I do chase from time to time!

Wren said...

Only once. I went to view a swallow-tailed kite that was about thirty miles out in the country when we lived in Virginia. It was a nice, sunny, day and a pleasant drive to what turned out to be a bit of a birders' party.

I don't chase birds as a rule because I really haven't the time. (Which is to say, I choose to spend my time doing other things - I'm not a competitive lister and I'm more interested in seeing the birds and watching their behavior than I am in mastering identification and growing a list.)

That being said, I can imagine myself chasing a bird sometime again. My criteria would be whether or not I've seen the species before, how far away, is it some place that is pleasant to go even without that particular bird, what else is in the area, what's the weather like, and what else might I do instead. Very opportunistic.

RuthieJ said...

Hi Larry,
I once drove over 500 miles (round trip) one cold day in January to see the Great Grey Owls during their famous Minnesota irruption a couple winters ago. It was a beautiful sunny winter day and my spouse was the co-pilot. I really like owls and everyone said this was a "once-in-a-lifetime" event and as long as it was in Minnesota I didn't want to miss it.

I also traveled with a couple friends once to far Southwestern MN to see the Blue Grosbeak at the only place they are found regularly in Minnesota. We saw the female (plus lots of other birds & butterflies) and it was a fun day with friends.

Normally I don't go out of my way to see rare birds (unless I see something nearby on the Rare Bird Report) because I don't keep a "life list" and I haven't done it at all since gas prices went way up.

Lynne said...

I did a trip to northern Minnesota to see the Great Gray Owls the seame year Ruthie did. As Ruthie mentioned, it was a once in a lifetime opportunity and I really wanted to see that magnificent bird. (turns out we saw 50+ GGO's that day!!!) I did a group trip last winter, again to nothern Minnesota, to see other boreal species that come down in the winter. I always read the MN birding lists but have never been a chaser. I guess for me, I feel pretty content to watch the birds around me wherever I am.

Jochen said...

I usually don't chase rare birds. I am very much someone who tries to find unusual birds by myself, so I mostly bird my home patch or I try to travel as much as possible to see other birds. If it is possible for me to travel (money, time etc.) I prefer seeing a species in its "true" habitat within its range or in large numbers compared to a single out-of-range vagrant.
I simply feel that finding rare birds by myself adds meaning to my hobby as it adds a little piece of knowledge to the big puzzle that is our understanding of birds. If you go after birds others have seen, you are not producing anything new, the record's there, and it doesn't matter to our understanding of e.g. vagrancy patterns if the bird was seen by 5 or 50 birders.
This does not, however, mean I condemn or dislike chasing rare birds, and if a rare bird shows up nearby in a distance I can reach (I don't have a car, neither here nor in Germany, so that's limiting my chases anyway), I try to go for it.
The only species I'd be willing/tempted to travel far for are species that are difficult to find even within their normal range. For example globally threatened species or species of the high Arctic that rarely get to the south, like Ross's or Ivory Gull, are surely worth chasing. How far I'd be willing to travel to see them I don't know... A day trip would be a likely limit to the maximum distance, or I might be using a rare bird as a reason to spend a whole weekend at a certain location, also checking out other birding sites after seeing it. But as I would have to rent a car, a very cool bird is needed to trigger that and I haven't done it so far...

Larry said...

Monarch-You get to see a lot of nice birds while banding, it must take something really unusual to go after it.

Wren-Watching bird behavior is a great part of birdwatching.If you take more time to study a particular bird, you may notice something new about a species that wasn't previously noticed.

Ruthiej-Sounds like you may enjoy doing it as an event which can be part of the appeal.-I do keep a life list, but don't really care how fast it grows.-It is just nice to look back on birds you've seen at certain times-bring back memories.


Lynne-Watching the birds that are around me probably describes the style of the majority of birding I do-but I just like to add a bit of variety now and then.


Jochen-I agree that chasing birds doesn't serve any great purpose.-I do most of my birding in my local oatch too-I haven't really traveled much at all though.-Maybe in the future.-Thanks for your detailed response!

Deb said...

I'm not really a "chaser". The area I live in is so rich in bird fauna already, I prefer to stay home and see what shows up there. Besides, with three kids I don't really have the time, although if everything works out I'll be going on two birding trips, one with RuthieJ and Lynne, and one with Lynne!

I would consider traveling up to a hundred miles to see a painted bunting. There was one three miles from my place four years ago, I have a copy of the video, but I found out about it too late!

Larry said...

That's great that you're getting out on those birding trips.-I'm sure it will be a lot of fun!_I would not consider my area rich in bird fauna-just average probably.-
As far as time, I travel to different spots to bird on the weekend anyway-so it's really about the same in terms of time.

Veery said...

I love to see new life birds, but time and money usually are strong restraints for rare sightings.
I don't ever go for owls when they come down to southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois (as they periodically do when food is scarce). I am afraid that they are already stressed and will be unable to find food with all the people watching them.
I love how birds are so mobile and would go searching for rare birds more often if I could. It is an interesting field of study to track vagrants.
My brother (Birdfreak) has seen a Vermilion Flycatcher in northern Illinois and a Blue Mockingbird in Texas, but I have not seen anything really rare (yet).

Mary said...

1. No. Haven't seen a rare bird report.

2. n/a

3. within walking distance :o)

4. Yes.

5. Sounds like fun!

Larry, good post. Before I'd go out on a search, I'd need a scope and new binocs. I get excited to see a life bird in my yard so I'm not in a hurry to look for rare birds, really.

Larry said...

Veery-A Vermillion Flycatcher is one I've always dreamed of seeing!-
I'll have to look up a Blue Mockingbird.-That's true what you say about owls-we don't report seeing nesting owls-
Mary-You don't need fancy binoculars or a scope-If it's a rare bird, there will probably be birders there who wouuld give you a look in a scope-just binoculars work.

John Briggs said...

Last year, I went looking for the Western Reef Heron that was reported off Kittery, Maine. This bird was the second sighting of this species ever in the northern hemisphere.

It was there for a week before I decide to drive the 35 miles to see it. (Work schedule, etc.) It was gone for good when I got there.

Should have used a vacation day, called in sick or whatever, but I didn't and waited too long.

dguzman said...

I've only ever chased a bird that was sighted within about a five-mile drive of my house, as it happens: a blue grosbeak. Didn't see him, but I did find a great new place to go birding! I usually don't have the time to chase birds, what with full-time job and part-time school. Plus I usually bird alone, and I wouldn't want to drive any great distance and look for a bird all on my own. I'd rather go with someone else, preferably someone more experienced!