Day 141 - Crisis Averted

Friday, May 20, 2016 0 Comments A+ a-

Last night I sat and looked at a calendar. It was the 19th of May. Where had the month gone? I was going through my needs list and had one glaring hole staring back at me. There was no way to avoid the possibility that I would miss a resident bird if I didn't take some action. In big year terms there was a crisis on the horizon--and I needed to take evasive measures to avert it.

This is where the secret big year becomes burdensome on me. I have to make a trek around Narnia and not tell a soul I'm doing so. How the hell do I do this and not feel guilty? How do I do this and not worry? How do I do this and manage to avoid other birders? The weight hits my shoulders and I slump in my chair. I need to get this bird for my big year--and there is no way to avoid doing so in secret. There is no way I can have a valid reason to go to Archenland right now that wouldn't draw suspicion on various levels.

So I come up with a story to tell various parties and off I go. Archenland is on the edge of Narnia if you know anything about Narnia. It requires a little bit of a drive, and I made the trek in the cover of darkness. A long drive in the dark gives you a lot of time to think about what you are doing, and how it will be seen after your big year is over. While it is happening no one is any wiser to your actions. I feel I am doing a good job at keeping my secret, but it would be easy to slip up and have someone realize I'm up to something innocent, but sneaky.

As I drive I think about how others will look back and if they'll piece together where I was on certain days and how I explained it, or where I said I was. There have absolutely been times I have claimed to be in one place, while I've been elsewhere this year. That's the way of the secret big year and there's no way around it. After a while I shrug it off--I'm doing what I have to do for this unique take on a big year. And I think my strategy is working as I'm putting together a good run and the other big year birders don't seem to be on to me.

The drive today went quickly and before I knew it I had arrived in Archenland. Having crossed the Archen River in the wee hours I had a short list of birds, and just 5 hours to find them. The first order of business was the main target of this mornings outing--the Rare Bawler. All of its relatives are much easier to track down and I had most for the year. But the bawlers limited range made it somewhat difficult. I was also getting to the point in the year where if I waited any longer it would almost certainly be a miss. At my first stop I pulled up and turned off the vehicle, only to hear the distant bawl of the bawler. That was too easy. I started looking but could see nothing. I heard it bawl again and thought I should be seeing it any second now... But no.

After 15 minutes I still hadn't seen my target, and it had stopped bawling. I was a bit frantic. Here I was in the Archenland, far from home on my last ditch effort and I didn't have a visual. The audible counts for the year, but I wanted more. I spent the next 2 hours searching, and although my irritation at not seeing the bawler eventually wore off, the slightest nagging feeling remained the entire day.

I capitalized on some beautiful light to take some pictures, and hope upon hope that I might find something unexpected. Nothing popped up. Eventually I headed to the nearby town of Anvard, and then the forests to the south. I had 3 more target birds that should all but be free. The first was a home run as a Black-and-white Swinger was right where I saw mine on my previous big year. Too easy. 15 minutes later I was in a nearby draw and hearing my first Diminutive Swinger of the year--also where I had mine on my previous big year. It's funny how using a similar formula (similar enough) from one year to the next can net the same results. We know that birds have certain areas they frequent, so its no surprise that over time you can predict what you'll get and where with pretty decent accuracy. During my last big year eBird wasn't as heavily used and most of my planning was based off previous birders big years, and the knowledge of friends and lots of research. Obviously that previous experience still has an influence today, but eBird has added a whole new dimension to planning and executing big years that without a doubt is a huge advantage.

Long tangent--sorry about that. In any event after a little time spent taking photographs of 5 species I needed for the year, I moved on and heard the familiar ringing of the Dusky Goblin. It was moving through the trees nearby and I only got a short look as it flew overhead and out of sight. The last target of the morning successfully ticked.

I decided to try and get back home early. No point in risking a late arrival, or having to deal with any kind of traffic. Aside from a quick gas stop I made great time heading home and decided I could peel off for a quick 15 minute look for a breeder that I knew had arrived the previous week. I headed to the known stakeout but the birds weren't there. I ended up spending 30 minutes between 2 nearby spots checking, but the wind had come up and it made listening almost impossible. I gave up knowing I would save this bird for another day.

Now I'm home, writing this as if it were just another normal day here in Narnia. No one knows I was in Archenland today. It's a strange feeling. But coupled with the fact a major birding crisis was averted I am sitting back and smiling. My big year is moving right along and luckily these type of secret outings should be pretty few and far between the rest of the year.

New birds today: 4
Year List: 289


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