Birding (and more) in Calhoun County and beyond
As big as this bird was, and as much as the story behind it I am going to give the great Spotted Redshank of 2018 its own post.
On Saturday afternoon, 11/3 and e-mail went out about a Spotted Redshank sighted in Michigan. I knew this was a pretty rare bird around here (just how rare was shocking), and I follow Alan Ryff on Flickr so I went on there to see what the commotion was about. Sure enough excellent photos of a Spotted Redshank, apparently in some mudflat in Michigan. Unlike most of his other photos there was no location given. Rogue Birders posted on a pic asking for more info, but not response was there. Over the next 3 hours a few more e-mails came out with the bird finally being spotted just South-west of Ann Arbor by a couple of the big-name State Birders.
Later that night a couple dozen checklists popped up from the location with more information on the bird. I checked to see the status, and there had been one sighting in Michigan before. I also see it is a Code 4 bird for the ABA. Holy dang. Not realizing this bird was only an hour away from me I didn't think much about it. Wasn't really sure it was worth it, or not. Then I checked the Species Map on eBird. Whoa!!! This is even somewhat rare for an Alaska bird. No way I can miss this bird. I plan to get up before the crack of dawn and head over. Realizing now that I take 40-50 minutes to hit Homer or Duck Lake, and never leave the county.
I arrive at around 7:40 and was not prepared for what I saw. Easily over 100 people were staring out into the NE corner of the intersection, with a couple dozen walking North on Parker past the Jeep. I overhear a conversation with the people parked in front of me. I ask them "Did he just say it flew off?" Sure enough the bird had flown off just as I got there. I still get geared up, and just as I start to follow the small crowd, flying about 100 feet away from me is a long-legged shorebird calling "Tuuuuu-Tuuuuu-Tuuuuu". Like a Yellowlegs, but flat and evenly spaced single note (my Birds of East Asia calls it chui-chui). I say there it is, that was no Yellowlegs call. Onwards to the crowd we go.
The bird briefly set down just as I rounded the corner on the West end of the mudflat. I managed well enough pictures. I was happy enough with seeing it in flight, hearing it and getting ID'able pics. Still I hoped it would come back down to that end, as you can see above what one would end up wading in to. Eventually I ran into the Dodds and Jack Wykoff there, along with eventually Mike Cook. I was encouraged to move down a little closer and I was able, thanks to my height, get some excellent looks amongst some branches. I managed some happy enough photos and video. I still hoped it would move down to the West end as it would end up closer, but it never did.
I hung out there for 2.5 hours (didn't feel like it). It was an excellent spot. 24 species for just hanging around in one spot wasn't too bad for early November. One huge lifer to top it off. I decided to head back, and hit up Duck Lake area on my way home. That was when all the drama hit. Quite unbelievable stuff.
Hopefully these links work so one can read everything, if they haven't already.
It is really easy, and tempting to go down the rabbit-hole on this one. I have some thoughts I won't share cause it is really more just theoretical-psychology on my part. Ultimately this bird was made public on both Flickr and Surfbirds, but location was not given. Alan almost always give a location, either in his comment on the pictures or his caption. This bird was missing it. It was nearly 24 hours later that others guessed right about where this bird would be, and his partner posted to eBird with the location. Nothing about this shows any sort of willingness to share which Alan admits to.
What turned out to be a bird that, my last count was around 380 unique eBird individuals were able to see almost was none. These 380 don't even include those who don't eBird. So my guess it was somewhere between 400 and 500 people got a chance to see this bird over the week it was here. This included a couple of names I recognized from current and previous ABA Big Year leaders. Of which this bird became at least ABA lifers for them. As I said this bird isn't even that reliable in Alaska to get, yet hundreds of people were able to enjoy seeing the bird that almost weren't. It was obvious Alan wanted people to know he found it (Surfbirds is a world wide website and it was posted to a Stop the Press portion of the site), he just wanted the pleasure to be extremely limited.
Ultimately I agree with Marc, it does give birding a bad name. As does some of what I saw while I was there. Blocking half a road for other traffic......I just have to shake my head. I also heard about some other things that happened there, such as parking out in farm fields, and another e-mail was sent out about Deputies ticketing cars that were not completely off the road. It was definitely an "experience", and ultimately all worth it. I highly doubt I will get a chance to see this species again, and am thankful for those that did the hard work to track this bird down and got the word out about it. As with most things involving people, you get some good and some bad. If you are lucky you experience more of the former, and less of the latter.
My exploits in my latest passion, Birding...not Bird-watching;-)