Monday, July 11, 2011

You win some, you lose some.

This weekend, I lost, in a pretty big way. If you are a regular reader, then you know the last two weekends in June were spent mostly driving long distances. Once to drop my wife and kids off on Manitoulin Island for a week. Then, the very next weekend, I drove up to get them again with a stop at Sauble Beach to see some Piping Plovers. So this past weekend was going to be an around the house weekend. Lots of gardening and great home cooked meals with the kids (Rachel was off to do a 5k obstacle course run called The Warrior Race). It was going to be just me, the kids and almost no driving at all.

This is where I would've been this weekend.
And this is what we would've been doing. 
Maybe some of this too.

Alas, it wasn't meant to be. You see, all week long I had been watching reports of what at first was a possible White-faced Ibis. As the days went on I was insanely busy at work but kept checking the reports. The possible bird became a sure thing. People were seeing and photographing it daily from Tuesday onward. There was a sighting Friday. I contacted my friends Richard Pope and Margaret Bain and we decided I should maybe go for the bird. I may never get another chance at one this year. They are certainly not common. It was time to pace up and down Main St. Orono contemplating the idea of going. What would it mean? It would mean driving about 1200 km round trip to Ottawa, with the twins, asking if I could stay with my sister when she already had company that weekend, finding a baby sitter I could trust with my two favourite humans while I chased the Ibis, letting my Aunt Pat know that the dinner plans we had were cancelled at the last minute and doing this all on my own. I started to formulate a plan. Kim was fine with more visitors, Aunt Pat liked the idea of joining me on the trip and Kim's daughter Lainey would watch the kids for me.

White-faced Ibis by chuqui.

I contacted Bruce Di Labio, the birder that found and had been monitoring the bird. It was doing the exact same thing every day. Flying into a watery area and spending much of the day feeding. In the late afternoon, it'd fly off and go wherever it was roosting. Nobody knew where that was. If so, I might have had two locations to check. So much the better. In talking with Bruce on Saturday morning, he said he hadn't seen the bird that morning but someone had very early on. It broke patter that morning, leaving the Carp River and flying west until it was out of sight. Things started to seem a little shaky with my plan. I was doubting going. I posted to twitter about my situation, asking followers what they thought. They all said I should go. It would be a great adventure they had said. And they were ,at least in part, right. So I go inside and ask the kids if they want to go see their Aunt Kim and Uncle Rob. They adore Kearan and Lainey (Kim's kids) so I wasn't too surprised by their approval of the idea. What the kids were not yet able to comprehend is the 3 hour drive before seeing anyone.

White-faced Ibis by chuqui.

So I packed up some clothes, snacks and optics and off we went. It certainly helped to have Pat in the car with me. the kids lasted about 2 and half hours before losing their shit. There's nothing quite like the feeling of driving 130 kms down the 401/416 Hwys with two kids shrieking like demons in the back seat. And I'm not a huge fan of stopping on the side of big highways like that, what with the constant barrage of transport trucks whipping by. pat and I keep assuring the kids that we are almost there. If a half hour constitutes being close. At this point I'm seriously doubting my plan. We finally arrive at Kim's and like turning a light switch off, the demons fled my kids bodies and they were sweet, innocent, beautiful children again. My stress levels were a bit lower but I started to feel a bit like a shitty father having just put them through that. Once they get on the trampoline with Lainey, all is forgiven. I sit and have a cool ginger ale. Then, once I'm satisfied the kids are all good, I go to the spot. There's another couple birders there. Turns out it's a photographer from the area and his young son. They kind of reminded me of myself and dad when I was younger. The young fellow shrieking every tie he caught sight of a bird, his dad telling him to keep it down and then them looking at the bird with their bins. He was really good with his son. Teaching him that you have to study the bird, look at it for as long as it sat visible, then try and think about what it might be. Not to make snap decisions and remember what you saw and really identify it.

White-faced Ibis by chuqui.

Least Sandpiper by cotinis.
Spotted Sandpiper by kenschneiderusa.

My iPhone battery dies in the night sometime and so dad wakes me at 6:15am. Great way to start the chase. I was planning on being there at 6. I go downstairs, brush my teeth and we head out. No coffee, no breakfast and sadly, upon arrival to the Carp River, no Ibis. We wait, getting a bit chewed by mosquitoes. There were none the previous day as it was so hot. But this early, they are pretty numerous. They don't really bother me too much as I'm just focused on the bird showing up. We see a few gulls, some Great Blue Herons,  perfect specimen of a Green Heron, some Least and Spotted Sandpipers. There's lots of Killdeer, Red-winged Blackbirds, and a couple of Wilson's Snipe fluttering here and there. A pretty darn good morning of birding, unless you are doing a big year and have all those birds already. A while later we come to the conclusion that this isn't going to happen. We pack up and leave, not so happy with the outcome of the trip. We drive around on the concessions trying various points where the Carp River crosses roads but get no Ibis. We go home, happy to have seen what we did but with an air of defeat. All I can think is what the drive home will be like. Loud, I'm guessing. Turns out they slept for the first hour, watched a movie for the next hour and a half and were again possessed by demons for the last half hour. As an example of how crazy kids can be, listen to this:

Shep is asleep, Georgia is awake and fussing. Aunt Pat crawls halfway to the back to grab a blanket. She can only reach Shep's. She puts it onto Georgia. G falls back to sleep. Shep wakes to see that G has his blanket and completely loses his mind. To the point I had no choice but to pull over and get him his blanket and give G hers. She goes ballistic at the idea of forgiving his blanket in exchange for hers.

It's all so crazy I can't even fathom it. I contemplate wandering into the highway traffic for just a second, but I'm anything but a quitter. Then, I get back into the car and we drive on, to the delightful sounds of demonic possession.

When I get home, I find out Rachel's race went really well and she's already talking about doing it again next year. I'm very pleased and proud of her. I'm also very happy that I won't be doing a big year next year. I'm just going to look at birds for the pure joy of it. After this weekend, I can't wait for that kind of birding.

July 9, 2011 day list

Least Sandpiper
Spotted Sandpiper

Punk Rock Big Year
Paul Riss


  1. Stay strong! Big misses are almost always followed by successful trips. And there's still plenty of time for another ibis to show. Great story though. Especially the description of the father with his son.

  2. i am very pleased and proud that you keep on keep'n on. better to try and fail than not try at all.

  3. Thanks Jeremy. It was really cool to see the guy and his son looking for birds together. it really reminded me of my early days.

  4. You said it Rach. Probably in part because you weren't in the car with the kids during the various freak-outs.

  5. Maybe the Big Year is less about what you get, and more about what you understand :) I appreciate your honest writing, Paul. Rock on.

  6. Thanks birdingphilly. I think you might be right.