Tuesday, June 30, 2009
A Tale of Two Birds
I have a habit of being out of town or even out of the country when rare birds show up in Virginia. Recently it happened again. My wife and I took our granddaughter to Yosemite where I chose to be out of email contact. After driving back home to Norfolk after returning our granddaughter to her parents, I opened my emails to find that a Roseate Spoonbill had dropped into a cornfield in Augusta County. I checked with John Spahr about the bird's current location and whether he'd like to hook up for a visit. Learning that he had seen the bird earlier, but would be willing to help me, I jumped back in the car with a few things and headed west. Good old Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel on a Friday afternoon added half an hour to the travel time before I had even left Hampton Roads. I didn't have quite enough gas to make it all the way so I stopped as briefly as possible at a gas station near Richmond. Another backup at a bridge, this time over the Rivanna River near Charlottesville during their rush hour, cost another half-hour. I kept in touch with John by cellphone, met and followed him to the site. The landowners had recently given permission to drive on their farm road which made getting to the spot a lot easier. The spoonbill was there but was out of sight at the moment, walking from one edge of visibility to another. Momentarily it was in sight and I could exhale and relax a little. Spent the next hour chatting with the birders there, watching the bird, trying a few photos, watching the bird, chatting. I turned down an invitation to have pizza with John and his wife, jumped back in the car and headed home. It was an uneventful ride; the homeward run after seeing a rarity is always better than the trips after not having seen the bird. But they're not as exhilarating as the run to the bird, filled with expectation. My total miles to and from the bird were 372. If you include the morning miles driven back from Raleigh, the total is 571. By the next day the heat had evaporated so much of the water in the puddles which held whatever the spoonbill was feeding on that the bird had left. A couple of days later a similar bird appeared in Delaware where it was a first state record. Our bird had decided to give a thrill to the birders of another state.
About a week later an eerily similar happening occurred. I got a cellphone message from Bill Williams and an email message on the Virginia Listserve telling of a Violet-crowned Hummingbird coming to a feeder in Craig County Virginia. The location was about 325 miles and five hours away according to Google Maps. So much for the Sunday plans Joyce and I had put together. After extending some telephone invitations to possible cohorts for the following day's trip, my wife and I went to the play at the Generic Theatre in Norfolk which was very good and deserves to be seen more widely. I didn't sleep all that well that night but got together what was needed for the trip the following morning. Ned Brinkley and David Hughes came to the house and together with Ned's dog Roxy we set off at 6 am. We made a couple of pit stops for both people and dog plus a gas refill before we got to the site. As we travelled Ned kept in touch with a birder friend of ours who was also heading to Craig County and would reach the bird before we did. However, he was slowed a bit by being stopped by Virginia's finest, allowing us to close the gap. The location was a nice B&B in a nineteenth century farm house. Our target hummingbird was not in sight when we arrived although there were plenty of the common Ruby-throated Hummingbirds coming to the assortment of feeders hanging under the eaves of the porch. A group of about a dozen birders were there, all of whom had already seen the bird and were engaged in birding chatter. It took about 15 minutes for the Violet-crowned Hummingbird to reappear. More birding chatter and discussion. Roxy got a good walk around the area. Other birds were named as each called or sang or flew by. Digital cameras attached to a variety of lenses, both large and not so large, were clicking away. After an hour had elapsed and three more appearances by the visiting hummingbird had come and gone, Ned, David and I went back to Blacksburg for lunch. Feeling satisfied in many ways, I pointed my Trooper in the direction of Norfolk and we headed east. Another five plus hours and we arrived back at my house where David, Ned and Roxy headed home. I downloaded the photos I had taken, shared them with my wife, turned on the baseball game, and fell asleep. The next evening's email explained that those who looked for the hummingbird on Monday had been disappointed with no sightings. I guess it has moved on.