Monday, November 19, 2012

The Wagtail

It was a Saturday night like any other. To alleviate the weekend rain I had proposed a night of drinking and Xbox playing on the new big screen. WWE 13 had just come out, me and a few friends were re living the attitude era over whiskey and cokes. Around 12am and a few beatings in I just happened to check my yahoo birding groups, when I got to the Vancouver Island group, my mouth dropped as I read the words: Citrine Wagtail. Of course my friends thought I must have been delivered some pretty heavy news as I writhed around the floor moaning in horror.

What had originally been thought to be a White Wagtail, then a Yellow Wagtail, now had been confirmed as something I had never even heard before, a bird that doesn’t even exist in my field guides. They didn’t exactly understand why I was upset, but they didn’t really understand I had to make a choice, go see that bird in the morning, or maybe take the chance I would never see one of the rarest birds to touch down on Canadian soil. My choices were these; Wake up at 5am, which was 4 hours from then, take a ferry to Nanaimo, then drive to Comox, or spend a life regretting not doing just that, I guess when you put it that way, I only had one choice.

 Four Hours later in a dream like state I packed my binocs, scope , tripod and camera and set out to West Van to catch the first ferry. As soon as I loaded into the ferry, I turned off the ignition and slept uncomfortably twisted in the drivers seat. I awoke to the starting of cars, and in a daze I followed suit. I looked in my rear view mirror, and saw a familiar face, one of the superstar birders in Vancouver, one with the last name of “Toochin”. “Well well well” I said to myself “the big boys are out today”.

 Citrine Wagtail, the name rolled around in my head, the name seemed exotic, an internet search resulted in images of a wagtail that seemed to have been dipped in a light yellow gloss. Of course this one I was going to see was a juvenile, and had none of the citrine colour the bird was named for. From what I read they nested in India, quite a ways from Comox. Wagtails are named as such, because of their uncontrollable habit of flicking their tails up and down methodically, much like their relatives here, the American Pipit.

 The drive there was quiet and smooth. I listened to a band called “Landing” their light drone fit well with the empty island highway, the sun peaked through rain clouds, I wanted to keep stopping and checking out the shores lined with Gulls, but I had business at hand.

 When I arrived in Comox, a line of cars parked along the side of comox road was an easy sign that I had found the site. I parked my car in turn, and crossed the busy street to a path that lead through a field on the other side, 100 meters up I could see the crowd, intently focused, peering into their scopes.

 Walking towards them the tension grew until I had finally clumsily unfolded my scope next to the others, and began scanning back and forth the opposite field. A birder asked if I had found it yet, and I replied no, I asked where it was “see the tallest tree there?” “yes” “Follow it to the puddle, and follow the puddle down to the right, where it meets the grass, and to the left of that” “ahhh” Citrine Wagtail

 I held my breath fixed on the bird, bobbing his tail up and down slowly skulking through the grass. He seemed on edge and would duck every time a swan or gull flew overhead, like he was overly anxious or nervous, but I suppose if I had been blown into comox from a far away land, I would probably be acting in the same manner.

He was a beautiful bird though, clean and bright plumage, even as a juvenile he was striking. I spent the better of an hour watching the wagtail, he seemed to have a pre meditated course of action, walking the length of upturned ground where it met the grass, then flying into nearby brush with a buzzy “jeet" and then coming back down just to do it all over. 1st in Canada Other birders discussed its field marks, Mr. Toochin had a book with all the Wagtails, and everyone peered over his shoulder to get looks, more birders showed up, some left. I met a photographer I first met in Ocean Shores, and I shared all the birds I had missed on that trip.

 When you decide to chase a bird you are basically taking a big gamble, sometimes the gamble is less than others, depending on length, the costs, the dependability of the bird. I had spent 140 in ferry money, and then gas, and bad fast food, not seeing this bird would have been a real kick in the pants, but the feeling of relief that eased inside of my after seen it, and the excitement of actually seeing something I traveled to see, were rewards as much as the bird itself. Its addictive stuff, and stuff I sometimes really wonder about.

After hearing the tragic story of a birder who recently died falling asleep while driving to see a rarity, I sometimes think to myself on these journeys what is exactly the point of doing this? Will my life list be preserved and revered after I’m gone? Will anyone even know? Will I leave it to my grand kids to put in a binder in an attic somewhere? With the advent of Ebird at least I know my sightings are being put into a bigger collection one that might help the birds as a whole. But its hard to think Birding or at least the kind of birding some people do is anything more than obsession and stamp collecting, an individualist endeavor that also contains some ego. This is why even when I do something like this, I feel like I'm letting myself down by falling for the trick, as if doing this proves anything but how gullible I am for the next big species, much like how people buy the newest Iphone because its New!

 But these are feelings I intend to dig deeper into with this blog, and maybe this time I will stick with the birding blog as if you couldn’t see this is my first entry in years and years.
 Take Care for now -Ryan

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