Friday, July 03, 2009

Tale of the Sabine's Gull

With this post I'm starting to do a bit of what I promised not long ago and tell some stories of birds I've added to my yearlist. Tales to follow include:
  • Tale of the Great Gray Owl
  • Tale of the Northern Hawk Owl
  • Tale of the Greater White-fronted Goose
  • and more!
So with that.... I shall begin.

Tale of the Sabine's Gull

On Friday, June 26th 2008 I woke up and headed to the store to pick up some plastic tubs to organize my gear in so that my car would no longer be a mess. Recent losses of a GPS inspired this move. After picking up the necessary items I returned home to promptly unload every item in my car onto my patch of yard. My cell phone made its familiar text message tone. I checked my phone - happy for the break to re-coop and plan the next step. "Royal Tern in Hampton Harbor" read the text from Ben. Wow. Not a common sighting in New Hampshire at all. Although Royal Tern sightings are becoming much more frequent they have been described to me as a bird you can "expect" to show up "every other year or so". However, one had already been reported a few weeks previously and I was fortunate enough to make it down to the coast in time to be one of the half of dozen people who saw it.

But what if I hadn't? What would have I done with piles of clothing, gear, etc. on my lawn when a bird I would have needed for the state and for the year was 30 minutes away. Fortunately, I was not faced with this dilemma. I was able to continue to clean, organize, and clean.

Once finished I debated heading to the coast to poke around at my favorite spots. The idea of traffic kept me away. So I settled down organizing some of the things I did not want to keep in my car when suddenly the phone rang. "There's a Sabine's Gull off Pulpit Rocks," stated Ben. "What! I need to get in the car right now don't I then!" I responded. "Yes, let me know when you get there and if you get it".

Rapidly I called every birder I new to make sure they got the call. At some point while talking to Ben I even attempted to text the message to one birder, but managed only to get out the message " Yes. Sabine's Gull pulipit" which didn't make much sense until further conversation. The yes meant yes I'd like to go on a whale watch tomorrow.... and the rest was just really out of context.

Panic set in as I rolled onto the highway. What if I didn't get there in time, what if I miss this bird? Meanwhile phone calls started rolling in on my end including one from Jessie who needed a ride as I was passing their exit. Fortunately they told me to continue on, or else, I'm not sure I would still be breathing to this day. I may have not been quite as worried had I not just received a call saying that the bird had moved south down a few pull offs from Pulpit Rocks to just north of Walis Sands. Shoot! Now the bird is moving I thought... I need to get there NOW!

Mom, don't worry I didn't speed, pass on the right, or do anything that would warrant getting a ticket etc.

Ok, I did speed a little.

As I followed individuals going 10mph under the limit I tried to remain calm but my entire body was shaking. As I rounded down the coast I spotted JoAnn and Mike on the rocks looking through scopes. I pulled my car over parking 3 individuals in. They could make me move AFTER I saw the bird.

I bolted out of my car and said "OK let me see it then I'll go park legally" As soon as I got on the bird it started to fly providing the best look I would have all day at the bird.

As luck would have it, someone pulled out at this point and I was able to park my car right there. I pulled out my scope and diligently watched and studied the bird knowing that others would be arriving and as some of the others had to leave, I needed to be prepared to follow the bird.

I was still shaking at this point but people started to arrive: Len, Steve, Jason (who got it for his 300th life bird), and more. At this point Jason and I called another birder who lived near where Jessie was and who could give her a ride!

Ben was in a hail storm worse than any other storm he had been in but managed to live through it.

5 hours later people were getting out of work so a new wave of birders arrived (along with those like Ben who were a bit further away - ie 2+ hours). And at some point I did stop shaking.

Fortunately, everyone en route got to see the bird. Unfortunately some people were unable to leave that night and did not get to see the bird as it was not re-found the following morning.

Yet, one week later, on Friday July 3rd - I got another phone call. This time there was a Sabine's Gull in Hampton Harbor.

After a week of birding in the fog and trying to get over a cold... here was something no one would have expected. With that I headed down to Hampton and was fortunate enough to spend more time with such a fantastic species.

Both bird"s" are first summer birds. Rare for Sabine's on the East coast (which is rare in and of itself!). Its NH's first ever first summer record, and it is around NH's 4th record (the number of records depends on who you talk to). All previous NH records are from offshore near Jeffery's Ledge.

It's not for me to say that this bird is or isn't the same. But odds are its the same bird and just hasn't been seen due to the weather. I'll be sure to update as more details unfold. But I hope for now the story has made you laugh.

With the initial sighting of Sabine's Gull I hit the following numbers:
  • 400 ABA birds,
  • 414 life birds,
  • and 263 year birds (now 264)


dAwN said...

Great post Lowie! You made me laugh..and smile and appreciate the crazy, intense, amazing birder that you are..and that you are going to be!

Chris Petrak said...

I have a policy of not reading list serves unless I know I have the time to go chasing after something. , but you have managed to make me moan anyway. Great description - enjoy your writing, but learning about the Sabine's, but glad for you, but ....