When it comes to rare birds, I often think that if it weren't for the wrong place, I wouldn't have much of anywhere to be. Likewise, if it weren't for the wrong time, I would never be there.
Today was one of those days.. .We were over in Surrey, visiting with my girlfriend's family, and were planning on spending the morning with her niece and nephews before heading back on the 1pm ferry. Then, at 8:56am, I got an email update from BCVIBIRDS that a Field Sparrow had been found pretty much in my own backyard, at Esquimalt Lagoon, by Andy and Ellen Stepniewski! A few minutes later I missed a call from Jeremy G, no doubt reporting the same, and I resigned myself to falling behind, his 301 to my 300 in the Victoria Checklist.... Unfortunately this was not one of those wrong place/wrong time situations that could be solved simply by climbing down a mountain, taking an early lunch break, or driving like a bat out of hell for an hour or two. There is only one thing I believe in more firmly than twitching Field Sparrows in Victoria (or, any rarity, for that matter) and that is family - namely my family and Andrea's.
On went the visit, all the while my mind racing... we catch the one, what is traffic going to be like, is the light going to hold up, is it going to rain....... not to mention having to pick up my son at 4pm sharp in Langford! Getting to the ferry was no problem, and I even managed to pick up a Rough-legged Hawk along the way, though 5 minutes after we got into the terminal a one sailing wait hit those unfortunate enough to be slower than us! Off the ferry on the Victoria side and I was itching for an update on the bird, as it had been last reported by Ann Nightingale at 1:45pm.... Again, Lady Luck was grinning her ass off at me, as we made it all the way from the Swartz Bay Terminal to Langford, coming off of a full boat, without having to stop once for a red light or a turn (which has NEVER happened to me)!
I took 30 seconds to grab my camera and binos and headed right back out the door, getting a report from Agnes Lynn via BCVIBIRDS that the bird was still present 20 minutes earlier at 3pm, and I was 5 minutes away. I was encouraged, but my enthusiasm was tempered a bit by the ghosts of all of the birds that I had missed by one minute or five, or would have seen if I hadn't stopped for coffee in Port Alberni, or or or.....
I had told Andrea earlier that the quickest way to find a bird like this was to find the birders, and as I cruised down the lagoon reading trash can numbers I found the birders! Quickly parking and grabbing my gear, I rushed across the road and slowed to a crawl, not wanting to spook whatever it was that the small band of merry twitchers was photographing. A little behind the vanguard were David and Geoffrey Newell, who responded to my raised eyebrows and nod with a "it is right at their feet!". Turns out the dynamic Newell Duo, responsible for many a fantastic find in the last couple of years, had had some good, quality time with the bird.
I crept up as slowly as my excitement would allow, finally seeing movement in the brush, before the Field Sparrow hopped out into view! This is only the second record for BC and first for the Victoria Checklist Area, and my tick (no pun intended) number 301 for the latter area! A very unexpected rarity, and one that neither Jeremy G or I had thought of last week while trying to figure out the next!
Despite the waning light, I managed a couple of (again, charitably speaking) record shots:
The birds timing was a little off as I have just ordered a new lens, an EF400mm 5.6, which should be here in a couple of days. I had the chance to shoot one of these for a day and change on my Texas trip last year and was impressed with the compact size, reach, and how tight and fast the autofocus is.... it has only taken me just shy of two years to pull the trigger on a purchase to supplement my 70-300 Sigma!
Oh well, maybe the bird will stick until the lens arrives. But in any case there was a happy ending to the story, I got to see an amazing bird and picked my son up on time!
Until the next unforeseen and mindblowing rarity, good birding, and see you out there!