Day 151: The Year-Bird Dilemma

Is a great sighting worth a sacrifice?

May 31, 2015, Eugene, Oregon — This morning, I had two new birds to look for on the Oregon coast with Dan and Anne: White-winged Scoter and Rhinoceros Auklet. But this mission came with a twist: Yesterday, a rare Hudsonian Godwit was reported inland near Salem—a bird I’d really like to see, as I’ve never seen one in Oregon (despite living here!). 

When I woke up this morning, I thus knew I might have to make a difficult choice: Take a coastal route to clean up the scoter and auklet (common birds which I’ve seen many times, but not yet this year) or an inland route to try for the godwit (a rare bird which I’ve seen just once, in Peru earlier this year). Would I sacrifice a common year bird for a really good sighting in my home territory? 

Such was the dilemma as Dan, Anne and I set up for a seawatch at a place called Boiler Bay this morning. If we didn’t get the scoter and the auklet here, we’d have to take the coastal route and write off the godwit, or try for the godwit at the expense of the scoter and/or auklet. No pressure!

Fortunately, good karma was with us and we soon picked out several White-winged Scoters and Rhinocerous Auklets among the many loons, grebes, scoters, alcids, gulls, terns, cormorants, and shearwaters flying past the point. With the targets nailed right away, we were free to make an inland detour for the Hudsonian Godwit with a clean conscience—no sacrifices necessary! 

When we parked by a certain muddy field near Salem late this morning, the godwit was still right where it had been reported yesterday, pacing back and forth in a muddy field. Several other birders arrived to see it and all had nice views. According to the Oregon Bird Records Committee, this bird has been recorded in the state just 23 times since the 1970s.

I spent the afternoon at home wrangling schedules and transfers for the rest of the year. I sorted out most of these logistics months ago, but things happen (one birder got married and doesn’t know if he can keep our dates; another offered a pelagic trip which I hope to swing; various outbreaks and revolutions have hit the news; a flight to Abu Dhabi was inexplicably changed this week by the airline; etc, etc). It’s nice to have a couple of afternoons at home to tighten up these arrangements. Meanwhile, tomorrow I will head toward eastern Oregon for a couple of days with my dad—because, of course, we have more birds to see in this great state.

New birds today: 2

Year list: 2701

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