Chasing a Scissor-tail

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher - Everglades National Park, Florida

We birders are a funny crowd.  Yes, you know that.  We do many strange things for perspective of the uninitiated, so what specifically am I thinking about?  Well, yesterday, I drove over an hour to see a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher.  So, what is weird about this?  Let’s be honest, driving an hour to see an individual bird isn’t all that unusual in my life.  Well, Scissor-tailed Flycatchers are a rather common bird, even abundant in the summer, in Texas where I have lived for the past few years.  Plus, I have photographed them in the Everglades in winter.  So why would I drive an hour to see a bird I have seen numerous times before?  It’s all about the regional list.

Prior to moving to Ithaca, I was never real big on the whole regional list thing.  I actually am not a huge lister, though that needs some qualification.  Yes, I keep a life list and I love to see new birds.  However, if something really strange shows up, I’m not going to drop everything and run out the door to see it.  I am less interested in strange vagrants that show up way out of where they are supposed to be.  I’d rather see the bird in its native habitat.  That being said, if I have the time, I’ll happily go see the bird but it’s not a do or die situation for me.

Ithaca has a thriving and intense birding community surrounding Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology.  One of the big annual competitions is who can see the most species of birds in the Cayuga Lake Basin.  It’s intense, but seems to be a very fun and jovial competition.  People aren’t secretly finding rare birds and keeping them to themselves.  You find something, you make a phone call or send a text and pretty quickly everyone else knows about the bird.  It makes for a great group of birders who are always out and searching for interesting birds.

So enter the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher that was discovered on Saturday near Savannah, NY.  It’s an extremely rare bird up here.  I believe one was seen last year but I don’t think it is an annual bird.  It’s way out of range and migrating north rather than south.  If it doesn’t figure things out and head back south, there is no way it will survive the winter.  It was also seen in the Cayuga Lake Basin, so guess what, a whole bunch of Ithaca birders went to see it yesterday.  Since it was a beautiful day, I figured I’d give it a shot as well.

The day was great and I saw a bunch of birds including the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher.  I even got two new “lifebirds,” birds I have not seen before and are therefore not on my lifelist.  One bird in particular, American Golden Plover, is a fairly common bird and I have missed it on numerous occasions in Florida and Texas as well.  It has been a bit of a nemesis for me, but now I have finally won.  These two birds bring my total life list to 1,067 birds, not too shabby if I do say so myself.

As far as regionally, well I’ve only lived here for about two and half months, so I won’t be anywhere near the winner.  However, my total for the region so far is 127 species, which I would guess is probably about 100 species short of the winner.  According to the checklist, it is about 37% of the total list.  It’d be great to get to 150 species for the year but it could be tough with winter coming on.  All I have to say is just wait, because next year it’s on!

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