The Wrack

The Wrack is the Wells Reserve blog, our collective logbook on the web.

Wing'd XXXII: Worth the Run

Posted by | August 19, 2015

Not often you see a dude rounding a hedgerow, coming down the trail at a lilting half-run, tripod hanging off one hand, but that's exactly what I saw last Tuesday. It was Josh Fecteau on the chase. He had news I hadn't heard. Wilson's Phalarope. In the marsh. From the dike.

Minutes earlier, I'd considered turning left off the Laird Norton boardwalk. A quick check of the marsh could be interesting, but time was tight so I went right. After 3 hours counting birds for Audubon's summer census, I was due in the docent room. I hiked up the beach trail instead of down, destined for our "compilation" meetup.

But phalarope? I did a 180 as Josh came abreast and met his pace for a bit. A potential lifer for Josh and state bird for me kept us rushing, though I gradually shortened my stride (I try not to run for birds) and he slowed a little, too. We had an anticipatory chat on our downhill march, then encountered another of the census team. She'd been hunting for me to deliver the alert: It was still there 5 minutes ago.

As we approached the small crowd of relaxed observers — the rest of the survey crew plus a couple of first responders — we fell silent, widening our eyes, craning our necks, pivoting our heads, and consulting our internal field guides. Full target-bird detection mode.

The final stretch of a rare bird chase is full of worry and hope, and a gaggle of birders just milling about sends a mixed message. It might be "We twitched and we're just being social" or "We dipped but pray it comes back" or a little of both.

In this case, a courteous someone up ahead called out "It's here" and we knew we were okay.

Wilson's Phalarope in salt marsh beside Barrier Beach Trail, August 11, 2015. © Joshua Fecteau

Wilson's phalarope was the clear highlight of the York County Audubon "Laudholm census" this time around. It was also a new species for the Wells Reserve bird list, which now numbers 279.

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