Chronicles

If it Was YOU
by: Mike Lushington

        I was in the Post Office when he approached me: "I bet that if it had been you who reported that rare bird I saw last summer, they would believe you."

        I had to stop to think for a minute, but then I remembered the incident to which he was referring. His comment, in turn, was prompted by my recent reporting of a Great grey owl and its acceptance as a legitimate report. He was right - if he was using my report of the owl in comparison with his own experience. However, I can recall two other instances, both within the past year, when my experience much more closely paralleled his own.

        The Great grey owl sighting of late January was a textbook instance of everything that could possibly go right actually going right. The eventual presence of the species had been predicted because there was a major irruption of Great greys from their home range to the north and west of here. Further this bird was amazingly conspicuous and cooperative ( It is rather hard to miss an two foot tall owl that sits around out in the open almost daily for more than a month.) From the time I first reported it until its last verified sighting in early March it was seen by hundreds of people and photographed by dozens of them.

        Would that rare bird sightings were always so straightforward.

        Last fall, a group of us spent an evening birding down at Eel River Bar. We were just about finished and packing up when a gull landed in front of my van and I immediately realized that this was not one of the usual species. "Quick" I whispered into the van where everyone else had already begun buckling up seatbelts,"We've got a good gull right in front of us." (I should mention that "good" here means "rare" or "unusual".) It was close enough that I didn't need my scope, and I had my binoculars on it all the while I was imploring the others to get a look at it, and the bird not to take off until they had.

        It was all to no avail; the bird took off, set sail for Heron Island, and disappeared. We looked for it again over the next few days, but none of us could find it again. I am certain that it was a Common gull, which, despite its name, is far from common around here. It is, in fact, an occasional stray from Europe and represented the second time that I (I am convinced) have encountered it without being able to get the proof necessary to convince the birding powers that be. I duly reported it, knowing that, at best it would be recorded somewhere as "hypothetical" - which is a nice big word meaning that perhaps the observer saw something worthwhile, or perhaps that he was having a hallucination.

        One day last summer, Carla and I spotted a male Hooded warbler up along the tracks in back of home. We are both absolutely certain that that was what we saw. The only problem was that there has only ever been one confirmed sighting of this species in New Brunswick. We didn't have a camera with us, and when I returned an hour later with one, I could not find the bird. I didn't even bother to report that one.

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