Saturday, November 3, 2012

Ash-throated Flycatcher

 Yesterday offered up one of the longest and most treacherous trips to try to see a bird so rare that it had only been recorded in Newfoundland once before. The day started out at 8 a.m. when Margie M. and I set out for the foggy and wet drive to Bonavista.  The longer we drove the more fog and more rain there was.  The ruts in the roads were filled with water that sometimes masked deeper holes. The fog prevented seeing any potential dangers on the road such as pot holes or moose.  There was one 20 second period (seemed like an eternity) when I knew my car was floating with not one single tire touching the pavement.  It was a moment not to panic and to try to steer to a part of the road without water.  At last, I felt the tires hit pavement. What a relief! Just moments after that we came upon a car that had recently gone in the ditch.  Not good, and I am sure he hydroplaned, spun around and ended up in the ditch. 
With white knuckles, it was a relief to get off the TCH and onto route 230.  It just felt safer. All the time we are watching our clocks and wondering if we would arrive in Bonavista too late to get a glimpse of the Ash-throated flycatcher. That thought served to drive me on in an effort to make better time.  Well, that was not to be. We ended up behind a full-sized tanker truck that must have been carrying a full load. We were slow, so slow. The spray from the truck, the fog and the incessant rain was not offering up much encouragement for arriving early enough to see the bird. All this was compounded by the worry that we were going to get totally soaked trying to find this flycatcher.
At 12:10 we rolled into our destination. Amazingly, the rain just stopped. We got out of the car quietly so as not to disturb anything that might be around. There were signs of House Sparrows all about (at least 30). I took this opportunity to set my camera to shoot in low, dark areas as I thought the bird might be eating berries.

The owner of the home popped out the back door and told me the bird had just been on her deck about five minutes ago.  That was great.  The bird was around.

I walked around to the back of the house and there, at 12:15, we had the Ash-throated Flycatcher.  I saw it fly up from the grass on the opposite side of the road.  Unsure if that was the flycatcher, I eased toward the movement. Then, there it was sitting on the fence.  Not at all where I expected to see it. I took a couple of shots quickly with no time to change the camera settings. As soon as I had the record shots I called out to Margie to come.
My call must have startled the flycatcher, and it flew.  I saw Margie come around the corner, and when I looked at the fence, there was a Song Sparrow sitting on the exact spot. Had I imagined the flycatcher? Right away, I tried to relocate it. If we couldn't refind it quickly, we might be there a long while.  Then, right on cue, the Ash-throated Flycatcher popped back up on the other side of the fence.  Its colors really were remarkable. It only stayed a moment before flying up into a tree and then off.
We spent the next 20 minutes or so walking around the block and the yard hoping to get one more look at it. When the rain started again, we decided to give it up and spend a bit of time birding on the trip home. Was it worth it to spend four hours travelling in less than ideal conditions to see this bird for less than one minute? You bet! These types of opportunities don't come around very often. When they do, it is really important to try to see the bird as soon as possible. After all, it may have been the inclement weather that kept the bird in this location for another night.  When the sky clears, it may well take off completely to begin its long southwest trip to its wintering grounds around Mexico. 

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