Many birders love a good twitch. Twitching is like chasing a bird, but ‘chasing’ a bird is an understatement. Twitching is what happens when you combine birdwatching with road rage and with the quest for the holy grail. There is no rational thinking. There is no relaxing. There is just a lust for a certain bird, a need for it’s appearance in your life; as if the crossing of paths between you and this individual has long been written in the book of birding religion, and by missing it you are putting a black spot on your purity. Seriously. For many twitchers, missing the “bird of a lifetime” is akin to missing your siblings wedding. You can never live it down.
If any of this seems exaggerated, I apologize. Not all birders are like this. I, for one, am young, and thus realize that I have plenty of time to mop up the black spots on my purity. A missed bird is just a bird to get later.
Wishful thinking? Perhaps, but this is what happens when you don’t own a car.
However, some birds are truly too good to pass up, no matter how much of a twitcher you are. Distance is often the limiting factor to who gets a bird and who doesn’t (unless you’re every big lister), and when a really rare bird shows up 20 minutes from your house, you have a moral obligation to see it. Lucky for me, really rare birds have shown up close to my house on multiple occasions. Fairfield County, CT, is heavily birded, and in the suburban sprawl that has engulfed the area, birds are concentrated. Therefore, they get found. A few years back (2010) a Fork-tailed Flycatcher put on a world class performance 10 minutes from my house. A Barnacle Goose has graced the area in several past years. Strange birds pop up all the time.
This past weekend, it happened again. A TUFTED DUCK, a species of waterfowl widespread in Eurasia (I had seen them previously in Japan) showed up in a small marina a short drive from my house, mixed in with a flock of scaup and Canvasback. The report came in midmorning, following a fresh snowfall. I had been slowly waking up (a several stage process), but when my phone lit up, I was all business. A driveway had to be shoveled. Mother had to be motivated. This bird was too close to slip away.
As far as twitching goes, I’ve never had the best luck. Just recently, I waited 8 hours on a freezing New York Curb waiting for a bird that had been seen regularly the past few days (Couch’s Kingbird). The bird never showed up, and we caught a train home depressed. 15 minutes after we left, the bird showed up.
This twitch was easy in every way possible. I was at the scene within the hour. Pulling up, I could already see a crowd of local birders gathered under a pavilion, looking out over a small patch of unfrozen water riddled with ducks. It looked good– and looked even better when I walked up, peered through the first open scope, and got my bird.
It was almost laughable; that was too easy! I spent the next 45 minutes with my scope trained on the bird, a female Tufty that did a fantastic job of being a Tufted Duck (that is, it stayed in sight and provided great views, clearly identifiable). For a bird notorious for blending into scaup flocks like a demon, I felt a surge of affection for this cooperative gal. High fives were exchanged. It was a state bird for practically all, and a life bird for many. I’m not really an impulse twitcher, but it’s birds like these that turn people into one.