Monday, November 29, 2010

The Anatomy of a Chase (or, Dipping on a Lapwing)

A 10-step summary of a typical "twitch," from the perspective of my failed attempt at the Northern Lapwing in Connecticut on Sunday. A sort of how-to guide on missing incredible rarities. 

Step 1- Learn about where the bird is. This is generally done through a local Rare Bird Alert or state birding listserv. Example: "Wow, Lapwing in Connecticut! Awesome."

Step 2- Find out where the bird is. Google maps is your best friend in this step. Example: Doing a google search on Storrs, CT shows that it is nowhere near anything. That is a setback.

Step 3- Scheme. If you own a car and have a lot of free time, this step is unnecessary, but for young birders like myself, it is critical. Where will you be nearest to the bird? Would your parents be willing to make a detour? What is there that is close to where the bird is? Think shopping centers, museums, whatever. Example: "We have to drive back on Route 84 anyway, and the lapwing is just 24 minutes out of the way..."

Step 4- Hype up the bird. A lot. If it's an empid, good luck. Example: "It's a really rare plover from Ireland. Striking plumage. Very cool. And its the first one ever seen in Connecticut"

Step 5- Overcome the vast number of obstacles in your path. Examples: The thanksgiving traffic on the Mass Pike, the impending darkness, and the UCONN basketball game.

Step 6- Arrive at the rarity location, after getting lost a few times. There are now three options. Either the bird is there (go to Step 7), it's temporarily out of sight (go to Step 8), or just flew halfway across the continent five minutes before you arrived (go to Step 9)

Step 7- Rejoice, brag, and add the bird to your life list. Blog about how awesome it was, and how great it was to have seen it.

Step 8- Desperately search for the bird and pray your trip will not prove to be futile. Depending on the outcome, go to step 7 or 10.

Step 9- "Oh, you just missed it. Yeah, it flew that way, and kept going. It's probably back in Ireland by now. Nope, absolutely no chance it's coming back." Go to step 10.

Step 10- Despair. Having now wasted a fair amount of time for a great bird that you are not going to see, the Barnacle and White-fronted Geese nearby are small consolation. Yes, the Barnacle Goose is a Code 4 bird too, and the White-front is a lifer, but neither of them are lapwings. Go home, and instead of posting photos of lapwings on your blog, bore your readers to death with a long-winded tale of your failed search.

Can you guess what route I took? And seriously, the geese were good to see. That's not to say they make up for missing the lapwing, but it was not as bad as I portrayed it above. I'll have another chance to see a Lapwing in North America. Maybe. If I move to Newfoundland. 


  1. haha I like this. I have to go through this every time a rarity shows up, so I know how you feel! I missed the lapwing too, I just didn't have the resources to get all the way up there.

    James Purcell

  2. Glad you liked it. I figured that the basic procedure would be more or less the same for everybody. Too bad about not being able to see the lapwing- it would have been nice if it had stayed longer.

    Eamon Corbett

  3. Hey Eamon - funny post - gave me a good laugh. The downside to being a birder without a driving license! Sorry you missed the bird - there will be others I'm sure - might just take a while.