I know many of you just want to look at the pretty pictures and that’s fine. The hardcore may want to read on.
Have you ever gone on a chase that was so ridiculous that if you told your “normal” friends about it, they would think you were completely insane? The chase for the Mistle Thrush was one of those.
If you recall, I was in the desert in Arizona on Sunday morning chasing the Nutting’s Flycatcher, when the alerts started coming in rapidly that the Mistle Thrush–a European bird that had appeared in New Brunswick and was a first sighting for the ABA Region, was still being seen at the home of Peter and Deana Gadd, the homeowners who found it in their back yard.
I was in the middle of a very difficult chase and still had to drive 4 hours to an airport and try to find a flight to a remote area if I even wanted to chase this new rarity. After many permutations, I decided to fly 2300 miles to Boston and rent a car and drive the rest of the way.
I caught a red-eye on Monday night which put me in Boston at 6:30 a.m. on Tuesday. I was joined at the airport by a local Boston area birder, Steve Moore. Steve was crazy enough to drive the 550 miles to New Brunswick with me, a complete stranger.
We got on the road with the anxiety that precedes any chase. The first storm of the season was predicted for the Miramichi area, in New Brunswick.
Snow started falling in New Hampshire. By the time we were in Maine, it was hard to see the lines on the road or the cars 50 feet in front of us.
As soon as we crossed the border into Canada, our rental car started having issues. We couldn’t go above 40 and the closest Enterprise was 100 miles away and there was nothing but boreal forest around.
Driving those 100 miles at 30-35 mph was a white-knuckle experience I will never forget.
The first Enterprise dealership took our car to the mechanic while we waited, and supposedly fixed the problem. We got back on the highway and the problem was even worse! We had to somehow drive another 60 miles to the next town and arrive before Enterprise closed. After much haggling, they gave us a second car.
At this point, the back roads were pretty rough and we were basically alone out there. A trip that should have taken about 9 hours, took us 13.
I was so tired when we arrived that I forgot to even turn the heat on in my room. We woke to a dreary, rainy day and headed to the Gadds, the homeowners who found this precious bird and opened up their property to the world.
The local news had already picked up the story of this rarity and over 100 birders had already visited in the previous days, including other Big Year birders.
We were a slim crew, in the pouring rain, waiting for the bird to appear. Besides Steve and I, there was a couple from Florida that I knew by name only, the Gadds and a few local birders. An hour later, we were rewarded when the bird flew into a Spruce. Shortly thereafter, it moved to the Mountain Ash where it has been feeding on the abundant berries since it arrived.
Deana Gadd brought out umbrellas for all of us. It was such a kind gesture and I think I would have frozen without it. I was already soaked but the sight of this remarkable visitor warmed me right up. We all had great looks!
Even though we had an 1100 mile round-trip in 24 hours, the ride home felt amazing. Steve and I had been through hell to get his lifetime #811 in the ABA Region and ironically, my #812 for the year including Hawaii (756 in the old ABA Region). What a beauty of a bird too.
We were smiling all the way back to Boston.