Day 70 — Flint, Michigan

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Diary of a stakeout

My post tonight is long and mainly for my non-birding friends.

As many of you know, I flew over 12,000 miles last week in search of rarities. I was so happy to be back in Naples Thursday night to sleep in my bed! I had big plans to spend a week at home.

Friday morning before coffee, my phone blew up with alerts that an Ivory Gull had been found on the University of Michigan-Flint campus by a student named Lauren LaFave.

Just last year, I read a story that Ivory Gull was on the top ten list of birds that birders would most like to see. I am not a Gull person, but this was really special.

This juvenile Gull was an Arctic bird that seldom makes an appearance in the lower 48. What was it doing on this college campus?

I flew into Detroit with the last remaining clean clothes I had. I had gone to the airport on standby so I didn’t even think about hotels. I figured I’d stay close to the airport for the night.

Little did I know that Detroit had had 70 mph winds and 800,000 people were without power for the night! I couldn’t find a room within 60 miles. Finally, at 1 a.m. I called my friend Richard Hattaway who was also in Michigan from Florida and had already seen the Gull.

I was distraught after driving around for 2 hours and not finding a hotel. He made some calls and found me the last room in Flint. Let’s just say that it was one step above sleeping in my car!! Still, I was so grateful to Richard.

I arrived on campus at 7:45 and saw a group of Gulls flying, so I stopped and checked them out. This small delay caused me to miss the Ivory Gull, seen briefly at the stakeout location.

It was freezing!!! I was a little despondent while standing on a metal bridge over water with high winds. I was kicking myself for not getting there earlier.

Over the course of 4 hours, about 100 birders from all over showed up. We looked everywhere! No luck. By noon, many gave up. I went to get coffee and when I was gone, I had an alert on FB that the bird had been refound!

I returned to see a very different crowd. Everyone was ebullient, snapping photos and giving high fives! This elusive, white beauty was sitting on the dam all alone as if on stage! I wanted a photo or two but instead, I was treated to a show.

A stakeout brings the birding community together and this was no exception. I was reunited with old and new friends! Many there wished to help me with my quest.

The best part though was when a fellow birder, Ryan Sanderson, decided to set up a college fund for Lauren as a gesture of our gratitude. In one day, birders had contributed almost $1400!!!

Number 444 for 2017–Ivory Gull, will never be forgotten.


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