I was in the Post Office when he approached me: "I bet that if it had
been you who reported that rare bird I saw last summer, they would believe
I had to stop to think for a minute, but then I remembered the incident
to which he was referring. His comment, in turn, was prompted by my recent
reporting of a Great grey owl and its acceptance as a legitimate report.
He was right - if he was using my report of the owl in comparison with his
own experience. However, I can recall two other instances, both within the
past year, when my experience much more closely paralleled his own.
The Great grey owl sighting of late January was a textbook instance of
everything that could possibly go right actually going right. The eventual
presence of the species had been predicted because there was a major
irruption of Great greys from their home range to the north and west of
here. Further this bird was amazingly conspicuous and cooperative ( It is
rather hard to miss an two foot tall owl that sits around out in the open
almost daily for more than a month.) From the time I first reported it
until its last verified sighting in early March it was seen by hundreds of
people and photographed by dozens of them.
Would that rare bird sightings were always so straightforward.
Last fall, a group of us spent an evening birding down at Eel River
Bar. We were just about finished and packing up when a gull landed in
front of my van and I immediately realized that this was not one of the
usual species. "Quick" I whispered into the van where everyone else had
already begun buckling up seatbelts,"We've got a good gull right in front
of us." (I should mention that "good" here means "rare" or "unusual".) It
was close enough that I didn't need my scope, and I had my binoculars on
it all the while I was imploring the others to get a look at it, and the
bird not to take off until they had.
It was all to no avail; the bird took off, set sail for Heron Island,
and disappeared. We looked for it again over the next few days, but none
of us could find it again. I am certain that it was a Common gull, which,
despite its name, is far from common around here. It is, in fact, an
occasional stray from Europe and represented the second time that I (I am
convinced) have encountered it without being able to get the proof
necessary to convince the birding powers that be. I duly reported it,
knowing that, at best it would be recorded somewhere as "hypothetical" -
which is a nice big word meaning that perhaps the observer saw something
worthwhile, or perhaps that he was having a hallucination.
One day last summer, Carla and I spotted a male Hooded warbler up
along the tracks in back of home. We are both absolutely certain that that
was what we saw. The only problem was that there has only ever been one
confirmed sighting of this species in New Brunswick. We didn't have a
camera with us, and when I returned an hour later with one, I could not
find the bird. I didn't even bother to report that one.