Thursday, January 22, 2015

Ferry Freeloaders

We hear a lot about ship-assisted vagrancy these days. "So-and-so bird is crazy, so it must have been carried over on a ship" some birders proclaim with each rarity that visits our continent. This is a big deal - a bird that rode over on a ship would be non-countable, according to the prevailing view. Well, the truth is, there are some birds that hitch rides on ships within our sacred ABA area borders that people are completely ignoring. The effect these birds have on our lists is absolutely detrimental. Hell, I've seen birders count these ferry freeloaders. They count them! It's madness.

We became aware of this sick and twisted phenomenon last weekend, while birding in New Hanover County, North Carolina. Aside from being home to the most populous Wilmington in the United States, it is also home to the mouth of the Cape Fear River, the largest river entirely within North Carolina. There is a ferry that connects one side of the river to the other, running from Fort Fisher across to Southport. But there's one problem. Southport isn't in New Hanover County. It's in Brunswick.  Birds (especially gulls and grackles), have a habit of riding the ferry, due in part to the easy supply of bread given to them by children. These freeloaders spend the day riding back and forth across the Cape Fear and across the county line.

Go ahead, look into the eyes of this heartless ship-assisted bastard - but don't you dare count it for your Brunswick or your New Hanover lists.
These birds have probably been border-hopping on this boat for months (especially those grackles). It has reached the point where we can't even tell which side of the river these birds are originally from. Can you count any of these birds? Do they count when you first get on the ferry, but not when you cross the border halfway through the ride? Hell, all the grackles and gulls around both ferry terminals have probably ridden the ferry at some point in their lives. So those don't count either? And how can we be sure that any of the birds within several miles of the terminals didn't ride on that ship? Did the birds even originate in one of the two counties? They may have ferry hopped all the way from - God forbid - South Carolina. I know those Mottled Ducks at the Fort Fisher Aquarium looked awfully guilty.

Where did you come from?!?
This first-cycle Herring Gull never made it onto the ship while we were watching - but there's no telling it hasn't landed on the boat in the past.
I can only see one solution to this problem: shut down the Southport ferry, and wait for all the birds that rode it to slowly die off. I'm tired of paying the $5 fee anyway. Or I guess we could just stop worrying about ship-assisted birds and ignore the arbitrary non-countability rule that someone made up long ago... but that's crazy.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

What We Learned In 2014 (or Lookin' Back is 20-20)

Twenty Fourteen was a hell of a year for us. We saw some amazing birds.  We made a blog (this one). And now we feel like we have to push out that obligatory end-of-year round up. But, to spare you from reading a long list of notable sightings (and I'm sure other bird bloggers saw better stuff than us), we decided to review some things we learned in 2014.

1. Remember to Pack Food (or The Ghost of the Horseman: A Forney Creek Experience)
This may sound like something two teenagers would remember. But, for some bizarre reason, we decided to only pack about 800 calories worth of food per day for our Smoky Mountains birding/backpacking trip. We felt like we were starving, eating only crackers and tuna each day. I think the lack of food may have been the cause of the possible-hallucination Ghost of the Horseman sighting. But that's another story. At least we got Ruffed Grouse.

2. Eat Well Before a Pelagic (or We "Fogata" Eat Well)
Basically what we learned: Don't eat bad Mexican food the night before a Pelagic...even if Gidget's is closed. Though we didn't get sick, pre-pelagic sketchy Mexican food (from a place named "La Fogata") is never a good idea. Luckily, the Dramamine saved the particularly wavy day.

3. Don't Leave Your Valuables Unattended (at a Sketch Campground)
Things get stolen. While searching for Black-throated Green Warblers in the Uwharrie Mountains, Lucas made the mistake of leaving his headlamp on the counter in a campground bathroom while he took a shower. The shower was running (and he was singing), so he couldn't hear the sound of it being stolen by people with the confederate battle flag taped to the front of their truck. We just assumed they were part of the Confederate Army. Oh, the South.
The very table where the idea for The Birder's Conundrum was created, then by another name.
 Also the campsite where we had our little run-in with the Rebels.  

4. Drive Slower on Market Street at 4 in the Morning
Running raccoon. Bump. Splat. "It looked into my soul", Sam whined. Enough said.

5. Don't Underestimate the Strength of Cold Brew
Just because it looks weak does not mean you need to add packets of instant coffee. However, this stuff is the cure-all for the mid-afternoon big day lull. It's like crack (we assume). Once we got over the gritty consistency and the burning sensation, the coffee really wasn't that bad. One moment we were falling asleep on our feet but after a few gulps of cold brew we were singing at the top of our lungs and picking out Loggerhead Shrikes on power lines while flying by at 60 miles per hour.

Mason Jar Cold Brew selfie. An oldie. How we've changed.
 And I don't really remember why we chose mason jars. 
We are looking forward to many more stories and learning experiences over this coming year - it's half the fun of birding. So here's to a great, bird-filled 2015. And here's to more crazy situations that only really happen to birders. We've already had one ridiculous adventure....