Saturday, March 12, 2011

Bohemian Quest: The Final Day

Saturday, March 12, 2011
Dawn breaks over Harbor Springs, Michigan.

After spending the night inside my wrapped Christmas-present box of a motel room, I got up early, put on every piece of clothing from my duffel bag, and loaded up The Back Breaker for another day of looking for our target bird (also known as tilting at windmills). We thought we'd get on the road by 5:45 am, grab an early breakfast at a local diner by 6 am, and probably nail the Bohemian waxwings by 7. At the latest.

Wearing eleventeen layers of clothing for cold-weather waxwing chasing.

Minor detail: there is no diner open at 6 am in Harbor Springs. So we lowered our sights and grabbed a couple of convenience-store belly bombs and two cups of hot battery acid (with hazelnut creamer). NOW we were ready to go birding.

Down to the harbor we went, arriving well before the sunrise. Gazing out over the frozen harbor, I noted the distinct lack of bird life. No crows, no starlings, no Canada geese. It was 2 degrees F. I couldn't blame them.

We drove around the old familiar places, getting excellent looks at bare fruit trees, piles of snow, and some ice-fishermen out on the lake, still frozen in the same positions they'd been in the day before. We even went back out to the land of snow buntings, where some waxies had made sporadic appearances. We scanned the open water on the lake. Nada.

Heeter scans the open water of Lake Michigan.

The day was slipping away.

I'd sent out another plea for help on the MI-birds listserv and got some good leads on BOWAs both farther north and farther south. Since we were running out of time, we needed to make a strategic move, and fast.

By 10 am I was getting both restless and slightly annoyed. So Heets and I decided to head south to a hopeful-sounding sighting in Traverse City. A kind soul named Holly had e-mailed me to share her day-before sighting of a sizable flock of BOWAs in a neighborhood with ornamental fruit trees. It was time to man up or clam up.

Man up it was. I took a nap while Heeter drove us down the lakefront highway to Traverse City.
We stopped at several places where fruit remained on the trees. No dice. We spotted some tundra swans. And a ring-billed gull. And a pile of rock pigeons. Yawn.

And then we pulled into the un-gated gated community where Holly had seen many, many Bohemian waxwings the day before. We began driving the roads, hoping for a miracle. First street: nothing. Second street: nothing. Third street...


Those dots at 1 o'clock in the tree are Bohemians.

They were just seven or so dots in the top of a tree, but I knew, KNEW, that they were Bohemian waxwings. It's possible that I caught a whiff of their diagnostic aura of patchouli. After gawking at them for three seconds in my binocs, I began scrambling for my various cameras. First the Canon 30D. Clickclickclickclick.
Two shots taken with my big rig Canon 30D.

Then the Leica spotting scope for some digiscoping.

Two shots taken with my digiscoping rig.

And then, like leaves blown by the wind, they lifted into the air and disappeared into the distance. Gone! But we'd SEEN them. How sweet! Figuring we'd find another flock or that this one might return, we left the perfectly manicured neighborhood and went looking for a lunch spot. We found a great little deli a half-mile away and settled in for our first real food of the day. Four spoonfuls into my soup I felt the irresistible urge to check Bohemian waxwing off on my checklist. Geoff caught the moment on video.

And so the journey ended successfully. Sigh of relief.

We headed southward so Geoff could visit his family in Big Rapids and Grand Rapids (lots of rapids in these parts, nearly all frozen solid). We made a stop at Geoff's boyhood home.

Geoff Heeter, 2009 or so model. (photo by Jeffrey A. Gordon)

And I took the opportunity to capture a photo of a photo of good ol' Geoff (I'm OLD GEOFF!!!) from "back in the day." It was on the wall of his parents' house, so I am sure I'm violating some sort of bro-code by sharing it here,'s simply too amazing NOT to share.

Geoff Heeter, late-70s model.

So here's to you, Heets! Thanks for making the trek with me, bro. And I've gotta say, dude, if you'd been a singer, with your flowing mullet, you could have given Shaun Cassidy a run for his money.

And that's the story of The New Brohemians and their birding victory over the itinerant Bohemians.


On March 12, 2011 at 6:05 PM Julie Zickefoose said...

Hark! I hear a can of whoop-ass being opened down in Fayetteville...

On March 13, 2011 at 4:26 AM Kah-Wai Lin said...

I love to see waxwing! Nice capture!

Kah Wai

On March 13, 2011 at 12:34 PM ILBirder said...

Awesome read, man. I spent a god-awful amount of time looking for those in MN this past weekend. No dice. I feel your pain in the search through endless neighborhoods. I now live vicariously through you turning on the right street and saying "@#&$, there they are!"

On March 13, 2011 at 1:09 PM Geoff said...

I guess I knowingly took part in the whole adventure and it was an adventure thru time and space. It helps to know lots of people are enjoying the story and this is as close to a bohemian of either species they mat get. And maybe this furthers the cause of stewardship and edification. I suppose I cannot be too upset, Bro code or not. As for the can Julie mentioned like Vengeance it is best served cold:}

On March 13, 2011 at 2:17 PM Lori Scheutzow said...

VERY cool! We're about to leave from our Florida visit at my aunt & uncle's winter place, where I saw my first yellow crowned night heron (in the morning for several hours!) Was amused to read your blog today. Guess where my relatives spend their summers? Harbor Spring, Michigan! Small world (but I wouldn't want to paint it!) They think you're nuts to have gone to their hometown when it was 2 degrees. But then again, bird watchers are a little crazy aren't we?

On March 13, 2011 at 10:24 PM Kathi said...

Glad you bagged your bird, Bill, but why didn't you do the Life Bird Wiggle for us? "Throw your hands in the air, shake it like you just don't care..."

And, Heeter - all I can say is:

"NICE HAIR, DUDE!" (hahahahahahahahahahah!!!!!)

On March 13, 2011 at 10:44 PM Mary said...

Heeter's view of Lake Michigan is chilling! So glad you both man upped. Cedars are beauties here but I think those Bohemians are pageant winners. Congratulations!

On March 14, 2011 at 7:56 PM John (Tucker) said...

I'm rolling about the Sean Cassidy comment. Great adventure! You are lucky to a have a bird-bro! I also visited Minnesota in January with no luck. Great find and really nice photos!!

On March 15, 2011 at 10:13 AM Rondeau Ric said...

This is my favourite Heeter photo.
It sums up his personality

On March 16, 2011 at 11:09 PM gloves said...

Your shots of the Bohemian waxwings were pretty good.

On March 24, 2011 at 3:41 PM Kathie Brown said...

I've been WAITING to read this story!!! Been out trying to get some life birds of my own. No lifers but did add 20 species to my New York Life List! What a hoot this was! One question, How come you didn't do the LIfe Bird Dance you guys made us all do at the New River Nature and Birding Festival when I was there almost 2 years ago now!!!! Come on, GET up and DANCE!