My TOP 20 successful chases — page two: Poems, Cartoons & a few more thoughts
a web page by Don Roberson

Luke Cole's poem on the nature of unsuccessful bird chases [2000]: A responsive poem on the same topic [2007]:

Do you, too, rue Smew?
Yes I do! Yes I do!

by Luke W. Cole

One bird, two bird, red bird, blue bird...

I do not like to wait all day,
I do not like it, yet I stay
I do not like it in the rain
I do not like it on the plain

I do not like it by the trees
I do not like it while I freeze
I do not like on a log
I do not like by a bog

I do not like it on my feet
I do not like it by the street
I do not like to wait all day,
For a bird that's gone astray

But I do
Yes I do
Just to see
The little smew

In the rain,
on the plain
By the trees,
while I freeze
On a log,
by a bog
On my feet,
by the street

There I wait,
for that bird
"Seen here yesterday,"
so I've heard

Not seen Friday, when I looked
But there through Monday, while I'm booked
Not there Tuesday, when I'm back
There on Wednesday, to thrill the pack

Shouldn't I really be at work?
All those cases I must shirk
Just to spy something white
a little duck, quite a sight
In from Russia, or is it British?
All I know is its mighty skittish

I do not like to wait all day,
I do not like it,
yet I stay

The crowd in the mud marks the place,
So I find a parking place
"We've been here since dawn!" they all howl
"Best bird yet is the Great Horned Owl!"

Each one drove for miles
Just to endure the locals' smiles
No bird, though, just loose lips
Talking about birds and a thousand trips

So I stand, on the bank
Listening to birders proclaim their rank:
"Nome Nome Barrow Attu Attu"
"Have you seen my falcon tattoo?"
"Peru Ecuador Costa Rica"
"But I've got the new birding sneaker!"

"Murphy's, Manx, Booby, Goose"
"Oh, someone must have let that loose"
"Warbler Oriole Bunting Brambling"
And other inspired birders' rambling...

"Calbird e-mail RBA"
"Oh, I was there that day!"
"Big Day Big Year County Lister"
"I saw the reeve -- oh, you missed her?"
This bird, that bird, the Blue Mocker
This is birding,
everyone's a talker

And, I must say
Though I snigger,
I too play,
Mine is bigger
"The albatross,"
I begin
Watching for their chagrin...

"There! There! In the river!"
Each of us gives a shiver
Something white has just popped up!
Inevitably, a styrofoam cup

Back to banter, boast and tale
And sometimes a bird -- "kestrel, male"
While we wait beside the slough
Nothing much better we can think to do

I do not like to wait all day,
I do not like it,
yet I stay

I explore around the spot
Good birds there are, but Smew, not
Rough-leg, Ferruginous, pipit, lark
Nuthatch, magpie, before its dark
Mountain plover in the next county
But I still missed the day's big bounty

The next day at work,
I watch the screen
As Calbird tells me the Smew is seen

It would be another lifer
Something I should really try for
Something great, something new
Something awesome, that little Smew

Shall I go in the morning?
From the wife and boss, a warning
Classes to teach, kids to feed
And this is a job I need...

So I sit, here at home
Writing down this silly poem
Cursing all I have to do
While my friends see the Smew...

I do not like to wait all day,
But I'd rather be there,
than here,


© 2000 Luke Cole
(first posted to Calbirds, 28 Jan 2000)

[Luke Cole was tragically killed in a car crash
in Uganda on 5 June 2009

Rue the Smew?
by Don Roberson

I too had stood in sodden bog
With feet of ice and eyes agog
Staring at the bubbling stream
Where the Smew had once been seen

'Twas the same and awful scene
Where the famous root beer king *
Had spent his hours upon the stage
And looked at bobbing cups in rage
And spoke of famous birding tales
Of missing birds in sudden gales
Of birding gods, Guy and Zeus
And wrote up lines like Dr. Seuss

But those were dark and distant days . . .
The gods have worked in wondrous ways
Another Smew in Soulsbyville
Might provide at last the missing thrill

And so they came across the State
Ed from Pasadena, to connect with fate
On a sunny Saturday . . . .
When the Smew was away.

There too I stood among the throng
But once again we'd had it wrong
To rue the Smew was our reward
For standing there and being bored.

Back through the night -- a gloomy drive
To places where no Smew would dive
Then woke up Sunday to the news
The Smew was back to beat our blues!

Through Merced, Snelling, Los Banos, too
It was all so deja vu
The long drive back to that darn pond
And a drake of which we were so fond

And so we now conclude the lore
Of Russian ducks upon our shore
The griefs of past are retrospective
Now replaced by this perspective:

No rue the Smew.... but rather
Whenever birders gab and gather
My mood will change from bright to bleak....
When they talk about a gull that's pink. **

D. Roberson (28 Jan 2007)


* Luke Cole was famed for his root beer parties and expertise
** My 'worst miss' in California at the time was the Ross's Gull that I'd chased and missed at the Salton Sea in Nov 2006 — the State's only record until Jan 2017

The Soulsbyville Smew

photo 28 Jan 2007 © D. Roberson

Some more thoughts about chasing California rarities

This is the cover of the California Bird Records Committee book (2007), which summarized their decisions [i.e., accept or reject] of reports of State rarities. The cover art is by Peter Gaede and is entitled California Dreamin'. Ten species are illustrated and they could easily be someone's choices for the "top ten rarities" for the State. At the time of publication, 8 of those shown had but a single State record, and two had but two [Little Bunting, Varied Bunting]. The over-sized White-tailed Tropicbird dominates the lower left corner; an adult was at Upper Newport Bay, ORA, displaying to model airplanes (!) from 24 May-29 Jun 1964. That was long before I was chasing California birds. The remaining birds are, clockwise around the map of California, starting from upper left: Light-mantled Albatross, White-collared Swift, Fork-tailed Flycatcher, Varied Bunting, Eye-browed Thrush, Belcher's Gull, Little Bunting, Terek Sandpiper, and Golden-cheeked Warbler.

Of the 10 birds on this cover, I've seen five of them. I was present when the Death Valley Varied Bunting was found, and was the first to photograph it. I successfully chased the Fork-tailed Flycatcher, Terek Sandpiper, Little Bunting and Belcher's Gull, but only the first two "made" my personal "top 20" chase list. If you were near enough to Galileo Hill, Kern Co., on 28 May 2001 you could chase the Eye-browed Thrush until sunset. I was not close enough and did not chase that one. The remaining 4 species were unchaseable. As noted, the tropicbird was long before my time. One had to be on the Cordell Bank pelagic trip of 17 July 1994 to see the albatross. The Golden-cheeked Warbler was netted on SE Farallon I. on 9 Sep 1971 and collected. The White-collared Swift was foraging with swallows over Pt. St. George, Del Norte Co., on 21 May 1982. It was seen by 5 observers but not photographed; it was never seen again.

Chasing rarities — an essential element of the birding subculture — can be incredibly exhilarating or devastingly depressing. I've pasted below a wonderful series from Gary Trudeau's Doonesbury cartoon — published years ago and used here within the 'fair use' concept — that captures all these aspects of hardcore birding:

  • the importance of the chase as compared to everything else in life,
  • the exhilaration of success,
  • the necessity of documentation, and
  • the best end for which any twitcher could hope.





  page created 26 June 2016-3 July 2017  
all text & photos © Don Roberson, except as otherwise indicated; all rights reserved