Birding Despite Disability

Obsessions Don't Care About Limitations

On Vanquishing a Nemesis Bird

LeConte’s Sparrow.

There, I said it. It finally happened. We found, heard, saw, and photographed an actual LeConte’s Sparrow. Today, up at Sax-Zim Bog, a charmed birding hotspot that has given us (and many other birders) plenty of life birds. It delivers again.

LeConte’s Sparrows actually exist. The spell was broken. Was it the poem?

Our trip started before 05:00, as we first headed up to Branstad, Wisconsin (90 minutes north from the Cities), where multiple sightings of multiple birds showed up on eBird a week ago – the comments described singing males, near the road, in perfect wiregrass habitat.

Nice habitat in Fish Lake Wildlife Area near Branstad, Wisconsin. Multiple singing males reported here a week ago. Today? Nada.

So did we find them there? Of course not. We gave the area a good scouring for an hour before I got despondent and started looking at eBird on my phone.

While we were busy not finding them in Wisconsin, there were reports of them coming in simultaneously from Sax Zim Bog, another two hours to the north. So off we went…

And when we got to the Bog? Again, nada. Not a peep after the first half hour. We kept slowly working the road until we met up with Bruce Beehler, the co-author of Birds of New Guinea, who was also there looking for A. leconteii, with no luck. It had only been about two hours since they had last been reported. Dang, here we go again.

Perfect habitat in Sax-Zim Bog. Multiple singing males reported here hours ago. Now….?

Then Bruce and Claire finally started hearing distant, tell-tale hissing calls, which I maddeningly could not. I rely on ear-birding so much, due to my rotten eyesight, and it is very alarming to realize how there is a frequency range in which I cannot pick up sounds very well – and the LeConte’s Sparrow works in this band. So out into the field we went, and after humping through the wet matted grass for a half an hour together we finally got some cooperation. Two decades of birding infamy and failure were over.

Gotcha! Not going to torment us any more!

You were a worthy nemesis, dear Sparrow. Well played, sir, well played. But the game is over. We got you.

And I clearly owe Bruce a couple thirteen, fourteen beers.

That moment when you realize The Game Is Over

I am also hereby promoting the King Rail to status of Nemesis Bird #1, on the basis of the fact that we have searched for him in Virginia and Florida previously with no luck. Long live the king.

2 responses to “On Vanquishing a Nemesis Bird”

  1. Melissa and I have actually decided to head out that way next week! A quick trip through the UP, then Sax Zim, then ND, black hills of SD and then back home. I did the ND/SD trip about 15 years ago so will be nice to do again. Will be my first time in northern MN in the summer though so looking for to breeding CONW and the LeContes of course! And I can finally get my nemesis, Black-backed Woodpecker!

    1. Thanks for the note, Ross, and best of luck with the trip. Look forward to hearing how you do. Give us a shout if you come through the Twin Cities.

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