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My Nemesis

posted by Jeff Bilsky at
on Thursday, February 7, 2013 

Nemesis bird. Anyone who has been birding for a while certainly knows these two words. We are all haunted at one time or another by the elusive nemesis. How can a bird that everyone else sees so regularly elude us for so long?
"Are you kidding me?"  
"I've been to that spot a dozen times and there's nothing there!" 
"This is the time I'm going to see it. I'm sure of it."
Yeah. Not so much. The nemesis strikes again. That's been my story for a while with the damned Acorn Woodpecker. This bird apparently lives in Utah. I wouldn't know. My friends, the Sommerfelds conjure them up with a wink and the flick of an ipod. Tim Avery accidentally!? photographs them when he's taking pictures of other birds. Oh that's nice.

Of course I've been to this alleged Acorn Woodpecker spot on the Kolob Terrace at Zion National Park in Southwest Utah. Many times. And to the credit of the Sommerfelds and Tim Avery, they have taken me to the exact spot they've seen them. In fact I've been there within hours of sightings. But it just hasn't been meant to be. I can't really complain, though. If you've ever been to Kolob, you know what I mean. I've had some amazing trips there.

I've tried the Devil's Canyon Campground in Southeast Utah as well. This is another good spot. Well, good for some. Oh well....

In all honesty, I absolutely love the fact that it isn't always easy to find birds. What fun would it be if there wasn't some effort involved? I feel like there's always something left undiscovered in birding. My friends joke that I'll pore over the same area for a bit too long.

"Bilsky, seriously, you going to keep pissshing the same 2 chickadees for a half hour?"

 OK, I might linger a bit too much sometimes. But hey, sometimes you have stop and wait maybe just a bit longer for the nemesis to show itself.....

Let's hear some other stories from out there in the bird-o-sphere. I know my tale is not unique.

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Anonymous Mary Costello said...

I have looked in and around Devil's Canyon, too, and I have never even seen evidence of Acorn Woodpeckers! But, I'll keep looking.

February 7, 2013 at 12:40 PM  
Blogger Tim Avery said...

Ruddy Turnstone was my Utah Nemesis for like 13 years. Colby Neuman and I drove from the top of Leidy Peak back to Salt Lake and then up to Bear River to pick one up the same day it was reported. I had missed numerous individuals during the past decade. Then of course last year there were a handful at Antelope Island for a couple weeks!

Don't worry, after you finally get that Acorn, the flood gates will open for you and you'll see 20 of them...

February 7, 2013 at 12:46 PM  
Blogger Tim Avery said...

@Mary: I have had Acorn Woodpeckers at Devils Canyon several times. Both along the highway and in the campground: Acorn Woodpeckers at Devils Canyon

February 7, 2013 at 12:48 PM  
Blogger Shyloh Monster said...

Acorn Woodpecker! You'll die when it appears, Jeff. Devil's Canyon worked for me. I followed one from the campground and it led me to it's spot on the highway. It was much more satisfying than the Roseate Spoonbill at Lake Powell. Life Bird 300. Utah Bird 300. This species means a lot to me.

It took over 3 years of birding to finally see a Western Screech-Owl. After seeing the first, I saw 3 more within a week!

I believe it's that 'lingering effort' that makes Jeff so quick to lock onto birds in the field.

February 7, 2013 at 1:04 PM  
Blogger Stephanie Greenwood said...

I don't have one nemesis bird--I have a list! Evening Grosbeak, Pinyon Jay, American Tree Sparrow, American Three-toed Woodpecker, Red Crossbills, Yellow-breasted Chat...

February 7, 2013 at 1:25 PM  
Blogger Tim Avery said...

@Stephanie: I challenge you to get all of those this year :)

1. Evening Grosbeak at Big Cottonwood Park in Salt Lake City (hurry they might already be gone)
2. Pinyon Jay - There is no go to place, but if you wander the backroads of southern Utah enough you will come across them rather frequently.
3. American Tree Sparrow - I can't explain your bad luck on this one :) Listne to the iPod a bunch then go out to Antelope Island and drive around the Visitor loop--even walk it--you'll hear them.
4. ATTW - Brighton to Twin Lakes Loop, or Monte Cristo Campground, or Any of the campgroudn/picnic areas near Bald Mountain in the High Uintas.
5. Red Crossbills - Same as above--Brighton in July and August is usually really good too.
6. Yellow-breasted Chat - North Arm Natural Area at Pineview REservoir, or any rive rin soutern Utah in May :)

February 7, 2013 at 1:36 PM  
Blogger Oliver Hansen said...

@ Jeff. I've also heard of a pretty reliable spot on Boulder Mountain for next time you are in the Capitol Reef Area.

@ Stephanie. There are a few spots in Tooele Co. that have been pretty reliable for Pinyon Jays. Let me know in a few months if you are out this way.

February 7, 2013 at 2:45 PM  
Blogger DaninJapan said...

Not Utah, but in Japan, we too have Nemesis birds! Here's a story about mine.

A friend and I have just returned from a trip to Hokkaido, Japan. The birding was as hot as the temperatures were cold! Displaying Red Crowned Cranes , Blakiston's Fish Owl feeding, White-Tailed Sea Eagles diving for fish and the massive Steller's Sea Eagles soaring right over our heads not to mention the numerous species of gulls and sea ducks, we almost forgot it was freezing outside, almost!
The day before we were to depart, we decided to take the southern coastal road and scan the rocky coastline along the way for one of our “most wanted” species, the Tufted Puffin. We knew mid-March was a bit early, but there had been reports of them in this area so even though the skies were filled with ominous slate grey clouds, we pressed southwards. The area is barren and desolate, made even more so with the snow starting to fall and the winds picking up. A few hours later, as we were driving in near blizzard conditions and doing our best to find our way with a Japanese GPS and a cheesy road map from the rental car company, (complete with animated Puffins along the coastline just to tempt us) we found our destination. “Welcome to Kiritappumisaki” (say that three times fast) signs welcomed us, and many buildings had cartoonish caricatures of Tufted Puffins with oversized bills adorning them. We were in the right place at last! We made our way out to the lighthouse and along the snow covered icy path, up and down hills some quarter mile or so out to the cape. We both stood out in the freezing cold, scanning the rocky cape, frequently stopping to wipe the snowflakes from our binoculars. My friend Tom yells “Penguins”! I knew of course exactly what he meant, he has seen the Puffins! Too excited to take the opportunity to correct him and chide him for the simple mistake, I immediately scanned in on two birds standing near a grassy overhang, their colorful markings visible even through the heavy snowfall. Naturally, we had left the cameras in the car so off I went jogging gingerly along the icy path back to the parking lot. What felt like an hour later but was probably closer to twenty minutes, out of breath and lungs searing, I made it back out to the cape to find Tom crouching behind a marker for some shelter from what now was a major snowstorm. Propping my lens up along the fence for stability, )I opted not to attempt to drag along the tripod) I took a few record shots and one last glance at the Puffins who stoically, hadn’t budged an inch in the storm.
After returning home, I sent an e-mail off to a colleague who is an authority on birds in Japan and told him of our journey to Kiritappumisaki to see the puffins. His reply the next day: Did you see the two decoys on the left under the grassy overhang?

February 7, 2013 at 4:30 PM  
Blogger Kenny Frisch said...

My nemesis bird in Utah is Long-tailed Duck. I have tried for the past two years and still never seen it, even when people report it the same day I was at a place.

I've seen hundreds back home but just can't seem to find one here. Boo!

February 7, 2013 at 5:35 PM  
Blogger Stephanie Greenwood said...

@Tim--thanks for all the tips! I am also challenging myself to get all of these this year!

@DaninJapan--that's an awesome story. You must have been so disappointed!

@Kenny--I just realized I had a dream about a Long-tailed Duck last night. Adding that one to my "dream birds" list. :)

February 7, 2013 at 10:46 PM  
Blogger Jeff Bilsky said...

@Mary - Apparently everyone has luck there except you and me! :)
@Tim - I have a feeling we'll see them at Kolob during one of our trips this year.
@Shyloh - I'm definitely looking forward to it. I can't think of any bird I've tried for so many times and not found.
@Steph - Tim's list should be a good way to knock off most of those. I'm sure the Utah Birders will do some trips this spring as well that can help.
@Oliver - Thanks for the tip - the most fun would be to find some "new" Acorn Woodpeckers. You figure there must be some other locations in Utah just waiting to be discovered.
@Dan - That is a great story. Birding in Japan sounds like it would be a lot of fun.
@Kenny - I can't believe the bad luck we've had on them this year.

February 11, 2013 at 8:41 AM  
Blogger utmarshrat said...

@Jeff. Just have Shyloh show you some skin.

February 11, 2013 at 3:10 PM  

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