24 February 2010

Ruff

I had never been so happy to hear blaring indie rock before. The whining synthesizer of my ringtone annoyingly announced the joyous news. I scrambled for my phone, and was horrified when the call was dropped. Kevin Morgan stared out into the flooded rice fields, waiting for the news. In the distance, we could see another birding car starting to speed away. Call back: answering machine. I quickly re-dialed: answering machine. I swore under my breath, and tried one more time. "Hello?" the crackly voice asked. "ERIK - what's up? You get it?" "Ya, I -t it, 'bout - mile west -of in--section..." Barely enough information had made it through, but it was enough. We hastily made our way back out to the highway and began coasting along the flooded rice fields. Long-billed Dowitchers covered the fields, interspersed with Greater Yellowlegs, Black-bellied Plovers, Killdeer and the occasional peep. It was here in this flooded back-country of Louisiana near Thornwell that Steve Cardiff, Donna Dittman, and Paul Conover found a winter male Ruff (Philomachus pugnax) the day before. We coasted by the previously reported location, and I glanced out at the small flooded field through the bitter wind. Erik was already there, with a scope pointed towards the rarest bird within a hundred miles. I walked over to the scope and slowly eased my eyes to the eyepiece, and there it was.

Ruff, Thornwell, Louisiana

Ruffs are normally Eurasian birds, but every year a few of them stray into the United States. This bird has been recorded in almost every state now, but remains sporadic and unpredictable most of the time. I consider myself lucky to have been able to see this amazing vagrant.

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