I’ve been in Athens, Georgia for eight days and have only attended two graduate classes, and I’ve already heard about a rare bird in the area. Thank goodness for bird groups on Facebook, email listservs, and nice people who will get nerdy and talk about birds with you before class starts. The rare bird in question is a brown booby. Yes, I said booby. Brown boobies are tropical seabirds that occasionally find themselves along both coasts of the United States. “Betty the Booby” has been seen and photographed regularly on Lake Russell in Elbert County since the beginning of July. Having just found out about her yesterday, I figured I’d drive an hour out to Elberton, Georgia to attempt to find this bird. Knowing my luck, I didn’t want to get my hopes up, but it was difficult to suppress them considering the bird has been seen nearly every day.
However, upon arrival around 9:20am, I met a disappointed-looking, fellow birder who explained to me that he hadn’t seen hide nor…feather…of the booby today. I willed myself to believe that “I knew this would happen,” but I couldn’t stop that stomach-sinking feeling you get when you’ve been majorly let down. I stuck around for a little over an hour, but the elusive booby never appeared. It seemed like her favorite perch, the “CAUTION: TREES SUBMERGED” sign, was taunting me.
However, as disappointed as I may have been, the day was not a bust. While standing on the dock, I noted a spider wasp flitting around. I’ll admit I was quite wary, since I know how painful their stings can be, but upon further analysis of my photograph after I got home, I realized the wasp only had one thing on its mind: lunch!
Then I walked the length of the parking lot and up to the bridge where, if the booby had been cooperatively posing on her sign-perch, I would have gotten some usable pictures. Instead, I stood next to the bridge and listened to the rattle of a belted kingfisher…the angry-esque squeaks and chirps of three ruby-throated hummingbirds as they zoomed by me and up into a tangle of mimosa blooms…the rapid, garbled song of a white-eyed vireo…and the “Drink your TEAAA!” song of a male eastern towhee.
A large, reddish dragonfly kept flying nearby, and while I was never able to get a picture of it, an eastern tiger swallowtail nectaring on pink mimosa flowers caught my eye. I reveled in the color contrasts between the yellow insect, the pink blooms, and the bright, blue sky.
Finally, I gave up (for now!) and drove back to Comer, Georgia, where multiple Mississippi and swallow-tailed kites had been reported actively hunting some fields. It was a super hot day, so I wasn’t sure if many birds would be hunting, but the Mississippi kites didn’t disappoint. I observed at least a few individuals flying over soybean fields, and some of them were even eating their kill on the wing. Unfortunately, I was too far away to see what they were consuming.
Another lifer for the list!
As you can see, birders are crazy. We take huge gambles by driving hours to see notable, rare, or new birds, and sometimes we come up empty-handed like I did today.
…OR, we explore new areas we’ve never been to in pursuit of two lifers, observe nature in action (spider wasp observation), do a little birding on the side, and end the day with one new lifer (Mississippi kites).
Sometimes it just takes a little perspective. That’s the nature of birding.