I squat on my heels on the side of a county road in remote Cheyenne County, Colorado, gazing intently into a thick tangle of chokecherry bushes. All around me, the roadside vegetation is matted flat, evidence of the hundreds of birders who have visited this exact spot over the last few days. But now, late in the evening, I am the only one left here, feigning patience as I keep my eyes peeled on the greenery, jumping at every twitch in the leaves.
I do not normally have the opportunity to chase (or “twitch,” as some might say) rare birds, what with the normal restraints of school commitments and lack of vehicular transportation, so when I had a free afternoon yesterday to jump a couple of counties northward in search of a vagrant Golden-crowned Warbler, I couldn’t resist. Having been up since well before light doing bird surveys 150 miles south of here and after two hours of standing here on the roadside, I am drooping heavily.
Why this bird is here, so far north of where it should be? Perhaps it is purely just lost, or a few maligned lines of code in its little brain giving it the wrong migration coordinates, or maybe even some epic and magical quest. Regardless, when the warbler finally did emerge from the thick tangle for a brief moment of time, it looked right at home. At least on the small-scale…looking around me, I saw rural, agricultural eastern Colorado, without any of the flora or fauna that would make this bird truly fit into place. And, for me personally, that detracted from the moment…this bird is in a sense biologically dead, and while it is a still an absolutely gorgeous bird, and is a big tick on my state list, the experience only made me all the more eager for an opportunity to see it in its native habitat and see where it fits into the world properly.
Regardless, I grinned hugely, and might’ve done a little happy dance. Mentally calculating how little sleep I’d be getting that night, I reluctantly got back in my car, yawned, and started driving back to the next day’s survey transect. There was another day and many more birds to experience coming right up.