Fast forward nearly two years. I didn't know it back in January of 2012, but I would run into Ms Iron often over the ensuing two years, including today, at Col. Sam Smith Park, looking for a Long-eared Owl. She was arriving as I was leaving. I didn't see the owl, but told her I was on my way to see the King Eider. She wondered if it was the same bird from 2012 returning once again. Back then I was a naive, uneducated wanna-be birder. Now, when I bump into Ms Iron, she actually recognises me. I've come a long way.
So, off I went to St. Catherines, to try and not only see the Eider, but get a good photo of it as well. Back in 2012, I arrived as the bird was drifting further and further from shore and the old scope I had was not up to the task of re-finding it, after the others had left, so I had no photo, digiscoped or otherwise. Today I hoped for a different outcome.
Of course, it's me, and nothing ever seems to come easy. First, when I arrived, I headed quickly down the path where I had seen the Eider the first time, nearly 700 days ago. Something to do with muscle memory. My legs just carried me down the path it had been on before. Mistake number one. I spent time scoping all the Common Mergansers and soon came to the realisation I might be looking in the wrong place.
So as I walked back to the car, I examined the text of the King Eider e-mail alert and discovered that the bird had been viewed from some place called Jones Beach. Where the heck was that, I wondered as I got back to my car and then looked beyond my car to see, well, a beach. I walked down to the beach, pulled out my scope and within a minute found the King Eider across the bay. As I looked up, I saw that it was at the end of a spit with a lighthouse on it and a few birders taking photographs from about 15 feet away. The question was, how to get there?
I dog walker came by and I asked if she knew how to get to the lighthouse spit and she directed me to get in the car and drive down another road to where I would pick up a path that would lead to the lighthouse. Fine. Great. I hopped in the car, drove up the road, around a corner and down another road, where, about 5 minutes later, I parked my car about a 30 second walk from where I had been parked by the beach. So far, I had wasted about 40 minutes pretty much going in circles. I hope that whenever I set out to break the Big Year record, that Neil Hayward is on the verge of breaking this year, I don't spend as much time wandering aimlessly and making so many wrong turns as I seem to do now.
Another birder was coming up the path from seeing the Eider, and, of course, had taken some great photos, as the bird was so close to the spit. Great. Now I just had to make my way there. He gave good directions. Follow the fence line until it ends, go off through the trees to the right and then make your way back to the spit. I made it there in fine time, and another pair of birders were just walking out. The Eider is right there, they told me, just be careful walking down to the lighthouse. Finally, I arrived. A pair of birders had just seen it. Where? I asked. She pointed close to shore and said, right there, but it just flew off toward the shore. The very shore I had just come from. Nooooooooo!
They left and I was left to relocate the bird I had walked so far to find. The 45 minutes or more I had wasted might have cost me a great photo. As it happened, the bird must have circled around, because I soon spotted the Eider behind me, not across the bay. For the next 45 minutes or so I followed the bird along the shoreline trying to get photos, as it drifted further and further away, and then was gone. I lost hope of getting a good photo and was about to head back to my car when I was inspired to walk back to the end of the spit and just see if he had wandered back to his starting point.
In fact, he had. I found him quickly, just a little too far offshore to get a good photo, but suddenly the eider took off and flew right in front of the camera. It then landed close enough to see without binoculars, flew off again, landed close and allowed me to take some decent photographs. Finally, I had photos of an adult male King Eider. I already have photos of first winter and summer juveniles, but they just don't compare in beauty and colour to the adult males.
Satisfied, I headed back to Toronto. I decided to stop once more at Col. Sam and look for both the reported Long-eared Owl and my park nemesis, the Northern Shrike. No owl, but on my way out of the park, I finally, after at least a dozen attempts, found the Northern Shrike sitting near the top of a dead tree. The Shrike was another bird I saw but did not photograph in 2012. I got my photograph and have now seen just over 350 species in 2013. Not a Big Year, by any means, but I have seen 20 Lifers this year and added photographs of a couple of dozen more birds as well.