Walking in the Shadow of Matt from Ohio

“Nobodies seen the duck today” These words haunted me repeatedly as my plane touched down in Chicago yesterday.  That giddy, euphoric feeling from the previous day was long gone, replaced by a gnawing feeling in my stomach that had been growing since the American Airlines flight left Denver.  I considered calling one of my brothers to see if the Garganey had been seen today, but what good would that do? What the hell was I doing chasing this duck anyway? Is this crazy? No strategy involved and everything now totally out of my control.  I took three deep breaths and thought to myself “Oh well, what happens-happens”  I then reassured myself that it will be impossible to pass Lynn Barber’s 2008 Big Year total  of 723 unless a few boondoogles like this were attempted. Besides, Matt from Ohio saw the Garganey on Monday.   I’ve mentioned Matt Stenger to you blog readers a couple of times already. He’s also doing an ABA Big Year so in effect is competing with me.  I had read his blog this Monday and his friend Karen Cody, who works at Fernald Reserve, had successfully guided him around the preserve on Monday till he found the bird!  It was his third try for the bird and that concerned me because my return flight to Denver was Thursday afternoon.  Not much time was available.

The short flight from Chicago to Cincinnati was uneventful and, since I had not checked luggage, I proceeded straight to the Budget Car rental booth. My next task was to get to the preserve without any problems or tickets.  It was a short trip from the airport in Northern Kentucky across the Ohio R. to the Fernald Preserve in Harrison, Ohio.  This preserve used to be a nuclear enrichment facility, necessary during the Cold War, but now converted to a series of wetlands, prairie and forest.  I drove into the preserve and proceeded along the ½ mile road to the visitor center.  I assumed that’s where Karen worked.  My mind once again slipped into “Big Year Paranoia”!  Matt reads my blog.  He surely knew by now that  I was coming .  Score a class 5 mega rarity in Matt’s back yard? What in case he’d instructed Karen to lead me on a wild goose chase?  Is this a glimpse of things to come as the year unfolds (the state of my mind that is)?

Of course, I swept away these ridiculous notions and walked into the visitor center and asked the person behind the counter if the Garganey had been seen today……out popped this energetic woman from the back room who exclaimed, “I’ll show you the Garganey”  Immediately, I knew this was Karen. We walked together all of 50 yards to the pond immediately next to the building.  There it was in all its glory.  A handsome drake!  Matt’s friend Karen had just served me the Garganey………on a silver platter!

Garganey with a Blue-winged Teal (Photo by John Vanderpoel)

Garganey at Fernald Preserve, Hamilton, Co., OH (Photo by John Vanderpoel)

And it got even better. She’s a bona fide amphibian nut!  As you know, I’m also recording all the species in the “Quest for a Thousand” that I see during the course of this year.  Karen showed me a couple of Blanchard’s Cricket frogs at the preserve.  That night, after I found several Cerulean Warblers at Miami-Whitewater Forest (and special thanks to one of my blog readers, Wes Hatch, who’s going to college in Cleveland, for giving me e-bird directions to this spot-perfect Cerulean habitat!)) I drove to Karen and Dave Cody’s home in W. Harrison, IN.  Karen had organized an amphibian hunt for the evening.  Her sons, Zach and Sam, joined us as well as Jerry, a knowledgeable herb and bird guy from the area. What fun we had!  With hip boots, nets and flashlights we searched for toads and frogs.  The reward was two American Toads, many more cricket frogs, and Gray Tree Frogs singing away in their neighbor’s pool.  To end the evening, I was ushered to a hot shower.  Sam, who’s 15 years old, gave me his room for the night and Dave evening had a piece of chocolate on the pillow.  Now that’s what I always loved about Ohio. Genuine friendly people.

Karen, Zach, John and Sam

Jerry and Karen with an Eastern Box Turtle (Photo by John Vanderpoel)

To make things even more funny, Matt Steneger had stayed in the same room the night before! Thanks to Karen, Dave, Zach and Sam for the incredible hospitality.  Sam, thanks for the lunch it hit the spot. So there you have it. I got the Garganey (my 16th mega rarity of the year) in Ohio. Walking….and sleeping….and eating  in the shadow of Matt from Ohio.

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10 Responses to Walking in the Shadow of Matt from Ohio

  1. Gary Matthews says:

    That was too easy!

  2. Fred Urie says:

    That makes up for the 9 mile mountain hike. It’s all good.

  3. Jim Vanderpoel says:

    Hilarious and nice story!

  4. Todd Deininger says:

    I wonder if this guy will hang around until the end of July.

  5. Totally awesome John! Good for you. I was so excited when I got that same Garganey too, it’s an awesome bird. Congrats!

  6. Matt Stenger says:

    This is the best near miss yet. One day we will be in the same place at the same time. Also, I promise not to sabotage you big year by leading you on a wild goose chase (unless it’s a graylag goose, in which case you probably won’t mind a wild goose chase).

  7. Greg Baker says:

    John…I birded with you at Neal’s Lodge in late April, the day we spotted the Ringtail. Just wanted to let you know that I did get a Grey Vireo at Kickapoo Caverns, about 15 minutes after you left. I finally got it by driving every couple of hundred yards and listening. Since then I am back to work, this time remediating flood-damaged properties in Indiana. So I made a very early morning side trip to the Garganey at Fernald Preserve on May 12th; I saw it in the same pond you did, and noticed it mating with the female Blue-winged Teal…an apparent inter-species threesome…Have they no shame? Looks like I missed you by a day. I couldn’t find a Henslow’s Sparrow at Fernald Preserve, but had them the year before at Big Oaks Refuge, near Madison, IN. It sounds like you are having quite the adventure. Look me up if you travel through Oregon…..Greg Baker/Portland, Oregon

  8. John Vanderpoel says:

    Hi Greg,

    Great hearing from you. It’s a shame we missed each other by one day. Question for you – any locations for Gray Partridge in N. Oregon or Washington that I could combine when i go to Vancouver Island this fall?

  9. Greg Baker says:

    John…I believe finding a Gray Partridge west of the Cascades is nearly impossible. The closest place I found them last year was near Chesaw, WA in the Okanogans/Methow Valley area. This is a terrific place to bird in the winter, several hours east of Seattle, along the Canadian border. If you consider going there, I will hook you up with two birders who are familiar with the area. Do you already have Great Grey Owl; if not and it becomes a nemisis, let me know. I got the Skylark on Vancouver Island last year in April. The local Birding Pals connections can lead you right to the sweet spots this time of year. The birds were skylarking for me, and I was able to find several; I have the location in my notes at home. I am still working on the Midwest floods clean up, this time in Tunica, MS. How is your quadruped count coming along, and do snakes count? I got a nice photo of some sort of box turtle yesterday, but missed the 30-foot snake (saw the iPhone photograph myself!) of the guy who had just run over it, and reported it to a game warden, but it had slithered off the road into some thicket presumably to die. I stopped by and asked them what the fuss was all about. Probably some flooded zoo’s escapee, or perhaps a pet? Bizarre. Missed it by 15 minutes! Also, if you need American Crocodile and Manatee, I got both in Flamingo, both within walking distance, last March. Hope to see you around. Greg Baker/Portland, Oregon.

  10. John Vanderpoel says:

    Hey Greg,

    Thanks for the information. I’m trying to get ready for AK so will contact you after the trip.

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