How to Remain Friends While Rarity Chasing

During the Robert Lee CBC conducted by the Midland Naturalists on Saturday, December 15, an adult Golden-crowned Sparrow was located in a small flock of White-crowned Sparrows not far from the town (see below).

GCSP Erik Breden

This news spread like wildfire in the birding community and soon I was plotting a rarity chase. Commitments were first met, then schedules rearranged, and travel plans were finalized three days later. I had called Kathy to see if she could go with me but her physical therapy regime couldn’t be altered. “That’s OK’” I stated. “Just call me later tonight if you can get free;” and I think I mumbled something about leaving town late to accommodate her PT.

The phone didn’t ring that night so I assumed I was free to head south after an early-morning appointment. About forty minutes out of town the cell phone rang. It was Kathy; “I’ve just finished physical therapy and I’m now ready to chase that sparrow.” Oh no! I guiltily confessed to skipping town without her. A brief reply and a quick hang-up left me wondering if I had strained our friendship. But as I drove on my remorse slowly changed to anticipation; a life bird was waiting! I’d deal with the guilt later.

I arrived at the site and waited a couple of hours without seeing much of anything. To feed my birder’s appetite, I drove elsewhere around Lake Spence. Say’s Phoebe, Lark Buntings (below),


a Cassin’s Sparrow, and Black-throated Sparrows (below)


whetted my appetite. But the thought of seeing a life bird soon drove me back to the original stake-out site. Before long I saw movement in the shrub, raised the bins and there it was! A quick flash of wings and a golden-yellow crown bordered by two black areas was all I had time to see before the bird dropped back down into the shrub. I waited breathlessly for a few minutes but after another two hours of staring at empty brush, I turned the key in the truck and headed for home. The 90 minute ride home gave me plenty of time to contemplate how miscommunications are not a good thing when it comes to maintaining friendships.

That evening before retiring, the phone rang. I cringed when I saw caller ID; it was Kathy. “Hello, friend,” said the cheerful familiar voice. “I’ve rearranged my PT from the morning and moved it to the afternoon so we can chase that sparrow.” Immediately I knew I was forgiven; I also knew I’d be driving back to Robert Lee and watching the sun rise on a familiar patch of brush. But like a bad rerun, we fruitlessly waited for over an hour without seeing any movement. Needing to stretch the legs, I exited the truck and walked stiffly up and down the county road. Then I raised my bins to see what was moving under a tree and found the Golden-crowned Sparrow! “It’s here! The Golden-crowned Sparrow is under the tree,” I shouted excitedly. Running back to the truck, I grabbed the scope and set it on the bird! Kathy got out of the truck; walked as fast as her new hip would allow and we watched it for over 5 minutes, taking in every glorious detail. Several times its head was awash with sunlight, illuminating its brilliant yellow crown. Beyond satisfied, we discussed the next birding adventure since it was still early in the morning and more rarities had been reported in West Texas, specifically around Lake Balmorhea and Fort Davis. Like gamblers, we surmised that if we were lucky in spotting the Golden-crowned Sparrow, we’d be lucky with the next rarities.

We excitedly planned, we plotted, and we figured the mileage and ETA. We were confident we could do this! Of course we’d have to spend the night and the fact we didn’t have overnight bags didn’t dampen our enthusiasm. “We’ll stop and pick up toiletries and sleep in our clothes;” I announced. But slowly it dawned on Kathy, “I don’t have my prescription medications with me,” she confessed. Then I realized I didn’t have a needed prescription medication with me, either. “Bummer, getting older sure removes the spontaneity in life;” I bemoaned. But Kathy quickly consoled, “We just need to be smarter. Next time we’re rarity chasing, we’ll carry our medications with us so we can continue to be impulsive.” We both got a good chuckle over her solution.

Now when I look at my life list and see the checkmark next to Golden-crowned Sparrow I will always remember how my slip of memory and impatience created two trips to Robert Lee.

More pictures of our Robert Lee trip are in the Robert Lee Gallery. As a final follow-up, I took yet a third trip to Robert Lee but this time with other club members. Some enjoyed adding the Golden-crowned Sparrow to their life list and you can see our sightings here.