I had one of the most incredible days of birding last week and it's taken me a few days to process it all. So, I'll start at the beginning. On Thursday, January 26th, my hubby and I were at Llano Seco early one morning to watch the sun rise and see if we could spot any new birds to add to our Big Year list. There have been many road closures in the area due to flooding and we were happy to be able to finally visit the refuge. It was as beautiful as you could imagine and much colder than we'd anticipated. The rising sun played off the lingering clouds and created a burst of oranges and pinks over the horizon...
To the west, the snow-capped mountains looked muted yet majestic...
In front of us on the walking trail, a Northern Harrier rested on the ground for a moment...
...before taking flight again and sending the ducks scurrying for cover...
During our walk, we saw a wide variety of ducks and birds, including wigeons, pintails, shovelers, coots, red-winged blackbirds, yellow-rumped warblers, meadowlarks, killdeer, sandhill cranes and our first loggerhead shrike of the year.
The sun rose higher in the sky and we were making our way back down the trail when we ran into another birder. He mentioned a sighting of a Vermilion Flycatcher at the cemetery in Maxwell. My hubby had read about the sighting on the Sacramento NWR Complex's Facebook page a few days ago, but the story was posted on January 5th and we figured the bird was long gone by now. The birder assured us the bird was still there and could be spotted perched on the tombstones. As hubby and I drove to Sacramento NWR, we talked about how cool it would be to see a bird that wasn't even supposed to be anywhere close to this far north.
When we arrived at SNWR, there was a school bus in the parking lot and a dozen cars zipping through the auto tour. The main reason we go to the refuge is to get away from people and we knew our visit was meant for another day, when we could have the place to ourselves.
"It's okay," I told hubby. "I've got a flycatcher to catch anyway."
So, feeling like we were in a movie or something, we drove the 30 miles or so to Maxwell on a hunch that the Vermilion Flycatcher would still be there.
Would he really be there, just hanging out around a cemetery when he was supposed to be in the southwestern United States and southward?
So, there I was at Maxwell Cemetery, walking around with a camera around my neck, looking for a little red bird from South America. The experience was surreal to say the least and I couldn't believe it was happening. Most of the graves were from the 1800's, but instead of feeling creepy the cemetery was peaceful and the birds created a cheery soundtrack from the trees around us.
As I kept an eye out for a flash of red, I saw a mockingbird in a tree who later flew up onto one of the statues, making for a striking photo op.
There were a few phoebes chirping and flying around, but still no flycatcher.
Finally, when I was beginning to think we'd embarked on a wild goose chase, my hubby spotted what I would later describe as one of the most extraordinary things I've ever seen.
There he was, that little red bird that wasn't supposed to be this far north, perched on a headstone. He dropped to the ground to feed and quickly returned to perch on the next headstone over.
We watched in awe, our cameras working double-time to keep up, as he fluttered around the cemetery, moving from grave to grave.
Even now, as I look back at the photos and write this blog post, I'm still amazed at what we saw that day.
And what made it even better was the fact that there was no one around. It was just me and the love of my life and a hundred souls resting in peace as this beautiful bird brightened our day and our hearts.
I thought for sure we'd drive up and there'd be dozens of binocular-wielding birders, hoping to catch a glimpse of something miraculous. Everyone else must have gone to see him weeks ago when the sighting was first announced.
My hubby, who's photography skills have surpassed mine, actually captured the flycatcher with an insect! My sweetie didn't even realize it until later when we went through the photos from the day!
As you can see, this rare sighting was pretty darn amazing. I guess, sometimes you just have to go with your gut and hope that something incredible will come of it...
We managed to get some video, too:
And so, with a joyful/astonished heart, I can add Vermilion Flycatcher to my Big Year 2017 list. Thank you, little red bird. I don't know why you picked that particular place to hang around, but I'm so glad it was nearby. And I'm thankful I have someone special to share life's extraordinary moments with.
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