Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Jinx Birds

Posted by Rob Fergus

I have a better than average record chasing rare birds, and yesterday I was finally able to see a Pink-footed Goose, a bird I've chased and missed and not chased several times over the years.  That leaves just one big jinx bird missing a profile on my ABA list, my biggest jinx bird so far...Slaty-backed Gull!

The jinx probably started in high school in Oregon.  There weren't any records for the state, but I would dream about finding this bird.  One time I almost convinced myself that I found one in a downtown Portland park.  But it was just youthful wishful thinking.  Then when I went off to Utah for college, what started showing up every winter during the early 1990s in my old stomping grounds?  Yeah, that's right, our good buddy the Slaty-back!

My very first week in Texas, back in April 1995, I was hitting the Upper Texas Coast for the first time, enjoying the shorebirds at Bolivar Flats, when a woman with a big camera lens tried calling my attention to a dark-backed gull in a gull flock on the beach.  I did a quick look and didn't see anything, so I thought the unknown birder was just confused.  But then there it was--a dark-backed gull with the brightest pink legs I've ever seen!  As I was getting another birder on the bird, a jogger with a dog upset the whole flock and they were gone!  Ugh!  There weren't any Texas records of Slaty-backed Gull until several years after that, but my gut tells me there's a good chance that's what I had on the beach that day...slipping through my fingers.  People, keep your dogs from running through the gulls, please!  And what ever happened to those photos, mystery birder?

I've since chased Slaty-backs in Pennsylvania, just 30 minutes from the Audubon office where I worked.  Got there 20 minutes too late.  I'm also probably the first person to miss the bird that was in Ithaca, NY a few years ago.  It was there the day before, and several days after I was there.  But on the one day I was visiting the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, we dipped on it at the campus compost pits twice and at the traditional roost on the lake at dusk.  That was a long drive home to PA after missing that one!

So, Mr. Slaty-backed...you are on notice.  Now that my attention is not being divided by the formerly missing goose, I'm coming for you next!  Why don't you just make it easy on yourself and show up at the Spruce Run Reservoir boat ramp just up the road from my house here in New Jersey.  You know you want to!

I'm sure I'm not the only birder out there with a jinx bird.  Anyone else care to share theirs?


  1. For me Snow Buntings and American Tree Sparrows continue to elude me. People all around me and birding at the same places seem to find them. I think this is my winter for seeing both of them!

  2. That Slaty-backed Gull is quite the jynx bird! I bet a lot of people are missing that one.

  3. I hope that Slaty-backed Gull stays in one place long enough so you can put it on your list.

  4. Yellow Rail: I've looked for them in 4 states (winter, migration, breeding grounds) and no luck yet.

  5. I've been lucky enough to see a couple Slaty-backs in Alaska (although I thought one of them was a Vega Herring at the time), but I have missed many in California...including one this month already! I am excited to continue not seeing them over the course of the winter.

  6. very nice post - my jinx until just recently were owls, hopefully the jinx is fully broken


  7. I haven't done the chasing thing yet but plainly after watching The Big Year I need to expand my destination horizons. :)

  8. Rob, mine was the elegant trogon but I finally got it in Portal before moving away from Tucson. Now I would like to see a snowy owl, but I have not tried to chase one...yet! I hear they are showing up at Plum Island in MA, so maybe this weekend we will see if I can find 1. Then perhaps I will have to go searching for something new! That's quite the funny story though and I can totally relate to the people with dogs (and kids) story!

  9. Hi Rob,
    Congratulations on your jinx. Mine was not really a chasing but securing and identifying an area where, our endemic Short Clawed Lark is nearing the cartegory of extinction.The habitat is shrinking.
    Thanx for sharing