Bohemian Waxwing. Just the name makes me feel all… Jack Kerouacky.

It’s a life bird that would make me get “On the Road.”

Bohemian Waxwing. Photo by Charlie Moores.

What’s so compelling about this potential life bird when there are others that are more rare and exotic? I’m not sure, but thinking about it, here are a few hypotheses: the Bohemian Waxwing has that windswept crest—as though it’s been driving down the blue highways all day long with the top down. It’s got that blush of color around the face, like it’s been hitting the whiskey (or fermented berries) since early morning. Those surprise colors on the wings and undertail, so bold and lush.

It’s a special bird and I won’t apologize for waxing rhapsodic.

Here’s my lifer fantasy: I want my cellphone to jingle with an incoming message telling me about a huge flock of Bohemian Waxwings showing well and regularly at some not-too-distant spot. Then, tossing my optics, cameras, and other assorted shizzle into the birdmobile, I want to hit the open road with some sweet tunes on the twiddler.

Along the way I’ll see everything that’s great about America: vast open prairies (dotted with line after line of giant wind turbines), mountains purple with majesty (or perhaps red with mountaintop-removal mine run-off), small towns glowing with festive lights (only $1.97 a strand in aisle 46 at Wally World!) and thick forests (bisected with newly dozed logging roads).

How depressing, huh?

And that’s my dilemma. My life list sits at 676 or so. That’s within striking distance of 700—not immediate striking distance, mind you. But, like, rock-throwing striking distance. And I DO enjoy chasing birds! But what’s the cost? How much gasoline will be burned? What volume of auto (or airplane–or both!) emissions will be created? How much will my chasing of a rare bird warm the planet?  How big are the toes on my carbon footprint? Thinking about that does harsh one’s lifer-seeking mellow. In fact, it’s a veritable bummer.

The last time I chased a Bohemian Waxwing was 1987. I was living in New York City working long hours at an ad agency, making just enough money to make the rent, living on baked potatoes and slices of pizza. We birders didn’t think a lot about such things as global warming back then. When we heard about a rare bird, my birding chums and I would chase it, driving long distances and often all night. We were regularly successful, but not on the winter jaunt up to coastal Maine for the Boho. We dipped out completely on that one (and the Townsend’s Solitaire, too).

I get to travel for my work a fair bit, so my jones for chasing life birds has been reduced in intensity by getting to go to new places to watch birds. At one point last March, after a very successful pelagic trip out of San Diego, five more species brought my life list to its current tally and reignited my interest in adding new species. I even signed up for NARBA, the North American Rare Bird Alert, just in case I chose to chase one of the lost bundles of feathers being reported. So far, I have not felt the urge. Baikal Teal in AZ? Too far. Black-tailed Gull in Newfie? Way too far, especially for a gull. Ross’ Gull out west? Sweet, but not a lifer.

Ah! That rusty undertail on a Boho Waxy! Photo by Charlie Moores.

I think I’m waiting for that moment of exquisite Kerouac kismet when the report reaches me of a serendipitous gathering of Bohemians.

You know, I’ve always wanted to run off to join the Bohemians.

Written by Bill
Bill Thompson, III is the editor of Bird Watcher’s Digest, the magazine founded by his parents more than 30 years ago, in 1978. He is the author of numerous books about birds and nature, including, most recently Feeding and Identifying Birds and The Young Birder’s Guide to Birds of Eastern North America, both part of the Peterson Field Guide Series from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing. Bill has led birding trips all across North America and has spoken or performed at more than 100 birding and nature festivals worldwide. He has watched birds in more than 25 countries and on five continents. He is also the blogger behind Bill of the Birds and hosts the birding podcast This Birding Life.