baikal teal by suneko

So as many of my loyal readers know, I have a very mixed relationship with vagrants and the chasing thereof. Nevertheless, when a Baikal Teal was reported by the illustrious Radd Icenoggle just outside Missoula, I couldn’t very well ignore the siren call. Especially once the bird made the front page of the Missoulian and my friends started asking me about it.

My quest began on Tuesday, two days after the first sighting and mere hours after the second set of x-rays on my wrist. (It’s going to be fine.) A friend and I drove up, heard the traditional birder greeting of “it was here earlier today”, and settled in for a wait. Waiting was all we really could do, because much of the ditch was on private property and inaccessible.

Two fellows from out of town were settled in already, and a number of locals popped in and out, but I didn’t see the crowds I was expecting — perhaps because it was the middle of the work week, perhaps because the weather was unseasonable. And by “unseasonable”, I mean that in the middle of our vigil it started snowing. Not a demure little flurry with individual six-sided flakes, oh no. What I can only describe as pellets of snow were hurtling out of the sky to abuse our underdressed bodies.

In light of this, and after nearly three hours with nary a sign of either the teal or the Wood Ducks it was reputed to keep company with, we chucked it. “Surely,” we rationalized, “the ducks will hunker down in this weather, so any further waiting will be fruitless.” Which was all well and good in theory, but made it even more frustrating when the duck was sighted again about an hour after we left.

Our second and third attempts, though less meteorologically unpleasant, were equally fruitless. And yet, as you read this, I may well be out on the chase again. Why?

1. It’s a good time of year to be out in the field. I picked up my life Red-naped Sapsucker, FOS Western Bluebird and Wood Duck, a dark-morph Red-tailed Hawk, and several other goodies whilst out on watch.

2. Standing around in the cold is, my pants can confirm, better exercise than writing essays.

3. My friend and birding partner Keyl, not previously a twitcher, has caught the bug. When I talked to him last night, he insisted that with as many hours as we’d now put into our vigil, we have to see this [darn] bird. I mentioned the term “sunk costs” but he waved it aside. Who am I to argue?

Baikal Teal by suneko

Written by Carrie
Carrie Laben, after years of writing and birding in New York, moved to Montana to pursue her two great passions more effectively. She recently graduated with an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from the University of Montana in Missoula. When she is not cranking out essays and speculative fiction stories, or wandering around on mountains failing to see the birds she is looking for, she is likely to be drinking one of the many fine local microbrews or attending a potluck with something from the local farmer’s market in hand. On Mondays from 3 to 3:30 Mountain Time you can find her answering questions about birds on live chat at