October 28, 2014  - We are planning a series of posts detailing some of our most memorable trips from 2014. Some awe-inspiring successf...

RBS - Journey For My 300th - by Jacob Roalef

October 28, 2014

 - We are planning a series of posts detailing some of our most memorable trips from 2014. Some awe-inspiring successful ones, as well as some bitter failures. This first post is from Jacob "The Fire" Roalef. Jacob has been on quite an adventure this year. Going across the state (and out of his mind) on a journey to see 300 unique species in Ohio this year.


Journey For My 300th
 - Jacob Roalef

In 2014 I set out on a mission to begin my birding career. To see 300 species of birds in Ohio and join the other great birders who have done this. Well… I never actually considered 300 to be a real possibility until almost the end of May, but since then my quest has been clear. This was quite a task for a newbie birder with not much more than a pair of binoculars and a field guide. I had to learn a lot on the fly (no pun intended), study for countless hours, and make some great connections and friendships. It wasn’t until I met my very good friend Chris Collins in February that my birding year really took off. He was my first real “birder” friend and mentor and he was a newbie too, ha! Go figure. We started chasing some rare birds and planning trips across the state AND we were having tremendous success. Naturally, we kept going and planning even bigger and longer trips around the state! The rest is history as they say. Now there are countless stories from this amazing, truly spectacular year and eventually I will write some of them down, but this story is all about the 299th day of the journey and when I finally reached that magic number 300.

Norther Saw-Whet Owl
Cleveland Lakefront Preserve
First we need to step back a few days to October 22rd, a Wednesday. At the time I was sitting on 298 species and was becoming very anxious. 300 was so close I could almost taste it. My day began as my normal Wednesdays go, very busy, full of school and homework and meetings and work… Typically, days proceed as normal until you get a report, then everything changes. You quickly figure out how you are going to squeeze a trip in and still manage to do everything else. You get quite good at this over time!  Around 11:00 AM I received a message from another good friend I made this year, Jen, about a Northern Saw-Whet Owl at Cleveland Lakefront Nature Preserve. CLNP?! NSWO?! That’s a mere 50 min away; I have to find time to go and see it, 300 is sooo close!! I rework my schedule for the day and finally manage to get up there around 4:00 PM.

I'm on a boat!
An opportunity for 300 presented itself the very next day in the form of an extreme rarity, Townsend’s Solitaire. What a great bird for number 300, I had to give it a shot. The bird was discovered on Wednesday on Kelley’s Island; not exactly close or easy to get to. A search party went out to the island on the 7:00 AM ferry, I was not on it. While they were there, a few birders heard the Solitaire call and sing a few times, very reassuring. The bird is still there at least. I went to class, drove 2 hours, skipped a class (do not try this at home), paid 32 dollars, caught the ferry at noon, and started searching for the bird by 12:30. We searched and searched and searched… no luck. I had to take the 4:30 ferry back by myself in order to meet my parents for dinner (can’t miss that!).
The others took the 5:30 ferry back and wouldn’t you know it, Chuck found and photographed a Black-Headed Gull while waiting! A bird I still need and would have made 300. Crap! Also while on the ferry back, I was alerted to the incredible find of an Arctic Loon at Dillon State Park. Double crap! No chance to get there that evening, it would have to wait until the next day. Feeling dejected and discouraged, I may not have been paying much attention to my speed as I should have and got pulled over doing 67 in a 55 (again do not try this at home). Just the icing on the cake to a disappointing day but with this loon I knew I now had new hope to score 300 and have it be an incredible rarity!

Under normal circumstances, a bird this rare is worth skipping a class or 2 for and I would be there at first light looking for it, but Friday morning I had an exam. Can’t skip those. My hope was that the bird would be relocated, get comfy, and stay all day. I woke up, no word on the loon yet; heavy fog on the lake. I took my exam and right around the time I got done, I received a phone call, “The loon is still there sitting on the lake!” YES!! Hope and excitement rushed through me. I thought for sure it would stick around all day. I couldn’t be more wrong. 5 minutes later, another call. I didn’t like this call. I think we all know what this call was about. Heartbreaking for me and many other people that day. Utter shock. “The bird is gone. No. It can’t be true.” I spent the rest of the day trying to shake this one off. It cut deep, I wanted that one BAD! No time to feel sorry though, I had to regroup. My Dayton crew was coming up to the lake the next day (Saturday now) to do some birding and I had to be focused and help them.

Scanning the lake at Sims Park
Back up at the crack of dawn! (Well actually I slept in a little, was still shaking off that loon heartache). Spent the day birding and having fun on the lake with some fellow Rogue Birder members and Jen. Then around 1:00 PM, “Pacific Loon, Indian Lake!” Crap. Easily a long and awful 3 hour drive to get to Indian Lake but I wanted 300 bad and Pacific Loon would be a great bird to do it with. I mustered up some energy (not easy at this point) and I started the long journey south. Let me tell you, that was one of the worst drives I’ve ever done and to top it off, the loon was MIA for the whole drive. I arrived and met up with Dan and Doreene, my birding mentors who have graciously taken me under their wing. I would be nowhere without them. We scanned that lake from every possible access point for hours, no loon to be found. I am not very fond of loons anymore. It would be a long 3+ hour journey home for me but Dan and Doreene welcomed me to stay at their place (a mere hour and 15 min away) and watch some sports. Turns out, that is exactly what I needed to get back on track and boost my very very dejected spirits. With my battery recharged I was looking forward to having fun on Sunday.

Sunday, October 26th, day 299 of the year. Back up at 5:00 AM to hit the lake! Very casual day heading from one spot to the next, looking for anything and helping D and D boost their lists for the year. A Saw-Whet Owl at Dike 14 was a new one for them and cheered me up. I mean come on, look how cute they are. In the back of my mind all day though I was thinking about Wellington Reservoir and Cackling Goose, maybe that could be number 300. I made up my mind that I was going to check there around 3:00 or 4:00 and right before I was going to leave, a report came in of Cackling Geese at Wellington. Perfect!! This must be destiny, finally! So I hopped in the car, drove an hour southwest and arrived at Wellington. I am the only person there and there are 500 geese on the lake, a great sign. I walk the dike a little, do some quick scans and right there in front of me were 4 beautiful little Cackling Geese saying, “what took you so long.” It was a very surreal moment for me. I had done it. I couldn’t believe it. I just sat down and watched them for 10 minutes without moving.
#300!! Cackling Goose
Wellington Reservoir
I called some friends and let them know the good news. I was left wondering and reflecting, now what? Chris had the answer I needed, he always does, “why 301 of course!”

He was absolutely right, although I will take some time to really enjoy accomplishing my goal. Thank you to everyone who has helped me this year! I could not have done it without all of you. This is an unbelievable community of people and if I haven’t met you yet then I look forward to doing so sometime soon. If you see me then please say hello. We still have 2 more months left this year and I know I will be making the most of it!! Like Chris said, “on to 301!”

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  1. A very nice summary of these last few days before reaching this most prestigious goal. Congratulations! And welcome to the Ohio Big Year 300 Club! It's been really great birding with you this year. Now let's see how many more we can add by December 31st.
    Bird On! Dan & Doreene

  2. Congrats on getting your big 3-0-0 Jacob! Nicely written piece, and it was fun trying to get those last few birds with you, even if we didn't get them while I was there. I wish I could have seen your face when you saw the Cackling Geese! On to 301 indeed! Chuck :-)


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