January 12, 2015 - "It was almost awesome." That's pretty much the only thing I can think of saying when someone asks how...

RBS - Was It Worth It? - by Chris Collins

January 12, 2015 -

"It was almost awesome." That's pretty much the only thing I can think of saying when someone asks how the trip to Quincy, IL was. Dan Enders and I decided on Thursday that if the Ivory Gull was seen on Friday we were packing up and heading out first thing Saturday morning.

Friday morning the reports started coming in.
It was hanging out in the marina giving incredible looks and putting on a show. Lots of incredible photos were being taken and we had high hopes to see this incredibly rare, beautiful bird. As a bonus, we would be able to see Eurasian Tree Sparrows at the same spot and add those to our LifeLists, as well.

The night before we confirmed we had PopTarts and Mountain Dew ready to go. We wanted to arrive in Quincy at sunrise (7:27 AM) so we set a time of departure from Beavercreek, OH for 12:15 AM. We both grabbed about 45 minutes of rest/sleep, then it was "Go Time!"

At midnight I started warming up the car (It was -3°). Dan arrived on time, threw his gear in the car and we were off. After all of the bad weather we had recently, it was was nice to have clear roads and a clear sky for the trip. We were cruising through Indianapolis in no time. We arrived at Quinsippi Island at exactly 7:20 AM. Unfortunately, that's Eastern Standard Time.

We had made excellent time, but we were also an hour ahead of schedule... We both completely forgot about the time zone change when you hit Illinois. Instead of arriving as the sun came up, we were there in the dark for an hour waiting for the marina to wake up. Some folks had apparently been asleep at the wheel before we arrived. There was an accident on the main entrance road to the area, and near the Quinsippi Island Road Bridge there was a car teetering on the edge of the river with local police seemingly watching to see if it would go in or not.

After scanning the moonlit marina for the gull for about 30 minutes we decided it would be fun to try to find Eurasian Tree Sparrows in the dark. Dan heard one, I saw a small dark blob dive for cover. We spotted a couple of juncos. We got cold hands and feet. Back in the car.

Around 7:45 (CST this time) we parked near the open water in the marina where the Ivory Gull had spent the previous day. First ones in - best seats in the house! Others started showing up shortly after. Then more people, and more people, and geez! By 9:00 AM there were almost 100 birders, photographers, spouses, kids, pets, and locals gathered up and down the marina waiting and watching for the gull. By 10:00 there were 100 birders, bored photographers, grumpy spouses, restless kids, and disinterested pets waiting and praying for the gull. Nothing.

Though I tried REAL hard to make it one!

Finally at around 10:30 Dan says, "Let's go find some tree sparrows and then we can come back." This seemed like a good idea. If the gull showed up our phones would light up with messages from all of our friends that were watching back home. Plus, it would give us some sort of consolation prize should the gull not make an appearance.

We drove along the river checking every parking lot and tree. We found more Juncos, a lot of Robins, and a few House Sparrows. Now I'm getting grumpy and anxious. The Eurasian Tree Sparrow has become a desperation attempt to salvage something from this long journey, and it continues to elude us. We pulled down into the last turn off by the river and we see a flock of small sparrow-type birds flying around in the grass and bushes. Song Sparrow. White-Crowned Sparrow. American Tree Sparrow. Dark-Eyed Junco.... "Dan! Dan! Dan!" I shout in a whisper. "There they are!"

Click, click, click...
Eurasian Tree Sparrow #339 - Quincy, IL

Feeling a little better we headed back to the marina to find those same folks waiting and praying. Managed a "Hello" to Brian Johnson from Indiana. Missed seeing Kevin Cornell (but we did commiserate via Facebook) It was time to head home. No Gull. Farewell Quincy, IL. Farewell Ivory Gull - wherever you are.

When I arrived home - ok, well, at the bar - the first thing my wife said to me was, "Was it worth it?"

I had to think for a moment. She continued saying things like, "900 miles" and "Isn't that extreme?", but I was stuck on her first question. With the same odds would I be willing to jump in my car and try to see this bird again? Or perhaps another bird almost or just as rare?

Ivory Gull (Photo courtesy of Laura Keene)

HELL YEAH! It was almost AWESOME!

Bird On!

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