When a Dickcissel turned up in the wrong place at the wrong time last week, Scott Stafford, one of Washington’s top birders, just happened to be in the right place at the right time to find it.
Less than an hour later, a small swath along the banks of the Potomac was buzzing with birders pointing their cameras into what amounts to an oversized ditch. There among the mix of mud and twigs hopped a small sparrowlike bird carefully concealing its brilliant yellow breast.
“At first I thought it was just another White-throated Sparrow,” Scott said. “But then he popped up, and there was so much yellow. I’m like, Holy Crap!”
What Scott did next made him late for work. It also made him the hero of the moment in Washington’s very active birding community. Nabbing a rare sighting like the out-of-range Dickcissel comes along maybe once in a season – and being the person to claim it is rarer still.
“I took a photo and immediately posted it out on the D.C. Rare Bird Alert,” Scott said. “Then I stayed on the bird to help direct birders who said they were on their way to find it, so if it flew off, they’d know what direction.”
Flying Lessons clearly states that our website is about “What We’re Learning From the Birds.” But in talking with Scott the other day about his experiences, I realized that what we’re learning from other birders can’t be stressed enough.
While Anders and I are usually plotting our next birding adventure away from the big city, Scott is patiently stalking everything within a few miles of home. He’s seen 226 species in the D.C. area alone – more than my entire Life List from around the country and beyond.