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In the movie Bull Durham, Kevin Costner's character ("Crash Davis") offered up several memorable lines," including "respect the streak." Bob Lockett has been been doing just that for 48 years. Now 60 years of age, Bob has added at least one new ABA Area bird every year since 1963, when he was 12 years old. Early on, keeping this streak intact probably wasn't too tough, but as one's lifelist for a geographic region grows there comes a point of diminishing returns.
Complicating matters, Bob and his wife Adrienne started a 26-month Peace Corps assignment in Jamaica in March 2009 and didn't return home to Portland, Oregon until May of this year. Good fortune kept Bob's streak alive in 2009 when a Slaty-backed Gull--his only ABA lifer that year--wintered (2008-09) along the Willamette River waterfront less than 20 minutes from his house. The following year (2010) was spent entirely out of country except for a single trip to Florida to visit Adrienne's mother. Realizing that a boat ride to the Dry Tortugas offered his best bet for new birds, Bob signed up for a Victor Emanuel Nature Tours (VENT) trip that netted five lifers. These included: Masked Booby, Sooty Tern, Bridled Tern, Brown Noddy and ironically, Black-whiskered Vireo, which according to Bob, is one of "most conspicuous" summering birds in Jamaica. Note that Jamaica lies outside of the ABA Area.
At the start of 2011, Bob's ABA Area list stood at an impressive 673 species, with no easy ticks on the horizon. The Locketts finally headed home to Portland, Oregon in mid-May, where they would be joined by Adrienne's mother (Eve), who came to Oregon for the Summer. With their wanderlust unsatisfied, Bob and Adrienne's stay in Portland would last a little more than four months before they were scheduled to depart on a four-month trip to Australia in mid-October. Looking at this schedule in advance, Bob wasn't finding many open dates where he might shoehorn in a targeted trip for one of the few resident North American birds that he still needs. He needed a rarity and soon! Hopefully, it would be one that showed up close to home.
In mid-September, a hoped-for rare bird alert came. An adult Black-tailed Gull was discovered on Commencement Bay at Tacoma, Washington. Shep Thorp found it roosting on log booms along Marine View Dr. near the Port of Tacoma on Wednesday 14 September. There are four prior Washington records of Asian stray, including one (almost certainly the same individual) that roosted at this same location two years earlier. Bob and Adrienne got word of the discovery while visiting friends in Arcata, California. The following day (Thursday), they made the eight-hour drive home to Portland.
On their way home, Adrienne called Shawneen Finnegan and asked if she and I might want to make a chase trip with them on Friday. We monitered "Tweeters" (the statewide birding listserv for Washington) and learned that the bird was seen again on Thursday, so plans were made for Bob and Adrienne to pick us up around 9AM on Friday morning. Shawneen had forgotten about a previous commitment with her own mother, so she was unable to join us. She was bummed about not getting to spend the day with Bob and Adrienne, but, fortunately, she had already seen Black-tailed Gull in the U.S.
Normally, we would have been on the road at "o'dark thirty" in order to be on site by the crack of dawn, but this bird was proving to be most reliable later in the day, so we opted for a more sane hour of departure. We made the two-and-a-half hour drive to Tacoma and readily found the log booms where the bird had been seen. When we arrived about noon, there were about 60 or so gulls on the logs, including a juvenile Franklin's Gull that had been around for a few days. We hung out for an hour or so as several other birders came and went, but there was no real turnover in the modest gathering of gulls. We could see that hundreds of gulls were feeding and loafing in channel and on the sandbars (low tide) at the mouth of Puyallup River a mile or so to the southeast across Commencement Bay. We surmised that as the day wore on and the tide came in many of these birds would end up on the log booms.
On the recommendation of Ryan Shaw, we decided to bird some other local spots and then return to the gull spot later in the day. We spent some time at Browns Point Lighthouse Park, where we saw a migrant Yellow Warbler and got some nice photos of young Bushtits. At about 3:00PM we returned to the Dick Gilmur overlook near the log booms. I was still digging my scope out of the trunk of the car when Bob announced that he was on the gull. I was happy for Bob that he got the satisfaction of finding it himself, rather than driving up to a group of birders with scopes already trained on the bird.
Over the next hour we shared the bird with about a dozen others. Though too far away for decent photos, both Bob and I took some just to record the moment. Thankfully, Shep Thorp ferried some photographers out in his small Zodiac and they cruised close enough to the roosting gull to get spectacular images. The photo of the Black-tailed Gull seen above was taken from Shep's boat by Gregg Thompson.
With "the streak" intact, the road-weary Locketts and I then made the return drive to Portland, where Shawneen prepared a celebratory dinner. Bob is not one prone to overly emotional displays, but I can report that despite the fatigue induced by being on the road for more than one-third of the preceding 36 hours, a contented smile never left his face that evening. He can now relax until January 1, 2012, when finding his next new ABA bird will once again come into focus.