Mackay Island NWR

Yesterday was a magnificent day!  I set out early from my grandparents’ house after a night of vodka tastings and family stories and headed towards Virginia Beach.  After an easy four hour drive, I arrived at the Mackay Island NWR Visitors’ Center with a cramping ankle and a fierce hunger.  I arrived about an hour before the scheduled meeting time for the VSO trip, so I simultaneously scarfed down some leftover pizza while messing around with my newly borrowed scope.  I focused it on some Canada Geese and Killdeer in the nearby field while a juvenile Northern Harrier cruised over the geese and a young White Ibis flew overhead.  The woman in the office was friendly and helpful and showed me the map of the refuge while I waited for the group.  Once everyone met up and got organized, we caravanned over to the causeway and began to drive the refuge loop enclosing several impoundments.  The refuge was absolutely spectacular and we were there to witness the lilting afternoon light, which caught the wings of the Snow Geese and Tundra Swans impeccably.  The woman in the visitors’ center told us that Snow Geese had not been seen yet this year, but we got some documentary-worthy views of flocks several hundred strong coming in to roost for the evening, so either they were the first of the year or she didn’t get out birding very often.  I am inclined to believe the latter due to the fact that despite her earlier cheer, she peeled out around our group at the first opportunity and sped up to yell at our leader, Lee Adams, that not everyone wanted to poke along like we were and we should stay to the side of the road.  So much for public relations.

A horrific picture of some swans congregating on the refuge
A horrific picture of some swans congregating on the refuge

We ended up with approximately 50 species, which I felt pretty good about due to the fact that we had to book it around the impoundments to keep up with the quickly-sinking sun.  I keep thinking that somehow the sun will stay out longer when I’m in Florida and then telling myself I’m crazy because I will still be in the eastern time zone, but I just looked it up and the sun does, in fact, set later. I forgot that day length has to do with distance from the equator, not longitude.  There is a Key West Quail-Dove that has been seen on and off since Thanksgiving on Long Key, and I am so tempted to just abandon my plans and book it down there, but I am promised other places before I get to Florida and I’m not quite to the point where I’m choosing a bird over friendships (although a Code 4 bird…..).

After spending some time on an observation platform watching the swans and geese congregate for the evening, I hopped into the birding-mobile and went to check in to my very first solo hotel room.  We got a good deal on a block of hotel rooms right on the beach, so I have a nice view of some Christmas lights on the sand and downtown Virginia Beach on the other side.  I felt like the world’s most accomplished adult being in my very own hotel room, so I had a Victory beer to celebrate and then went to meet up with the rest of the group for dinner at Dockside.  There is nothing that inspires me more than good food and great conversation with new birding friends.  We spent the dinner comparing travel notes and I was inundated with recommendations for places to go, which campsites to use (or not use in the case of an RV park which turned out to be a brothel), how to eat healthy food on the road, and how to stay safe while travelling.  Everyone on the trip is simply a fountain of information and they are all so generous and helpful it is overwhelming.  I’ve already got some new contacts with whom I can meet up in Florida, and hopefully some new friends to whom I can return in Virginia.  Sometimes it is incredibly intimidating going on these trips on my own, especially because I am typically the youngest one there and everyone else has known each other for years.  I (and many others) have found birders to be amongst the nicest people in the entire world, however, and never have I ever felt more welcomed into a community than when I’m birding.  I love going on group trips just to rest my mind and assure myself that, yeah, I am doing this right.  Sometimes if I’m at a refuge by myself or even just walking around my local park at home with binoculars, I still get the twinge of “are people looking at me funny? Am I doing this whole birding thing correctly or do I look like a huge nerd?” (which are probably one in the same if I am doing it correctly).  Going on group trips reminds me of how many other like-minded people there are out there and how easy it is to get to know them.

My Victory Beer for being an adult
My Victory Beer for being an adult (which is foamy because I didn’t have an opener and I cut my finger opening it on the counter)

It is now 5:50 AM and I have to get going so I can make it to the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel in time to meet everyone else. I apologize for the lack of eloquent wit in this post, but I just woke up and I wanted to make sure to get everything down before I am off for the day.  It is supposed to rain all day today, but I don’t see any torrential downpour out the window so far, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed.  I’ll update again tonight and I’ll try to infuse it with some more hilarity for your reading pleasure.

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