Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Fear And Loathing In Arroyo Grande

Oh, Sweet Jesus....what have I done to deserve this?  I feel like my soul has just been buried under a mountain of rancid guano, with no higher purpose than a slow and disgusting decay into infinity.  I do not number among the lucky few who belong to that higher state of mortals, those who have gazed upon the Ivory Gull.  After being seen on and off throughout the day Saturday, Handsome ("kind of a dick") Dan and myself made our way down to Arroyo Grande on Sunday with high hopes to see this heart-stoppingly rare and good-looking bird.  Its presence was only announced a couple days previously, and Saturday was the first day where it had been seen by anybody other than the lucky bastard who found the bird earlier in the week.
      Arriving shortly after noon, we were cheerily informed that it had been seen as recently as 10:30 in the morning.  And so we sat by that stinking sea lion carcass (the only dependable spot to find the bird).  And we sat.  And then....we sat. One o'clock came and went.....then two...then three....and by four we walked north to the pier, hoping to find it on the beach.  But alas, there was no Ivory Gull.  Typically, the sky broke as we were the furthest from the car that we could be, and so we had to trudge back, defeated, with out heads hung low in a rainstorm.
      After some surprisingly good Thai food (props to Thai Dheva on Grande Ave), we went up to San Luis Obispo to have a couple drinks while waiting for some of Dan's relatives let us crash for the night, because we knew we had to look for the bird again in the morning. But his cousin denied us, then his uncle denied us, and my friend who lived there was out of town......so it was back to Arroyo Grande.  Upon pulling into a motel parking lot, we watched some cops tase someone.  In a rainstorm.  The guy was screaming bloody murder, which seemed to stem from a mix of searing pain and being strung out on some shitty drugs.  It took almost 30 minutes for the cops, then the paramedics, to even touch the guy.  He just laid in a puddle screaming obscenities at all of them while they stood a few feet away and watched.
     And so we went to another motel. After checking in, we rolled to a liquor store and witnessed a strange middle-aged man get extremely heated with the cashier for charging him too much for the towering pile of porn that he was buying.  It was.....bizarre.
     Arroyo Grande, it seems, is not for the faint of heart.
     A little background on this. Ivory Gulls are small and completely white as adults.  As pure as the driven snow.  Angelic, even.  There is no readily accessible place in North America where you can reliably see one, and it is safe to say that even most dedicated birders will never get to see one.  They spend most of their time in the high Canadian Arctic, amongst the pack ice and polar bears. The Arroyo Grande bird was only the second ever to be found in California. On top of all this, like their brethren the polar bear, Ivory Gulls are extremely dependent on the existence of an icy world to do what they do, and with a rapidly warming climate....well, they aren't really expected to be thriving in the near future.
      We got back to the beach before 7 the next morning, and had another fruitless wait.  It seems the bird is gone.  It was a crushing blow.  We went and birded Avila Beach and Morro Bay to console ourselves, which was fun (Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow, Thayer's Gull, Merlin, Red Knot, California Thrasher, etc.), but we could not shake the horrible feeling of wasting a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see this, the birdiest of birds. Dan wept openly for the entire car ride back to San Francisco.
      For you nonbirders, perhaps the meaning of all this hasn't set in for you. Let me explain, let me attempt to relate this experience to something more "normal" people could understand. If you're running a marathon, it would be like leading the entire race only to have someone dash out of the crowd and break your legs 50 yards short of the finish line, a la Nancy Kerrigan.  It is like climbing Everest, only to run out of oxygen just below the summit....and then suffocating up there.  Like having your team up 3-0 in the World Series, only to lose it all in 12 innings in Game 7...and I'm talking about being a player, not a fan.  Like losing the Superbowl 0-49.  Like winning a presidential election, only to be swindled into having your evil half-wit competitor be handed it all on a silver platter (hello year 2000).  The complete demoralization, the tremendous sense of loss, the deep tragedy of it all is hard to put into mere words.
      But life goes on, doesn't it? You win some, you lose some. But believe me when I tell you, things will never be the same.


  1. This story is heart/bowl wrenching/clenching because I feel your pain intensely.

    In January of 2009 I chased and missed not one, but two, Ivory Gulls in Massachusetts. The Gloucester bird that disappeared the day I arrived, and the famous chicken-carcass-eating Plymouth bird that stayed away all day, until about an hour after I had to leave to go to the airport.

    Fortunately that wasn't the only reason I was up there or I would have slit my wrists. I hate that bird. I love that bird.

  2. i've always wanted to tase someone. and see an Ivory Gull. Sympathies, my friend.

  3. Does this mean I should feel lucky because I never even had the chance to go chase the damn thing, let alone see one?
    Yeah, lucky me.

    It sucks bad that you missed the bird. You reckon it got tasered nd arrested because the cops figured such a white bird was covered in snow, right? Snow?

  4. Thanks for the sympathies friends. Nate...you sound like a true victim as well. Jochen...I reckon you have the luck of a leprochaun compared to a lot of the people on that beach. One woman missed it by 30 seconds because she had to visit the potty. Im glad Im not her right now.

  5. Another female birder who will be wearing diapers on her next outing?

    Now, that is so unlucky. Yes, I do feel very fortunate now, sincerely...

  6. Ah yes. I well remember that winter of 2009 in Massachusetts when I feasted my eyes on not one, but two, of those delicate snow white gulls with the gentle, dove-like eyes....