The Eternal Search for the ‘Nemesis Bird’

In the world of birding, Peter Kaestner stands alone. No one has seen and recognized extra birds than Mr. Kaestner, a retired U.S. diplomat who aspires to grow to be the first birder to identify 10,000 of the planet’s roughly 11,000 avian species. With 9,697 on his eBird checklist up to now, he’s getting shut.

Yet for all the birds he has regarded for and located, there stay a number of that he has regarded for and never discovered. He doesn’t neglect them.

There was the Congo peacock — a uncommon multicolored pheasant of the Central African rainforest — that he missed in 1978, when his touring celebration was stymied by a crash on the distant airstrip that they deliberate to look. There was a black-browed albatross he pursued off the German coast in 2015, some 300 miles and a four-hour ferry journey from Mr. Kaestner’s dwelling in Frankfurt at the time.

“I made four 10-hour trips to twitch it, to no avail,” Mr. Kaester wrote in an electronic mail. “Once, I missed it by 20 minutes!”

Through such trials birders develop what they name “nemesis birds,” birderspeak for the species that bedevil them repeatedly, regardless of their finest efforts. As birding surges in recognition, the interest’s distinctive parlance requires clarification. To “twitch” is to drop every thing to chase a uncommon hen discovered outdoors its correct vary. A “spark bird” is what birders name the hen that piques somebody’s curiosity in birding. A “nemesis bird” retains you going again and stays tantalizingly out-of-reach.

“It’s a species that eludes you after multiple attempts, especially if the bird was or should have been there,” Mr. Kaestner mentioned. “There is a connotation that something supernatural is getting between you and seeing the bird.”

Peter Kaestner, with a southern yellow-billed hornbill in Namibia.Credit…Peter Kaestner

An article in Audubon in 2017 by Dan Koeppel outlined a nemesis hen as “one common enough that a dedicated birder should have spotted it, but that nevertheless remains unseen.” Mr. Koeppel, an writer and science author, has since broadened the definition barely, noting it could possibly imply various things to birders of various ability and curiosity ranges.

“If it’s a bird that drives you crazy, you can call it a nemesis bird,” Mr. Koeppel mentioned. “It could be a bird your mom has seen, but you haven’t.”

What causes an individual to be pushed loopy by birds? By now, the constructive well being advantages of birding are well-documented, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that about 45 million Americans establish as birders. But what causes an individual to obsess over one specific hen? That is one thing altogether particular and private.

“The concept of nemesis birds is one of the things my nonbirder friends are most confused, then amused, by,” Danielle Khalife, a public well being researcher from Brooklyn, mentioned. “Somebody asked if it was birds that you hate. Not exactly.”

Sometimes a hen’s novelty makes it a nemesis. Since moving into birding throughout the pandemic, Ms. Khalife has but to identify a yellow-breasted chat, regardless of a number of reported sightings in close by Prospect Park. Chats are giant secretive warblers unusual north of Delaware and, as their identify suggests, extra usually heard than seen.

“They’re an elusive bird, so that makes me feel a little bit better,” Ms. Khalife mentioned.

Sometimes it’s merely need. Howard Fischer, 72, a retired educator on Staten Island, has seen greater than 3,000 species in 57 years of birding. But it took almost 5 a long time to put eyes on a diversified thrush, a bedazzling orange-and-black relative of the robin that’s widespread in the Northwest.

Mr. Fischer traveled to the thrush’s regular vary, arising empty in Washington, Montana and British Columbia. He additionally chased studies of uncommon sightings that have been extra native: one in New Hampshire, one in New Jersey, one other in Central Park.

“And I’m not a twitcher,” Mr. Fischer mentioned. “I waited years and years and years to see that bird.”

Finally, in his 47th 12 months of birding, Fischer noticed his first diversified thrush, a vagrant that spent 5 days in December 2013 at Stuyvesant Town in Manhattan.

“Of all places,” Mr. Fischer mentioned.

Sometime, it’s grief. Koeppel’s father, Richard, was amongst the most completed birders of the 20th century, tallying 7,000-plus species worldwide earlier than his demise in 2012. But one all the time eluded him: the mountain quail, a rotund recreation hen of the Pacific Slope mountains.

“Think about the word ‘quail’ — it means to flinch away, to hide,” Mr. Koeppel mentioned. “The very name of the bird is telling you it doesn’t want to be around you.”

After his father made it his dying want to see one, Mr. Koeppel spent virtually 5 years looking out for a mountain quail. He couldn’t disperse his father’s ashes till he succeeded.

“It became this kind of quest,” Mr. Koeppel mentioned. “It became my nemesis, for real. Even though I’m not much of a birder, I was obsessed with it. It had to do with grief and the fact my father’s ashes were in the back seat of my car forever.”

When Mr. Koeppel lastly stumbled upon a pair of mountain quail in a Southern California state park, he may hardly imagine it. He dashed again to his automobile to retrieve the urn, and collectively he and his younger son threw their patriarch’s ashes towards the birds.

“It was a total ‘Big Lebowski’ kind of thing, where we both got covered in this white powder,” Mr. Koeppel mentioned. “It was kind of amazing. It became a very emotional moment.”

Sometimes it’s one thing else about nemesis birds — how they will, with persistence, be overcome. Mr. Kaestner frolicked this summer season on the Indonesian island of Sumatra looking out for a number of of its endemic species. One of his targets, the uncommon and reclusive Schneider’s pitta, eluded him on a earlier try in 1993. This time, the search required an extended hike up Mt. Kerinci, the nation’s largest volcano, and a nine-hour stakeout earlier than the hen lastly appeared.

“Got the pitta today,” Mr. Kaestner reported from the subject through textual content. “Maybe I’ll have a new nemesis tomorrow!”

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