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Friday, December 1, 2023

The Everlasting Seek for the ‘Nemesis Chicken’


On this planet of birding, Peter Kaestner stands alone. Nobody has seen and recognized extra birds than Mr. Kaestner, a retired U.S. diplomat who aspires to grow to be the primary birder to identify 10,000 of the planet’s roughly 11,000 avian species. With 9,697 on his eBird listing to this point, he’s getting shut.

But for all of 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 social gathering was stymied by a crash on the distant airstrip that they deliberate to go looking. There was a black-browed albatross he pursued off the German coast in 2015, some 300 miles and a four-hour ferry trip from Mr. Kaestner’s house in Frankfurt on the time.

“I made 4 10-hour journeys to twitch it, to no avail,” Mr. Kaester wrote in an e mail. “As soon as, I missed it by 20 minutes!”

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

“It’s a species that eludes you after a number of makes an attempt, particularly if the chicken was or ought to have been there,” Mr. Kaestner stated. “There’s a connotation that one thing supernatural is getting between you and seeing the chicken.”

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

An article in Audubon in 2017 by Dan Koeppel outlined a nemesis chicken as “one frequent sufficient {that a} devoted birder ought to have noticed it, however that however stays unseen.” Mr. Koeppel, an creator and science author, has since broadened the definition barely, noting it will possibly imply various things to birders of various talent and curiosity ranges.

“If it’s a chicken that drives you loopy, you possibly can name it a nemesis chicken,” Mr. Koeppel stated. “It could possibly be a chicken your mother has seen, however you haven’t.”

What causes an individual to be pushed loopy by birds? By now, the optimistic well being advantages of birding are well-documented, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that about 45 million Individuals determine as birders. However what causes an individual to obsess over one specific chicken? That’s one thing altogether particular and private.

“The idea of nemesis birds is among the issues my nonbirder pals are most confused, then amused, by,” Danielle Khalife, a public well being researcher from Brooklyn, stated. “Any individual requested if it was birds that you just hate. Not precisely.”

Typically a chicken’s novelty makes it a nemesis. Since stepping 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 massive secretive warblers unusual north of Delaware and, as their identify suggests, extra usually heard than seen.

“They’re an elusive chicken, in order that makes me really feel a bit of bit higher,” Ms. Khalife stated.

Typically it’s merely want. Howard Fischer, 72, a retired educator on Staten Island, has seen greater than 3,000 species in 57 years of birding. But it surely took practically 5 many years to put eyes on a various thrush, a bedazzling orange-and-black relative of the robin that’s frequent within the Northwest.

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

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

Lastly, in his forty seventh yr of birding, Fischer noticed his first various thrush, a vagrant that spent 5 days in December 2013 at Stuyvesant City in Manhattan.

“Of all locations,” Mr. Fischer stated.

Someday, it’s grief. Koeppel’s father, Richard, was among the many most achieved birders of the twentieth century, tallying 7,000-plus species worldwide earlier than his dying in 2012. However one all the time eluded him: the mountain quail, a rotund recreation chicken of the Pacific Slope mountains.

“Take into consideration the phrase ‘quail’ — it means to flinch away, to cover,” Mr. Koeppel stated. “The very identify of the chicken is telling you it doesn’t wish to be round you.”

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

“It grew to become this sort of quest,” Mr. Koeppel stated. “It grew to become my nemesis, for actual. Regardless that I’m not a lot of a birder, I used to be obsessive about it. It needed to do with grief and the very fact my father’s ashes had been within the again seat of my automotive eternally.”

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

“It was a complete ‘Massive Lebowski’ sort of factor, the place we each received lined on this white powder,” Mr. Koeppel stated. “It was sort of superb. It grew to become a really emotional second.”

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

“Received the pitta right now,” Mr. Kaestner reported from the sphere by way of textual content. “Perhaps I’ll have a brand new nemesis tomorrow!”


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