A Wild Goose Chase with some Eastern Bluebirds mixed in.

Young Birder Cole Gaerber texted me on Nov 25th to tell me that a Tundra Bean Goose was photographed in Corvallis. He knew that was one of my most wanted ABA birds having missed the bird in Oregon in 2014. So I readied myself to go if the bird was seen the next day (it's a long drive!), but it was never seen. In fact it was not seen again until Dec 1st. Until that sighting I thought it had left. So when it was still seen Dec 2nd I felt I better get my butt down there.

My friend Blair Bernson had good looks at it on Dec 2nd with some big year birders. He also told me he had it flying off the water just after sunrise. So I drove all the way down there it took over 6 hours. When I got there a feeling of dread came over me . There was over 4000 Cackling Geese feeding in the fields, some were really distant some were too distant even for my high quality scope. Some were hidden behind rolling hills and ridges. Thousands were flying over my head in every which direction. It was a nightmare... a true needle in a haystack.  I began sorting through the flocks to the best of my ability never really feeling I saw them all because it was impossible. I just kept re-scanning and re-scanning moving about the fields. I drove down Bruce Rd getting out and scanning all the flocks. No Cackling Goose were on the water they were all in the fields.. great :(. I walked to the blind and only saw tundra swans and thousands of ducks no Tundra Bean Goose and no Cacklers. All I could do was search till dark. I came across a few people who came and went but none saw it. One young man was as hardy as I and kept me company until we could no longer see I told him I was coming back tomorrow he wasn't sure if he could.I hoped he would I felt we deserved to see the bird after the hours we put in. Sadly, I never saw him the next day...

I found a nice hotel the University Inn. It was dirt cheap 62$ cad (which is dirt cheap nowadays.. trust me) and it was spotless inside and comfy. Had a nice dinner at the Old Spaghetti Factory and fell asleep to some nice tributes about the recently deceased President George H.W. Bush. I may have not agreed with all of his politics but he was a stand up gentleman deserving of respect. I was sad to hear he had passed but happy to hear such loving tributes. What a contrast to the lunatic in power now.

Anyways, back to the birds.... I followed Blair's day and set my alarm to get up early so I could arrive to McFadden Marsh (Finley National Wildlife Refuge) before sunrise at 7:33 am. When I got out of the door I questioned myself it was freezing cold and there was a thick layer of ice on my car. I also forgot my car scraper at home.  So I waited for it to melt and was on my way I arrived just after 7 am and was the only person there. I drove onto Bruce Rd and was very very happy to see no geese in the field maybe my plan to catch it roosting on the water would work after all. As I pulled up and walked to the blind a Bald Eagle flew over and made at least a thousand Cackling Geese pick up in flight.  Ugh I hoped the Tundra Bean Goose wasn't with them. I got into the blind and scoped like crazy there was thousands of Cackling Geese from tiny minima to aleutian and everything in between. I could not find the goose but was happy to see so many Cacklers on the water. I felt a good feeling that I would find him and was smart to get up early and get them post roost.

At the same time I was extremely nervous as I knew another raptor could spook them and the whole flock be gone or they could just decide it was feeding time.  I left the blind after scanning for an hour with no luck. I went to the bridge where others had seen him in the past and soon after I began scanning a man from Portland named Marcus Miller pulled up. He was really friendly and began looking with his scope. It was nice to have another set of eyes. I couldn't believe there was only 2 people searching for this mega!.

A Black Phoebe was keeping us company as it made its cute calls and flycatched for some invisible bugs I  could not see. Like the day before I quickly spotted the Greater White-fronted Geese from this vantage point.... close but no cigar. I spent another hour scanning on both sides of the bridge I was on. Nada. The flocks were picking up and leaving to the fields I felt like I was running out of time. Thousands began flying over me it was impossible to keep up. My hands were freezing as I left my gloves in the car. I decided I would go to the car in a few mins to get some breakfast and warm up after I scanned the pond behind me. I scanned the same area I had scanned before hoping for a different result... isn't that the definition of insanity?. Well within 10 mins I screamed I got it! Marcus was now several hundred meters away from me. He looked up a bit bewildered. I screamed and waved I got it!!!! He smiled and came running. I said look in my scope quick because he could fly any moment. He did then got in his scope and was super grateful. He was great fun to talk to he told me he admired young birder Liron Gerstman's incredible photo work and interviews. Looks like our Liron is famous I told him how proud I am of him and all the young birders. What a small world and nice to see someone so supportive of the program. Recently I received an email from the head of Kowa Scopes congratulating me on my young birder program. It is nice to see the message of supporting youth birding to be so well received.

Well back to the goose as we looked at him we saw his broken orange foot that he kept holding up. Marcus said he believed he was shot. I forgot to say while we were standing there we heard gunshots go off all the time. I felt the odds were against this little goose. He really wasn't much bigger than the Cacklers beside him. When he tucked in his head though he completely disappeared. I wondered if he had been there the whole time with his head tucked. I am sure he was but he also could have flown in with one of the massive flocks. Who knows but he was in front of me now!. I got some poor pics. The light was all wrong and he was distant and I yearned for one of those bridge cameras with more zoom but my record shots show all the necessary field marks.

Tundra Bean Goose at McFadden Marsh, Corvallis, OR - Photos: Melissa Hafting

It was so rewarding to see the Tundra Bean Goose after so many hours yesterday and dipping. I wished the young man who was there yesterday had come today but he didn't show up. I actually loved this marsh if I lived nearby I would bird it every day. There were tons of geese and over 180 beautiful Tundra Swans. There was also 4 rare Trumpeter Swans and I saw several California Scrub-Jays, Red-shouldered and Red-tailed Hawks, Bald Eagles and am pretty sure I heard a Wrentit. I dipped on the Great Egret, White-tailed Kites and Acorn Woodpeckers others had (none are rare here. It was no matter though just would have been nice to see being from Vancouver none are lifers but what a beautiful spot that was. It was so peaceful after being on I-5 so long all I heard was bird sounds. Raptor action here was great I had Cooper's Hawks, Merlins and Kestrels too.  I just wish I had more time to bird it thoroughly!

I decided against going to Del Ray Beach to chase the reported putative McKay's Bunting because of uncertain ID. Some people think it is a hybrid, or Snow Bunting while others think it is a pure bird. It was a 3hr detour from where I was, so didn't want to waste my time if not countable. I was already doing so much driving!

I said goodbye to Marcus and headed on my way to the Dharma Rain Zen Centre in hopes of seeing the very rare (for the west coast) Eastern Bluebirds. This is the first record for this species anywhere on the west coast!. When I got there I saw 3 other birders and none were on the bird. Because this wasn't a lifer and the drive home was long (it took 6. 5 hours to get to the goose). I decided to devote 30 mins to this cool bird but non lifer. I scoped all around and saw 2 California Scrub-Jays but not Eastern Bluebird. Then the guy beside me screamed I have one!! I don't know how he spotted it because he only had a pair of bins but he had it a tiny distant dot way on the back of the field. I used my scope and got it in it for all present. We had good views of this brilliant male and walked around looking for the second bird. We all unanimously saw the second bird and first bird fly up together and land in a shrub and trees. They were very far aware so this is as good as I could get! Apparently some unethical photographers were chasing these Bluebirds all around the fields so birders were asked to stay out of the field. Unfortunately for me this meant very poor photos but I'm glad the community is self policing themselves. I wish Vancouver would do the same in some circumstances.

Here are my very poor poor shots.

Male Eastern Bluebirds in Portland, OR - Photos: Melissa Hafting

The Eastern Bluebirds were so bright and beautiful. Seeing Bluebirds really does lift your spirits. It was just a short detour off I-5 and I'm really glad I did it. Compared to the Tundra Bean Goose this was a piece of cake!

I was on my way back to Vancouver after a very successful twitching day when Blair Bernson sent me an email that the Vermilion Flycatcher seen the day before was in front of him and Anne Marie Wood now. I asked for the address and would stop on my way home as it was literally on the way. I figured it would be the recently found Surrey bird but that thought was quickly put to rest when I saw the photos of an immature male.

Getting out of Portland and Tacoma was a breeze but Seattle was it's usual hellish nightmare. I like Seattle but absolutely hate their rush hour traffic. I especially hate it when I'm alone in the car and can't use the HOV lane. Traffic was just crawling out of Seattle all the way till Marysville. I couldn't believe it as it wasn't even true rush hour yet. I don't know how people live there with such nightmare traffic. Not that Vancouver is much better though but I do have to say it is better than Seattle.

When I finally reached Stanwood after crawling on the highway it was just after 4 pm and near sunset. I searched till dark but couldn't find the Vermilion Flycatcher. Apparently Blair and Anne Marie were the last to see the bird just before 2pm. I later found out it was refound the next day which is great for all Washingtonians!

Like I said I can't complain it was a beautiful and rewarding day and I'm ever so grateful that I decided to spend the night and not come home only to read about the Tundra Bean Goose that showed up right after I left...that's the worst!!

Now back to BC birding and hopefully nailing the local rarity ... a Prairie Falcon... but he will be put on the backburner, if the McKay's ever gets confirmed. Lifers are always my top (birding) priority. I don't drive past WA for anything other than mega lifers and knock on wood every time like with the Steller's Eider it was worth it. Funny enough when I went for the Eider I also got to see a non-lifer but super rarity a Virginia's Warbler! It's funny how these mega long distant twitches in this state always works in pairs... long may that trend continue 😃!.

The Tundra Bean Goose was # 695 for the ABA (Continental)... only 5 more till 700!

Good birding.


  1. Congratulations! After all you time and dedication I am glad you got to see the goose!

  2. Well, you totally deserve it. So glad with the happy ending! :) Yes, I had my share of nightmare birding past Seattle too because of the traffic - a 3 hour planned drive ended up being close to 8 hours detouring through multiple accidents.

    1. thank you so much mario! yes the seattle drive is much more pleasant when you got the bird trust me i know... i've gone through it both ways,,, lol thanks again for your kindness.

  3. Congratulations on getting the Tundra Bean Goose. I'm glad your effort paid off and you got one of your most sought after ABA birds!


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