[Tweeters] Rare Bird Image vs. Grievous Bodily Harm - Blame it on Friday the 13th...or...? (Off-topic)

johntubbs at comcast.net johntubbs at comcast.net
Fri Apr 13 20:26:31 PDT 2018


Hi folks,

One of my better bosses over the years had quite a few to-the-point advisory sayings, one of which was "Never make yourself remarkable for the wrong reason." I certainly didn't intend to violate this good bit of advice today, but that's what happened.

Now a question - what is a rare life bird sighting, and a good photographic image to boot worth? I got to ask myself this question today. I'm not sure of my answer...read on if this is of interest.

We are in SE Arizona, with many opportunities for great life birds, and a few truly special "grail" birds - the Elegant Trogon of course among them. Madera Canyon is one place where this species is possible, but it is not easy to find even for locals. Prior to today, we had been to Madera Canyon twice on this trip. We got some great birds - lifers among them - but of course the banter among the numerous birders roaming the canyon road and trail was 'Have you seen a Trogon?' The first day we were there, the answer from everyone we talked to or overhead was...nope. The second day we heard of one AOU group that had a quick glimpse of (and short photo opportunity for) one bird, which perched briefly before flying up the mountain not to be seen again.

Today, we joined in a weekly birding walk with folks who are at the development where we have the trailer, and they headed to Madera Canyon, in large part to try to find an Elegant Trogon. We set out from the Proctor Road parking area and started working up the trail, picking up some nice birds along the way, including a couple warblers, hummingbirds and Ash-throated and Dusky-capped Flycatcher. We had determined I would leave the group early and drive the car up to the Madera Canyon picnic area and work my way down to meet the group, after first searching for a breeding pair of Northern Pgymy Owl that had been seen and photographed (including a couple shots I got of one of the two birds) two days earlier.

As soon as I got out of the car at the parking lot and walked toward the picnic area, a woman was calling to her group that she had seen and photographed one of TWO Trogons. I was close to her when she yelled this and asked for details. The answer...the always dreaded "It was here thirty seconds ago." And long gone. One had flown up the mountainside, but she indicated one had flown down the trail I was planning to walk, by the creek. So off I went, hopeful and with camera at the ready. Shortly, I ran into another couple birding, and - no lie - "You just missed it, it was here thirty seconds ago. It's working its way down the creek." I didn't think about it at the time, not being a superstitious person (maybe that has now changed...!) but hey, it is Friday the 13th.

I walked a bit further down the trail and opted to sit down on a bench and watch for the bird potentially flying back upstream. Whereupon, the couple I had just bumped into started waving and pointing frantically and motioning for me to come down to where they were. I, uhhh, trotted off down the trail (two knee replacements and all), nothing at all like the pace that I used to do as a serious runner (too many pounds ago). After all, it's an ELEGANT TROGON, I've got my new camera, and this may be my one opportunity in life to see the bird and get some great images, right?! At which point, I tripped - on what or how, I don't know - and despite my best efforts to stay vertical, I did a full force body-plant (fortunately not a face plant) hard on the downward sloping trail, which in SE Arizona fashion is dusty, sandy and with some rocks here and there. I broke the fall primarily with my left hand - and my new camera and Swarovski binocs. It HURT!! I got up quickly and of course being a bird nerd, my first thought was - "Is the bird still there?" (I had seen it clearly as I started down the trail.) My second thought was "Is my camera still working?!? And when I looked at it filthy with dust, and with the mode dial label torn off and gone, my third thought was "Damn, there goes my chance at an image." I looked up and...THE BIRD was still there, feet away from the couple who had motioned to me, and apparently unperturbed by the sizable dust cloud that accompanied my ridiculous plop. I framed the bird and...yep, the camera was in the wrong mode, with no label to refer to. I turned it one way (fortunately the dial still worked) and it landed on Aperture - what I was set up for. Two continuous mode bursts and I had my images!

At this point I'm not sure whether the bird flew or was still there, but (finally!) my fourth thought came to me..."Gee, I hurt really bad, I wonder what I did to myself when I fell?" My left hand hurt the most, so I looked at it. Lots of blood, actively dripping, mixed with plenty of trail dirt for good measure, and the fingerprint pad of my left thumb hanging there seemingly almost completely separated from my finger. And my thumb hurting pretty badly as well. Oh great, time to find an emergency room. Ooops, first, it's time to find my wife, down the trail somewhere with the rest of the group. And you guessed it - extremely spotty cell phone service in the canyon. A quick ride up the road to the Santa Rita Lodge to use their phone and - amazingly - Trisha was in an area where she got the call. The person at the lodge looked at my thumb, blanched and asked if I wanted her to call 911. Thanks so much for the phone, but nope. Down the canyon, picked up Trisha who had been near a picnic area and off down the canyon to the Green Valley Hospital which a helpful person had given accurate directions to.

The medical result a couple of hours later - a broken thumb, a thorough scrubbing of the wound, nine stiches, a dressing and a splint, a tetanus shot, an antibiotic prescription and...crash and burns be damned, some decent images of an Elegant Trogon, albeit from behind, but still showing the resplendent plumage that makes this species so special.

Was it worth it? If I heal up without an infection or thumb mobility complications, I'll probably tell myself yes. But being serious, considering what could have happened, no. It was stupidity. I'm not an athlete anymore. I'm old. I'm overweight. I could have hit my head. I could have compound fractured something - which according to the former Marine Corps medic/now Physician's Assistant who did the repair work happens frequently to hikers on the much more difficult trails which climb the mountain at the end of the road. "We have people coming in with bones sticking out on a regular basis."

So...no more hurrying (ok, pretty much running) down the trail or through the woods to get another rare bird for me. No way! Unless maybe it's the Red Warbler (not Red-faced, Red) that was seen and photographed on Mount Lemmon within the week - the first ever documented record in the US. Bird nerdity might again overcome common sense, though I am going to try mightily to prevent that from happening!

And, yes, here is a link to one of the images I paid dearly for -

https://www.flickr.com/photos/141150527@N08/26570533077/in/dateposted-public/

I considered posting a link to an image Trisha took of my battered and bloodied thumb while I was waiting on the ER gurney for the repair work, but figured that might be just a bit too far off topic...!

Oh and one last point. To my knowledge - certainly within our group - I was one of maybe only three folks who got a photo of the bird today. (Now, where did I put the Ibuprofen bottle...?)

John Tubbs
Lacey, WA
(temporarily Tucson, AZ)
johntubbs AT Comcast DOT net
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