Nemesis Birding 101

Luke MusherBird Finding Tips, Birding, Listing32 Comments


Comment on this post and tell us what your nemesis bird is so that we can help you defeat it. (Photo by Luke Musher)

It’s 7am in mid May 2011 on the boardwalk at Magee Marsh, OH when I hear it—chippy chuppy chippy chuppy chip—only a few meters away.  My heart starts pounding and I’m peering into dense leafy understory searching out a small yellow and olive bird walking on the ground, feeding spasmodically but hen-like in the dirt and leaves.  Where is it?  Frustrated, I look around me, and nobody is there to help sight my nemesis—Connecticut Warbler.  I look harder, deeper.  My eyes strain with nothing to focus on in the desolate darkness.  Not a flit.  Not a sound.  A worthy adversary, a true nemesis bird indeed.

Connecticut Warbler - juvenile (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

Connecticut Warblers, like this juvenile caught in Pennsylvania (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux), can be difficult birds to find partially because they are scarce throughout their range, and partially because their inconspicuous habits pose a problem for finding them. A great way to see this bird is at Magee Marsh in late spring or by spending some time at the Dike in fall at Cape May, NJ.

Wait.  Hold the phone a minute.  You thought Nemesis Bird was just a fashionable name for some know-it-all, top-notch birding blog?  While that does appear to be true, a real nemesis bird is much, much different from that.  A most repugnant ornithological opponent with hateful, glaring eyes and a smug beaky grin, a nemesis bird is far worse than any ordinary feeder lover.  Nobody has ever uttered the words titmouse and nemesis in the same sentence (not if he or she is to be trusted at least).  A nemesis bird causes the birder great pain and sorrow.  It fills the mouth with bitter rage and distaste upon it’s every mention.  Slaty-backed Gull: unhallowed be thy name.

Sometimes dipping on your nemesis bird has severe effects

Sometimes dipping on your nemesis bird has severe effects

Yet, upon lifering said bird something amazing happens.  One is overcome with the very pungent sensations of joy… relief… honor… and gratitude.  One’s life flashes before one’s eyes.  One falls to one’s knees, face in hands, half sobbing, half cheering.  One triumphantly launches one’s fists vertically into the cool morning air. Hand-shakings and mutterings of good job and I knew you had it in ya commence.  Momentous celebrations follow soon thereafter; pizza parties and ice cream cake, extra rare t-bones on your compadre’s wallet (actually should your compadre hand you a nemesis lifer, it is you who owe him).  I think you get the gist of it.

I have had nemeses many times, lifering only some of them, hating and fearing all of them.  It is a sad yet well-known truth that many a nemesis bird has led to stringing from desperation by even its greatest and most hardened birder adversaries; perhaps their truest evil of all.  Why, then, do we allow such cruel and wicked animals to enter our thoughts and dreams?  The answer: we have no choice.  We hate it, but we need it to survive.  We are but birding machines, and nemesis bird blood is our fuel.  Without Lex Luther, there is no Superman, only Clark Kent.  Without nemesis birds, you’d merely be left with a handful of bird feeding stations in Arizona and a Saturday morning bird walk in Central Park.

To all those sad birdwatchers out there, scared and alone, ready to give up because you haven’t seen a Dickcissel yet (how embarrassing, a Dickcissel!?), don’t stop believing.  We here at Nemesis Bird in our wise and magnanimous ways, have decided to help bird watchers all across America defeat and subjugate their fearsome feathered foes.  We are committed to spreading the knowledge of where, when, and how to see that bird you have been stalking and studying only to be skunked at every chase.  After all, we are called, Nemesis Bird, it’s about time we started blogging about it.

Now, lest you would try to lump us in that list-loving, bird-hating category that so many love to loathe, remember that the Nemesis Bird blog team has cumulatively spent decades of their lives earning poverty wages to research birds. If that’s not love, we aren’t sure what is.

Use eBird to find out the tried and true locations of your nemesis bird.  Do you eBird?

Use eBird to find out the tried and true locations of your nemesis bird. Do you eBird?  If only birds updated their own locations on eBird.

We invite everyone to comment here with his or her nemesis bird, and we will start introducing one species at a time until all nemeses are vanquished (this could take a while).  We are here to help.  A simple thank you would suffice…

  • Delia Guzman

    Grrrrr Aplomado Falcon! I have been dipping on this bird since 2011. I think back on all the “oh just go here, turn left, and look up–can’t miss it!” (worthless) directions, the foot-deep mud that sucked our rental car into it, the at-each-other’s-throats arguments with my sister about where to look and when to give up…. Sigh. Some day, APFA. Some day, you WILL be mine. OH YES YOU WILL.

    • David Rankin

      If it’s any consolation, nearly all the Aplomado Falcons in the US are from the reintroduction effort, and thus of dubious countable status (unless you are doing a big year, apparently).

  • Newb Birder

    SW Florida- Mangrove cuckoo….. Aaaannnddd using playback for them is greatly frowned upon these days. If that one is too easy for you them gimmie a black rail…

    Commence Nemesis slaying thy great birder gods!

  • Nora

    Little Bunting. My jaw’s clenching just saying the name. I “saw” the one on SEFI in 2012 (with you Lukey-poo!) but I don’t count it at all…it could have been any tiny shadowy dark bird zipping out of the terrace grass and far away from me with that Pine Siskin…I just didn’t see it well enough. Then in Oregon, I dipped again. Then I was “stuck” on Santa Cruz Island (not complaining) for the most recent CA record in Humboldt. Now I’m in North Carolina, no chance there. Ugh. Someday, LIBU, someday!

    • Nora-Bora, this nemesis is so evil even we cannot help. My suggestion: wait until another one is in CA and then go bust it up real good. Alternatively, spend another 20-30 years on SEFI in Fall or go to Asia.

  • Lauren H.

    Thoughts of my nemesis fill me with feelings of crushing defeat spanning years of wasted time. Nemesis, thy name is Dusky Grouse. The friendly Sooty Grouse will boom from trees overhead, happily tug its children along and practically let me pet them. But not Dusky. How many years of field work in prime habitat in Arizona could it take? How many trips to Greens Peak, or long camping trips in the Rocky Mountains? Maybe I should count the one that flew in front of the car on Mount Evans all those years ago, but what I clearly remember as a grouse-winged chicken blasting past could have been a robin for all the faith I have in the years-old half-second memories forged in a 13-year-old mind.

    • I have hit one probable Dusky Grouse with my car as well in Yellowstone. Curse that elusive bird.

  • linda widdop

    The Prairie Falcon that has been visiting Amish country in Pennsylvania for the past few years. I have made the trip from Philly multiple times just to strike out. The horse and buggies are quaint, but that falcon eludes . . . ARRRGGGGHHHH!

    • Carl

      Yes, I know how you feel. I just dipped on that bird today for the first time.

    • I struck out on the Cumberland Prairie Falcon over 10 times before I finally saw it….even the locals hardly ever see the bird so don’t worry, one of these days you’ll catch up with it. I have seen it 2 or 3 times now!…it just took a lot of tries!

  • Kyle

    I feel bad posting this here with other truly rare birds, but mine is Yellow-bellied Flycatcher…

    • Luke M.

      Judge not do we. A nemesis is a nemesis.

    • A worthy adversary to look for in migration.

  • John Mueller

    I just started birding last year, so just about everything is on my nemesis list. So here are the ones which are possible in my area of Southern California, just not probably:

    ANY owl except Barn and Great-Horned
    Yellow-Headed Blackbird
    Zone-tailed hawk
    Painted Bunting
    Scarlet Tanager
    Yellow-billed Cuckoo
    California Condor
    Rose-Breasted Grosbeak
    Red Crossbill

  • Auriel Fournier

    Swainson’s warbler
    Black Rail

    Both shall be found this year if I have anything to say about it!

  • Kim Savides

    Blue-winged Warbler and Thayer’s Gull elude me every time. Whether I miss them by a day or a lift of the binoculars they still remain my two main nemesis birds! I once again dipped on the Thayer’s earlier this week.

  • Sue Hannon

    American woodcock and lapland longspur have both eluded me.
    Thank you!

  • Derek

    Currently Lapland Longspur. Until last year it was Glossy Ibis, despite numerous costal visits in all seasons to the Outer Banks, and at least three times of it being seen earlier or later that day. It took a team of 30 birders and a trip to the middle of the Chesapeake to balance out my nemesis.

  • Carl

    Northern Waterthrush. They breed in my home Centre county, but I have never found one. A camping trip to a local state park may finally cross it off my list.

  • Jeff

    I’ve been incredibly lucky to encounter rarity birds casually…Dusky Grouse, South Polar Skua, Black Rail. My Oklahoma nemesis bird is becoming Long-tailed Duck. They are spotted on the lakes, but gone by the time I get there with a scope.

  • Dean Smith

    Hi, my name is Dean…and I’m a birder.
    My nemesis bird is …. Hermit Warbler.
    There, I said it. I feel better already.

    I hope through joining this group to share the experience, strength and hope with
    others that we may solve our common problem and help others to recover from their affliction.

    Joking aside, this is a great site. It is so refreshing to find a birding site that isn’t either numbing esoterica or saliva inducing trips reports to exotic locales. Keep it up!

  • William von Herff

    For me it’s Great Gray Owl. One was seen within viewing distance of my house last year, I missed them by about 5 minutes FOUR TIMES, and all my other Ontario birding friends saw tons of them last year! They drive me crazy!

  • Laurence Butler

    This is a great idea you magnanimous bunch, thanks for sharing your expertise.

    My nemesis is Ivory-billed Woodpecker. I’ve been looking for that son of a gun for nigh on thirty years now with nothing to for my troubles.

    Apart from that piece of work I haven’t been birding outside of AZ much enough to have legit nemeses, but I have yet to record Gray Jay in Arizona, which is very obnoxious. I’ll be waiting to see where Lauren has her Dusky Grouse, because they’ve been eluding me too.

  • David Rankin

    I’m embarrassed to admit that, once upon a time, I did utter titmouse and nemesis in the same sentence. In my defence, it was Juniper Titmouse, but still.

  • Eric Scholz

    My nemesis bird is Juniper Titmouse. Believe it or not. But that’s because whenever I’m near its range I go off looking for my real nemesis, Black Rosy Finch, thinking that I’ll get Juniper Titmouse “automatically.” So I get neither. Four trips to the Great Basin.

  • David

    Before last year I would have said Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. I live at the northern end of its range and had dipped on it more than a dozen times. Got it finally last year while taking my son to a park. It was sitting near the top of the tree calling over our heads. My wife thought I had gone crazy, running back to the car to get my binocs to confirm it. As she stated, she hadn’t seen me run that fast in all them time she’s been with me (admittedly she doesn’t come birding with me all that much). Now it falls to the Gray Partridge…woe is my car and the many kilometres it has traveled in vain.

  • Frederick R

    My current fickle fiends are the Yellow-bellied Flycatcher and the Lapland Longspur. How many woodland walks and rural drives must I embark upon?

    But I remind you all that hope is strong! Just yesterday, one of my long-time nemesises fell: Great Black-backed Gull. Stay strong my friends, victory is sweet!

  • Quentin Brown

    Ancient Murrelet. Many is the hour I’ve scanned and dipped on the west coast of Canada. Thought I’d change my luck over on Pt. Roberts on the U.S. side. No such luck, now I’ve dipped in two countries!

  • Gian Fabbri

    I’m too noob-ish to have too many nemeses — sure, I dip all the time, but I’m not too tortured — yet.

    BUT, I want to propose a corollary — Addiction Birds: those birds that you have to see over and over again, for which your thirst is never quenched, that have you getting itchy for migration so you can get another hit, that have you finding more and more excuses to hit the local patch, that haunt your dreams, the pursuit of which drives you into ruin.

    For me (noob alert) Scarlet Tanager and Blackburnian Warbler haunt this list. My hands shake even as I type these words…

  • Rex

    You forgot one aspect of the nemesis bird. It may take you years to see your first, but once you’ve added it to your life list you won’t be able to step outside without seeing the little buggers. It took me eighteen years to see my first Peregrine Falcon (they were rare back then), but I saw four in the six months after that.

  • I don’t leave my home state of Louisiana for birding except on vacations so I’d have to choose something that is here but I just can’t seem to see.
    This year in Louisiana, I’ve seen a Mountain Bluebird, a handful of Brown Booby (weekly on my daily commute to work), a Black-throated Gray Warbler and both seen and photographed American and Least Bittern on multiple occasions yet…
    …I’ve never seen a Yellow-breasted Chat.