Imagine this: You're a big fan of geothermal activity and you've heard about a new periodic geyser that's be wowing everyone in Yellowstone National Park. People are flying in from all over the country to see it. You schedule two days off of work to make a quick flight to Wyoming. Arriving in Yellowstone, you have one full day to see a good eruption before you need to head back to the airport in Bozeman in the evening.
You wait all day and the geyser doesn't so much as burp. Dejected, you finally give up and head for home. While sitting in Bozeman a couple hours later, you see video posted all over Facebook of a magnificent eruption that had just happened.
Now you understand how birding often feels.
In the birding jargon, which we've largely borrowed from the Brits, this is called dipping. If you make a special effort to go after a particular rare bird that has been in one location, but you fail to see it, you have dipped. Dipping makes for great stories in hindsight, but it's not especially fun while it's happening. This has been on my mind lately as my last few twitches (another British term, meaning the pursuit of a rare bird requiring some notable travel) have resulted in dips. There were Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks and a Chuck-wil's Widow in Michigan. Dipped on both of them. There was a Snowy Plover on the shore of Lake Michigan. Dipped again. It was starting to become a trend.
Today I broke the hex by twitching and getting a Black-headed Gull in Michigan. I could have gone to Cape Cod National Seashore to get one on any given winter weekend, or to Sweden in the summer, but it's special to make your lifer a vagrant in your home state.
And I did have a flock of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks dropped almost literally into my lap in Ohio in May, so I'm on a roll. Nothing can stop me now'¦until the next dip.
Have you dipped on anything, birds or otherwise, in your travels to the national parks? One notable non-bird dip I recall was during my first visit to Yosemite National Park at 12 years old. I'd been dreaming about Bridalveil Fall for years. When we got there, it was essentially dry with just a few wisps coming over the lip. Who would've thought you could dip on a waterfall?