Kelp gull range
Kelp gull sightings in US/Mexico
The now infamous - and failed - Whiskered tern chase
I need here to say that I am sure I will chase at least some birds in the future. If a Hoopoe shows up in New England, you can bet I'll be the first one on the road. This species is so radically different from my local avifauna that I can justify the chase purely on aesthetic grounds. However, I cannot honestly say the same thing about the Kelp gull; it would be purely a tick on my list. The initial knee-jerk response to chase everything is from what I am working to wean myself. While I see the potential pitfalls of ranking rare species along a desirability curve, this is exactly what we do when we prioritize visiting rarities over our own resident birds. We must remember that birds are ultimately more than ticks on a list. Right now, I am more interested in enjoying and photographing my local birds with a minimum amount of time in the car and a minimum amount of gas burned. This is the first reason I let the Kelp gull go.
The second reason is a bit more complex. My current perspective is undeniably shaped by the fact that I saw 617+1 species of birds on a bike last year, many of these very rare in North America. What made each of the species so special was how hard I had to work for them. To get Rufous-backed robin, I had to detour 300 miles over 3 days! I really, really earned earned that robin, and I can say, without hesitation, that I would not feel the same way about the Kelp gull were I to drive to tick it. I felt similarly when I let a Pink-footed goose go last week. That bird was only an hour's drive from me at that time! My perspective might change as I become further removed from the bike adventure, but right now using a car to tick birds is just too easy. I understand my perspective on this is incredibly unique. How any birder chooses to bird and/or list is completely up to him or her.
A Massachusetts birder recently explained to me, "I hate pelagic trips, but I go because I am afraid that if I don't go I am going to miss something really good." There seems to be this sometimes pervasive feeling that no one wants to be left out of seeing any rare bird. This feeling seems to manifest itself as these knee-jerk response to chase whatever rarities show up in a given area. I enjoy record keeping and listing as much as anyone, but what someone else puts onto his or her list should not change how I approach either my own birding or my own listing. If a person likes pelagic birds, then he/she should take pelagic trips. If not, he/she shouldn't feel left out for staying on shore. Part of the psychology is surely human nature as we are naturally prone to comparison and competition in such matters. If someone is doing a county or state big year, then he/she is wed to chasing everything; I understand it's the sometimes the nature of the beast.
Again, let me here state that I am sure I will, in the near and distant futures, use cars for general birding and chasing selected rarities. However, my adventure last year has made me rethink how often and to what extremes I am willing to go with cars to see rare birds purely for the sake of my life list.
Also, if you have a Facebook page and enjoyed my adventure last year, you might enjoy 'liking' Gary Prescott's "Biking Birder 2015" Facebook page. Gary is doing a bike big year around the UK. He hopes to find 300 species in his travels this year! It is also worth mentioning that there is a nationwide bike-birding competition in Sweden this year. The ~200 participants are participating at different levels/intensities, and the whole thing is designed more as a collaboration than a formal competition.