Nemesis Bird

Nemesis (noun)

the inescapable agent of someone’s or something’s downfall.

Nemesis Bird (definitely a verb)

the avian agent of a birder’s downfall

I have had a few Nemesis Birds in the 20 years I have been birding.

These are birds that you try to add to your life list, but after repeated attempts, you fail, making you want to pull out the hair that you still have left on your head and chuck your binoculars into the nearest body of water or a deep, dark crevice, whichever is closest.

I’ve had a few nemesis species in my birding life, the plumbeous vireo comes to mind. This small, gray bird’s range skirts the eastern part of California on it’s western edge. The vireo is to be found around the Mono Basin which lies between the Sierra Nevada and the White Mountains.

Well this should be easy, I thought. Just show up where the bird has been reported and with a little patience, you have a lifer.

Such is not the case with a nemesis bird (hence the name), I tried and tried for the plumbeous video all around the Mono Basin in different locations and at different times of the breeding season. No luck. (I finally added this vireo to my life list, not in California but in Arizona’s Madera Canyon.)

My latest nemesis was a rare visitor from Alaska that was summering on the western edge of San Francisco on Hermit Rock, a mere 15 minute drive from my residence. Well this should be easy, I thought to myself. You get the picture.

It should be a piece of proverbial cake to see the lone parakeet auklet on the entire west coast of California. So I headed out on my first attempt during the summer of 2017 after I had returned from birding in Costa Rica.

As the Jimmy Cliff lyric says, “You can get it if you really want but you must try, try and try ’til you succeed at last.” Went I did the try, try, and try bit but the murrelet remained as illusive as Bonnie and Clyde at a Sunday afternoon church potluck.

Birders had reported seeing the small black alcid with a white tear streak but somehow I had always managed to arrive ten minutes too late. The parakeet had just been on the water or was preening on the cliff face of Hermit Rock but now I was left intensely looking at every pigeon guilimot that flew to or from the rock with the growing urge to take my binoculars by the strap and hulling them around in circles and pitching them into the Pacific!

At the end of the summer of 2017, the auklet remained off my list and I was resigning to going to Alaska in June during my retirement years to add this nemesis bird to my ABA list.


Then during the summer of 2018, after I had returned from Ecuador the parakeet auklet had returned to Hermit Rock! I tried once and failed and then I returned the following day and the coast was fogged in and I began my search. I was soon joined by three other birders.

The fog slowly lifted and an hour after I started my search, a small black alcid with a white teary streak appeared on a low rock, just below the lookout. The auklet remained in view for about five minutes and then flew around the rock twice before disappearing behind the rock on the far side, probably where it had been on all my previous attempts. Bingo! My Nemesis Bird was a Nemesis no longer.

The parakeet auklet (Aethia psittacula).

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