On this leg, though, the Lear did not seem to gain height as swiftly as it had done before. Indeed, within minutes it was descending again. With despair, the birders realized that they were heading straight into Tucson, only 40 miles away. Had to pick up gas, the pilot explained airily. None at Fort Huachuca.
It was the last bitter blow. The birders managed to swallow the explanation that the plane hadn't been flown to Tucson for gas while they were in the canyon because it would have been too heavily laden to land again at Huachuca. But why hadn't arrangements been made ahead for a fuel supply at the Arizona field? Well, uh, said the company later, we were playing it by ear, we had to check as we went.
The birders were hardly mollified. They had made the schedule months before and had confirmed it days ahead. They had gone over it once from the hotel in Houston the previous day. Now the chance of even the national record was gone. It would be dark long before they got to San Diego. No point in going to California at all.
Birders, however, are made of stern stuff. Even while the crew of the Lear was looking for fuel at Tucson, even while it was discovering that the base operator there had run dry, even after it had found some at the plane manufacturer's own establishment, even after their plane had to be pushed around manually because it had been parked the wrong way, even after someone had departed with the pilot's credit card to check that it was O.K. to let him have fuel—even after all this, Uncle Joe's team kept at it, scanning the darkening airfield with binoculars.
And scoring. When Taylor said he thought he heard a quail call, Jim Tucker let out a cry of triumph. "Hey! On that sandpile! Gambel quail!" Game to the end, the others gathered around and confirmed the sighting—183. A gleam came into Tucker's eye. "The owls," he said. "The Mount Palomar owls. We could still get those. We could turn a searchlight on the surf, maybe get some scoter ducks." Like one of Cochise's braves, he was ready to charge single-handed, go out fighting. "Get those birds!" he said like a man in a trance. "Check 'em off!"
Uncle Joe talked him out of it. There would be other Big Days. They had learned a lot, not least about air travel. And Steve Oresman had a contribution. "The Concorde," he mused aloud. "You could do Southeast England. Then Long Island...."