Thursday, January 2, 2014

A Stout Year

Resplendent Quetzal is one of the top contenders for Most Facemelting Bird of 2013...the mind reels. Photographed above the Savegre Lodge in Costa Rica.

2013 has come and gone...that was quick. There is no doubt other blogs in the Birdosphere have done some recaps of the year (Neil Hayward is the champ...Bell's and Sagebrush Sparrows...Rufous-necked Wood-Rail...Zino's Petrel birder politics and subsequent redemption...yadda yadda). Of course, you know all that stuff, so why rehash it? No, you came here for one reason...# 7.

For years now, I've been almost-enthusiastically year listing, more as a way to get out and birding and exploring new places than anything other words, its fun but neither competitive or intense. It is a very good way to spend a Perpetual Weekend. In 2012 I finished with ~579 (birding in California, Florida, and Costa Rica), and this year it looks like I will be finishing with ~690 (Costa Rica, California, North Carolina). 690 is by far the highest year list I've ever had, and I'm pretty happy about that...of course, I could have gotten to 700 with just a little more luck (not dipping as much, having a better fall for vagrants in the bay area, one more day of landbirding in North Carolina).

700 will have to wait another year though, and I have a feeling it won't be 2014...but you never know. Without further delay, here is this leading birder's breakdown of 2013.

Number of new life birds: I don't know. Probably somewhere over 200? Costa Rica was insane.

Number of new ABA birds: 11 (8 in North Carolina, 3 in California).

Number of new California birds: 14 (including armchair ticks), with 4 in December!

Best lifer: This is hard. I saw so many. Copious lifers in 2013. Fork-tailed Flycatcher was something I'd yearned for for as long as I have been birding. Little Bunting was HUGE (not literally). Trindade Petrels brought the stoke. A rainbow of new hummingbirds were seen in Costa Rica. There's too many to choose from.

Best birder scandal: Although I really enjoy what is happening over here, it is no doubt the implosion of the San Diego birding scene (which resulted in the local listserv being completely abandoned for one operated by a different faction) and subsequent internet combat in San Diego, much of which went on behind the scenes. Remember "Todd Ingress", the fictional blind birder? Lines have since been drawn in the sand. WHOSE SIDE ARE YOU ON????

Bear witness to this vulgar display of endemism. Island Scrub-Jays were my constant companions for the spring and summer of 2013, even though I was not researching them. Santa Cruz Island (where else?), CA.

Best ABA bird: Little Bunting. I squeezed much satisfaction out of looking at this bird.

Best North Carolina bird: Trindade Petrel. Huge bonus bird.

Best California bird: Red-necked Stint on the LA River. Not the rarest, but it was number 500 for my state list. It was also number 500 for Officer Adam Searcy, who chased the bird with me. That makes us bird-married.

Best northern vagrant: Trumpeter Swans at Modoc National Wildlife Refuge (above). They are expected here in the winter so aren't vagrants per se, but the first time we saw them was an awesome experience. How to sum it up? State bird, majesty, spectacular sunset, serenaded by pleasant trumpeting, pleasant friends...followed by affordable beer and disgusting Basque food.

Best pelagic vagrant: Great Shearwater (off Half Moon Bay, in San Francisco County).

Best Siberian vagrant: I've already mentioned Little Bunting and Red-necked about Arctic Loon? I was stoked to see the one wintering in Monterey (a state bird) after I returned from Costa Rica last January.

Best eastern vagrant: Hudsonian Godwit (Napa).

I have had a hell of a time photographing Gray Hawk over the years, despite living in southeast Arizona and spending a good amount of time in other places where they are easy to find (south Texas, Mexico, Costa Rica). I finally had some good luck last week with the bird in Carpinteria, CA...but I was robbed from the opportunity for even crushier shots (see below).

Best Central American Vagrant: Gray Hawk (first California record, Santa Barbara County.

Worst birder experience: A few days ago I was driving up to Oakland from SoCal and saw the Gray Hawk hanging out in its usual spot on Highway 101. The light was perf. I pulled over to crush it, making sure to give it plenty of space so it wouldn't flush into the side of a semi or something. As I got the bird in the viewfinder and was literally focusing on it, a black car pulled off the freeway and parked right next to the bird. You can guess what happened next, and the bird actually flew uncomfortably close to a moving truck that happened to be passing by. The car immediately left after flushing the bird. I was fucking pissed. To whoever you are, you are a dick, and I hope your year is filled with nothing but House Sparrows and feral pigeons.

I was really looking forward to meeting this bird in did not disappoint. Fiery-throated Hummingbird is another candidate for Most Facemelting Bird of 2013. Photographed at Paraiso Del Quetzales in the Talamanca Mountains of Costa Rica.

Most facemelting bird: Fuck. I was in Costa Rica. Was it the quetzal? Was it Bay-headed or Speckled Tanager? Fiery-throated Hummingbird? I can't decide.

Worst dip: Dipping on "guaranteed" Masked Ducks in Costa Rica. Ouch. Dipping on Snowcap at one of the best sites for them in Costa Rica also wrought significant pain.

Worst overall miss: I did not see a longspur of ANY SPECIES in 2013. Sigh.

Worst birding experience: Breaking my birdcrusher for the second time in a year by having it detach from its strap and slam onto a sidewalk. This prevented an aggravating number of crushes in the subsequent weeks (Bald and Golden Eagles, Ferruginous and Rough-legged Hawks, Northern Goshawk, Prairie Falcon, Trumpeter Swans, etc.).

Worst day of birding: Going to Outer Point Reyes in early September and seeing exactly one (1) migrant bird, a Western Wood-Pewee. Life was pain.

Best Raptor: The Black-and-white Owl at Cerro Lodge in Costa Rica.

Best birder experience: Watching "Stilt" break down into tears when she did not get to see a Streak-chested Antpitta that the rest of us got to see. It was incredible...and don't worry, she saw it a few minutes later. A very close second was Officer Jon Dunn telling me that I am not fit to serve on the CBRC (because I don't "support the committee", not because I suck). The kicker is that although he was talking to me, about me, he did not recognize me for the person he was talking about...who does that?

Band-rumped Storm-Petrel was one of many lifer pelagic birds off North Carolina last August. I was stoked to get so much boat time this year, off both coasts. Being a leader on Shearwater Journeys trips was a lot of fun and I hope to do it again next year. Oh, I got seasick and puked for the first time this year, that was cool.

Best hybrid: Not rare by any means, but I looked at hella American X Black Oystercatcher hybrids in Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties. It's good practice.

Best bourbon: As with every year, I tasted many a bourbon this year...but I think Broken Bell is one of my new favorites.

Best beer: There's a lot of quality beer out there...but right now I miss Yuengling.

Best album: Bad Religion's True North. "I'm just a petrel in the storm; my island can't protect me anymore."

Greatest Coup of Birding: Oscar Johnson's ridiculous Common Swift above a random patch of desert in Riverside County, CA.

Best birder meme: THERE ARE SO MANY!!! Anything involving inner circles and puppetmasters. "It's too far for you to see"..."Black-chins are still migrating"..."Does he really pronounce it Justine?"...

This year I finally found a convenient/reliable spot for crushing Yellow-billed Magpies, one of California's most interesting, desired, and even poignant species. Photographed in Monterey County, CA.

Best California yearbirder: Dipper Dan. He may not have the highest total in the field, but he won.

Best self-found bird: A Slaty-backed Gull in Marin County (CA) was a long-awaited defeat of a state nemesis.

Best dream bird (aka best bird seen in a dream): Runt Harpy Eagle in northern California.

There were too many great bird trips to count this year, with new and old friends alike. I'm stoked to have such a strong network of friendly dorks available in a pasttime that is littered with people that I would rather avoid, and a girlfriend who is sympathetic to me being gone for months at a time and has a high tolerance for raging nerds. I'm looking forward to meeting more great people and great birds in 2014. I do have a quick trip planned in the very near future that should produce some cool shit (and cool tacos), but aside from that I really don't know where 2014 is going to take me for work or birding trips...and so the Perpetual Weekend rolls on.


  1. …although he was talking to me, about me, he did not recognize me for the person he was talking about...who does that? Old white men with passing for white blindness.

  2. Masked Duck is never guaranteed. I watched one - my first - slip into vegetation in front of me (~10 meters) and then not appear again... for the 3 hours I waited (!) - thus my birding partner thought I made it up (had to make several trips back to the site - though when we found them again, we found 8).

  3. That Fiery-throated Hummingbird photo literally makes my face hurt. It's just too much. I need to go to Costa Rica NOW. I can't afford a plane ticket, so I'll just fucking walk. Jeez.

  4. "Worst dip: Dipping on "guaranteed" Masked Ducks in Costa Rica."

    Yeah, well, we were at Cerro Lodge last night and for 3 days saw ZERO Scarlet Macaws, Black and White Owls, or Fiery Billed Aracaris on the lodge trees. The paunchy Germans in nothing but boxer shorts and flip-flops may have scared everything off. Still a Great Place, though, and we'll go back. But horribly disappointing at the feeders which mostly held Clay Colored Robins.

    1. Wow...I can understand missing the owls, but no macaws or aracaris is baffling. The earlier in the morning the better for those birds, but when I was in the area we had macaws practically everywhere we went.

    2. The aracaris don't actually show up that often and the owl can be missed but yes, very strange to not have nay macaws. I have never not seen macaws there. As for the Masked Duck, that's a super tough bird in CR and I still need the bastard too.

    3. Stilt crying about the antpitta miss was my best birder experience of the year as well. I'm glad there was a happy ending to that rough moment in birding.

    4. Yeah, that is really strange. It's easy to miss the aracars and the owl can go missing as well but I have never not seen macaws there. I hope your birding karma does a flip flop and rewards you with something downright silly ridiculous.