Tuesday, January 10, 2017

2016's Biggest Misses

I saw many species of birds in 2016, but Common Eider was not one of them. Not birding within a species' normal range tends to lead to stuff like that happening. Though I mourned the absence of this eider in my life last year, and grieved for the eiders I have never seen, this was not a species I had any expectations for in 2016. Despite myself I had a whole lot of other expectations around some other birds, which didn't always pan out. Photographed in Biddeford, ME.

Full disclosure...I like keeping year lists. I'm not a county birding fiend (well...in most counties), so while many birders use county listing as a form of twisted, embarrassing motivation to get them out and about, I will occasionally sip the nectar from my inner year listing well and use that as birding fuel. I've only done one Big Year of any sort ever, when I set the Ventura County record as a teenager...the record was obliterated the following year but it was fun at the time and (unusually for a birder) I was not at all butthurt about losing my place at the top when my record fell. It would be fun to do again someday, someplace, though the thought of doing it on an ABA scale leaves a bad taste in my mouth, and causes my testicles to retreat into my body.

But we are not here to talk about big years, at least not today, just year birding. I am lucky enough to have done a lot of birding in Y2K16. I did exceedingly well in the rare bird department in California, even finding a couple highly sought-after birds myself, got some summer birding done in Colorado (awesome), and completed wildly successful nerd trips to West Mexico and Puerto Rico. As far as I know, in only one or two other years have I ever seen more birds.

But instead of humblebragging about all that shit, I thought I would run through the most surprising and most torturous birds I could not find last year. There were some truly painful misses, and a number of species I really thought I would just run into somehow never materialized. So in no particular order, here are some birds that gave me the slip and/or finger in Y2K16.

White-winged Scoter. I really, truly thought I would see these more than once, but it just never happened. I spent quite a bit of time birding the right places, but they just never appeared. How embarrassing. This is an uncommon and somewhat local species in the state, and the subspecies we get here on the west coast is known to be in decline. Photographed at the San Leando Marina, San Leandro, CA.

Collared Plover. What is the deal with Collared Plover? I've never seen one, so I wouldn't know. Despite immersing ourselves in great coastal shorebird habitat and putting a great many hours toward trying to find this fucking bird, we had no glory. I am excellent at not seeing Collared Plovers, both in Costa Rica and Mexico. I expect I am just as adept at avoiding them in other countries. If you do not want to have to look at a Collared Plover, come hang out with me. To make my drawn-out discomfort with this bird even worse, Dipper Dan recently reminded me that he saw Collared Plover in Costa Rica, while on a trip with me, presumably while I was passed out in the car with food poisoning. Great.

Prairie Falcon. I missed Prairie Falcons and I miss Prairie Falcons. This is a very good bird along the coast (where I usually bird) but I thought I would get them in Colorado or the Mono Lake area. Napes. Maybe I need to bird the Central Valley more often. Photographed on the Carrizo Plain, California, where they are very dependable.

Glaucous Gull. While a definite rarity in the state, they are not terribly hard to see or find yourself if you look at gull flocks enough...at least that's what I used to think. Not only did I not see a Glaucous Gull in 2016, I have somehow not seen one since 2012. I have no idea how I have accomplished this incredible feat. This bird is turning into a sort of nemesis for me somehow, and I've still never seen an adult.

Masked Duck. What the fuck does a guy have to do to see a Masked Duck? Sell my soul to the devil? At this rate, that actually seems like a very reasonable proposition. While I assumed we would miss them in Nayarit/Jalisco/Colima (relatively rare there), we had a great chance to get them in Puerto Rico...that is until Officer Searcy assured Dipper Dan and I that we would see one. That predictably fucked everything up, and I continue on course to go to my grave without ever seeing one.

Red-breasted Chat. This is my new Mexican nemesis bird, and I don't say that lightly. I believe everyone who went on the trip got to see one except me...actually that's a lie. I saw one, but it was such a shit look I won't even consider counting this very unique and utterly crippling bird. At least, they seem utterly crippling in photographs, I wouldn't really know since I haven't seen one in real life. Nerds saw them at multiple sites while in Mexico but I just could not ever get on one. I blocked out the pain for a while but I can still feel it in the depths of my nerdbrain. Photographed by Dipper Dan at Microondas San Francisco, Jalisco, Mexico.

Amethyst-throated Hummingbird. As I've said before, getting our hummingbird targets in Mexico was very frustrating. Even more frustrating was other nerds in the group lifering this bird, which I sorely wanted to see. At least I can say I was busy getting my face melted off by one of the best mixed flocks in my life while they were on the hummingbirds. Mixed flock aside, I saw what were likely multiple individuals of this species zooming by, but never got the conclusive looks everyone else had. Butt. Hurt. Other dishonorable misses on the trip, aside from hummingbirds, include Banded Quail, Greater Swallow-tailed Swift, Thick-billed Parrot, Mangrove Vireo, Aztec Thrush and Colima Warbler. Not that those are necessarily easy birds, but they all would have changed my life forever. Well, maybe not the vireo...

Sandhill Crane and Tundra Swan. These are both common in the Central Valley in winter. These are both species that birders really get off on seeing, and I am not above that. They are both steeped in majesty and make sounds that make you feel good inside. Does it really take a Falcated Duck for me to get deep into the valley? Apparently so. I had to dig deep into the archives for a passable crane shot...this is from Camas National Wildlife Refuge in Idaho, in the spring of 2011.

Blackpoll Warbler. There is perhaps no better place west of Texas to see this bird than Point Reyes (where in the past I have seen six in one day), which I birded a lot last fall. In fact, I birded the point better and harder and more than any other year. For whatever reason there just weren't many in the bay area last fall. This was a bit of a freakish miss, but those things happen. Photographed at Point Reyes, CA.

Hawaiian Petrel. Another potential lifer that has abstained from lifering with me. Ever since seeing a couple Mottled Petrels (and even those were seen poorly/all too briefly) while cruising through the Aleutians in 2010, I have been on a solid petrel shut out. I have put in a lot of boat hours since then and have still never (fully) connected with this bird. During a chaotic episode on a boat last fall I was both utterly convinced I saw one and utterly convinced that I did not see one. Now...I just don't know, but I sure as shit do not have identifiable pictures of one from that day, so this remains a species I need to see, very badly.

Other standout misses from 2016 include Flesh-footed Shearwater. Harlequin Duck, Pectoral Sandpiper, Black-legged Kittiwake, Short-eared Owl, Lewis's Woodpecker and California Thrasher.

I have no idea what 2017 will bring as far as birding goes...I have no trips planned at all, and I compulsively am almost always planning birding trips. Hell, I might not even get 300 species this year, a number I've not failed to meet in a long time...a long time. Being a bird junkie and a new father will be an interesting juggling act, as most people are under the impression that addicts and junkies typically aren't the best parents. But whatever happens, make no mistake...there will be birds, though my "worst misses of 2017" post might be more embarrassing than this one*.

* = I haven't seen Great Blue Heron yet...time to panic????


  1. While I was putting my dad's records into ebird we found that in 30+ years of living in Maine he had never seen/heard a Great-Horned Owl. We saw them nesting in New Hampshire but apparently never had one in Maine.

    1. That is very strange. If I was him I would have had an unhealthy obsession with them after a few years, let alone 30+.

  2. Gray Jays, Harris' Sparrows, and Rufous-crowned Sparrows are my nemesis. They all occur in my state. Other people report them. I go where they tell me to go, but I do not find them.

    1. I am on a Gray Jay drought as well. I looked for them on December 31 for good measure, no joy. Harris's are great birds, hopefully you will get to meet one soon.

  3. No California Thrasher..?

    Well, thanks for humbling yourself just this bit, showing that gleaming little area of imperfection as bare as a snail out of its shell.

    soon you can start a new list though: birds seen while toting a kid in your front or back pouch. this list may get harder to lifer on as the child gets larger, even teenager, but if anyone can manage it's #7.

    1. No CATH...and yes, they breed in my home county. It's not something I'm proud of, but I didn't invest much effort into finding them. My snail body is very vulnerable right now.

    2. Watch out for Limpkin and SNKIs then!!

      Fuck bird jokes just are rarely funny.

    3. Spread the word, the people need to know!

  4. I'm sure you can find some easily if you want to, but if you go back to Mono I have coords for a couple of Prairie Falcon nests I've found. You can get your fix by letting them scream and dive at you. You can pick up a mammal lifer too. For some reason the falcons like to live around pygmy rabbit colonies.

    I'm feeling a scintilla of satisfaction that I see Cal Thrasher frequently. But then, with as much time as I spend crashing through Santa Cruz Mtns chaparral, I wouldn't be at all surprised if one of these days I return home and find one wedged in my boot. Next to a Spotted Towhee.

    1. I did little flogging of chaparral last year. I really thought I would get CATH at a really nice patch on Mount Diablo one morning in the spring, but the thrashers deemed me unworthy. Had to make do with wildflowers.

      That would be an epic mammal lifer! I do get out there most years, I'll try to remember to hit you up.