Sunday, January 1, 2012
My Birding Highlights from 2011
It is New Year's day--warm and sunny here in NC. While the extent of my birding in 2011 was nothing like my big year in 2010, I still had some memorable birding trips. 2011 began in early January with my birding buddy Pam when we spent 5 days in the Rio Grande Valley of TX. I had chosen not to chase a black-vented oriole (photo above--click on it to enlarge) that showed up at Bentsen RGV State Park at the end of December, but since it was still being seen and it would be an ABA lifer for me, we decided to try for it while doing some extensive birding. We had a very enjoyable time with Pam picking up 25+ life birds.
I was going to chase with my friends Dan and Doreene a fieldfare that spent 3+ weeks in late Jan. and early Feb. at the tip of the Gaspe peninsula, Quebec, Canada. Unfortunately I had a last minute conflict develop here in NC, and could not make the trip. Dan and Doreene did go and got to see the fieldfare. I did get to see a yellow-faced grassquit in Texas in late Feb. when I went to Austin to visit friends.
In early May I made what is becoming an annual spring trip to Magee marsh near Toledo, OH. Just prior to my departure a garganey was found outside of Cincinnati. I routed myself thru there and was able to see another lifer (photo above--far right bird). My time at Magee may have been the best so far. The weather was almost perfect--sunny and 60's. The birding was outstanding most days, and for the first time when birding at Magee I saw a Connecticut warbler.
In late May a fan-tailed warbler (photo below by Martin Meyers) was found in Madera Canyon, AZ. This is the only new world warbler that I had not yet seen, so I jumped on a plane to AZ. I was able to see it on 2 consecutive days before it disappeared.
In June I went with 3 friends--Craig, Marty and Richard--on a raft trip with 4 other birders and 2 guides in the Arctic NWR to find the gray-headed chickadee (photo below by Bob Dittrick). This is probably the hardest breeding bird to see in North America. We were fortunate to get great views at the nest tree shown in the photo, and we saw another pair further down the river. All in all, the raft trip was outstanding--a most memorable birding adventure.
After we completed the raft trip, my wife joined me for 10 days of touring around Alaska. At Denali NP we were able to see lots of wildlife including a first ever lynx. We also saw a pair of gyrfalcons. While in Homer we took a morning pelagic trip to look for 2 more life birds-- red-faced cormorant (photo below), and Kittlitz's murrelet, both of which we found.
My 2011 life bird success rate dropped dramatically in the 2nd half of the year when I missed by 2 days seeing the gray-hooded gull that spent a week at Coney Island, NY. Then just before Thanksgiving I joined John Vanderpoel, Doug Koch, Ken Petersen and Liz Southworth to chase a graylag goose near Montreal, Canada. We missed it by a day, but fortunately it was refound 2 weeks later so that John, Doug and Liz were able to see it afterall.
My final chase of the year was over to TN to see the hooded crane which was also a success. So I finished the year with 7 new lifers, and 1 provisional pending the acceptance of the crane as a wild bird.
Turning to some of the 2011 big year birders, Gabriel Mapel, a 12 year old from VA, finished his junior big year at 436 birds, seeing a Bell's vireo as his last year bird at Cape May, NJ. Matt Stenger from OH completed his big year at 681, seeing a black-headed gull on Dec. 31st in Rhode Island. Finally, John Vanderpoel missed the smew in Ontario, Canada, but did see a Nutting's flycatcher in AZ on Dec. 31st bringing his YTD total up to 743 plus a provisional for the hooded crane. Major congrats to all 3 big year birders! In the next few days I will be doing a post on John's monumental effort that just missed breaking Sandy Komito's record for the full ABA area. Stay tuned!