Saturday, December 31, 2016

Top 10 birds of 2016

 2016 was a big year for me. I forayed to the Neotropics for the first time, staged two cross-continental road trips, and entered graduate school. We shall see what 2017 holds--hopefully, many birds (and possibly a new blog--but more on that later). For now, here are my favorite ten birds of the year.

10. Hooded Warbler –8/9/2016

Just a Hooded Warbler, you say? Well—I do love Hooded Warblers. This one was particularly special—I saw it down the street from my house in my first week or so of living there. I heard the metallic chink and tracked down a handsome male. It inspired me to regularly bird my yard and neighborhood.

9. American Tree Sparrow—11/23/2016

Photo by Trish Gussler
Finding a rare bird is the ultimate dream for birders. Serious avian addicts crave vagrants like narcotics, and a self-found waif is especially desirable. I grew up seeing American Tree Sparrows on a regular basis in Michigan, but this one that I found at Bolsa Chica with my friend Maxx represents only the third record for Orange County.

8.  Pinyon Jay—5/11/2016

“Have you ever seen a Pinyon Jay around here?” Joel asked as we coursed down the highway that leads to the Such lair in the foothills above Boulder. “Don’t think so,” I said. Moments later, a blue bird flew across the road—followed by a battalion scores strong of Pinyon Jays. Joel claims that it was a coincidence.

7. Williamson’s Sapsucker—5/7/2016

My long-lost friend Andrew guided me around Montana for a couple days. We launched a campaign to the Bridger Mountains in search of this, the smartest of the sapsuckers. We eventually found a male and watched it until our attention was stolen by a pair of goshawks. I don’t see either of these species frequently enough.

6. Hispaniolan Trogon—3/16/2016

Trogons are crowd-pleasers. This—one of Hispaniola’s endemics—inhabits pine and cloud forest. My comrades and I undertook an epic hike and finally—after multiple false alarms and alluring calls—spotted one.

5. Sharp-tailed Sandpiper—11/20/2016
Sandpiper success with Dad!
A vagrant common enough in North America to be illustrated in field guides but rare enough to never actually be seen. A wayfaring juvenile was kind enough to coincide its visit to the Los Angeles River with my pilgrimage home to California for Thanksgiving. I went to see it with my dad, who shared and facilitated many of my formative birding experiences and with whom I don’t bird with often enough anymore! We saw the bird despite a ferocious downpour that forced us to retreat to the shelter of a bridge.

4. Gray-throated Chat—1/15/2016

A pretty bird of the tropical dry forests of Mexico, Belize, and Guatamala, and one that I very much wanted to see on my Mexico trip for reasons I can’t explain. While birding the nonpareil Calakmul ruins, my friend Joel encountered a pair attending an ant swarm.

3. Red Phalarope—10/14/2016

Uncropped phone photo!
A great rarity in Alabama. The sighting was all the more notable by the fact that the bird was fearless, floating within five feet of our astonished faces and lenses.

2. Hispaniolan Woodpecker – 1/24/2016

I spent many hours this winter observing Hispaniolan Woodpeckers and suffered greatly for it—lichen particulates lodged in the eyeball, feet planted in hidden piles of cow excrement, arcs of bat guano raining down upon my head, sore muscles from hunching in a burlap blind.

1. Keel-billed Toucan—1/11/2016
It was my first full day of birding in the Neotropics. The end of the day was approaching; my friend Joel and I had had a long day of being traumatized by Mexican driving and being overwhelmed by a dizzying array of new tanagers, orioles, and flycatchers. We were standing beside a small pond when we heard it coming. Whoosh whoosh whoosh—the wingbeats of a large bird. A pair appeared overhead—my first toucans!

Farewell, 2016. 

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