Monday, January 24, 2011

My Best Birds of 2010

Last year I wrote a post of the ten best birds I saw in 2009. In 2010, however, I went to Costa Rica and did much more birding in general, so I couldn't compress the highlights into anything less than a Top 20 plus 1. Notice that most of them are from Costa Rica, and all but one were lifers. A lot of great birds were left off, because I don't have the time to write a "Best 50 Birds" post, and you don't have the time (or will) to read it. The rankings are a bit arbitrary, but reflect fairly well how happy I was to see that bird, and how memorable the experience was. Starting with #21, the rarest, most colorful, most awesome birds of 2010:

#21-Black-faced Solitaire- My favorite birdsong, this highland bird is a characteristic singer of Monteverde Cloud Forest. With bright red-orange legs and bill, it doesn't look bad either.

#20-Varied Thrush- A nice rarity, both unusual and colorful, that showed up in Central Park in December. Nicely patterned and orange.

#19-Northern Saw-whet Owl- Always a tough bird to find, but well worth it when you can track one down, it makes the list because I got to hold one while watching an owl banding project in October.
#18- Great Kiskadee- A large, loud, common, and charismatic flycatcher from Costa Rica. These guys were everywhere and always fun to watch.
#17- Common Nighthawk- This was my nemesis bird for a very long time, but I finally saw some in September. All nightjars are cool birds, and I was looking for this one for a long time.

#16- Cape May Warbler- One of the last warblers that I hadn't seen, I saw one at close range, fittingly, in Cape May.

#15- Black Guan- A huge black bird that looks like a turkey, sounds like a machine gun, has a bright blue face and red eye, and lives only in the highlands of Costa Rica and Panama. Sounds pretty awesome, right?

#14- Golden-winged Warbler- I was watching a small flock of warblers and sparrows when a brilliant male Golden-winged Warbler popped out of a thicket. Very surprising, and one of the highlights of fall migration.

#13- Golden-hooded Tanager- Tanagers are the epitome of colorful tropical birds, and the Golden-hooded was the most colorful one I saw in Costa Rica. Colored in pale gold, vivid turquoise, violet, and black, it hardly looks like a real bird.

#12- Fork-tailed Flycatcher- The best ABA bird I saw all year, this mega-rarity amazed hundreds of birders in Stamford, Connecticut. Excellent example of a visually striking rarity.
#11- Golden-browed Chlorophonia- A searingly bright bird, colored in neon green, blue and yellow. Plus it's a highland endemic to Costa Rica and Western Panama.

#10- Crested Caracara- It's a combination of a falcon and a vulture. What's not to like. Wildly considered one of the "coolest" birds in North America, I saw mine in the dry farmland of Northwestern Costa Rica.

#9- Black-and-White Owl- A great stakeout bird, the tale of how I saw it makes for a good Costa Rica birding anecdote. If you're in Costa Rica and want to see one, go to the town park in Orotina, look for the ice cream guy. He'll know where it is, as long as you buy an ice cream.

#8- Fiery-billed Aracari- My 400th life bird, it is a lowland endemic toucan with a bright red bill. What's not to like?

#7- Coppery-headed Emerald- Another milestone bird, this time my 300th lifer. It was the only bird I saw that is endemic solely to Costa Rica, rather than being endemic to a habitat or mountain range, like the previous near-endemics I mentioned. A small, bright green hummingbird.
#6-Violet Sabrewing- Costa Rica's uber-hummingbird, one of the largest hummers in the world. There are very few purple birds in the world, and this is certainly one of them.
#5- Blue-crowned Motmot- Motmots are my favorite family of birds, and I got good looks at the Blue-crowned Motmot at various points on my Costa Rica trip. Green overall, with a sky-blue crown. Very cool.
#4- Rufous Motmot- See above, but passes Blue-crowned on the list because it is less common, larger, and because looking up to see one 5 feet away at eye level is very cool. I heard it vocalize as well- a low, hooting tremolo.
#3- Common Potoo- The "stickbird," it looks like a cross between a nightjar, and owl, and a stump. Tough to see, I got lucky when a tour group spotted one while I was walking by.

#2- Scarlet Macaw- The stereotypical parrot, and a symbol of the tropics. Declining in Central America, and restricted to just 2 spots in Costa Rica. The saga of our getting good looks at macaws is another good Costa Rica anecdote.
#1- The winner is... Resplendent Quetzal- No real surprise there. After all, it is a Resplendent Quetzal. Red and luminescent green, with incredibly long tail streamers, it isn't hard to see why the Maya worshiped this bird as an incarnation of one of their gods. Birders do too, more or less.

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