Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 in Review

It's December 31th, which means it's time for another recap of my past year birding. It was an excellent year, bird-wise, and I saw 318 species (255 ABA), and got exactly 80 lifers-- 60 in Europe, 20 in the U.S.

Long-eared Owl
I started the year off with a miss- Pennsylvania's first Anna's Hummingbird wouldn't show on the 2nd of January. I recovered fairly quickly, though, and finally saw my nemesis- the Horned Grebe, and an even better bird, the Long-eared Owl, at Greenwich Point in Connecticut a few weeks later. January went out with a bang, when I participated in the Superbowl of Birding, in Essex County, MA, seeing 72 species, 4 lifers, and having a lot of fun. 
Eider at the Superbowl
February was fairly quiet, but I did manage to track down some of the irrupting Common Redpolls in Connecticut. March, on the other hand, found me birding near Orlando, Florida, with such goodies as Short-tailed Hawk, Snail Kite, and Limpkin. I ended the month on a pelagic trip out of Freeport, with Razorbills aplenty and my lifer Glaucous Gull. 
April was a good month for migration, and I saw lots of warblers at local spots such as Glenwood Lake, Marshlands Conservancy, NY Botantical Gardens (where I saw a Prothonotary Warbler), and Central Park (including Hooded Warbler and Red-headed Woodpecker). 

The real good migration birding was, of course, in May, and I visited three of the best migration spots on the East Coast: Central Park, Mount Auburn Cemetery in Boston, and Cape May. In all, I saw or heard 29 species of warblers in May, including 20 in a single day in Central Park. In Mount Auburn, I saw my life Black-billed Cuckoo and my first ABA Wilson's Warbler, among scores of other birds. The real highlight of the month, however, was the World Series of Birding. I captained a team, the Vagrants, and we had a caffeine-and-insanity-fueled big day in Cape May, netting 134 species. If that wasn't enough, my teammate Lewis Lolya, his father, and I did the same thing again the next weekend, but in New York, seeing 120 species, including my life Red-necked Phalarope.
The World Series of Birding
In June I didn't do as much birding, but did manage to get two nice grassland lifers in Connecticut- Upland Sandpiper and Grasshopper Sparrow. July was similarly low-key bird-wise, but I did conduct a research project with the Bronx Zoo Ornithology Department about invasive trees and their impact on birds (spoiler alert: they don't help, and they could hurt somewhat, according to my data).
Roseate Tern (left)
August, on the other hand, was packed with birding. A whalewatch at the start of the month got me my life Manx Shearwater, a trip to Plymouth Beach the next day was highlighted by Roseate Tern, and my second annual Big Day by Bike in Marshfield and Duxbury was a huge success, beating last year's total 76 to 68, including a rare-for-Massachusetts Royal Tern. Towards the end of the month, my family traveled to Paris and Asturias, in Northern Spain. The birds were good, and included my 500th lifer, Egyptian Vulture, Griffon Vulture, White-throated Dipper, Alpine Chough, Eurasian Curlew, Long-tailed Tit, and Booted Eagle. 
The fall was much slower paced, as I missed a fair amount of migrations (and hurricane Irene) while in Europe, and was also in school again. A few visits to the Greenwich Hawkwatch in September resulted in plenty of hawks, and some warblers too. In October the story was about the same, though I did see some nice migrants, such as a Lincoln's Sparrow at marshlands. I chased a Calliope-turned-rufous hummingbird in Pawcatuck, CT, but missed. I also began to blog for the ABA Young birder blog, the Eyrie. November was highlighted by two chases: a Rufous Hummingbird at the Lenoir Preserve in Yonkers was my first lifer since August, and I saw firsthand the Snowy Owl irruption this winter, with a nice snowy at Duxbury Beach. While getting the snowy, I also saw some first-of-season winter seabirds, including a Black Guillemot, and lots of ducks, loons, cormerants, etc.
Allegedly a photo of a bird, if so, this is a Rufous Hummingbird
Finally, in December, I participated in the Greenwich Christmas Bird Count, which was productive, if occasionally somewhat bird-sparse. I did find my last new bird for my year list, a Green-winged Teal. And last weekend, I headed back out on Duxbury Beach to find another (or the same) Snowy Owl, getting excellent looks while it ate.

Normally I would do a big "Top 10 birds of the year" post, but that seems a bit excessive to have 2 year end posts, so here it is:
#1-Griffon Vulture
  1. Griffon Vulture
  2. Snail Kite
  3. White-throated Dipper
  4. Egyptian Vulture
  5. Long-eared Owl
  6. Eurasian Curlew
  7. Alpine Chough
  8. Booted Eagle
  9. Thick-billed Murre
  10. Upland Sandpiper
Honorable Mentions: Long-tailed Tit, Short-tailed Hawk, Alpine Accentor

Looking ahead to 2012, there seems to be a potentially fantastic year of birding in store for me. In the short term, I am going to be in Pennsylvania tomorrow and the next day, hopefully tracking down the Green-tailed Towhee in the area to start off the new year. More distantly, I have two awesome trips planned: in February I am going to the Yucatan Peninsula, and in July/August I am attending Camp Chirichuaua in Southeast Arizona. It should be a fun year overall, especially given that in March I can drive, which should improve my birding opportunities locally.  

Happy New Year!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Bird Songs, Human Words

My first post for the ABA Young Birder Blog, The Eyrie, was published today. It's about birds in poetry. Check it out at, and feel free to comment.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Good Birds!

After a fairly low-bird late October and early November, the past few weekends I my luck has turned, and I've seen some really cool birds.

 The first was two weeks ago, when I decided to chase the young female Rufous Hummingbird that has been hanging around at feeders at the Lenoir Preserve, just 15 minutes from my house. My dad and I headed over to the preserve, arrived that the garden where it had been seen, and within five minutes the bird showed up, drinking sugar water at the feeders and feeding at pineapple sage flowers as well. We got great looks at my first lifer since August, making this my first ever successful hummingbird chase (after the miss of a different Rufous in Connecticut a few weeks earlier, and the miserable failure of an Anna's Hummingbird chase last winter in Pennsylvania). 

Then last weekend, I headed up to Watertown, MA for Thanksgiving, and got a fair amount of birding time in. On Friday, I went to Fresh Pond, in Cambridge. I missed the Eastern Screech-Owl that nests there, but saw lots of waterfowl- Common and Hooded Mergansers, Ruddy Ducks, Ring-necked Ducks, Canvasbacks, American Coots, and Pied-billed Grebes. 
Ring-necked Duck
On Saturday my extended family all headed down to Green Harbor, on the south shore of Massachusetts, to visit my Grandma. While we were waiting for lunch at a the Venus II Restaurant, I headed across the street to the water, and quickly found many common (and less common) New England wintering birds. There was an out-of-place and cold looking Great Blue Heron perched on Brant Rock, alongside Dunlin and Sanderlings, and in the water were Common Eiders, Surf and White-winged Scoters, Red-throated Loons, Great Cormorants, and many Red-breasted Mergansers. Best of all, a small, whitish bird with a distinctly white patch on the wings buzzed by-- a Black Guillemot. A quick stop by my beach house, after lunch netted me a few more winter waterbirds, including Common Loon, Bufflehead, and Bonaparte's Gull. 

The real birding target of the trip was a bird that everybody in my family was at least somewhat interested in, so eleven of us piled into two cars and drove out along Duxbury Beach, scanning the dunes and marshes for the Snowy Owls that had been seen there recently. We reached the end of the beach having seen Black-bellied Plovers, lots of Bonaparte's Gulls, a few Great Cormorants, and even four seals, but no owl. On the way back, however, people in both cars similtaneously spotted a white shape in a distant part of the marsh. I jumped out of the car, raised my binoculars, and saw the white blob raise its head and look in my direction-- it was the owl! We all got good, if distant looks, before a few other birds stopped by and spotted the bird, and let us use their scope, which gave us quite good looks at a really excellent bird. Since this seems to be shaping up to be an "irruption year" for Snowy Owls, it seems possible that I will see more of them before the winter is out, which would be awesome.
And you thought the Rufous Hummingbird photo was bad...
You just have to use your imagination on this one.