Sunday, January 11, 2009

2008: My biggest North American birding year so far ...

At the start of 2008, knowing that I had trips to Chippewa County, Florida, Maryland, Arizona and California planned, I set myself the goal of seeing 500 North American birds in 2008.  At the time, my life list was not even 500.  I spoke with a friend who had attempted a similar challenge a couple of years earlier as a fun competition with friends and she finished her big year with 508 birds. She described for me how difficult it was and how much she had to travel.  "In addition to the travel, you need to chase everything within a six hour drive."  Still, with such places on my travel itinerary, I thought I should at least try.  I counted on a December trip to Niagara Falls which I usually take, but in the end did not go this year.  And, I had an unexpected visit to Seattle, Washington (see earlier blog post) where I added a few birds, but missed others that I had hoped to see.

In February I went to Florida with Michigan birding friends at the invitation of our host, Don Chalfant.  Don and his wife, Lori, were unbelievably gracious and fun hosts.  We had four days of lovely Florida weather, even when it rained, friends, food and birds.

Florida Scrub Jay - we saw this life bird on our first day.

Loggerhead Shrike - a life bird I had been wanting to see for a long time and we saw many.

Purple Gallinule - digiscoped photo of another life bird.

I think my favorite birds in Florida were Bachman's Sparrow and Red-cockaded Woodpecker.  It was sad when we had to leave our friends.

At the Ocean Odyssey, we weren't the only ones having lunch.

My Arizona and California trip was over the top and even thinking about it now makes me want to do it all over again.  But at the end, even I knew that I was a little burned out.  Non-stop for ten days.  Mark Linardi and I drove our friend, Steve Sanford, nuts with our early mornings and late nights.  But, thanks  to Steve, our trip was the huge success that it was.  Steve had been to these areas of Arizona and California many times before, but not in recent years.  For example, he had seen Common Black-Hawk in Aravipa Canyon before and we saw it there again.  This turned out to be very special because the trip into the canyon required significant time expenditure, made our day very long, and we thought we had missed the bird.  At the very end, on our way back out of the canyon, we saw one and then two Common Black-Hawks flying, soaring and perched for long and satisfying looks.


And perched. 

We saw places with funny names like this.  This sign was seen as we left Joshua Tree National Park in California.

The sky, especially in Arizona, never disappointed.

We saw or heard a bird that needs little introduction - the Elegant Trogan - several times in a number of locations.  This bird, in Huachuca's Scheelite Canyon, came very close to us (and we were not calling it in!)

On the way out of Scheelite Canyon, Mark and I chased this California Sister butterfly around for photos.  It never landed with its wings open, but it's the wing underside that is the more spectacular

This long-eared, western Jackrabbit froze for this close photo.  We saw many.  This rabbit was photographed at Joshua Tree National Park.

On our last morning in California, Mark and I came upon an area on the outskirts of Blythe that had hundreds of Yellow-headed Blackbirds all singing and calling.  For those who are acquainted with the "song" of this bird, you can imagine how this sounded.  Even when we drove away, the sound was still vibrating in our ears.  

No kidding, we ate breakfast at McDonald's every single morning.  This was not as much of a hardship as one would think.  I hate to be an advertisement for McDonald's, but it turns out that they are very reliable and have very good coffee.  This classic McDonald's was in San Diego county on our way to Imperial Beach pier.

For dinner, however, we avoided chain restaurants.  On our first night, we found this restaurant, mi amigos, in Mesa, Arizona.  We were more tired than hungry and we all ordered tortilla soup and Dos Equis amber ale.  The soup was fantastic!  (We even returned here on our final day, when the above photo was taken, for a repeat bowl of the tortilla soup.)  Thus began our tortilla soup taste testing throughout southern Arizona and California.  Standard dinner for me was tortilla soup, salad and Dos Equis amber ale.  This may sound boring, but as it happens, tortilla soup is highly variable.  Our best evening meal was with a small, family run Mexican diner, El Exquisito, in Nogales just a walk across the parking lot from our Motel 6 where the tortilla soup was the real deal.  We voted their soup second for taste, but the restaurant received our top rating.  I wish I had a photo of the El Exquisito, but it was well past dark when we left that evening.  P.S.  No one likes Nogales, but I liked Nogales a lot.  

Most nights were spent with the Motel 6.  Standard bedspread shown above.  As the nights passed, it became a joke.  Nevertheless, I would say we were well-served by this inexpensive motel chain and I would recommend Motel 6 to anyone doing our kind of travel.

The Arizona sky can leave one breathless.

I came home to Michigan just in time to begin spring migration here.  I saw the usual birds and found a couple of good birds; an American Bittern at Belle Isle for May Count and a Marbled Godwit at Point Mouillee a week later.  But, after Arizona and California, with one exception - after three tries, I failed to see the Ruff at Point Mouillee - I did not chase like I needed to.  I've already written about my Seattle trip and I did see some other nice birds which I've already posted.  Scroll down to read some of these.

So, how did I do?  Well, I am still recalling birds that I forgot to add, but so far the total stands at 419 birds seen, but 424 if I count birds that I only heard (King Rail in Florida, Virginia Rail in Michigan ... etc.)  My real coup was in life birds where I added approximately 125 birds to my North American list.  With this, I'll always think of 2008 as an enormously successful birding year.  At the end of January I'll be flying to south Texas for the first time in my birding career and I hope to travel, by car, to Idaho in June.  Stay tuned.  

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