Good grief, it’s almost February and I never summed up the previous year’s birding. What a slacker.
So here we go. I chose to cut down on my birding in the second half of the year to focus my time on open source work, but despite that, 2017 turned out to be pretty damn great for the birds. Most of the highlights were from trips, but I did pick up a couple of great new BC birds: grey partridge (looousy looks, but enough to confidently ID) and a black-backed woodpecker near Grand Forks, BC.
But yes, 2017 was all about the trips. In April I visited Salt Lake City for a conference, but it ended up providing some of the most memorable birding of the year. I added a mere 4 lifers, but wow, what lifers! Snowy plover, pinyon jay, black rosy-finch and some glorious greater sage grouse on the lek. The pinyon jay took the most work – almost a whole day finding them, and the black rosy-finch the least – right where they were supposed to be the little beauts. But the sage grouse was the star of the trip: have you seen these things? Good lord, they defy belief. I left the hotel around 4am to get to the lekking grounds before dawn and when I arrived, still pitch black, the party was already in full swing. Lekking etiquette (“lekiteque”?) forbids getting out of your car so you don’t disturb the birds, so all my photos were taken by contorting my body into ungainly positions in the front car seats. Still, I was still lucky to get a few great shots of the birds. A definite highlight of the year; I’d go back in a heartbeat.
The following month I headed off to Paris – again for a conference – then spent a couple of weeks driving up through Belgium to the Netherlands with my wife. She enjoys the great outdoors, but for some bizarre reason, the prospect of getting up before dawn to look for some small ugly brown bird doesn’t fill her with excitement. Weird, I know (as they say back in Yorkshire, “there’s nowt so queer as folk”). So I tried to temper the trip with a few non-birding activities such as doing cultural stuff (tick!), drinking lots of Belgian beer (tick!) and visiting Parisian sights like Le Louvre and La Tour Eiffel (tick!) but when I look back on the trip I mostly remember the birds. It was great finally seeing a whole slew of species I remember from growing up in the UK, like I was finishing something I’d started a long time ago. Robins (real robins), blue tits, great tits, eurasian jays, greenfinch, dunnock and more. Birds I must have seen countless times as a child but never properly registered.
Probably the highlight of the trip was Belgium. We stayed in Bruges and visited a place called nature reserve called Het Zwin a couple of times. It was that good. Highlights of the trip included great spotted woodpecker, green woodpecker, mediterranean gull (very different!), garganey, eurasian spoonbill, bluethroat (hot damn), northern lapwing, black redstart and a common kingfisher.
The remainder of the year was depressingly unbirdy in nature until December when I spent a little over a week in Panama. Holy cow. In that short time I saw no less than 226 species, 122 which were brand new to me, taking my life list over 1000 at last. I spent the first few days at the famous Canopy Tower, just north of Panama City, then headed over to the Canopy Lodge in the Anton Valley, west of Panama City. There were really too many birding highlights to mention, but I’ll name a few just to make birders jealous: 3 more motmots (rufous, broad-billed, whooping), 3 more manakins (white-ruffed, blue-crowned, golden-collared), black-chested jay, tropical screech owl, black and white owl (my 1000th bird! Woke me up at 1am hooting like a barred owl), emerald, bay-headed, tawny-crested and silver-throated tanagers, spot-crowned barbet, blue cotinga, blue dacnis, shining honeycreeper, great tinamou, plain antvireo, russet antshrike, fasciated antshrike, green shrike-vireo, moustached antwren, streak-chested antpitta, yellow-eared toucanet, stripe-cheeked woodpecker, southern lapwing, tawny capped euphonia and… bay-breasted and mourning warblers (at last).
All in all a great bloody year; final bird count: 1040. Almost makes me glad I don’t have kids. There’s no way I could pull this off with sprogs around.
Bring on 2018
I’d originally planned on doing a BC Big Year this year, but canned the idea once I realized how little time I’m going to have beyond my day job.
So instead, this year I’m going to continue in the vein of the last: I have two trips currently planned. First I’ll be off to Hong Kong in early Aprils, then in the fall my wife and I are going to visit Australia. I spent 10 days in Sydney a few years back when I was first getting into birding, and have always somewhat regretted my time there. I mean, how is it possible to spend 10 days in Australia and only see 25 species of birds? Baffling. We’re planning on spending a couple of days in Sydney, then spend the rest of the time up in Cairns (birds of paradise! Bower birds! Cassowary!). It promises to be a good trip.
Here in North America, I’m targeting only three species. The western screech owl (stiiilllll haven’t seen that sucker), the green-tailed towhee (long on my list of birds to see) and the sharp-tailed grouse.
Let’s see how we do.