Good grief, February’s almost upon us and I haven’t written up a post about last year’s birding. Amazing how time time flies.
All in all, not a bad year. Not great, but not bad. I picked up 273 lifers in four countries, starting off with a trip to Hong Kong in early April and ending with a 2 1/2 week trip up the East coast of Australia.
Hong Kong isn’t exactly the first place you think about for birding, but since I’d never been to Asia before, flights were affordable and it’s easy for us honkies to get by there, I thought I’d take a week and go exploring. I won’t say it was the most idyllic of destinations, but there were certainly great spots when you looked for them – but admittedly it was hard to avoid the drone of cars. Mai Po and Tai Po Kau in particular stood out. The former is a migratory hotspot for birds found at the NW corner of Hong Kong (and a bureaucratic nightmare for birders to visit alone – trust me, get a local guide); Tai Po Kau is a quiet, macaque-ridden forest nature reserve where I picked up all manner of wonderful forest birds including orange-bellied leafbird, silver-eared mesia, scarlet and gray-chinned minivet and black-throated laughingthrush. Wow. I’d go back to Hong Kong for either of those locations alone.
Next up, in late June I spent a long weekend doing a roadtrip down to Oregon and California to target a few North American species I hadn’t yet seen. In retrospect it’s hard to believe I drove for over 40 hours that weekend, but worth every minute. I actually did extremely well, only missing out on two target species. I saw green-tailed towhee (my last north-of-mexico towhee species), tricolored blackbird (thank heavens they sound totally different to red-winged), sagebrush sparrow, ferruginous hawk, oak titmouse, wrentit and nuttall’s woodpecker. Memorable trip.
Lastly, in October my wife and I flew to Australia in pursuit of exciting birds and marsupials. We flew from Sydney to Brisbane to Cairns, then back through Sydney. Brilliant trip, we crammed a tremendous amount in there: from snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef to taking a pelagic from Sydney, visiting the Blue Mountains, heading up to Daintree for a boat trip up the river, and had a great few days in Lamington park, south of Brisbane communing with the leeches.
Gah, the birds were really too numerous to mention… I ended up seeing a whopping 244 species – and considering I was with a non-birder and didn’t do any actual birding tours (the exception being the pelagic off Sydney) it felt like a real coup. Still, I have to mention a few highlights:
- Seeing a group of rainbow bee-eaters in Cairns on the last full day of the trip. They’d been my #1 target bird the whole trip but I just dipped and dipped and dipped… And they were worth the wait. Gorgeous birds, constantly squabbling amongst themselves – and such precise flyers.
- Southern cassowary! Holy crap! We saw one up close at a famous place we stayed at (The Cassowary House) but also were lucky enough to see one cross the road as we initially arrived in Cairns. Crazy.
- Bowerbirds! Satin, regent, tooth-billed and great. Seeing a satin bowerbird at its bower was one of the highlights of my life.
- Birds of paradise! I saw both Victoria’s and Paradise riflebirds.
- I saw 5 wandering albatross out in the ocean. Remarkably dorky birds! Especially when they were seen next to the ever-so-trim black-browed albatross.
- Wompoo and rose-crowned fruit doves. Hot damn.
- Noisy pitta. Beautiful! I heard many of them, but saw only one. Shy little sod, but I managed to get a decent look. Quite startlingly lovely.
Anyway, by the time Dec 31st rolled by I tallied my list and found I’d reached 1316 species on my life list.
So what’s up for 2019…? That’s the question! This year I’m shooting for 1700 species, but it’s a tough target. In March I’m heading back to Costa Rica with my dad, which should be enormous fun. I don’t have any great hopes to add a lot to my life list (I’ve been to the Mexico & Central America several times and seen a lot there) but perhaps I’ll pick up another 30 birds or so if I’m lucky (a scarlet macaw should count for 10!). In June I’m going to JSConf Asia in Singapore and will spend as much time as possible hunting down birds in Singapore and nearby Malaysia. If I pick up 75 species there I’ll be happy – it’s not the ideal time of year to visit. But I don’t care: I could see another bee-eater species and my very first hornbill…! Lastly I’d been planning to visit east Africa late in the year but it’s possible that my wife’s health may rule that out. Still, we’ll see…