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Saturday, December 29, 2012

Year List in Review ~ 2012

It's the end of another year of great birding and wildlife watching, which means it's time to look at the 2012 bird year list. At the start of the year I set three goals for myself: reach 215 species by the end of the year, reach 100 species by the end of January, and have my North American life list reach 350. Just like in 2011, I reached my first two goals but still failed to reach the 350 mark by just a couple species, though I doubled the number of life birds I added in 2012 compared to 2011.

When I started keeping a year list in 2010 I traveled up the Alaska Highway, so it's no surprise that that remains my highest annual total with 233 species. With trips this year to California and Utah, I was able to pass my 2011 total of 206 by tallying 222 species on the year. Here's my updated table comparing the three years:

Total # Bird Species
Dave's Total
Dad's Total

# States/Provinces
# Life Birds
# SJ County Species
# Species by Month

*World year list/ Europe year list

The February trip to California boosted that month's total by a lot this year, and as a consequence there were fewer spring migrants to add in March and April. I also always like to try and tally at least one year bird in every month of the year, and this is the first year that I failed to do that. Looking at the monthly comparison over the last three years, it's apparent how my busy work schedule from July through December influenced my time to go birding.
I also have a friendly competition with Dave from England, who has edged me out by a few species in both the previous years. This year, taking into account the 70 species he saw on a trip to Australia, he crushed me 275 to 222. If you look at only his Europe list and compare it to my only North America list, I beat him for the first year 222 to 205.  My dad also kept a year list for the second year in a row. He fell short of his goal of 250 species, so I beat his year list for the first time, too.

Here are some bird highlights of the year 2012:
  • Our first day of birding on January 1, 2012 turned up 61 species in the greater Portland area. Will be able to reach that total on January 1, 2013?
  • In January I traveled to Boundary Bay near Vancouver, BC to see the snowy owls that were congregating there. I saw an amazing 21 snowy owls, and they became my 91st species of the year, compared to species #200 in 2011.
  • During my first COASST survey of 2012, I was able to get a photograph of five shorebird species in the same frame on Fourth of July Beach on San Juan Island.
  • Our trip to Pismo Beach, California in February was awesome for a lot of reasons, but the memory that will always stand out to me the most was visiting the butterfly garden and seeing not only thousands of Monarch butterflies but lots of great birds, including red-shouldered hawks and my first life bird of the year, a Nuttall's woodpecker.
  • In April I got to visit Three Meadows Marsh on San Juan Island for the first time. This private wetlands is an amazing waterfowl habitat, and I also added some first of the year spring birds while there. On the way to visit the marsh, I also saw and photographed a western kingbird, an uncommon species for the island.
  • In May Katie and I discovered that the owl hole near her house was in fact a nest, and we saw the chicks for the first time.
  • In June I got to help band baby bluebird chicks, and I also went to Winthrop, Washington for the first time, where the birding was amazing. Pipestone canyon turned up species such as sooty grouse, canyon wren, and prairie falcon, and I also added a couple more life birds: red-naped sapsucker and Williamson's sapsucker.
  • Our October trip to Utah didn't turn up as many year birds as I had hoped, but I did add a loggerhead shrike and rock wren to the list, reaching my goal of 215 species on the year.
So, what's on tap for 2013? I don't have quite the same trips planned, so I'm going to lower my year list goal back to 200 species for the year.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Birds In Motion

This morning my dad and I drove the Honeyman Road loop near Scappoose Bottoms to do a little bit of birding, in part to scout out the region for our January 1 birding day to kick off the 2013 year list. We turned up more than 30 species in an hour of birding, including lots of waterfowl species (mallards, wigeon, shoveler, green-winged teal, pintail....) The weather was overcast but not raining or too windy, with some views towards the mountains, like here towards Mt. Saint Helens:

Due to the low light conditions I thought I'd try to catch some images of birds in motion, and my first opportunity was this rough-legged hawk in flight:

He/she then perched in a nearby field. After scanning with the binos we found a second rough-legged hawk, the first time my dad has seen two in this area together. There were also an amazing number of red-tailed hawks, probably at least a dozen in the ten-mile loop, including a pair nearby the rough-leggeds. While we watched the raptors several hundred cackling geese flew overhead, cackling away the whole time.

Along the next stretch of road we saw some western meadowlarks - a good find that I hope we turn up again on New Year's Day. We also found lots of dark-eyed juncos and a couple flocks of golden-crowned sparrows, and a few song and fox sparrows. One field had eight great egrets, and we also saw a couple of great blue herons. There was a belted kingfisher who was looking for fish in a flooded ditch. Check out how steep his dive was off the branch:

Another red-tailed hawk was perched on a nest, maybe preparing it for the upcoming breeding season:

 The low hanging stratus clouds and flooded farm fields made for some neat scenics, like this one:

Our last stop of the day turned out to be a surprisingly productive one. In addition to hundreds of cackling geese, there were several hundred gulls. At least three species were present - most of them seemed to be mew gulls, but there were also glaucous-winged and ring-billed. Several duck species were in the middle of the flooded field, and at the edge of the marshy area we spotted six greater yellowlegs, another species that it would be great to repeat on the 1st. The real coup, however, turned up when I spotted something white among the cackling geese. We thought it was probably a gull at first, but after a closer inspection it turned out to be a Ross' goose (221)! One more year bird for the list, one that has eluded me the last couple of years.

That's likely all that will be added to the year list (I said that once before, didn't I?) unless something very unexpected turns up at my parents' feeders in the next couple of days. We'll see!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Finally, Some Birding!

The last month has been consumed by moving facilities at work. That, along with the pretty dismal (wet and windy) weather, has left little time for birding. Our new work facility has more windows, however, so I've started a bird list there. It didn't take long to see some pretty awesome species there. The very first species on the list was trumpter swan, as I saw a pair flying over the parking lot illuminated by the golden sunrise. Later that same day, I watched a bald eagle perch on a tree top outside from our conference room. Every evening about a half hour before sunset a couple hundred red-winged blackbirds fly around in a huge flock before settling down to roost for the night. A couple days ago I saw a red-tailed hawk fly by at eye level out our second story windows, another impressive sight. A few co-workers have also started to contribute sightings and altogether we have nine species on the work list during our first two weeks of occupancy there. Not bad!

Yesterday I headed down to Portland for the holidays, making a stop at Nisqually Widlife Refuge along the way. Amazingly, despite pouring rain both before and after my stop there, the sun actually came out for a bit of a walk. My parents met me there and our first stop was the Nisqually Reach Nature Center near the river delta, where through my dad's scope we were able to spot one very distant snowy owl. There have been a lot of snowy owl sightings throughout the region again over the last month, and I'm hopeful Boundary Bay turns out to be a great spot again near Vancouver, BC sometime in the next month, because I would definitely be up for another trip there. We also spotted four brant (220), which will perhaps be my last year bird in 2012, making for a nice even number. There were also some western gulls, surf scoters, and common goldeneye on the water.

We also walked the Twin Barn Loop over at the main part of the refuge:

We mostly saw lots of waterfowl here, including hundreds of cackling geese, plus American wigeon, northern shoveler, Canada geese, gadwall, ring-necked ducks, mallards, American coot, and northern pintail. The most impressive sight, however, was probably the clouds:

Which also made for some pretty neat reflections:

There were quite a few raptors about, too. We saw two red-tailed hawks, one or two harriers, and six bald eagles. Five of the eagles were all perched together in the same tree overlooking the river. It reminded me of all the bald eagles that congregate in January and February also the Skagit River closer to home, something I'm going to be sure to check out early next year. First up, though, it's time to review the 2012 year list and kick of the 2013 year list in Oregon on New Year's Day. Look for those posts in the near future!