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Thursday, December 29, 2016

End of 2016: One Year List Ends, Another Begins

On December 7th, I was grateful to have one final orca encounter for the year, and it was an extra special one because it was totally unexpected! We were out for a walk on Lime Kiln on a beautiful, crisp day when a friend messaged me telling me to look north. Sure enough, there were blows from J-Pod! The whales were very spread out, but one active group gave us an awesome pass close to shore.

J41 Eclipse and J51 Nova
J37 Hy'shqa

On the year list front, I was thrilled to add not only a year bird but a life bird to my list in late November when a friend found a burrowing owl (year bird 205) hanging out at South Beach. Amazingly, it has stayed for weeks within yards of the same spot! Can you see it? It's well camouflaged.

In December, I also added ancient murrelet (206) when I saw some from the ferry, the sharp-shinned hawk (207) when one visited the yard - I was surprised I hadn't seen one yet this year!

By the time we headed down to Oregon for the holidays I figured my year list was done, but that didn't keep us from checking out some of our favorite birding spots. It's amazing to me how many species we can see in the Portland area that we don't have on San Juan Island!

Great egrets at Scappoose Bottoms

Some of the best birding is at my parents' bird feeders, where they get an impressive array of species, all at close range. 10 minutes of watching birds can sometimes turn up a dozen species!

Red-breasted nuthatch

Female California quail
Male and female California quail
Another awesome phenomenon we got to witness was something called ice hair, where apparently a fungus interacts with soaked, barkless, broadleaf wood in sub-freezing temperatures to create these amazing ice formations. Water basically freezes and then squeezes out of the pores in wood to create these hair-like structures. My parents had seen it several times, and I felt lucky it occurred while we were here!

Finally, we also got to visit Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, one of my all-time favorite birding spots but a place I hadn't been able to visit in a couple years.

Close up of a hunting great egret

Red-tailed hawk takes flight
Female and male hooded merganser
Perched red-tailed hawk
We didn't see any uncommon species, though we did tally 28 species in just over an hour. But, it also turned out tundra swan (208) was a year bird. All my crazy travels and life changes this last year has led to me almost missing some "gimme" species! :) But, my goal was 200, and I made it! There are still a few days left, but my dad is sitting at 185, same as Dave in England! So the victory should be in the bag.

But next year will hold a different challenge! For several years my dad has talked about doing a photo year list, where we count not species identified but species photographed for the year. Both Dave and I signed up for this new twist for 2017, along with a few other friends, so it should be interesting! Each bird can only be "submitted" once and must be identifiable in the photo, which lead to some interesting new considerations. Should we use the first photo opportunity we get of each species, replace with better photos as the year goes on, or wait for what we think are better than average photos for common species? Also, what will a reasonable target be? My dad is hoping for 80% of his typical year list, which for this year would be equivalent to nearly 150 species. Out of the gate Dave is going to be targeting 100 species. I think somewhere between the two may be the result, but 150 would be awesome! We will be tracking our joint progress via Facebook photo albums, but also I'm sure on the blogs as usual. If anyone else wants to join in, let me know! I'm looking forward to it as I'm sure it will lead to me having my camera out more than usual.

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