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Sunday, December 31, 2017

2017 Photo Year List Summary

Since 2010 I've been keeping track of how many bird species I see in a calendar year, this year adding the twist to see how many I could also get identifiable photographs of. It's a fun project that makes the common species "new" again each year, gets me outside a lot (especially in the winter when it's harder to be motivated to get out in the cold), and helps me explore new places. My goal for this year was to get 200 species on my "traditional" year list. I wasn't sure how many I would be able to photograph, so I decided to aim for photographing 75% of my year list total, or 150 species.

First of all, let's look at how 2017 ended. With the holidays came a trip down to Oregon, and we started out bright and early in order to be able to bird Skagit Flats at sunrise.

Sunrise over the Cascade mountains on December 23
While we didn't get the owl activity we had hoped for, we did see the out-of-range blue jay that has been hanging out at some feeders, where the property owners have generously been allowing birders to visit:

While it took about 20 minutes of waiting in the sub-freezing temperatures for the jay to show up, there was a lot of other activity to watch at the feeders and in the yard, including a few usually-shy varied thrushes in the apple trees.

We also took a short detour to Fir Island to see the huge winter flocks of snow geese and trumpeter swans, quite a sight in front of the snow-capped Mt. Baker on a crisp but sunny winter morning.

We tried in several locations to see some common redpolls, a finch more common to the north and east but a species having a regional irruption year. We didn't have any luck, but at one of these locations did manage to photograph a Cooper's hawk, a species I had seen several times but not photographed yet in 2017.

We struck out with the redpolls at another location in Seattle, too, but did get a nice close up look at a gadwall, and I just love all the intricacies of the feather patterning.

We picked the right day to travel with clear skies and dry roads, because the next day at my parents' house in Oregon the snow and freezing rain hit. I snapped this photo of a junco and his metal friend on my parents' deck from the cozy warm dining room; we didn't venture outside for about two days!

By the day after Christmas the weather had cleared a bit, so we visited one of my favorite local birding spots near St. Helens. I thought I was taking a picture of another Cooper's hawk, but it wasn't until we got home and looked at our photos that my dad pointed out it was actually a red-shouldered hawk! Another new addition.

At the same marsh I also got a photo of an American bittern, a species I had just missed with the camera in January.

The next day we also checked out a local acorn woodpecker colony, though we failed to see the rare visiting yellow-bellied sapsucker that had also been seen regularly nearby.

Acorn woodpecker in Hillsboro, Oregon
So how did these last minute additions (nine more photo year birds in December!) help me stack up? I finished the year with 205 species on my year list. I clicked away at well over 75% all year long, surpassing 150 birds photographed early on, so had a stretch goal of also trying to photograph 200 species this year. Despite a good push at the end of December, I fell *just* short with 199 species photographed, meaning I photographed an astounding 98% of the birds I identified this year. How close was I to 200? This blurry Virginia rail photographed December 26th would have been the one to push me to the 200 mark had it been in focus!

So close....better luck next year

I made several more attempts in the final days of 2017 to get that last elusive photo year bird, but with no luck. Seeing transient killer whales twice was a more than fair consolation prize, however.

The T75Bs and T75Cs in San Juan Channel on December 30th

The T18s in Haro Strait on December 31st
 The weather was awesome on the last day of 2017 for photographing the other wildlife, too.

Popeye the Friday Harbor harbor seal soaks up the winter sunshine

One of the resident bald eagles at Cattle Point had a lot to say this afternoon
Because I love data and playing with numbers, here are some other facts and figures about my 2017 year list...

Who were the six species I heard or saw and didn't get a picture of? Heard only: western screech-owl, Virginia rail, sora, common nighthawk, and western wood-pewee. Saw but didn't photograph: Vaux's swift.

Big miss for the year? Hutton's vireo. I'm also amazed a poor iPhone photo of a barred owl in September was my only sighting of that species this year.

Biggest surprise? Getting a whopping ten owl species in total (9 photographed plus 1 heard). Our February trip with a birding expert where I photographed six owl species in one day was certainly the main reason, but I never would have expected even with that trip that I would photograph all these owl species in a single year: barred owl, barn owl, short-eared owl, long-eared owl, great horned owl, northern pygmy-owl, northern saw-whet owl, snowy owl, and great gray owl.

I stayed more local this year, as all my birding was in Washington, Oregon, and British Columbia (where previous years have often included at least California and Mexico as well) and thus I was surprised to get seven life birds this year as well: glaucous gull, northern pygmy-owl, great gray owl, gray-crowned rosy-finch, Pacific golden-plover, Hammond's flycatcher, and Baird's sandpiper.

I'm not the only one that plays the year list game, and for years I've been comparing to both my dad and Dave in England. My dad traveled a lot more this year so is the winner with 236 species, and Dave finished with 190. It's amazing how close Dave and I always tend to be, despite being half a world apart! In 2013 we even tied. Here's how we've stacked up over the years:

Most of my birding is of course in San Juan County each year, so here's the number of species I've seen in the county each year:

Finally, while it's skewed a bit by when and where I travel each year and how much effort I spend birding, it's kind of interesting to see how many species I add to my year list each month. I had posted this as a table in years past, but here it is in graphical form:

And part of what makes it fun is that tomorrow - January 1, 2018 - it all begins afresh! So what are my goals for 2018? With a few more travels in the plans, I'm aiming for 220 for my year list (a mark I've only hit twice), and I'll target 95% of the birds photographed, which comes out to 209 species! At the moment that sounds really daunting, but we'll see how I do! I'll of course be posted updates on the blog throughout the year. Happy 2018 to you all, and thanks for reading!

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