Bird of the Year

Each year the American Birding Association declares a “Bird of the Year.” The 2015 ABA Bird of the Year was the Green Heron. I had some fun Green Heron encounters, but my favorite bird of 2015 was the Rufous Hummingbird. (Amusingly, RUHU was 2014 ABA Bird of the Year).

The Yellow-breasted Chat and Northern Pygmy-Owl were close runners-up. The chat was certainly the coolest vocalist in the bunch and the pygmy owl sightings were most surprising. But meeting the handsome Rufous brought me such joy. It was one of those encounters I’ve read about. You research a bird, imagine it, and then when you see it in real life, it blows you away. The Unicorn Effect. Fittingly, it has a horn of sorts.

Rufous Hummingbird

The 2016 ABA Bird of the Year is the Chestnut-collared Longspur. This longspur’s range doesn’t quite extend to my neck of the woods, but I wouldn’t rule out a sighting. I might have to fly to it though.

ABA Bird of the Year

On the BirdNote podcast, I learned the “first bird of the new year” is also a thing. The first bird you see becomes your “theme bird.” It sets the tone for things to come or reveals a new perspective. The first bird I saw this year was a Chestnut-backed Chickadee. I’m not superstitious, but I am happy to play along and pay homage to chickadees. They certainly bring me plenty of cheer.

Chestnut-backed Chickadee

Chestnut-backed Chickadee

Chestnut-backed Chickadee

Chestnut-backed Chickadee

I’m curious what other birds will star in 2016! Stay tuned.

Tweets, chirps, and chestnut-chickadees,

Audrey

This year in a nutshell

What a difference a year makes.

My beginning birder self on day 1

My beginning birder self on day 1

Looking back at what I’d initially hoped to get out of birding: nature, awareness, education, patience, and pictures– I think I’ve accomplished that.

Since my first trip last Christmas I’ve gone on more than 80 birding trips. I have visited six states- Oregon, Washington, California, Alaska, Montana, and Florida. And after today’s Northern Shrike sighting, I have seen 231 bird species. In Florida alone I saw 60 species! Of course this birding thing is way more than a numbers game. It’s a lifestyle.

Lego Birding Audrey and Lego Outdoorsy Tomas

Lego Birding Audrey and Lego Outdoorsy Tomas

Over the past year, I had hoped to see owls, Cedar Waxwings, migrating birds, and Puffins. Yep, saw those too.

Horned Puffin

Horned Puffin

Some of my favorite trips:

Remember when I mentioned listing? It turns out that was wishful blogging and I didn’t do it. Until now. I’ve spent hours this week entering my trips in eBird. So far, I’ve entered 65 checklists totaling 202 species. With more to come. The more checklists I enter, the more interesting the data becomes.

List

It won’t be perfect, there may be discrepancies. I know I’ve seen more than the 231 species on my list, a few shorebirds here and there that I still can’t I.D. confidently, and I wasn’t coherent for much of the pelagic trip, but I’d like to include birds on my list that I could pick out of a line-up. I’ll keep trying. And keep listing.

And so it goes. If it’s one thing I’ve learned this year, it is to keep trying. Just when I think I know a species, it molts into something entirely different. But that’s okay, because if it were easy it would be boring. I’ve learned birding takes time, practice, and patience. As does learning anything new. It’s okay to jump in and try. And make mistakes. And try again.

I still feel like a beginner, but I have learned a few things along the way. Going back over photos I surprised myself and recognized a Lincoln Sparrow I originally filed away as a Song Sparrow. I notice more details and field marks now, and I pay more attention to season and habitat. Can I tell the difference between first-year and second-year gulls? There’s a small chance thanks to Gull Class. Can I tell the difference between House, Purple, and Cassin’s Finch? Not yet, but I’m working on it. And that’s the goal: keep working on it.

You are a Lincoln Sparrow

You are a Lincoln Sparrow

I have a few things lined up already that I’m looking forward to in 2016. I’m partaking in the 116th Christmas Count with Audubon in January, I’m taking Advanced Waterfowl I.D. class in February, and I’ve registered for Godwit Days in Arcata this spring where I’ll bird with David Sibley. That’s right. Birding with Sibley himself. Woooooooooooo! Pretty excited about that one. Lots more to come. I’m excited for more discovery!

Happy Birdiversary to me.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Bonney Butte and HWI

So, there’s this awesome organization called HawkWatch International.

Sharp-shinned Hawk

Their study site in Oregon is at this awesome place called Bonney Butte.

Bonney Butte

There are several HWI monitoring sites across the American west and one in Vera Cruz, Mexico. They’re all open to the public, and visitation is encouraged (!). The sites are set up along optimal raptor migration paths where topography centralizes air thermals or “wind highways” the birds use to sustain energy while covering long distances during migration. Less flapping, more soaring.

A relatively smaller number of birds migrate over Bonney Butte, (2,500-4,500/yr vs. 4 million/yr in Vera Cruz), but it’s still apparently the best hawk-watching location in Oregon in the fall (open Aug 28-Oct 31). The last four miles of forest service road up to the butte is not in the best shape, think 4 miles = 40 min of slow, rocky dips and bumps (still worth it!!). I was happy to go as part of Audubon’s Raptor Identification & Migration class.

Bus ride

The class was led by birder extraordinaire and artist, Shawneen Finnegan and Dave Irons, another exceptional birder. We were in good hands. We arrived, hiked up the short, but steep distance to the top of the butte, and got to work looking for hawks.

Hawkwatching

Hawkwatching

Hawkwatching

Hawkwatching

Eventually, we saw a some. They fly over so fast, I only managed a handful of photos.

Not pictured: the numerous Sharp-shinned Hawks that whizzed by, the Cooper’s Hawk, Bald Eagle, Merlin, and Red-tailed Hawks.

The highlight by far, was witnessing the trapping, banding, and release process.

Bird blind

Hawkwatching

Cooper's Hawk

Cooper's Hawk

Cooper's Hawk

The HWI team traps the birds, then weighs, measures, and bands them, before finally releasing them back on their way south. The above bird is a hatch year male Cooper’s Hawk. During our visit, they also banded an adult Cooper’s Hawk (below).

Cooper's Hawk

And a hatch-year female Sharp-shinned Hawk.

Sharp-shinned Hawk

Sharp-shinned Hawk

So damn beautiful and inspiring.

Did I mention Hawkwatch International is awesome? Here’s a video that explains more about their great work.
 

 
Here’s my short video of the sharp-shinned release.
 

 
Watch those talons!

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey