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

Alaska By Sea

Speaking of epic, what better way to distract oneself from summer birding woes than to fly to Alaska?

 Aialik Glacier

When I noticed ticket prices out of PDX were under $200 it was a no-brainer. I once visited The Last Frontier with my family about a decade ago, and I was long overdue for a return visit. After landing in Anchorage, Tomas and I bused 3 hours south to Seward, and boarded a boat for a 6-hour tour along Resurrection Bay in Kenai Fjords National Park.

What a magical place. Words don’t do it justice. It helped that the weather was 70 degrees and sunny (!). In a locale that gets 11 fewer sunny days on average per year than Portland, OR, we beat the odds and for that I am so thankful.

Out from the gate, Bald Eagles. Because Alaska.

Bald Eagles

Bald Eagles

Bald Eagles

A few things about birding by boat. This was my first time testing the waters and it’s tough! The boat is moving, the birds are moving, the light is changing. I’m glad it was sunny or else all my pics would be blurry. So many were anyways due to the motion, but it was still good practice. Also, this was not a pelagic birding trip specifically, so we didn’t spend a ton of time chasing birds. But that’s okay, because we did find whales and they’re pretty cool too. Orcas!

Orca Whales

Orca Whales

Orca Whales

Wow. And puffins! Horned and Tufted Puffins! Positively dapper.

Horned Puffin

Horned Puffin

Tufted Puffin

The two types are easy to distinguish in flight as Horned Puffins have a white chest and Tufted Puffins are black underneath. Here is an excellent puffin reference, where I learned I actually saw a third puffin species (out of four), the Rhinoceros Auklet.

Rhinocerous Auklet

Zoom in on that crazy face. (Also note the Common Murre with the two auklets on the right.)

Rhinocerous Auklet

Past the Stellar Sea Lions and a left at the Sea Otters, the captain honed in on a whale spout she noticed far off in the distance.

Stellar Sea Lions

Stellar Sea Lions

Sea Otter

Spout

Turns out it was a Fin Whale. Or more specifically, a pod of four Fin Whales.

Fin Whale

I’d never hear of a Fin Whale before, but now I’d seen four of them. Thanks Alaska. Fin Whales are the second largest mammal on earth (after the Blue Whale) and they are endangered.

We reached our glacial destination at Aialik Glacier shortly after.

Aialik Glacier

Aialik Glacier

We spent some time watching the calving icebergs, while I ran around the boat taking pictures of the Black-legged Kittiwake (small unmarked yellow bill, white underparts, black wing-tips, black legs).

Black-legged Kittiwake

Black-legged Kittiwake

Black-legged Kittiwake

Black-legged Kittiwake

On the return voyage to Seward, we saw Glaucous-winged Gulls  on rocks (pink legs, gray wing-tips).

Glaucous-winged Gulls

And Glaucous-winged gulls in flight (gray wing-tips, white underparts).

Glaucous-winged Gull

Glaucous-winged Gull

And to break things up, this bird, clearly not a gull, all black with a dark bar across the white wing coverts, a Pigeon Guillemot! Exciting find.

Pigeon Guillemot

And back to gulls. Herring Gull (First summer).

Herring Gull

And Glaucous-winged.

Glaucous-winged Gull

And because everybody loves a Humpback Whale tail! Ooooh, aaahhhh.

Humpback Whale

Humpback Whale

Humpback Whale

Finally, this trip report would not be complete without some Dall’s Porpoise action. Their job is to speed along at the bow of the boat, jumping enthusiastically, while the crowd cheers. Woooooo!

Dall's Porpoise

What a crazy-fun excursion. Did that really happen? And this was just day one of our Alaska adventure. The following day we would board a train en route to Denali National Park to explore the backcountry.

Pinch me.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey