Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Last post of the year and 2008 Recap

Wow! What a year!  2008 was easily the best birding year I've ever had.   I visited more places and found more birds than I had ever done in a single year before.  
I also added nearly 150 species to my life list this year. That's the single largest gain in lifers at one time that I've ever had. 
2009 is fast approaching (in exactly 6 hours and 12 minutes actually) and all my lists for '08 will reset to zero.  Such is the beauty of keeping a year list. On Jan 1 of every year, every bird you see is new! 

The following is a quick summary of everything I did in 2008, including all the places I visited, the great birds I saw and the highlights of the year: 

Jan 1: 
This was the first day of my mini Big Year. I had carefully planned in advance where to start out the new year. I spent the first few hours of daylight in my yard picking up all the common winter birds. A plus for the day was seeing 6 species of Woodpeckers from the kitchen window before going outside. Right after lunch, I hopped it over to Sauk city where I picked up a multitude of ducks and my only Lesser Black-backed Gull for the year. 

Jan 3rd: 
I picked up my only N Goshawk of the year!! Surprisingly near to home too. I was on my way to the school for Bball practice when I spotted the bird. wow! 

By Jan 10, I had added Barred Owl and Red-breasted Nuthatch to my year list bringing it up to 33 species. 

Jan 13: 
Sauk City again. This time Wood Duck and N Shrike were the highlight year birds. 
The winter of '07-'08 must go down as the year of the Shrike. I saw more N Shrikes last winter than I had ever seen before. 

Fast forward to Feb 8th: 
I picked up another year bird! #41: The good old beloved Am Robin! 
Interesting that it took so long to find. 

Skip ahead to Feb 10th:
It was arguably the coldest day of the year.  The high temp minus the wind chill was 8 below zero.  Wind chill was closer to 20-25 below zero. It was COLD!  It was also the day that Dan Jackson and I went along on the National Eagle Center's Golden Eagle field trip. The trip was led by director Scott Mehus. He had mapped out the wintering grounds of several pairs of Golden Eagles. In winter, the separate pairs of Eagles tend to stick to one particular valley per pair.  With Scott leading the way, I saw more Golden Eagles on that day than I have ever seen in any one day.  I also added Trumpeter Swan to my year list on the way home. 

Skip to Feb 27th:
It had come to my attention that an Ivory Gull had been hanging out at Oahe lake in Pierre SD. I really wanted the bird on my year list. It's not every day that an Ivory Gull shows up in the USA.  On the 27th, I received an email from Nick Block in Chicago, saying that he was going after it and wanting to know if I wanted to come. Well did I!  He and Michael Retter arrived in Madison around midnight, picked me up and off we went! It took us half the day Wed to get there. We spent Wed and all day Thurs looking for the bird with no luck.  It wasn't a total loss though as I added some year birds and a few lifers on the trip! Nick picked out my lifer (and my first one of the year) Glaucous Gull and Snow Owl!! I also added Greater Prairie Chicken, Ross's Goose and Sharp-tailed Grouse to my life list!  I came back with a life list that was 396 species long and 61 year birds. 

Fast forward to the weekend before Mar 17: 
I added quite a few year birds in a short period of time.  The highlight was attending the WBCI conference field trip where I finally put Snow Owl on my WI state list. 

Mar 18th: 
I caught the evening plane out of Milwaukee to Houston TX. 

Boyscout woods from the top of the Tropical Birding tower.
Wed, Mar 19: 
After catching a VERY late plane out of Milwaukee, I arrived in Houston at 2:00am. 
I didn't arrive in High Island until late afternoon. 
Despite the late arrival, I did manage to add 3 lifers that day. Including my 400th lifer! Buff-bellied Hummingbird!!

Bolivar Flats. 

Mar 19-25: 
I spent the week in High Island TX.  
Some of the best birds of the trip included Scissor-tailed flycatcher, Buff-bellied Hummingbird, Barn Owl, Long-billed Curlew and Inca Dove. 
The photo above was taken at Bolivar Flats. All the birds in the water are Am Avocets. 

The salt-marsh at High Island.
 This was the exact moment when the Painted Bunting showed up back at Boyscout Woods.

Skip to April 5th: 
I went Owling at the Kickapoo Reserve and turned up my lifer N Saw-whet Owl!  Curiously enough, it was one of only 2 Owls we found that night. Not just 2 species, but 2 individuals! 

April 28th:
Baxter's Hollow, Bakken's pond and Spring Green Preserve.
I added Lark and Grasshopper Sparrows, Dickcissel and W Meadowlark to my year list.

Also  saw this male Yellow-rumped Warbler

Skip to May 13th: 
I had added a bunch of year birds including most of the warblers and a bunch of passerines.
I also could not find the Painted Bunting that had been reported in southern Richland County the day before. That was to be the second of four separate times that I missed the bird by hours this year. 

May 20th: 
At the annual WSO convention in Mequon WI,  I added a few more lifers!  Hudsonian Godwit and Ruff!  New state birds included N Mockingbird, Blue Grosbeak and Purple Martin. 

May 26th-29th:
I added both cuckoos to my year list in one day.  Got photos of Yellow-billed on the 26th and Black-billed on the 29th.

Jun 14th:
Chuck-wills-widow, Whip-poor-will and Le Conte's Sparrow brought my year list to 300 species.

Skip to Jun 29th:
This Harlequin Duck at Moraine Lake in Banff NP was one of the best birds of the entire year. I had always wanted to see a Harlequin Duck and I finally got to see one! Not only that, but I got better photo ops on this bird than anyone normally gets. 
By this time, I had been to the ABA's YBC in Minot ND. I added 6 lifers there. The second fewest of anyone. But I did add a bunch of year birds. 
My parents picked me up in Minot and we kept heading west. We spent two weeks in Banff and Jasper National Parks. The scenery out there is absolutely stunning! 

It was tricky to get this photo.
Especially since.......  

It looked like this most of the time.

Fast forward to July 21st:
I had spent 10 days at VENT's Camp Chiricahua. THAT was one of the most fun things I've ever done!  I have to admit that YBC was THE most fun, but Camp C was amazing! I added over 60 lifers and many year birds. Yellow-eyed Junco in the Chiricahuas was year bird #400. 
Flame-colored Tanager at Madera Canyon was my 500th lifer!!!!!!!! Easily the best bird of the entire year!!! 

Jump to July 24th:
I had just gotten home from visiting my friends Neil and John in California.
I added 21 lifers and a bunch of year birds. One of the best parts was getting some fabulous shots of Black Turnstones.

July 26th:
I found out that a Loggerhead Shrike had been found in my home county while I was gone (figures doesn't it that someone else poaches on your home turf and finds all the good stuff? lol jk, thanks Daryl!) 
Anyway, I had to tick it. Since it was only 20 mins away, it was an easy bird. 
I found the location with little difficulty (especially since I know that area backwards) and spotted the Shrike within seconds. It was sitting on the power line above a brushy area. Perfect Loggerhead Shrike habitat. Also my 200th county bird. While watching the Shrike, I spotted a SECOND BIRD!! It turned out later that it was a nesting pair!  What an awesome find for Richland County!

Loggerhead Shrike

July 27th:
I caught the train out of Chicago and headed east to music camp in upstate NY. I spent a month out there playing music. The best bird of the entire month? a Broad-winged Hawk.

Fast forward yet again.

Sept 20: 
WSO WI point weekend! 
AKA: Jaegerfest 2008
The point this year was slow. The Wed before had a bunch of good birds including Red-throated Loon, Little Gull, Sabine's Gull, and several other birds. 
By Fri, everything had slowed down quite a bit. Fri thru Sun was very slow. Sun it started to pick up a bit more but we had to leave by noon.  I ended up added Red-throated Loon and Sabine's Gull to my life list!! and I added Red-necked Phalarope to my state list! 

Also in Sept, I finally added a new Shorebird to my life list. One I had been wanting for some time. Buff-breasted Sandpiper!  The shorebird habitat in Spring Green was the best in the state.
There was one week where I had seen more Buff-breasted Sandpipers than anyone else had seen during the entire season throughout the state combined!  My BBSA count went from 0 to 15 in one hour.

Jump to Oct 19th:
I went with Jesse Peterson and Mike McDowell to the WSO's Harrington beach field trip. 
No new birds during this trip but it was fun and it was good to see some old friends and go birding at the lake. 

Fast forward again to Nov 10th. 
I had gone up to the Linwood Springs Research station to learn how they did N Saw-whet Owl banding. It was really cool to see how they drew them in, extracted them from the mist nets and banded and released them.  I got to hold one of the little owls, then adopt and release one! That was the best part of the trip. The little guys get so comfortable and warm in your hands that they sometimes don't want to leave. One lady who adopted an owl had the owl sitting on her open hand for 5 minutes. The little guy didn't want to fly off. They're soooo cute! 

Jump to Nov 22nd:
Since I had to be in Madison anyway, I decided to "twitch" the Rufous Hummingbird that was hanging out at a birder's feeders there. 
I wasn't there 5 mins before the bird showed up and took quite a bit of time observing the bird and managed to get some nice photos. The bird is unquestionably a Rufous Hummer. 
My photo of this bird now graces the WSO website

More of my photos can be found on the WSO Website here

Nov 29th:
I had Pine Siskins at my feeders once again for only the second time. I need to keep those thistle feeders full. 

Dec 7th:
I headed over to Devil's Lake State park for a very special bird. 
Townsend's Solitaires have wintered at DL for many years.  I never saw one while I was there, but I heard them! That's good enough for me to finally add to my WI state list. 

I didn't add any new year birds beyond Oct 19th. 

My last bird of 2008, was the N Cardinal that is pictured at the top of this post. 

Here's my 2008 listing totals as of 11:50, Dec 31st 2008:
2008 year list: 461 (my best year total ever)

WI state year list: 252 

WI year list within a 1 hour Driving radius: 222

2008 Big Green Big year list (non-motorized, human powered only): 140 (Which is pretty good considering I spent most of the summer away.) 

Life list: 526

WI State list: 277

Richland County list: 207

Yard list: 159

As of tomorrow, I will be erasing my 2008 lists from the side board of my blog. I will be replacing them with the lists I will be keeping for 2009. 
I will also be erasing the "Trips already taken" section unless my readers wish me to keep it. 

We wish you a Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

So that's the summary of my mini Big Year in 2008.  I spent 5 months birding around WI, then spent 3 months birding around the Western USA then another 4 months birding around WI. 
The states and provinces I visited this year were (in chronological order besides WI): SD, TX, ND, SASK, ALB, BC, MT, AZ, CA, IL, IA, MN, NY, WI. 

Looking back over 2008 and everything I did, I cannot believe how everything just fell into place. Trips I had not expected to take, birds I never expected to see and great people who I never dreamed of meeting!  

Hopefully 2009 will bring some more great birding and welcome surprises. 

I don't know if I told my readers just yet exactly what I will be doing in Summer 2009! 
Dave Jasper (The leader of Camp C and the local bird guide in Portal AZ) has asked me to tend to his house and feeders while he's away for the summer. I essentially get to stand in for him in his business of bird tour guiding!! I'll live in his house (which is almost self sufficient) and my only expenses will be food, gas and the business phone.  It's going to be one awesome summer!!!!  By the time Sept 2009 rolls around, I'll have seen every regular AZ bird and migrant there is to be seen, and hopefully, some vagrants and rarities like Crescent-chested Warbler!