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Best Birding Moments, 2010 Edition [Flashback Friday]

January 7, 2011

Welcome to the re-installment of Flashback Fridays. An obvious place to start is with a recap version, specifically my Best Birding Moments from 2010. To make it even (I’ve been watching a lot of “Monk” lately) I chose 10 and divided them into two separate posts, five each. You’ll thank me later. Oh, and they’re arranged chronologically so those lesser top birding moments won’t feel bad.

Birding at Home, 01 January – 31 December
Ever since we moved into our place in 2003 I’ve been keeping tabs on our patch’s birdlife in an inconsistent way. I’ve been eBirding since the day it was born, but this year I decided to take it to the next level: for 2010 I officially resolved to collect (and enter) at least one effort-based checklist for every day I was physically home. That’s right, I’d record all birds, keep track of times and distances as appropriate, and get the results into eBird as soon as possible. As of 31 December I had collected (though I just now finished entering) 341 eBird checklists for our yard, all collected in 2010. Yeah, you Gaussians are right, I fell short of the estimated 365 checklists, but take into account I was out of town for those 24 (or so) days and I did pretty well. And it got it me in the habit of regularly birding my patch, one that I can’t help but continue.

Eastern Phoebe

An Eastern Phoebe waits to make a delivery to the nest.

Best observation: My more regimented effort paid off with 116 species recorded in/from our yard, several were new yard birds. The most memorable sighting is a toss-up between two yard-first, fly-over observations: a male Bobolink performing a display flight low over the yard in early May, and a loosely-grouped asylum of nine Common Loons crossing our airspace on their southerly migration in November. But even better than those are the Eastern Phoebes that have nested above the back door to our garage for the past few years. They arrive like clockwork, they crank out two broods each year, and they are simply awesome to watch up-close-and-personal throughout their breeding cycle.

Elmira Christmas Bird Count, 02 January
The Elmira Christmas Bird Count is a fairly mellow affair, but it serves as a great way to kick-off a new year list. It was bitter cold and I spent my half-day outside trudging along the snowy trails at a local nature center, trying to keep warm, and having a generally great winter birding experience though I rounded out the day with a very modest 31 species.

Best observation: A Northern Saw-whet Owl stole the show. I spent quite a bit of time in a large conifer stand that looked reasonable for roosting saw-whets. Even though I know they’re in the count circle (I hear them in our backyard, for cripes’ sake) I really didn’t expect to find one. But I did, which turned out to be the first ever for the Elmira CBC circle. Sweet, sweet, it was so sweet! (A cry I’m determined to steal from the Yellow Warblers.)

Super Bowl of Birding, Massachusetts, 30 January
Competitive birding always places on a Best Birding list, and birding with folks you admire but only sporadically meet has to be among the best of the best experiences. My birding with these guys is so sporadic it only happened once all year (maybe that’ll change in 2011, but as this is a flashback and not a flashforward we won’t dwell on that). I was invited to participate in the Super Bowl as a Bloggerhead Kingbird and subsequently several awesome things occurred: we observed 73 species during the course of the weekend and had stellar looks at many of them. We found many year birds, in some cases species many of us wouldn’t see again in 2010. Some life birds were ticked, we won the Essex County prize, and I even won a raffle. Best part was the camaraderie and how well everyone clicked. That made it a no brainer when I was invited back for a second tour this year.

Super Bowl Birding

John of A DC Birding Blog (click image to visit John's blog) scans Bass Rocks, trying to add just one more species for the day.

Best observation: well, in a very legitimate sense, all of them. It was a competition, so they were all “good.” But I gotta go with a pre-Big Day Chaffinch that I never wrote about (but Nate and Corey did).

Regular Patch Birding, New York 16 March – 31 December
This endeavor stems from birding, but actually overlaps the realm of monitoring. For a few years I’ve been regularly driving back roads, at least part of the way, to Ithaca in an effort to see fewer tail lights and more diverse birds. This year, recognizing the imbalance of how much time I spend staring at a computer screen and/or through a windshield vs. the time I spend outdoors looking at birds, I decided to incorporate more soul-satisfying birding stints along my drive. By March I had selected a handful of points where I started conducting 5-minute stationary counts a couple of times a week. You wouldn’t think a five-minute-here, five-minute-there approach would yield much, but I tallied 127 species during those point counts and, more importantly, I equalized the yin of the work day with the yang of recreation.

Northern Harrier, hunting

A Northern Harrier hunts over a weedy field at one of my regular birding stops.

Best observation: The most memorable bird came during the first week of my “formal” monitoring, a very happy surprise in the plumage of a Lesser Black-backed Gull. While not uncommon on the Finger Lakes, I didn’t expect one so far away from those larger bodies of water (or a landfill or compost facility), but one joined a flock of Ring-billed and Herring Gulls at a small wetland during a snow squall.

Adirondack Trip, New York, 05 – 07 June
Last summer I had the extremely good fortune to be invited on a weekend trip to the Adirondack mountains. I realize that I’m fortunate to be invited anywhere, so this outing was elevated to good fortune because the focus was bird finding, it was spent in the company of birders (Laura Kammermeier of Birds, Words, & Websites and Chip Clouse from the American Birding Association), and my wife allowed me to go. It was extremely good because our trip not only overlapped with local and visiting birders who were attending the Adirondack Birding Festival, but because Laura had secured our lodging at the High Peaks Lodge in Lake Placid and Park Motel and Cabins in Tupper Lake. Now that I’m back in the blogging kick my details and reviews will be coming, but you should read Laura’s recaps starting here. For the moment let me just say: plan your visit now. Seriously, you will thank me later.

Adirondack Birding Festival Field Trip

Adirondack Birding Festival field trip members, straining to hear a Bicknell's Thrush singing from the void.

Best observation: Hands down, the three Bicknell’s Thrushes which were found in spite of foggy, rainy, cold weather. We heard the calls, we heard the song, we eventually saw two birds and ultimately photographed one of them. Not only was it a year bird for all of us, it was a lifer for Chip. Plus the post-birding breakfast (not brunch, the trip ended early when it began raining in earnest) couldn’t be beat. Wish I could remember more about that place.

Adirondack Scenery

Update, 14 Jan 2010:  Part II is now available.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. January 7, 2011 23:18

    Hey, that’s me!

    One of my birding goals for this year is to enter an eBird checklist (from home or elsewhere) for each day of the year.

    • January 8, 2011 00:20

      @John – entering at least one eBird list a day, period, was my overarching goal for last year, and it continues this year. That was part of what prompted me to do the effort-based counts on my way to work: more eBird-usable checklists. It’s addictive, though I think I’m going to have to scale it back a bit this year – I’d like some of my “free” time to be spent processing photos (waaay behind in that department) and blogging.

      That said, I hope more and more folks start taking the “1-a-day” challenge (can I get sued for stealing that?).

      Looking forward to seeing you in a couple of weeks. Hopefully we can come up with a way to track birds so it’s easy to enter to eBird post-Big Day.


  1. Best Birding Moments, Part II [Flashback Friday] « Feathers and Flowers

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