Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Contractually-obligated 2014 Wrap-Up Post

You've probably never read the Terms and Conditions section of Blogspot, have you? Yeah it's OK, most people haven't. I'm not most people, of course. I've read those things from top to bottom, check for updates twice a month, and have run it through Google Translate and read it in German to check for discrepancies.

When you're as familiar as I am with the particularities of this here ol' web logging service, you'll be acquainted with Section 10.4(g)(1). This nifty little provision states (and I'm putting it in layman's terms for you, no need to thank me) that every Blogspot-hosted birding-themed blog MUST (no uncertain terms here) have a post in the last two weeks of December or first two of January summarizing the prior year's birding efforts. The penalty for noncompliance is fifteen broken image links scattered through old posts and an additional year's worth of mysterious, unsolvable formatting errors.

Being the upstanding, law-abiding citizen that I am (Falmouth High School's Most Likely To Walk The Straight And Narrow 2001), please enjoy the following dump of information, images, maps and whatever else I can come up with about the glorious birding adventures I undertook in that already-half-remembered lurching spin 'round the Sun known to the kids searching Wikipedia as 2014 AD.

1. I Saw More ABA Species This Year Than Any Previous Year

Last year I ended at 399 goddamn birds, an annoying number that somehow lessened the whole thing, like a photograph with one person's eyes closed.  I panicked after dipping on the reliable (before and after) Black-headed Gull near Baltimore and floundered around for the last days of the year, unable to get over the hump.  The lesson learned was that such unsatisfying proximity would not be repeated.  I was determined to hit 400.  LONG STORY SHORT my girlfriend-now-fiancee (thank you) agreed to a road trip to Florida, one thing led to another, and I landed at 413.

[Quick funny story: Once I hit 400 I immediately did as birders do and took aim at my buddy Jake's record of 413.  I spend Dec. 31 in a frantic dash across southern Florida looking to pick up birds, succeeding at least to tie the record...that is until Jake told me his record was actually 423 not 413 and that I was an idiot.]

Anyway here's a chart of my now 10th full year of birding.  The blue bars show my year-end ABA number, and the orange line showing my cumulative ABA life list, now sitting at 639.

That's fun, right?

2. I Birded In A Lot of Great Places

Using complicated eBird data recovery and the great BatchGeo website that I highlighted in a 2012 post, I've whipped up this map of where I submitted eBird checklists in 2014.  What a fun damn year.  Click to enlarge, if you care.

Good, good times.  Moab and Salt Lake City in March.  Big Bend in April.  North Dakota in late May.  Glorious Alaska in June.  Florida in December.  Maryland, Virginia and Maine throughout.  I saw an incredible cross-section of the United States - and its birdlife.

3. I Gots Me Some Lifers

Thirty-one ABA lifers, to be exact, and I worked hard for each and every one of them.  You think I just sit around here and write sassy posts about commercials all day?  No, I'm out there hacking the brush, looking for birds.  Dammit.  Here are my 10 favorite ABA lifers of the year.

10. Whiskered Tern - Cape May, New Jersey - September 20

This was the rarest bird I saw all year, but - and sorry for the heresy here - dang was it not much to look at.  I love terns, but this guy was just chilling on the beach, not flying, and looked really not at all different from a breeding Common Tern or Forster's.  It just wasn't a thrilling experience.

9. Aleutian Tern - Anchor Point, Alaska - June 4

See?  I like terns!  Aleutian terns are beautiful, and one of those birds that I never pictured myself being in the same place as (it happened a lot in Alaska).

8. Egyptian Goose - Coral Gardens, Florida - December 29

I don't care WHAT you think.  Stop it.  Yeah, I ranked a south Florida exotic above an beautiful, wild-flying Aleutian tern.  These geese were beautiful, and I don't blame them for wanting to hang out in the Florida sunshine.  Plus, this was the start of a nice day of birding in Florida, a good memory.

7. Willow Ptarmigan - Coffee Dome, Nome, Alaska - June 10

Damn we had such a good day in Nome.  Started with a Bluethroat at dawn, ended on a hilltop, with Jon Dunn next to us, picking out Bristle-thighed Curlew, Rock and Willow Ptarmigan.  The Curlew was great, but the Willow my friend Jake spied on the way down the hill - a bird that everyone on the hill crowded around to view - was my highlight.  

6. Sharp-tailed Grouse - near Theodore Roosevelt National Park, ND - May 31

I spent a glorious week in western North Dakota in late spring, gathering information about oil and gas development for my day job.  I saw a lot of great grassland birds, the best of which was a covey (covey?) of Sharp-tailed Grouse I came upon near the north boundary of the north unit if the park.  So beautiful.

5. Rock Sandpiper - Nome, Alaska - June 12

A great bird because I found it first among the group of us that was looking.  Out there in the tundra on a beautiful day, doesn't get much better.

4. Red-faced Cormorant - Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska - June 7

A bird that much sweeter because we thought we missed it.  Public ferry boats are always a crapshoot, and our boat ride to Kachemak Bay (where we saw a bunch of Kittlitz's Murrelets) went south quick.  A swing around the Chiswell Islands was supposed to be a focus, but rough seas made the captain change his plans.  Not that Jake and I were bothered, we were outside the whole time with our eyes on the horizon, while once-rowdy teens puked their Capri Suns on the deck.  We thought we were out of luck but managed a lovely Red-faced Cormorant (though not a good picture) on the way back in.

3. Bluethroat - Nome, Alaska - June 10

Just a stunning bird.

2. Colima Warbler - Big Bend National Park - April 9

No picture, sadly, but anyone who has ever made the trek up the mountain to the Boot Springs Trail knows what an accomplishment - what a relief! - it is to see a Colima.  It was extra special for us, because the earliest eBird reports for Colima were a week or so later than when were arrived.  Undaunted, we made the trek and were rewarded.  The margarita's tasted extra sweet.

1. Greater Sage-Grouse - Price, UT - March 20

With all the swirling controversy around these birds, it was incredible to have a genuine experience.  It took me awhile to hear their bouncy-ball songs, then triangulate it to the birds themselves, but I tell you, I had no more satisfying birding experience this year than standing alone at dawn on a cold road in the middle of Utah, watching these birds stamp around and court their ladies.  The morning epitomized everything I love about birding, and it was my favorite bird of 2014.

Alright, friends, that's all for now.  Thanks for reading!


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