Sunday, January 10, 2021

Trashfire: The 2020 Year in Review

I mean it wasn't actually all that bad from a birding perspective. I miraculously got some great trips out of the way before the pandemic hit, and then I was pretty damn lucky to be able to enjoy the birds in my backyard. 


World Species Seen: 615 (new personal record)

Countries with eBird Checklists: 4 (USA, Mexico, Ecuador, Panama [airport lol]) 

ABA Species Seen: 292 (only 7th year since 2005 under 300)

ABA Lifers: 2 (Yellow Rail and Common Cuckoo, bringing ABA total to I think 694 counting Northwestern Crow for now) 

Maine Birds Seen: 232 (most since 2010)

Maine State Birds: 12 (Bullock's Oriole, Thick-billed Murre, Western Tanager, Golden-winged Warbler, Mourning Warbler, Yellow Rail, Clark's Grebe, Say's Phoebe, Western Kingbird, Rufous Hummingbird, Tundra Swan, Rock Wren, bringing state total to 338)

Yard List: 49 year birds, 99 total yard species. 


Let's do a quick review, month by month.


I have a good crew of birding friends, and in January we took a trip up to my family's cabin near Moosehead Lake to help out with Maine's Winter Bird Atlas, and also drink a bunch. We had a blast, and the birds were cooperative. There was an abundant cone crop, and the sky was filled with White-winged Crossbills in full song, making reproductive hay while the sun shined, so to speak. We had close encounters with most everything you'd want up there in winter: Canada Jay, Boreal Chickadee, and a very confiding Black-backed Woodpecker.


In February I was invited to speak at the Laredo Birding Festival in West Texas, a huge honor and an opportunity to see some incredible birds. A great time on multiple fronts: great birds, great food, warm weather (as opposed to Maine), and a few good night's sleep away from my 2 year old (lol thanks to my lovely wife). The festival was incredibly well organized, and had great support from the city. I can't thank them enough for having me down, and I encourage anyone reading this to attend in the future.


All the shit started this month, but I tell ya, I had a good March. Three friends and I put together an insanely fun trip to Ecuador, a 8-day whirlwind up and down and Andes. I saw or heard (or was told I was seeing or hearing) 398 species, mostly all lifers. What can I say? It was incredible. We drove on insane mountain roads, relaxed over Amazonian vistas, tromped through high tundra, ate awesome food, and just had a wonderful time. It looks like I didn't do any posts on the blog about it? Weird. Too many highlights, but one (pictured below) is my 1,000th world bird, a Cinnamon Flycatcher.

Here are a few photos.


OK well things were a lot slower in April. I birded locally, and wrote this about Stevie Nicks. I saw a Prothonotary Warbler in South Portland, which was cool.


I mean, you can't beat May pandemic or no. One highlight was taking place in a bizzaro version of the World Series of Birding, which was opened to teams outside of NJ for the first time ever. A group from Maine Audubon combined to find 139 socially-distant species on a cold, blustery day. We didn't quite have the numbers to best teams in other states (migration in early May is still not ideal), but we had a blast. 

Also, hilariously, I put a call out to Twitter to see if anyone could recreate MLB logos with real birds. User @WhiskyEyeBrews managed to get a Northern Cardinal to come to her custom-made St. Louis Cardinal feeder for this photo. Unreal.


My kind and loving wife let me take a couple nights off away from the kiddo so I made a solo trip to the mountains of western Maine to try to snag a long-overdue state bird, the Mourning Warbler. Ebird directed me to a new spot for me, Quill Hill, and it was just a total paradise. I nailed Mourning Warbler quickly (why are these only digiscope pics? Did I now bring my camera?), and saw a bunch of other good birds. The next day I hiked Sugarloaf Mountain and had some amazing, close Bicknell's Thrush encounters. A great break.


Word quietly got around to Maine birders that there was a Yellow Rail at a remote marsh in far eastern Maine. This is an exciting bird, one of those birds that I really didn't know when I'd ever get. I couldn't pass up the opportunity, so my pal Ian and I (we were sort of in the bubble together and the virus was at a low point then, still we took many precautions), threw a canoe on my car we drive into the night up to Washington County. We got there in the pitch black, and launched our canoe into what we discovered was dead low tide -- we had to drag the boat through like two-hundred yards of unexpected mud before we hit the river. We finally launched, and paddled down the windy river through complete silence. Soon we began to hear a slight clicking in the night, like a reporter at a typewriter in the middle of the marsh. Unmistakable Yellow Rail. We got close to where the bird was without ever getting onto shore -- the bird is surprisingly loud -- and then paddled back through pure starry darkness back to our car. What an experience. 


August was pretty quiet. One highlight was rolling up to a socially-distanced friend's house outdoor hang at dusk and bearing witness to a flock of at least 300 migrating Common Nighthawks. It was unbelievable. Also, I saw some shorebirds at one point. Also, I saw the crazy Clark's Grebe that showed up in central Maine, but it was too far away for pictures.


The clear highlight was a (safe and distanced) friends trip to Monhegan Island for some migration birding. God damn is that a wonderful place. I also spotted the Say's Phoebe just a few miles from my house. Good times.


It's been an incredible winter for irruptive finches, and it started in October with a flood of Pine Siskins at my feeders. A side effect of the pandemic was that I was able to spend a lot more time birding in my yard (did I write about this already?) and I added a ton of birds to my yard list. Other highlights included ticking Rufous Hummingbird and Western Kingbirds for the state, and photoing an obliging Sora.


On Election Day, which turned out eventually to elect a good man instead of a raving egomaniac, Doug and I were FORCED to make a quick trip to Rhode Island to chase a Common Cuckoo. Common Cuckoo! Never thought I'd see that bird in the U.S. A fun, highly successful chase. At one point the bird flew directly at me and perched just above my head (photo of my by Doug).  Also saw my state Tundra Swans, which were boring.


Another amazing record in Maine, a Rock Wren, was a delightful surprise and gave great looks in Perkins' Cove, where it has persisted into 2021. Also enjoyed shooting some nice Pine Grosbeaks that hung out in my little yard. Nice way to end a garbage hell fart year. Thanks for sticking with me.


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