Sonia actually saw her lifer Alligator yesterday in Louisiana.
She was very excited!
One more quick aside before I get into the birds. I am starting to get contacted about speaking dates next year. If your bird club, museum, school, environmental group, or bird festival might be interested in hearing more about my adventure, please get in touch with me as soon as possible. As always, I can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for the consideration! Now, on with the post.
Here is a quick, condensed list of the ABA Code 3, 4, and 5 birds that I encountered this year (22 species). I included a few notes with select birds. I am also happy to report that that I was able to photograph 19 of these 22. Barnacle goose, Buff-collared nightjar (heard only), and Brown booby were the outliers. I had no witness for Barnacle goose, but I did have company for the nightjar and booby. The goose was seen every day for the week before I saw it fly over my bike. 7 of these species were lifers. Red-legged honeycreeper would be lifer #8.
Jan 1 Common black-headed gull (3) - Found by me on Day #1!
Jan 15 Barnacle goose (4) - Only one on this list I did not photograph or have a witness
Mar 4 La Sagra's flycatcher (3) - LIFER
Mar 19 Budgerigar (3) - LIFER
Apr 19 Ruff (3) - Observed at Anahuac in April with other people. Photographed one in WA later.
May 22 Rufous-capped warbler (3)
White-eared hummingbird (3)
May 26 Black-capped gnatcatcher (3)
May 27 Buff-collared nightjar (3) - Heard only
Aug 27 Slaty-backed gull (3) - LIFER
Sep 25 Red-throated pipit (3)
Oct 17 Yellow-green vireo (3) - LIFER
Oct 18 Brown booby (3) - Saw at least 30 of these. All over SD this year.
Oct 28 Rufous-backed robin (3)
Nov 4 Sinaloa wren (5) - LIFER
Nov 22 White-collared seedeater (3)
Nov 23 Clay-colored thrush (3) - This is barely a code 3 these days!
Nov 27 Red-legged honeycreeper (5) - Will have to wait to see if it counts! - LIFER?
Nov 29 Aplomado falcon (3) - LIFER
Dec 4 Tropical parula (3)
Dec 6 Hook-billed kite (3) - LIFER
Dec 9 Ferruginous pygmy-owl (3)
OK, with this as a reference, I will try to come up with the most exciting bird moments of my year. Interestingly, I did not get that excited when I initially saw some of these birds. It was not until I got usable photographs of many of them that celebrations actually began. Documentation is really key for many of these birds, and I nailed 99% of them. The only bird of the 15 below that evaded the camera was the Greater prairie-chicken.
Honorable mention: Spotted dove, Tufted puffin, Yellow rail, Buller's shearwater, Snowy owl
You can click on the orange links below for full posts from the birds and days listed
#15 Red-throated pipit (3), Sep 25, California
This bird required a short, but intense chase. It was seen for only a 24-hour window. It's clearly a high quality bird that could have soaked up much more time further south. As soon as I saw this bird, i new I was going to well exceed 600. It just felt like I couldn't miss at this stage of things.
#14 Rufous-backed robin (3), Oct 28, California
How could I not put this in here after the 300-mile chase to tick it? This was the single longest rarity chase of the year. I am not sure if it was more relief or excitement, but it's getting onto the list either way.
#13 Spruce grouse, Aug 17, Washington
This was another LOOONNNNNGG ride that eventually paid dividends. I had some help from other birders, so this ended up being a group celebration when we found finally found a stunningly beautiful male bird. Special thanks to guide Kahn Tran for his help. Make sure to check out ktbirding.com if you are ever in need of guide help in the Pacific Northwest.
#12 Ancient murrelet and Thayer's gull, Oct, California
These were 2 birds I expected to miss this year. I assumed I would be moving south along the Pacific Coast before these birds moved south. To get both of these birds in Southern California was incredible. The murrelet was 5 feet away in Mission Bay, and I had to pick the gull - without assistance - from the thousands of gulls at the Salton Sea.
#11 Yellow-green vireo (3) - LIFER - Oct 17, California
The bird was found a full week before I could reach it. I am SOOOO lucky it stayed put. I ticked it on a very windy day when I had no business finding it. As far as I know, I was the last person to see this individual bird. It required an 85-mile "sprint" to reach the bird when I did. Had I not hammered out that ride, the bird would have been gone the next day and I would have missed it.
#10 Greater prairie-chicken - LIFER - Jul 7, Colorado
I took a 300-mile detour to find this bird. This was yet another last second find. I got a horrible look at it, but it was good enough to identify and count it. It was a huge gamble to push so much time into this bird.
#9 Mar 5, Florida
This entire day was crazy awesome. I was joined by Angel Abreu of Nature is Awesome Tours for the entire day. The kicker? He rode a bike probably 40 miles around metro Miami with next to no preparation! I managed to find the continuing La Sagra's flycatcher (3) (LIFER) on my on, and then Angel and I tracked down Spot-breasted oriole - LIFER, White-winged parakeet - LIFER, and Red-whiskered bulbul - LIFER together. That was four (4!) ABA birds in a single day. I also tacked on Common myna, Brozed cowbird, and White-crowned pigeon on that same day. Amazing!
#8 Common black-headed gull (3) - Jan 1, Massachusetts
This was the only Code 3 bird that I found myself. It was totally unexpected, and it really helped set the tone for the rest of the year. I was able to share this bird with many local friends who were also birding the Salisbury area. Coupled with multiple Snowy owls on the first day, it really got the year off to a fast start!
#7 Gunnison sage-grouse - LIFER - June 19, Colorado
This was another multi-round bout with an off-lek grouse species. As per the other grouse, this bird required multiple cracks. What made this so phenomenal was that I flushed the birds from 20 feet in front of me right as I was about to give up. I had mentally conceded defeat. I almost melted down as I fumbled around to get the camera ready. Luckily one bird stayed in the road just long enough for me to photograph it! There was much celebrating on the ride back down the long hill!
# 6 Pacific golden-plover - Sept 28, California
At the time, this bird represented the biggest backtrack of the year. I had missed this bird at a number of other places further north, so it was very satisfying to finally tick it before it became a royal headache. This was a previously reported bird, but I really used some good thinning skills to relocate it several miles from where it was originally found. My smarts, effort, and patience were rewarded with incredible looks at this bird.
#5 Red-legged honeycreeper (5)? - LIFER - Nov 27, Texas
How can a potential first ABA record be #5?!?!?!? The biggest reason is that since it was so incredibly unexpected, I hadn't pushed any time into looking specifically for it. What makes most of the birds on this list so special the amount of dedicated time it took to find each of them. It was really exciting to be right there when this bird was found, but, much like a controversial TD in the NFL, I must wait for reviews and other things to know if this bird will count. Yes, it was cool, but this fact does take a bit of the air out of what was otherwise a once-in-a-lifetime find.
#4 Greater sage-grouse - LIFER - Jul 19, Utah
This bird was special for 2 reasons. First, very few people can appreciate how hard it is to find this species off-lek when you need to find it off-lek. I had to walk so much sage over many different days to finally flush a group of a dozen of these. The other thing that made this find so awesome was that Sonia shared it with me! She knew how badly I wanted to find this bird, and to have her there helping me stomp the sage in search of it was amazing.
#3 Sinaloa wren (5) - LIFER - Nov 4, Arizona
This is the only Code 5 bird for which I searched this year (Honeycreeper not withstanding). This imbued the search for this bird with special meaning to me. I was able to find a continuing bird in Tubac, AZ literally at last light. Given the lighting conditions, that I got the photos that I did was a major miracle. The documentation of this species is a testament to my ability to "think fast" with the camera. I was yelling out loud after finding this bird.
#2 - Hook-billed kite (3) - LIFER - Dec 6, Texas
This was another bird that I had all but given up hope of finding. I was so tuned out when it did finally show that I originally thought "Huh this is the first crow I have seen in a while". I'm just glad I took a second look at it! This might be the single hardest nesting North American bird to find in the ABA area. There are never more than single numbers of them around, and they can be frustratingly difficult to find. Copius fist-pumps accompanied the appearance of this species.
#1 - Black-throated blue warbler - Apr 14, Texas
As improbable as it sounds, finding this bird on the Texas Coast was my most exciting moment of the year. This bird was TOTALLY unexpected and resulted in more celebrating that any other bird this year since I redeemed myself from a HUGE mistake I made a month earlier. That I found it makes it that much more special. I was able to direct between 20-30 people to see it. As far as I know, everyone who looked for it, found it.