Friday, February 1, 2013

A Big January

Recently added to the Maricopa Ebird count, this Rosy-faced Lovebird was found at Encantada Park in Phoenix
Have you ever found something in your life that you wish you could devote all your time to? I have felt this intense focus several times in my life, but last month, Ms. Kathie Brown and I worked on a "Big January".  Sometimes we worked together and other times, we worked alone because of our schedules.
American White Pelicans at Gilbert Ranch
The whole idea of a "Big January" is to count as many different species of birds as you can in your own state.       In the process, you count birds and submit them to Ebird which then shares your results with others who participate in the state.  At one point, I was number one, but work started up and interfered with my counts and travel.
Red-tail Hawk
It was so bad that at one point, I sat down and had to create a master plan of all the hot locations where diverse numbers of birds were seen.  In a sense, backtrack over all the previous locations where I had spotted my rare birds etc.  And in the process, I picked up over 15 new lifebirds!
Sandhill Cranes at Whitewater Draw
But I had a real challenge.....turning it off!  When it comes to investigating areas, I am really really OCD.  As a teacher, I use a lot of the strategies from my classroom for this hobby and it's a pretty powerful tool!  But turning it off and learning to say "NO" to that bird chase while someone else is finding them.....well that is super difficult. This is a competition!:) It's like the time I tried getting my Master Gardener title.  How can any non-retired person do something like this when they have a full-time job!!!????
Cactus Wren at Kennedy Lake in Tucson
There are so many stories from the chases and hunts with and without Kathie. They were so much fun.  Whether it was freezing from extreme temps, escaping snow storms, avoiding a Coati climb into my car for crackers while tracking a Hepatic Tanager, chasing lovebirds in a park full of homeless people in Phoenix, or sitting with some fishy smelling American White Pelicans as they got super close to me hiding in the reeds for those "perfect" shots, this challenge created a monster inside of me. And this really bad run-on sentence:)
Ferruginous Hawk
If I didn't see the target bird, I would get angry at myself. And if I found the bird, but took terrible pics, I would get frustrated.  Several were rare finds and it was irritating that I didn't move fast enough with my camera or get more observation time with the new birds. Tomorrow, I will have a special post showing you all the "okay" photos of the rare and exciting finds.  They have so many stories to go with them.
Savannah Sparrow 
The month flew by as the clock ticked.  Who would be the number one birder in Arizona? Well certainly not me.  After all I have a job!  And I'm not sure how the other birders do it. Unless of course, they are retired. However some of these people on the list are NOT retired.  Could it be an addiction?
I know that when I get up early in the morning, there are treasures just waiting to be found.  And they don't necessarily have to be birds.  It could be a skunk, a bear, a bobcat, etc etc that makes my day.  The thing is.....I never know what's going to be out there.  This "Big January" has forced me to really stay on top of my game.  I did get nervous about the birds I hadn't seen as I don't know their behaviors.  But the ones I do know, I could find easily!
And if there's one thing to say about a "Big January", it's really a review of our year working with our local birds....knowing their hangouts, the hiding places, and learning about their habitat.
Cassin's Kingbird
Many times, I would find myself in uncomfortable situations.  Driving random dirt roads that seemed to lead to nowhere or sitting in the bushes super close to larger birds like the American Pelican below.  I'm not a fish person and the smell of it on the pelican's breath is disgusting.  Trying not to throw up,  I got my shots and got out:)
So snakes may not be active around our desert right now, but it seems every mammal has been.  On a recent outing, I was searching for wild turkeys and found a skunk!  And I almost got sprayed.  Luckily I back away slowly from the raised tail, got my shots and turned around.  Unfortuneatly, a family and their aggressive dog weren't so lucky.  Had they been polite, I may have alerted them but I figure they'll have good bonding time after that experience.  It stunk pretty bad.
Snowy Egret
Tanagers in our desert are very uncommon during the winter.  But birders have spotted Summer, Hepatic, and Western Tanagers all around the Tucson area.  To our delight, after a long day hiking a trail, this Hepatic Tanager popped out for some dinner.  Birders everywhere snapped shots and then left the area.  It was weird.  The sun went behind the canyon and everyone went home.  "Big January" indeed.
Hepatic Tanager
I should also point out that while I've seen and heard many of the birds in this set of pics today, the one below is the one I'm proudest of.  A difficult bird to film is the wren......especially the Marsh Wren.  On this particular cold day, the Marsh Wren would appear briefly from the reeds at the Whitewater Draw allowing me first time observation of this secretive and fast bird. The coloring of the feathers is absolutely stunning.
Marsh Wren
Hawks.  Hawks.  And more HAWKS!  Red tail hawks have so many looks that it can drive a birder crazy.  We always think we've spotted something different until the marks lead us back to the.......Red Tail Hawk.  Our running joke was/is "Red Tail"!  Before we'd stop at every telephone post.  Now we slow down when we can and look for the various field marks.  It can drive this birder nuts.  But no matter how many times you see the Red Tail Hawk, it's always a beautiful thing!
So my count? 168 species. Pretty much everything is new this year for me as I just began the EBIRD craze so there isn't really anything to compare from previous years. So much goes into birding.  There's the people.  The experience.  The Observation.  Playing detective.  Getting the picture. Documentation. The Planning. And for what?  Personal satisfaction.  Knowing that you're helping out people who work with our birds around world.  The sport.  The experience. And to put it relaxes the body and excites the mind.  It's being an explorer again like those only centuries ago.
Yellow-throated Warbler
And the rank?  In Arizona, 9th place(for now:).  In Pima County, I'm tied for 6th place.  My goals this year are to find all the "regulars" in Arizona and develop strategies for my birding ventures outside of the state.  I am really wanting to maximize my time while birding abroad this year and the best way to train is here in Tucson:)  Every species of bird has their "thing".  If I can figure out the habits of thrushes, warblers, raptors, thrashers, sparrows, wrens, etc etc etc, I can pick up more species for that lifelist while understanding their habitat better.
Pacific Loon
Stay tuned for the final "Rarities" post.


  1. Wow Chris, you really did have a great Big January. And you beat Ms Kathie Brown in the numbers. You are an addict. And your photography has massively improved. I respect how you research the birds and habitats. Keep the passion shining.

  2. Great shots Chris..... as usual !!

  3. When I first saw or rather glanced at the news feed and the Lovebird on your site, my first thought was, "Oh boy, he's going to talk about Mexican Thick Billed Parrots". *sigh*

    Nice photos, I'd love to see some of that area you talk about when I come over in a few months. There are some things of my own I want to document along the way. One of my favourite Thick Billed Parrot shots is one in a Yucca Stalk eating the fruits of the yucca. People just have no real clue as to how much has been lost.

  4. Życzę Ci, abyś policzył wszystkie ptaki w Arizonie i zobaczył wszystkie ich gatunki. Pozdrawiam.
    I wish you that you counted all the birds in Arizona and saw all of their species. Yours.

  5. Pretty neat! Next on the agenda for you: "The Big Year". Congrats on your count, on your new found knowledge, and on sharing it with us!

  6. Yes, definitely sounds like you have the birding bug pretty bad Chris. Don't worry though about those pictures, they look fine to me. Cactus Wren and Ferruginous Hawk my faves from that selection. Can't wait to see your good shots.

  7. i can only imagine how competitive you get - with yourself! :)

    that cactus wren is FABULOUS!

  8. Wonderful pictures and great story telling Chris!

  9. 168 species!
    So well done! I am just amazed how you do it all: teaching, birding, blogging... what a challenge with yourself. Such a good example...

  10. You have a great January collection Chris!

  11. 168???? Wow--that is awesome. AND to think---you work fulltime... Well my friend, you definitely have an addiction.... You will burn out---if you don't back off a little and don't be so competitive about it... Nobody needs that kind of stress/pressure... BUT--you did GREAT throughout the month...

    My advice: take a break from it a little now!!!!

    Hope you have a good weekend. We finally got some SNOW this morning... Yeah!!! BUT--it was 10 degrees when I got up early today...


  12. 168 species is really something!
    And you got so many photos too! Its been great following your adventures here and on facebook. Congratulations!

  13. Beautiful birds and beautiful photos. It must be hard trying to find time to slot your hobby in with a job. But you do seem to be doing a great job so far.k.

  14. The photo of the snowy egret is stunning.

  15. Well done Chris, you did so well, of course when you work it takes its toll on 'birding time !! All I can say is the birds that you do find are wonderful to see..

  16. Chris, you did have an amazing January. 168 is great and congrats on your lifers! I sometimes wish I was retired so I could go out birding more. It is much easier to chase when you are not working. Loved all your photos and well done on your count! Great post!

  17. Fantastic! And I am sooo jealous!I think birding can be extremely addictive...but tons of fun. :))

  18. Oh, Chris, how wonderful! I am so proud of you, and excited for you! Your photos are wonderful, and I loved reading about how hard you have been working to make this happen! I can't wait to see everything you have to offer in the coming year!

  19. What an awesome list you have, Chris. I love all of these amazing bird captures.
    Well done!

  20. Congrats on your big January! All of your bird shots are impressive to me. :o) I take excellent videos of the inside of my pocket with my cell phone and do well photographing things that never move, such as rocks.

  21. To say I'm impressed would be something of an understatement, Chris! A wonderful set of images, and a great account of your dedication to birding. I'm looking forward to your future posts!

  22. P.S. I love the new header! - but then I would, 'cos owls are my passion!

  23. Wonderful post Chris and sounds like a superb month for birding. Great photos :) Birding is a bit addictive but great fun too :) I too get totally focused when researching something and its incredibly frustrating when you can't spend all your time on it! Can't wait to read more of your wildlife adventures. Keep enjoying and having fun :)


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