Thursday, August 29, 2013

400 Lifebirds

 Lifebirds are getting tricky. My camera abilities are strong but my reflexes aren't always the quickest.  I have come to accept that I may not get all lifebirds with a proper photo ID.  But I sure will try! As of July, I had crossed the 400 number on my life bird list.  The "list" is sacred to many.  Some use it to boast their egos.  Some keep it secret because it's very personal. And some don't mind sharing it at all with me. When I began this bird journey, I wanted to be open and transparent about my finds from around the world. This is a great game of mind and physical exercise. Every morning I wake up asking myself, "Which bird will it be today?" If it's a rare visiting bird, I won't be able to sleep the night before. As I slowly tick off my Arizona list, I have moved into foreign and exotic landscapes which require a lot more research and investigation.  Every trip has a specific target list.  Every lifebird has a story.  And today I will share with you the journey that went into finding the birds from 300-400.   
At 300, the Zone-tailed Hawk is a bird with a disguise. It had probably flown over my head so many times while living in Arizona as a non-birder.  Many times it will fly among a kettle of Turkey Vultures.  Most people will look up, see the kettle and respond with, "Oh it's those ugly birds."  That's what this Zonie wants you to think and that's how they do so well in the wild.  But on this day near Phoenix with Gordon Karre and Kathie Brown, we stumbled upon a nest along a river.  Both hawks flew out of the tree screaming above our heads.  I would have walked passed them, but they scared the living hell out of me. Out of respect, we took our pictures and left ASAP.  These birds taught me on this very hot day to respect the wild.  There are birds on the world list that will kill or do serious damage if I do not pay attention to my surroundings better.
At 310, this drab little number flew in front of both Kathie and myself while birding at a truck stop. It's the Dusky Flycatcher.  Flycatchers in Arizona are difficult because there are so many kinds here.  I feel I have become stronger as a birder because of all the research these types of birds make me do.  Some look so similar that it comes down to sound and habitat or elevation.  I learned quickly that the easiest way for me to ID these birds is to listen to their calls and memorize them.  
At 320, I heard a strange call up on Mt. Lemmon.  It drove me insane.  It was new to my ears and I climbed and climbed up a steep hill to see who was making all that racket.  I forgot about my surroundings and found myself on a rock ledge staring at the Greater Pewee.  As I write this today, I will never forget that song.  On one particular outing, a park ranger whistled the tune note per note perfectly while having coffee with me on a bench.  I had a good laugh and shared the story of the Greater Pewee.....a Mexican migrant. Once you hear that tune, you won't forget it anytime soon:) 

This next bird at 330 doesn't need much introduction.  It's the crowning jewel of Southern Arizona.  I spent a year and a half searching for this bird without any success.  It sounds like a barking dog and calls mostly in the early hours of morning. Miss that call and you'll have a hard time finding this bird for the rest of the day. The research and time I put into this Trogon taught me many things.  Some birds operate on time tables (and they change daily).  It is therefore important to speak with locals and research the latest reports to find this bird. Since this write, I've discovered 4 different trogons while on my travels.  Sometimes patience and research pays off.
At 340, the Northern Pygmy Owls make a show that I'll never forget.  I was with my partner Pat when we noticed two little heads peeking out of a hole at us.  I am an owl man and forever will be.  There is nothing to gain or learn from this sighting other than I just love them.  They are the birds that make me smile and dance. Anytime I get to see one, even though I've seen them before, I smile.  Perhaps it's because they are intelligent creatures and very catlike?  I don't know but ever since I've been a kid, owls have held my fascination. Mr. Rogers always had his show of "Make Believe" where an owl would peer out of a hole.  Woodsy Owl would exclaim, "Help Keep America Looking Good!  Hoot! Hoot!" Or the Tootsie Roll Pops....just how many licks DOES it take to get to the center?  The owl says, "A one, a two, a three...." And CRUNCH! Never in my life did I expect to see all of these wonders in the wild. We sat on a log until dark watching these birds while on the trails of Miller Canyon.
Now we begin the strange and exotic.  Guatemala shot my list up over 100 birds.  I cannot afford bird guides....yet.  I speak Spanish and I know enough about birds to get to the places I need to be. Imagine waking up in a new world where the bird sounds are all foreign and alien sounding.  I couldn't sleep and like an alarm clock, these Band-backed Wrens woke me up sharply at 5 AM.  My friend, who traveled with me around Guatemala, asked me what I was doing up so early on our first day.  I said, "Can't you hear them??? There are new birds out there!!!!  And I have to find them!!!"  In my pajamas, I ran out the door to hear these loud bombastic birds. They were LOUD and over-the-top!  I hid in the outdoor shower and watched them as they ate bugs around the lights.  On the first day, I missed them but I figured out their daily routine which allowed me to capture them on the canopy of these trees.  When they fly, they call.  But they are silent when still.  These birds taught me about strategy and preparation for the photography bit.  At 350, the Band-backed Wren.
Number 360 goes to the rather plain Green-throated Mountain Gem.   Yes, it's a hummingbird and it was found near the only excellent truly birder friendly place in Antigua.  They actually had hummingbird feeders!!!    If you go to Antigua, check out the Finca Pilar.  Wonderful birds can be found on the trails and around the feeders here.   On this trek, I met a young Scottish man by the name of Justin who birded alone at one of the hostals near Antigua.  Several people kind of laughed at his obsession with birds.  When I came along, we teamed up and birded together.  My friend told me that we had a bromance going on.  Whatever the case, it was so much fun to bird with someone who knew the area.  We sat down over several days looking at his Central American bird books ID'ing the birds we had seen together.  We even took trails that I wouldn't have normally gone on.  I truly appreciated our time together searching for new birds.  And I was able to introduce him to Ebird which will be a fun new program for him to use. 
370 was a big one.  The Gold medal of this journey.  It was a gamble that I took in Coban.  This time it paid off big time.  My friend was able to share the moment with me and experience the glorious Resplendent Quetzal.  A lot of work and research went into finding this bird.  So much so that after we found 6 of them, my birding energy waned for awhile.  I began to drink Micheladas and enjoy the trip more as a tourist.  I had been to Guatemala before but never as a birder. If it wasn't for the experience and research behind the Elegant Trogon, I may have dipped on this near threatened bird.  It was an exciting moment in my life.  My friend Lynda said that I had a bird boner(highlight in front of the parentheses if you want to know).  I laughed and smiled.  She isn't a birder, but the event was spectacular.  One of the highlights of my birding adventures. 
At 380, the Swallow-tailed Kite flew among....swallows and swifts.  I had seen it twice and was in awe by it's grace and elegance.  My initial reactions were, "That's a big swallow!"  Then I saw the head on this bird and realized I was dealing with a Kite.  I checked my list and saw....Swallow-tailed Kite.  The lesson here?  Use resources like Ebird to help ID the birds found in the area.  I knew most of the bird body types(there were a few exceptions of course) and I focused on what physical features made them stand out.  In this case, the tail was unique to the Kite family.  When I looked it up on the internet for ID verification, I smiled and patted myself on the back.
We spent a day in Tikal which is one of my favorite places to search for wildlife.  And on this day, we saw more creatures than all the other tourists in the park.  Why?  We avoided the tours!!!  As a Spanish instructor, I've studied the Mayan histories many times over. When my friend asked a question, I gave her the information.   Had we been with the group, we would have missed this bird. We spied this Collared Aracari at number 390 before it flew off because of a noisy tour group.  My friend now understood why I dislike people on the trails.  She began to feel the same way as we discovered together Spider and Howler Monkeys, Deer, Coati, and gorgeous birds along the trail.  
Finally at 400, we end with a Trogon.  In fact, this post has been full of them. The Black-headed Trogon was incredible.  Every morning at 5 AM in Rio Dulce, near the Caribbean side of Guatemala, I would walk into a buggy open pasture along a stretch of untouched rain forest.  The bird, much like the Resplendent Quetzal or Elegant Trogon, moved in a similar fashion.  So why the bad shot?  Here's the story. We stayed in an A/C unit because travel was taking its toll on both of us. Well the A/C fogged up my lens every morning and by the time, I saw the Trogon in the rain and fog with my clouded lens, wasn't a great shot.  So I Instagramed it and added a little artsy look to the shot.  I am now working on my 500 list.  Life is wonderful.  So is the experience behind birding, travel and photography.  I hope you enjoyed this little jaunt back in time.  Until next time.......


  1. Hi Chris! You captured my imagination with this account of your sighting.I have also learnt to listen for unfamiliar bird song, and search until I find it's source. I will probably never see as many beautiful and exotic looking birds as you Chris, but it's great seeing them here:) The Resplendent Quetzal is sooo beautiful,..thank you!

  2. Trzeba najpierw wiedzieć jaki ptak jaki głos wydaje, żeby móc go po tym poznać. Podziwiam Cie za tą umiejętność. Ptaki są wspaniałe i cudownie, że je tak uwielbiasz. Pozdrawiam.
    You have to first know what the voice of a bird which seems to be able to meet him after. I admire you for your ability. Birds are great and wonderful that they so love. Yours.

  3. OMG... You counted and catologed every bird. My head would blow up!!Love those Pygmy Owls. That made me smile.

  4. 400, congrats! I have lost count and have not updated my lifer list. You just reminded that I need to work on my list. You have an awesome list of birds seen in both Arizona and from your latest trip. I feel the same way about owls, any kind of owl makes me smile. Great post and I enjoyed the photos. Happy Birding, Chris!

  5. Wow! They sure do add up don't they and you have so many amazing ones from your trips.

  6. Hi, We had dinner tonight with Dad Adams to celebrate his 101st birthday.... He ate well--including a Brownie and Ice Cream...

    Congrats on 400 Lifers. That is amazing and awesome. I love seeing all of your birds--and can never pick a fav.

  7. You are an absolute marvel at this birding. At 400 and counting it's hard to believe you're not on a Big Year.

  8. Congrats on reaching 400, Chris! I love the photo of the owls peering from the tree; adorable! Good luck on the climb to 500:)

  9. A wonderful post Chris sharing all your excitement and love of birds :) Some great photos too capturing the new birds so well. Well done on reaching 400 and Good Luck with the next 100. :)

  10. Congrats on 400 lifers Chris!

  11. Great post! Congrats on the 400! I look forward to seeing your next 100! Micheladas? Beer and lime juice? What were the other spices? I just may have to try that sometime.

    1. It's a combo of dark beer,spicy tomato juice and any couture monts you'd like to add. It's delish!

  12. Chris, what an adventure! Who knew you would go so far so fast. Just think back to where you were a year ago! You have grown so much! Congrats on 400! You will soon outstrip me!

  13. Congratulations on the 400 Chris. I sense that 500 isn't so far away but, of course, it gets harder as the numbers grow.

    Have you ever read 'The Biggest Twitch' by Alan Davies and Ruth Miller. They managed a world record of 4,341 species in one calendar year! It makes quite interesting reading, but I wouldn't recommend trying to match that achievement!

  14. 400! Now that is something. I always enjoy your photos and this series is just awesome. Great work.

    P.S. The Pygmy Owl shot is way too cute. Brilliant!

  15. I absolutely enjoyed it Chris, your writing is as entertaining and enjoyable as your bird photos. Now you have me really curious to hear the song of the Greater Peewee :) and I will be away to see what Ebird is all about, merci beaucoup mon ami!

  16. Wow! Amazing finds, Chris! Such wonderful lifebirds! I know how proud you are of the work you are doing, and it's wonderful to share in it with you.

    The hawks were frequent visitors last year (Cooper's, Grey and small kestrels, I think)as well as roadrunners, and this year I haven't seen as many. A young Coopers (I think) however was swooping across my front yard, back and forth, as I pulled up in the car the other day. I stopped to get out and get the mail and saw him land on the pine tree practically over my head. He was not happy with me, though, and made a CAK CAK CAK sound, and then flew away. I'd never heard one make this kind of sound before.


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