Friday, December 27, 2013

Winning the Oscar

The male Resplendent Quetzal
There is nothing more exciting than reviewing the highlights....and epic dips of the year.  Here are some memorable moments that I won't forget anytime soon. 

Elegant Trogon
Two of the epic discoveries came this year in the order of Trogons.  During my trip to Guatemala, I was finally able to observe the majestic Resplendent Quetzal in the wild and it was incredible!  Back home, Kathie and I  discovered a nesting pair of Elegant Trogons in Madera Canyon.

Lynda reviews video of not only 1 Resplendent Quetzal but 6!!! hiding in an avocado trees!!!
These experiences can be compared to what I imagine it would be like to win an Oscar in the birding world.  The experience of finding a rare bird on your own is incredibly special.  But it's even better when you can share the triumph and excitement with friends.

 So after the Resplendent Quetzal finds, I thought the highlights would end for the year, but it turns out that there were several more in store!  So as the Resplendent Quetzal flies off, we head over to Tikal National Park where another secret award would be handed out......

While we were at Tikal National Park, I noticed a Falcon flying around the pyramids going after Oropendula nests hanging from the tree.  At first I thought it was a Bat Falcon until a Park Ranger noticed me watching the bird.  He came over and told me that I was witnessing a very special event.

Juvenile Orange-breasted Falcon
He then told me the story of the Orange-breasted Falcons and how rare they were in the wild. A pair decided to nest on the pyramids in the park and over time have created several offspring. They were loud and active as they flew from the pyramids into the trees.  We had really nice observations of these birds in action.  But it wasn't until after several months of personal research work on the confirmation of this bird(above) that I could truly appreciate the experience. They are similar in appearance to the Bat Falcons.  This falcon is labeled as Near Threatened due to the loss of habitat which is thick tropical rain forest.  As more forest is cut down, these birds face an uncertain future. There are only 30 breeding pairs around Belize and Tikal National Park.  In all parts of the tropics, the birds are in serious trouble. It is now labeled as possibly extinct in Costa Rica. When I hear stories like these, I am saddened, but it doesn't mean the end to these birds if we get our act together.  Here's the opposite side to the near extinction story and the last Christmas miracle of the year......the California Condor.

As a young American child growing up in the 80's, the outlook for many of our falcons, eagles and condors wasn't good. Most of these birds almost went extinct from a compound known as DDT back in the early to mid-20th century. A US wide ban today has seen the successful return of the majestic Bald Eagles and Peregrine Falcons. However, insecticides are still controversial as different insect eating birds around farm habitat, along with our bee populations, etc face serious declining populations. Poisoned bugs=poisoned birds.  But it was the California Condor that almost disappeared forever.

In the 80's, only 22 birds were left in the wild!  As a boy growing up, I was heart broken that we were losing wildlife every year around the world to this thing called extinction. How could we allow our wildlife to vanish???!!! Wasn't it important? Then I grew up and learned about the power and greed of the human race and it all made sense.  It didn't matter what religion, political party or nationality we were because we were all the same. The California Condor has been labeled a success story today as their numbers have increased (over 400 birds).  Over half of that number(237) are out in the wild around Arizona, California, and Utah.  Several nests this year have had success in the wild and that is cause for hope.  However, if these birds were not closely monitored, they would go extinct because of power lines and those hunters who continue to use lead bullets. This issue is still a major cause of death.  In our state, we "encourage" hunters to use copper bullets instead of using the lead ones. Lead bullets spread apart inside an elk or deer carcass.  When the carcass is left behind, the Condors descend and feast on the lead saturated remains. Most hunters are good about using the copper bullets but several continue using the lead bullets because they are cheaper.  One would think that it should be mandatory to use copper bullets.

Micheal sees the great shadow of the Condor fly over our heads and reenacts that very special moment

All I can tell you is that when we saw several Condors near the Vermilion Cliffs, people clapped and were extremely excited to see these birds in the wild!  It's funny how such an ugly bird(by human standards) can bring tears of joy to onlookers.  It was a very special day because we also got to hang out with our friend Ranger Gaelyn.  Epic landscape.  Epic bird.  And Epic fun!  And finally....

a very handsome drake- the Hooded Merganser
For every success, there will also be failure:)  But this was a failure I enjoyed very much.  A super rare bird, the first ever!, came to the United States....specifically to the incredible Bosque Del Apache in New Mexico.  I "twitched" for the first time in my life and dropped everything I was doing to go find the Rufous-necked Wood-Rail.  Well it just so happened that I wasn't meant to see that bird, but I learned a lot about the people standing on the bridge waiting for this bird to appear. Plus I added two new life birds to my list.....the Least Bittern and my first documented Ring-necked Pheasant!  It was the most impulsive thing I've done this year and it was fun.  What will 2014 bring?  Who knows? As most of my Arizona birding has completed, I will begin the larger scale treks. My specific focus next year in Arizona is targeting extremely secretive birds like the Montezuma Quail, Black-capped Gnatcatcher and Chestnut-collared Longspurs. I took several off my ebird lists this year because I wasn't satisfied with the observations.  I've realized that this is not a game but a personal challenge for myself. The difficult-to-see birds were meant to have special days or weekends dedicated for study. I hope you'll join me as we explore new territory finding our planet's birds(specifically the US this year)......and mammals.....and whatever else comes our way:)  Happy New Year!

A MINK!!!  along the Lakeshore in Manitowoc, Wisconsin.  


  1. Wonderful Chris. I appreciate the beauty of the birds and the places. Can't help but love the little furry guy either.

  2. You had a wonderful bird year including the many lifers but more important the learning. So glad you saw the condors and that I saw you.

  3. Chris, these are all great moments/ memories of sightings you will always remember. The Resplendent Quetzal is a gorgeous bird. Wonderful post and photos. Happy Birding in 2014..

  4. So many great places and amazing birds. That mink is adorable!

  5. Your photos have been wonderful this past year Chris. Wishing you a healthy happy new year.

  6. Sounds as if you had a special year with some wonderful birds and people. I hope the trend continues in 2015, and look forward to reading about it, and seeing the photos, and maybe even see a Resplendent Quetzal myself!

  7. Those are great shots. Looks like you had an awesome year.

  8. It's always a pleasure to read your blogs. I was so thrilled to read about your encounters with the quetzal and the trogon. They're so beautiful! Thanks for the amazing pictures and the story behind them.
    Should I say congratulations for "winning the Oscar"? The experience sounds like that.

  9. no doubt, some great sightings and experiences. the condor is amazing.

    really like the new header.

  10. An amazing post of your Oscar sightings!I hope that 2014 will be a good year for you Chris, with many more opportunities to explore and find new and exciting
    species. A very Happy New Year, full of happiness and good health for you and yur family.

  11. A wonderful post Chris - you have had such an amazing wildlife year :) Some great photos too and good to read of the Californian Condor coming back from the brink.

    I can't wait to follow your adventures next year. Wishing you a Very Happy New Year :)

  12. I love that you saw birds that were significant for you. :) I grew up in CA and remember hearing about how important it was to help the condors survive. I wish manufacturers would stop producing lead bullets. I really love the little mink. I didn't think they lived in the wild in the US anymore.

  13. It's amazing what else you see when you're looking for birds!! And amazing what birds you see when you're looking for other things!! Happy New Year - look forward to more FAB birding stories from your travels in 2014!!!

  14. Just catching up with the blogs I follow, Chris.

    Another fabulous post from yourself, featuring some truly amazing, and well-deserved, highlights as a result of a lot of dedication, passion, risk to health(!), and (of course!) a smidgeon of luck!

    Wishing you all the best for 2014. I look forward to following your adventures.


  15. Oh wow, I like your very special birds! And especially the Mink, what a cutie!


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