Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Reaching The Finish Line

Ridgway's Rail
There are the birds we know we will find on our journeys.  And then there are those that are NOT givens. But because of my Big Year(staying in the top 100 of the US), I had to stay very focused and within budget. However, I also had personal goals which were finding several VERY important birds. This journey to California truly focused on the sacred few.  The newly split Ridgway's Rail, the Yellow-footed Gull and the Tri-colored Blackbirds.  Two of these birds are listed as endangered and are losing ground due to habitat loss. Conservation efforts are in place, but over the years, drought, summer fires and farming practices have really had an impact on these birds.  

On a gorgeous day out near the Tijuana Estuary, I walked with my new friend Libby.  It was high tide and a perfect time to find these difficult birds. While walking along the high berm, we spotted 4 of these magical birds. It was definitely a high five moment for both of us.  I've only heard this bird once call from the reeds of Tres Ríos near Phoenix. Rails, in general, are very tricky birds to spot. Earlier this year, the Clapper Rail was split into three new bird species thanks to the new DNA analysis happening within the science community. And it takes time to relearn the new names for a split bird species. Not Clapper for us anymore in AZ:)

Meanwhile at the Salton Sea, the waters are receding. Two years ago Las Aventuras went to visit this interesting birding locale.  While there, we noticed the shoreline met close to the trail near the Sonny Bono Visitor Center.  This time around, the waters had disappeared from several locations and made the spotting of birds much more difficult.  I'm not sure what will happen to this place but it is an important watering hole for birds.  I found my ONE Yellow-footed Gull off in the distance at the end of the Rock Hill trail. This is their northern most range in the US.  They are much more common in Mexico, especially around the city of Rocky Point. 

Yellow-footed Gull(pic taken in Mexico)
Then it was off to another location to find the endangered and declining Tri-colored Blackbirds.  They look similar to the Red-winged Blackbird except that their calls are slightly harsher.  Their wing pattern is also slightly different.  So off I went to Lindo Lake at Lakeside, CA. 

Tricolored Blackbird
It was a beautiful evening out as I watched these birds forage around the ground studying their field marks.  They have a blood red epaulet(shoulder patch) which is darker than those of the Red-winged Blackbird. And that red patch was hidden until they took flight!

When the wings are closed, there is a whitish wingbar present.  So I took careful observation notes to make sure I was seeing the right bird!  Here's a short video on the Tri-colored Blackbirds from UC-Davis. I believe it was filmed around October of this year. 

Back home the race was on.  A White-winged Scoter and two Black Scoters were seen in a large body of water known as Lake Pleasant.  

White-winged Scoter
And so I had great views of the Scoters but the Red-necked Grebe was just out of range for my camera.  And yet I saw it!  I hate calling a life bird without pictures but there was no denying I SAW the bird and could ID it:)  I'll see this bird again.

Loggerhead Shrike
And along the way of Loggerhead Shrikes and Black Scoters and....

Juvenile Male Black Scoter
.....and Common Ravens chasing Red-tailed Hawks.......

Red-tailed Hawk getting chased by a Common Raven
....and passing by feral burros! Keep moving!........

.....I somehow finished the year alive. Exhausted.  But alive. It has been an amazing year, and I am glad it is over.  Birding as a sport interferes with family, friends and sleep!  I'll have my 2014 wrap up next week.  For now, I sip my coffee and watch my Tucson birds from my dining room window.  And it feels good to be normal again.  


  1. The photos are great Chris. You did a fine job!

    Thank you so much for the kind comments you left on my blog. I hope to get back to blogging soon.

    Happy New Year!!


  2. Congratulations on surviving and achieving your goal, Chris. It's not easy, especially when you see things like the Salton Sea decrease, and have to learn "new" birds - science can be a mixed blessing!

  3. Birding as a sport. I love it! The burro made me smile. What a year. Happy New Year!

  4. Chris, your photos are so lovely and captivating and your post is fascinating. Thank you so much for sharing, and Happy New Year to you from Montreal, Canada. :)

  5. Was it worth it? It definitely seems to have been a busy year. Congrats on reaching your goal. I hope 2015 brings you the rest you need. :o)

  6. Hi Chris. Well done and now you deserve a well earned rest. Your trips and photographs are amazing and I loved the video with the music. Happy New Year to you.

  7. Fascinating year 2014 for you! It seems as if you had traveled the world when I think of all the different birds you "collected."
    Fun for us to read about each one of your adventures.
    Have a wonderful year 2015 with Health and Joy!

  8. Congrats, looks like you finished 2014 with a bang and great bird sightings.. Wishing you and your family a happy & healthy New Year!

  9. Hi Chris,
    This is a wonderful series of images.
    A happy, healthy and photogenic 2015 for you and all your loved ones.
    Best regards, Irma

  10. These are so gorgeous pictures ! That's nice to watch beautiful bids !
    Happy New Year !

  11. Chris, I've been an infrequent visitor to your blog due to life's stressors this past year but hopefully that is in my past and I'll be seeing you more often. Happy New Year to you and keep on bloggin'!

  12. Congratulations Chris - such a wonderful birding year you have had. Great photos - especially loved the Shrike :) Wishing you a very Happy New Year :)

  13. Sounds like a good but very BUSY years! Welcome back to a more "normal" life, whatever that is. :) I wish you all the best in 2015!

  14. Happy New Year, Chris! Wishing you health, happiness and more wonderful photos (and adventures) for 2015!

  15. Last year must have been a great adventure - one day!

    Taxonomic ticks are always great - especially if they split a common bird!!!

    Cheers and a happy New Year - Stewart M - Melbourne

  16. Certainly long time will stay in the house, you love birds too. I wish you a wonderful year and beautiful encounters with new birds.

  17. I like to read your humorous posts. May you never lack imagination in this new year started!

  18. You had a great year Chris, what with those scientists keeping you on your toes. The Yellow footed Gull is most interesting (great pic of yours), as is the Tri-coloured Blackbird and the fact that Clapper is now split three ways.

    I need to wiki all three of these and check out precisely what it's all about. Thanks for the gen and have a bird filled 2015.

  19. Happy New Year to you and yours. I hope that 2015 will bring you (and me) lots of joy, happiness and GOOD HEALTH.

    Well---2014 was a great Birding Year for you.. Can you do even better in 2015????? Hope so.


  20. Great photos, the rail is interesting.

  21. Hey Chris! Congrats on an awesome year of birding both Arizona and North America. You did an awesome job, and I had fun being there for some of it!

  22. You REALLY did a 'Big Year'! Congrats! It's fun to go along with you to see these birds. I learn a lot.

  23. You really did have a big year Chris and a successful one also, must be very rewarding to achieve you goals re your life bird list. Such a shame that the Tri coloured Blackbird is on the endangered list, we have a few here to, like the Carnaby cockatoo, thankfully like in the case of the blackbird there are dedicated conservationists doing their best to turn it around. So what is next on the 'to do' list for 2015? Whatever it is I'm sure it will be a good year ahead Chris, look forward to reading about it!

  24. Great birds and a great story. that last photo of the hawk and raven really shows the size comparison and the raven's wedge-shaped tail! Nice!


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