Monday, January 5, 2015

Las Aventuras: Across America

I woke up on the New Year's Day both happy and sad.  It was over. How can a year fly by so quickly?!  That part is still hard to get over.  What an amazing journey it has been!  But I am also happy to stop the doubled efforts of chasing birds I have already seen.   My purpose for last year's event was to load up on my North American birds.  Here are some fun facts from my journeys to California, New Mexico, Colorado, Florida, the New England states, and of course, Arizona. 

Pied-billed Grebe

I began the year with a Pied-billed Grebe in southern California and ended the year with a rare(for AZ) Red-necked Grebe.  In the US, I found 468 species of birds.  For North America, I found 476 birds.  I've been doing some work down in Mexico again and it will be my focus this year.  I am surrounded by bird ID books from these regions!  As of now in the US, I rank 62 for the 2014 year.  Some birders haven't entered all their lists into ebird yet so it could slightly alter the ranking.  But I have secured myself within the top 100 for the year and achieved my goal set back in January. In the state of Arizona, I ranked number 2 thanks in part to all the birds found in the state and for this reason, it kept me on top of their list. 

But those are just numbers.  The true purpose of my birding is to live the birding adventure and find as many of our world's birds as I can before I visit the green pastures:) Or sadly, before they disappear. My current life list stands at 586.  And it's hard!  It was so easy a few years back adding birds to the list.  Now, it takes a lot of planning and good use of my time. With the night studies, my full-time job, a partner and regular life duties, I was able to add 127 life birds to the list in 2014.  Not a bad haul. 

What were the highlights?  Each place was special and so much fun.  But let's look at the bird discoveries......

The most exciting camping trek?  
There is no doubt at all here on this one. Although our Greer trip comes close! It was our AZFO camping trip to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.  Here we did a survey of nesting birds around the area.  We had an amazing crew, did some rough camping, and worked incredibly well together.  Everyone still talks about that trip up there.   I hope to join my AZFO group again this year as we explore Organ National Monument down by the border.  

The North Rim of the Grand Canyon
The most frustrating experience?
I think Kathie Brown can vouch for this one.  The Bicknell's Thrush.  I will say this about the Mt. Washington Auto Road.  It sucks.  Beautiful scenery but full of cars and annoying people. And the entrance fee is overpriced. This bird was the trickiest to sort out with the constant traffic. My ears are VERY important when locating birds and this trek was very difficult thanks to all the noise pollution. I still have a bad taste in my mouth about the experience.  I remember how quiet and uncomfortable I made everyone feel in the car by my quiet anger.  I am not proud of that moment, but I was determined. There were many thrushes in the area which also made listening to the Bicknell's call a challenge.  We did manage to spot a couple of the BITH.  However, I will never go on that road again.

The gorgeous mountains of New England
The craziest experience?
We went for the Atlantic Puffin along Maine's coast on very rough waters.  This is where Kathie and Micheal lost it!  The rocking of the waves were too much for them. The Audubon guide was hit left and right during his presentation with ice cold ocean water!  For me, I felt like a giant dancer capturing all the amazing terns, puffins and guillemots around the Eastern Egg Island while the ship rocked back and forth. 

Eastern Egg Island
The most sacred of moments?
Whispering to the Florida Scrub-Jay.  In a magical moment, the captain of the jays flew to the top of my hat and kept lookout while his company flew all around me to feed on the ground.

Florida Scrub-Jay
Best couple activity?
Camping on the Channel Islands for the Island Scrub-Jay!  There we watched migrating whales, tiny foxes and orcas around our island while spending a couple nights on Santa Cruz Island. 

Strangest bird?
The Upland Sandpiper.  The call alone was cool!

Upland Sandpiper
Rarest sighting?
A Snowy Owl in Kennebunkport, Maine in the middle of summer!

Snowy Owl
Best study sessions?
The AZFO fall get together in Globe and grassland sparrow banding with Dr. Janet Ruth. 

Janet releases a Savannah Sparrow
Most epic moment?
While observing Lesser Nighthawks, a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher flew past me at sunset.  I couldn't believe my eyes!  And it was all experienced alone after a really bad day at work.  This bird made me forget it all. 

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
Most painful?
While observing the endangered Piping Plover on Bunche Beach, FL, I was attacked by thousands of chiggers.  I suffered an entire month after a trip to that beach.  

Piping Plover
Most studied birds?
The Montezuma Quail and Bell's Sparrow.

Montezuma Quail
Favorite place to bird?
The grasslands of Southern Arizona

The bitter dip?
The Gunnison sage-grouse!  I'll find you!  The weather was NOT cooperative on this day!

Most overlooked place to bird?
New Mexico!  For those people who say there is nothing there, I challenge you to look again.  WOW!  Plus best food stops this year!  Green chiles......

Most scenic?
Road trek up to Gunnison, CO!  WOWSA!

The worst decision?
Perhaps not the greatest place to bird. One team member discovered a man shooting up in the bushes. All of us had seen the bird in other parts of the country but we wanted it on our Arizona list:) It would have required us to hike a wash full of broken glass, used needles and possibly encountering other nasty things. We decided to leave the area for safety issues.  However, we knew the birds were hiding in that wash. And so we dipped on this bird.  Later in the year on our way to Gunnison, we passed through that same area sans the visit to what I now label "Drug User's Wash" and found the bird around a housing area.  Much safer!

Black-billed Magpie
And finally.  Favorite bird of the year?
The Rhinoceros Auklet.  

I'd like to thank all the people involved this year with Las Aventuras.  The treks have been amazing and without the people, many of the adventures would have been lonely ones. 

When I think about birding in Central and South America, and of course, Mexico, my heart beats a little faster.  It's why I do what I do in the real world. It has taken me to the most amazing and breathtaking places on this planet.  This year, my goal is to explore Mexico again, do a pelagic and spend time with my family back in Wisconsin.  And then there is our wedding at Rocky Mountain National Park this next year. Will I find a White-tailed Ptarmigan while I say, "I birding."?:)  Or will I get myself into trouble under the eyes of Mother Nature for trying to bird and marry at the same time?  Only time will tell:)  Happy New Year to you all!  

This year's photo album
Birds, birds, birds......check out the amazing Wild Bird Wednesday collection from around the world each.....Wednesday:)


  1. Happy New Year, and thank you for a great and inspiring blog!

  2. What an wonderful (most of the time) you had in 2014, and another planned for 2015. Good luck with it all!

  3. You're getting married?? How wonderful! Super-Congratulations!

  4. It wounds like it was worth it. :o) Your photos in this post are incredible!

  5. Impressive highlights!
    This little Pied-billed Grebe is the best approach to the New Year!
    I wish you all the fun memories you are going after for 2015!

  6. What a full year of birding experiences! Congratulations!

  7. You had a most Amazing year. I am so impressed with your passion for the birds. And, OMG, you're getting married in Rocky Mt! 2015 can only get better.

  8. Chris, you have had an awesome year..adding 127 life in a year sounds wonderful to me.. And wow, all those wild birding experiences will not be forgotten..I wish you all the best in 2015..a happy birdie year..

  9. Chris the day you get married, keep you eyes fully on the 'bird' you are marrying!! What a wonderful year you have had with this wonderful birding adventure adn well documented.

  10. Awesome selection of photos! Your most scenic shot is gorgeous--should be a watercolor! Have a happy 2015!

  11. Marvelous shots! Can't wait to see what 2015 brings!

  12. Wow----I absolutely LOVE this post.. Read through it 3 times.. I am so happy for you and PROUD of you. I loved your thoughts on the best, worst, etc.... We do that when it comes to waterfalls. Think we have seen over 700 different waterfalls --but there are SO SO SO many more to see....

    I certainly know about hiking in areas where people are loud and obnoxious.... GADS... Definitely not a place to bird.

    Congrats on your upcoming wedding... 2015 will be a great year for you I'm sure...


  13. Certainly last year was fascinating for you. Been in many places, you had a lot of experience, and, you see your favorite birds. I wish you every success in finding birds this year. Regards.

  14. A great serie, lovely birdphotos!
    Happy New Year to you!

  15. you had some amazing sightings and travels. laughed at the jay perched on your hat! too cute. love the pied-billed. so darn cute. and glad you saw the scissor-tail and the snowy, too!

  16. A wonderful look back at your birding year. Sounds like 2015 will be exciting too.

  17. wow... That's a lot of beautiful birds and a lot of beautiful places.

  18. BTW... I think Rocky Mountain National Park is the most beautiful place on this planet. Good Choice!

  19. Great photos of all the wonderful scenery - as well as the birds! Good luck for the year ahead!

  20. I'd say for the most part you had a fabulous year! I loved reading about the highlights and the low lights. I have to say I have never driven up Mount Washington but I have climbed it (a few years ago)...and I agree that some of the people up there are quite obnoxious. But at least you found a bird for your list. I wish I'd been a birder when I was there! Congrats on a fun, FUN year!

  21. What a year. You saw so many amazing places in addition to the birds. And, obviously shared it all with some important people in your life. Thanks for taking us along on the journey!

  22. A very informative post. Thanks.

  23. Wow! All in all, you had a fabulous year with such rich experiences including birding, travelling, and meeting nice people. I love your photos. Thank you for sharing. Have happy 2015 ahead.


  24. A wonderful post Chris with some amazing images - what a great birding year you have had. Congratulations on getting married :) Look forward to following your exploits in 2015.

  25. First question Chris, what are 'chiggers' :) It was a good year for you, I'm sure this year will be even better.

  26. Chiggers are tiny no see-ums that imbed themselves into your skin. You can barely see them but you can feel these teeny bugs. I'm not sure if black flies, no-see-ems and chiggers are the same bug/evil but if one itches where they bite, it makes it worse. They like hot, humid, and wet areas like beaches, streams or wet grasses. Once they get in your clothes, it's over. I actually have a ridiculous mesh net that goes over my head but I didn't wear it on that day!!!!! When I saw others with it, I knew it was over for me:)

  27. You had an incredible year 2014 and I hope 2015 will be great for you as well with many happy moments.

  28. Chris, I so enjoyed reading your Across America post! Sounds like you had a stellar year of birding. So many glorious adventures! Gorgeous photographs! I hope 2015 brings you much happiness in marriage and birding!

  29. Happy New Year Chris.
    I don't know how you do it, I get exhausted just following all your trips! How on earth do you find time to work? :)

  30. hahhaha.... oh, Chris.... you are very funny to read..... love it... AND.... somehow I just knew the Majestic Black Billed Magpie would be in the mix....

    They are always in my mix! Whether I want them or not, the cheeky buggers! There are a bunch of regulars in my neighbourhood... they are raiding the suet feeder today ....although, I don't begrudge them when there is a foot of snow on the ground and the temperature is dipping to -25C ....

    The other day they were several of them chasing a big owl ....... but, I suppose if it wasn't for the noise...I wouldn't have looked up and would not have noticed the big owl...... which I managed to get a fuzzy photo of by the way...a first for me.... so ... alright....thank you Messers Magpies.....

  31. Oh Chris...what an amazing year it was! Number 2 in AZ is a big deal! And all the moments you had, good and not-so-good, that you shared with all of us, are priceless! The memories have to be so special, and you can look back on the photos for always and enjoy it all over and over. LOVE the Florida Scrub-Jay on your head. He knew a bird lover when he saw you! :-) I enjoy your blog so much, and wish that one day we could meet, if only briefly. I know how full your life is, and we who are mostly armchair birders would hold you back, but I have so much respect for you! A visit to your blog brightens my whole day! And I have learned so much about what is here in S AZ too. Thanks for everything!

  32. Chris, what a year you have had! Where did you see the Rhinoceros auklet? I know work frustrates you at times, but when you look back over all you have done this past year you must see that you have led a very adventurous life!

    I crack up every-time I think of you on the Mt. Washington Road. I am so glad you came to Maine and I do hope you come back again. we have more birds to find, though if you want to see a Puffin again, you will have to go by yourself! I am through with boats!

    These photos are fantastic. I love the shots of Gunnison. You remind me what a beautiful place the Rocky Mountains are! The truth is, I love it all and I do not know where I would chose to live if given the chance!

    Good luck with your new year and your new adventures. I hope I can make it back to AZ and we can bird together once again!


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