Monday, December 11, 2017

Las Aventuras: 2017 in Review

On a trek to Aribabi in Mexico, a Canyon Wren stops by to check out my binos
With this year coming to a close, I can safely say that it has been a life changing period for me. I would tell you that my work hasn't been all "innocent and fun" like in years past. The naive birder is gone and a more focused/data driven person has taken over. In other words, I've redefined my approach to all things avian.  There are times when I miss my beginning days as a birder, but I wouldn't give them up for everything that I have gained through experience.  

In Cartagena, Costa Rica, we spy some excellent birds
Our Costa Rica trek this summer was amazing. After being on the trails everywhere this year, I realized that it was the Arizona birds that mattered most.  While observing a life bird for the first time is great, it's quickly replaced with another adrenaline push to find the next.  However, with the birds I know best, I feel a deeper connection.  When I guide people to find our birds, I realize that I truly am in love with Southern Arizona birds. Here are highlights from the year.  

While not my favorite place to bird during the hot and humid summer, the Glendale Recharge Pond was home to a rare Red Knot
You might note that many of these birds were found with Gordon and Magill.  If it wasn't for Magill's prodding, I wouldn't have gone due to distance. And if it wasn't for Gordon's drive to find birds, I may have missed a few. In short, teamwork and friendship mean everything. And in my mind, it justifies the reason why we trek so far away to find a rare bird.  It's the experience that stays with us for life. Plus it's better to share that moment with a friend.  So get ready for some stories......:)

Dead cattle on the other side of that pond.  Nasty.  Nasty. Nasty. 
Grossest place to bird?  State challenges are fun. Can you find a rare bird in impossible conditions?  That's the challenge.  This year, I'd give this award to the Ruddy Turnstone. While I've seen this ocean/water species many times, I have not seen one in Arizona.  And with reason! Who wants to bird ugly areas in the hot humid desert? During migration, a few show up at cattle slop ponds.  What are cattle slop ponds?  Well, they are made up of water, poop, mud and more poop with some run off chemicals. To make matters worse, one showed up near a pile of dead rotting cattle.  Usually my gag reflex is good, but it took days for the smell of decay and death to get out of my nose.  I actually considered becoming a full time vegetarian after that trip.  Micheal drove to the spot in his bright pink scrubs after work.  He is not a birder but finds the places we visit interesting and weird.  After Magill and I spotted the bird, we prodded Micheal to get out of the car to look at the target bird just so he could tick it on his Arizona list. 

A Wood Thrush drives the tractor over to us
Earliest AM? Another epic rare bird showed up for the state, the Wood Thrush.  It happened to be in Dateland, AZ which is in the middle of nowhere and 2+ hours away from my house.  Last year I said, I'd be ok driving 2 hours anywhere, but this year, it's more like 45 minutes.  While the Wood Thrush wasn't a life bird, it was a bird that I didn't have ANY photo documentation of!  So it was important to find this bird and we did. I slept for a whole 3 hours that night and drove under the starlight to Gila Bend where I'd meet up with Magill. It was a 3AM wake up call for a 7:10 arrival. 

I love winter birding in AZ.  It's pretty magical. 
Most beautiful place to bird? Without a doubt, one of the most magical days to bird was on a cold misty morning in the northern part of our state in an area lined with wineries and forests. Again with Magill, we searched for a Tennesee Warbler.  With my magic powers, I pointed to a stump and said "That's where the Tennessee Warbler will show up."  And by my command, the warbler appeared exactly where I pointed.  I didn't tell her about my secret powers because we both were enjoying the views of this rare visiting Arizona warbler. After we found the warbler, we spent the rest of the morning enjoying the beautiful Page Springs Fish Hatchery.  

Between the Great Potoo and the Spotted Antbird, I'd have to say that Spotted Antbird won me over just a little bit more. 
Best Bird? My favorite bird this year? The Spotted Antbird. We were near a secret waterfall in the rain forests of Costa Rica.  It was dark and there were small pools of water attracting the attention of the forest birds. We watched in the darkness as a beautiful Spotted Antbird bathed in one of these pools.

Parque Metropolotano La Sabana in San Jose, Costa Rica is home to lots of great birds, but bring a friend
Closest call to danger?  During a trek to a park within San Jose, we searched and found the Yellow-naped Parrot. There were joggers and cool people around us. Then we spotted our target bird. So I thought it was safe to take out the camera. That's when two hoodlums eyed up my camera.  Thankfully the police were just around the corner to apprehend them.  We took off just in time. Never again.  Knock on wood.  

Puddles like these in Liberia were full of biting mosquitos....and birds. 
Worst bug attacks?  In Liberia, we stayed near farm fields to find some important birds.  And we found them but not without a major bug attack.  I got excited about a Wood Stork or Southern Lapwing, I forget, and stepped/slipped in some mud.  Something bit me and made my foot three times larger.  It was a strange and gross experience.  

One of my favorite days during our Pacific Northwest trip
Coolest bird in snow? I will never forget my experience with the Spruce Grouse.  We were with friend and bird guide Khanh Tranh in Oregon hiking a snowy trail.  At one point the snow got very deep.  It didn't stop us though.  I heard a slight noise and then glimpsed a shadow from the forest.  Then a beautiful male stayed awhile for us to observe him. What a great experience! 

Hearing Mountain Quail, we followed the misty road.  I felt like there was a savage killer hiding somewhere in that broken forest. 
Creepiest place? While on the hunt for Mountain Quail and Sooty Grouse, we explored an area outside of Timber, OR. It was a logging area that was quite remote and beautiful.  Everything was great until we found gun casings and a dead pig that had been recently shot.  We tend to think of Oregon as a liberal minded state, but I learned that there are areas where savage morons lurk.  I would not want to be alone in this area. As birders, we must always be aware of our surroundings. 

Slaughter Ranch easily had 80 some birders on the property.  Most were nice:)
Birder drama.  Yes.  There was even drama this year. A mega rare bird for Arizona, the Little Bunting, had shown up at a place called Slaughter Ranch.  I know.  It sounds like a haunted house.  Slaughter just happened to be the last name of the rancher.  Anyhow, there were MANY birders there.  In fact, there were lots of top bird guides among the birding crowd.  We walked around the property and I realized the Little Bunting wasn't going to show.  SO, me and the Gordon strolled around the property and had fun. It was getting warm and we both wanted to go home.  On the way out, we stopped to look at a field full of birds. I noticed a weird looking yellow bird in that field and thought it was a meadowlark, but it was strange enough for me to take pics.  So I half heartedly took the pics, got some much needed water and headed home with Gordon.  Later as I was developing my photos, I discovered that the "meadowlark" in question was actually a female Bobolink!!!!  THAT was a state bird.  I submitted the records to our organization here which got several individuals that were at the ranch, including one very vocal birder, angry. Apparently, they missed that bird too! Why hadn't I told them all?!  He thought maybe I did it on purpose. I would never do that to anyone. I responded politely that if I had known right away what the bird was, I would have let everyone know. Yikes!

Remembering Grandma.   As many of you know, my Grandma passed away this summer and it was difficult for me to let go, especially when it came time to fill her hummingbird feeders for the last time. A male Ruby-throated Hummingbird flew directly in front of my face as I was filling up HIS feeder.  I laughed and cried at the same time.  At the time, I had thought our family would lose the land.  Today, my brother Adam has purchased this very special place and it will continue to be with our family for generations.  And he has assured me that Grandma's birds will be fed.  And I'll be there to help him out.  Every year, my Grandma and I both prepared for her birds to arrive around her birthday in May.  I gave her migration updates and tricks to improve her feeder activity.  I know her energy will shine with her grandsons looking after her birds. 

The beautiful grasslands of the Cienagas
The birds that made me piss myself.  This year during my tour with bird guide guru Chris Benesh, we took our participants to an area full of Prairie Dogs in the grasslands.  While we were having fun with everyone and helping them ID their life birds, a couple from our group spied a weird looking bird.  We went to help them ID the bird and then.....we both pissed ourselves, an Upland Sandpiper! These are VERY rare migrating birds to our state and most often you need a scope for them.  This bird was fairly close for all to see with their binos.  I'd say it was my best bird for the state until a LeConte's Sparrow showed up!!!  I ran right after work to look at that rare sparrow. Not only was it a life bird, it was a state and county bird as well. Both birds were epic. 

Arenal!  Oh you wonderful birdy location
Life Bird Bonanza. After my first years of birding, life birds slowed down to a trickle and I forgot how overwhelming it was at first.  Then I went to Arenal in Costa Rica with Gordon and for a full two hours, we were bombarded with life bird after life bird.  You forget about food.  You forget about reality.  You just snap shots of birds and ask questions later.  One bird would pop up and disappear to be replaced with another new bird. Every day we stayed at the lodge, we had new birds.  It was overwhelming. And fun:)

This trail on Mt. Lemmon is both beautiful and gnarly at the same time. 
The Birds That Made Me Question My Sanity. I have been really enjoying Pima County birding this year.  With friend Brian Nicholas, we went on a journey to Mt. Lemmon to find Cassin's Finches and Golden-crowned Kinglets.  And maybe a Clark's Nutcracker.  All are birds that I didn't have on my Pima County list.  I did not prepare well at all for this trek.  I don't know what I was thinking but I came unprepared. Things got scary for me when we took a wrong turn on the trail.  I had only enough water for the length of the hike.  Luckily, Brian had extra water. Next week, I head over again.  This time I will be prepared.  We found Cassin's Finches and Golden-crowned Kinglets though:)

Favorite Pic? While there are too many to choose from, there is one that stands out.  I was with Magill at Madera Canyon when I heard mobbing going on. We found the source of the bird call and looked up. 

Mountain Pygmy-Owl
Birding takes dedication.  People always ask me how I do it with a full time job.  Easy.  I make time for it. It has changed my life forever. This is what dreams are made of.  And I am living my dream, slop ponds and all:)  Until next time......


  1. What awonderfulbirding year you have hadand many adventured.

  2. You are truly amazing with your birding interest... I am still just one of those Backyard Birders who enjoy our little local birds here... But--I do still enjoy them!

    I hope that 2018 is as eventful (the good parts that is) as 2017.....

    Merry Christmas.

    1. Merry Christmas to you as well Betsy. Hope you and your hubby have some fun planned:)
      Merry Christmas to you both!
      Hugs back! Chris

  3. A wonderful post Chris - so enjoyed reading a summary of all your highlights and adventures during the year. So important to live your dream - you are so inspiring :)

    1. So are you! I hope we meet one day! Happy holidays to you both!! Chris

  4. I enjoyed reading your birding highlights for the year. You sure got to enjoy a variety. Happy Wednesday.

    1. Hi Betty! Thanks for reading and happy holidays to you and your family!

  5. All I can say is WOW! What an amazing year...from the gross to the sublime. Exciting and interesting and a little scary. How sad about your Grandmother. I know you miss her! Loved all your photos, as always. What a great year-end post!

    1. Hola! Thank you for stopping by. It has been BUSY with finals now here. Hope you and your family have a wonderful holiday season!

  6. A year full of achievements and I am sure you have new ones ready to pop up.

  7. I love reading about your birding adventures!

  8. Wow. You had quite the year and these are some great birds. Many of them I will never get to see, so I am lad you are seeing them for me. I am quite proud of you and all that you have accomplished!


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