Monday, December 2, 2019

A Look Back At 2019

The 2019 year of birding was one of the most difficult years of birding I've had in a long time. It was full of highlights and unfortunately several good-byes.  I covered a lot of ground in 9 US states to do some detailed US birding.  And we took an international trek over to Wales for some fun birding.  I guided.  I lectured. And I may have burned myself out a little BUT I accomplished my goal of finding over a 111 new bird species for that life list. 

On the macro level in the birding world, we lost an important birding figure, Bill Thompson III.  At the local level, Arizonan birders lost Mary Jo Ballator who had a beautiful yard to watch such great birds as the Lucifer Hummingbird and Montezuma Quail. Today her home is a sanctuary.  And at a personal level, I lost my friend Kathy Cooper who organized treks down to the Aribabi Ranch in Mexico. Micheal also lost a dear friend to colon cancer at the young age of 45. My father almost suffered a fatal heart attack and Kathie's husband Gus had a stroke!  Thankfully, today both gentlemen are feeling better. Overall, it has been a tough year, but I managed to get some birding done.  Wherever you are, be all there!  And that is what I did. 

Lesser Prairie-Chickens
I think it was some time in April while watching the Lesser Prairie-Chickens on their lek that I thought, This is amazing and I don't need to find any more new birds.  I'm good for the rest of the year. And honestly, I just birded local spots with friends for the rest of the year. My personal goal was to ebird at least once a day. It is challenging!

This year's superstar, the White-throated Thrush.  A first for Arizona
I added 5 new birds to my state list and 14 new birds to my Pima County list. I'm now taking a break and relaxing at home watching my birds and critters from my windows. I've been working in the garden.  And on a tough day, Ms. Janine McCabe surprised me with two wonderful native plants for my birds in the garden, a saltbush and wolfberry bush.  Apparently a landscaper thought my saltbush looked like a weed and pulled it! It's specifically for my wintering sparrows that visit my garden.  Landscapers were fired this year and me and my neighbor now manage the property gardens. Thank you Janine so much:)

Willow Ptarmigan or Red Grouse
One of my goals this year was finding grouse, or the "chicken birds".  I did well and observed several species on leks.  I saw Ruffed Grouse, Dusky Grouse, Lesser Prairie-Chicken, Willow Ptarmigans, Black Grouse, Red-legged Partridge, and Mountain Quail. These birds are not easy and I found Mountain Quail to be the trickiest for photography!

Atlantic Puffin
Speaking of the photography department, I was finally able to get better shots of the Black-throated Blue Warbler, Cerulian Warbler, Scarlet Tanager, Northern Gannet, Atlantic Puffins, Common Murres and Razorbills. Another goal was to get my friend Kathie across the ocean to Machias Seal Island for an intimate observation with several birds that we had seen from afar.  I felt bad my first time observing Atlantic Puffins with Kathie because she was sea sick.  But this time around, we had a wonderful experience. It was the most perfect pelagic I've experienced in awhile. And I think Kathie had a great time. 

Northern Gannet
A few of my favorite treks included Machias Seal Island between the Maine and Canadian border, Holyhead in Wales, World's End in Wales, the snowy magical world up in Washington Pass in Washington state, Proctor Road outside of Madera Canyon and in the grasslands near Roswell. 

We kick started the year searching for a Red-flanked Bluetail in the busy urban area of Los Angeles. We had a crazy burst of energy to chase that bird and it was the by far, the most illogical and fun trip we took to search for a new bird this year. Early on in the year, I knew I would be finding most of my new birds during the first half of the year.  

European Robin makes MANY vocalizations!
So my favorite birds of the year? (so far)

White-throated Dipper
All of the grouse. But especially the Lesser Prairie-Chickens.  The Water Rail in England was a favorite as were the Dunnock, Northern Lapwing, Rooks, Reed Bunting, Eurasian Blackbird, Jack Snipe, Red-billed Chough, AND my British favorite, the White-throated Dipper! Of course there are so many birds to mention, but I remember getting really excited about observing these birds in the wild.  Other birds that really made me smile, but weren't lifers were the Atlantic Puffins, Razorbills, Northern Fulmar and Common Murres. 

Philadelphia Vireo
There are some birds that don't thrill as much but they are what birders call ticks.  A Carolina Chickadee looks very similar to a Black-capped Chickadee so it didn't really dazzle. A Philadelphia Vireo was difficult to find but I did it.  And I was glad that I won't have to search for that bird again. Some people love woodpeckers. I like them alright, but when Kathie spotted our lifer Black-backed Woodpecker, I was excited for her.  I snapped a shot and was glad to be done with that chase.  Don't get me wrong.  All birds are amazing, but there are some groups I like better than others. 

Northern Fulmar
It was fantastic to meet a new friend and birder.  Over the years, our mutual friend Bonnie said we'd get along famously and told me to fly to Wales.  I've always been a Central and South American fan.  Britain wasn't ever really on my radar.  In short, I fell in love with Wales.  And I loved the atmosphere and people.  And the birds were fun too!

Broad-winged Hawk
Birds and birders go hand in hand.  I'd like to acknowledge several people who really made this birding year a lot of fun. 

First, I'd like to thank Gordon for his work getting several treks together.  We make a good team and I value his detailed notes and planning. I'm also really grateful to get to know Laurie Foss and Bucky better.  She made the Austin area birding a lot of fun.  Still not a fan of BBQ but it was an amazing trek full of great birds.  Thank you Laurie for your hospitality and sharing your knowledge!

And then to Bonnie and Steve.  I'm still thinking about our beautiful trek to England and all of Wales:)  They were wonderful hosts and really gave us a wonderful introduction to Wales.  We had a lot of laughs and I'll never forget the lesson of ordering a "starter".  It's not an appetizer for everyone.  Best line of the year?  "Aren't you being a little bit greedy Chris?" LOL!  I tried ordering several starters, thinking they were appetizers, for everyone and the waitress thought that I wanted to eat them all myself!  We still laugh at that moment.  Thanks Bonnie for clarifying! And that passport incident will never be forgotten. 

Steve spies a Red-billed Chough
Stephen, or Steve, was amazing.  I had so much fun just birding across the country.  That was so beautiful!  AND the two of us bird alike.  I can't wait for him to visit this spring in Arizona.  It's going to be a fun trek!

In fact, now that I look back at it all, I brought rainy and cold weather with me wherever I went this year.  Everyone said it was unusual, but I loved it!

Red Kite
And in between the travel to various US states and Wales, I hung out here in AZ guiding and helping others find our amazing birds. 

Elegant Trogon
I'd like to thanks Travis Moore and Nancy Gill for the fun times we had in Wisconsin this summer.  Nancy opened her farm up to a banding team from Milwaukee to help band Ruby-throated Hummingbirds.  And to Travis for making a dream come true with the Henslow's Sparrow.  What an amazing bird!  He shared with me tips about finding certain birds in Wisconsin.  We also were treated to a beautiful Cerulean Warbler observation!

I try to imagine myself a father and sometimes I think, I'd be a great dad and then there are times I think NO.  I made the right decision. I love all my nephews and nieces and am glad to have had the opportunity to spend time with them. 

I led birders with friend and fellow birder Hollie for Tucson Audubon's Southeastern Arizona Birding festival.  There we studied one of my favorite groups of birds, the sparrows!

I also introduced others to the beauty of the San Pedro riparian area. 

One of the most beautiful moments this year?  Jeff came down to Portal to find several birds like the Mexican Chickadee.  It was in the middle of migration and a huge cold storm front passed through the Chiricahua mountains.  I know Jeff wasn't crazy about the weather, but he got to witness a very rare event, lots of Western Tanagers on the move!

Scariest birding trek?  Along the narrow cliffs of Wales!  My legs felt like rubber.  Heights are not my thing, but I wanted to see Northern Fulmars on their breeding grounds!  At one point, Steve told me to focus on his steps and not look out across the ocean and down the sharp side of the cliff to my death.  At another point, I turned around and he came back for me.  Thank you Steve for giving me the encouragement to face my fear. It was an absolutely beautiful view.  Even better was watching several people far below sipping their hot beverages wondering if we'd fall off the cliff.  Free entertainment:)

I spent the month of June with my dear friend Kathie and Gus in Maine.  Together we saw so many birds and explored new birding hotspots together.  There were several days that were so wonderful.  And all of the them were blackfly free.  Oh my gods!  I hate blackflies with a passion. I got bitten up so much while we were there.  My favorite day?  Shopping with Kathie at the outlet mall at LL Bean.  Not even birding.  It's weird, but with this lady, I will chat on the phone and do things I normally hate doing.  On our last day together, we discovered Kathie's 500th lifer, the Little Egret. 

I also met up with Magill in Maine to do some birding on Monhegan Island.  We also did some chases during the winter months in Arizona. My favorite moment with Magill was finding a Common Loon on a nest. She showed me some great birding hotspots that were underbirded.  It's always fun checking out spots that the general birding public don't usually visit. 

I am grateful for my family in Wisconsin.  We had a wonderful June and July together.  It's nice catching up with all of the family dynamics. All I can say is that family is everything.  And it's overwhelming at times. I am out of the loop often times and in some ways, it's good, until my Dad had heart surgery. How truthful was everyone being about Dad? Was he really okay?:)  I had to see for myself.  A Wisconsin transition requires locking myself in my room alone for the first few days. There are so many family members and often everyone is talking at once.  It takes me time to adjust to the "noise" of family. It's hard to concentrate, but I will say that it's getting better as the kids get older. And I will concede that I am a lot like my father in this way.  But I can't imagine my life without them.  When I leave back to Arizona, I miss those crazy voices. 

In other news, I'm glad that Celeste has FINALLY made her move to Tucson. She knew Tucson was amazing.  She loved her vacation home here.  She has the best backyard up in the foothills of the Catalina mountains.  I was her destiny!  Celeste has been a good luck charm on our treks out.  We've spied a Red-eyed Vireo and Eastern Kingbird together on our trips.  

My final adventures took me out to Oregon and Washington with Khanh.  I hadn't seen Khanh for several years and it needed to happen.  We had fun birding and checking out spots around the states.  

Ruffed Grouse
Autumn weather, birds and hanging out with a friend.  It doesn't get better than that!  I absolutely loved snow birding with him in these stunning landscapes.  Sometimes there weren't any birds because the winds and snow were heavy.  That didn't matter. It was just exploring new habitat. 

And I could go on and on.  I absolutely loved meeting and birding with Homer this year.  That lucky guy had amazing views of the normally elusive Virginia's warbler. The thing is that every year is different.  This year was life changing. I'm thankful for the birding community, friends and family.  I'm hoping 2020 brings positive change and good vibes.  And of course, good birds.  Until next time:)


  1. the year certainly had it's up and down moments but it provided you with many great memories. Hard to be in and appreciate the moment but now that you have looked back I think you accomplished it very well.

  2. Gratuluje obserwacji. Podziwiam różnorodność obserwowanego ptactwa. Macie dobre towarzystwo do obserwacji. Ja jeżdżę w teren tylko z mężem. Kilka gatunków ptaków z twoich zdjęć w ogóle w Polsce nie występują, ale są tu ptaki popularne w moim kraju

  3. WOW! What an exciting post and year you have had Chris and may 2929 be even better

  4. Interesting post and great photos. Sounds like you had a really good year despite a few sad goodbyes, and I hope your father is on the mend. All the very best for 2020. Cheers Diane

  5. Hello.
    This year has been a great year for birds. My favourites are the puffin, the gannet and the fulmar. The last picture is superb, well done.
    Congratulations for your photos, and good blog!

  6. Chris, what a wonderful year you had. I am so happy I was able to share a small part of it with you! It was so good to have you here after Gus' stroke. You were a big help and support. Gus does not remember most of your visit. He totally forgot we bought that new DVD player! He is doing much better, now. I am glad your Dad is doing better, too.

    I hope you do get some rest and are able to rejuvenate over the holidays. I have no doubt next year will be just as exciting. You always make friends wherever you go. I am just glad you are my friend, and I, too, enjoyed that day of shopping at LL Bean. That tunic shirt I bought is now one of my favorites and perfect for winter. Great blogpost and photos as always! Congrats on 111 new Lifers!

  7. What a year, ups and downs with so many amazing birds, people and places.

  8. A sad and wonderful year - many are like that I think.

    Makes I change for you to post birds I have seen!

    Cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne


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