Friday, August 30, 2013


As a self-confessed coffee junkie / aficionado, I've finally met my match in Washington State. I'm standing at the counter of Olympia Coffee Roasting Company, feeling under-tattooed, under hipster-dufusy, and undereducated on the bean offerings. Heck - I don't even know why the coffee needs to be ground to within fractions of a second, filtered over lab scales, and dripped into Erlenmeyer flasks. But I do know it tastes heavenly!

My caffeine nirvana is interrupted by news from the interwebs - the Smith's Longspur was just seen this morning. Damn my inability to get out of bed while it's still dark! But at least that means the bird is still there / alive / willing to pose for birders.

I arrive at Ocean Shores and meet some birders who arrived after the initial sighting and haven't seen it (yet.) I'm hoping this initial early morning sighting and then disappearing until evening isn't a pattern for this bird. While I'm waiting, stomping around the marsh grass, there's plenty of other birds to watch...

Red-necked Phalarope - these birds breed in the high Arctic, on shores in Canada and Alaska. It's heading south to spend the winter at sea in the southern hemisphere. 
(Western Sandpipers in the background.) 

Peregrine Falcon - taking a break from chasing sandpipers. 
This is a juvenile bird (adults are steel blue above.) 
The pale eyebrow and spotting suggest this is the northern tundrias subspecies.

And then the weather starts getting worse. Then really worse. And then un-birdable (rain, 30 mph winds, no birds, slight to moderate chance of planet-destroying apocalypse.) Those of us still holding vigil decide to leave and come back later. For me, that means a much-needed caffeine injection in distant Aberdeen. It also means an unintentional 90 minute sleep as I pass out in the car (thankfully parked *outside* of Starbucks and not *on the drive* there. When are we getting those robotic flying cars?) 

Not that I've missed much while being comatose. When I get back to Ocean Shores, the weather is even worse, if that's possible. It's early afternoon, and I'm calling it quits for the day. Beaten again by the pesky Longspur.

Smith's Longspur 2 - Neil Hayward 0

As I'm sitting in the car at Ocean Shores, being rocked by the howling wind, I have 2 crazy thoughts:

(1) to check the forecast for tomorrow morning, to see what I would be missing as I'm flying to Alaska: apparently 5mph winds and no rain (seriously?);

(2) to delay my 6am flight for later in the day (Alaska Airlines only charges $25 for a later flight.) 

That's it! I'm staying. I'm going to spend the night at Ocean Shores and give the bird one last try in the morning and endanger my mental health if I miss it.

Not too rainy for State Capitol ticks - Olympia at sunset.

I wake up before dawn with one pesky Longspur, a 3 hour drive and a flight to Anchorage ahead of me. I'm relieved to find Ocean Shores is calm and dry. Perfect weather for Longspur hunting. But wait - there's a new type of weather…

Fog. Just when you thought it was safe to go birding in Washington.

The fog sticks around most of the morning, making it hard to see much ("much" of course includes the Smith's Longspur.) 

And then, after an hour of waiting, I suddenly hear it: the dry rattle I've been waiting 3 days for. I look up as a long-tailed bird, silhouetted against the low ceiling of fog, bounds off into the distance. That's it! The call is diagnostic for Smith's Longspur - but what a lousy view of the bird. 

I stick around, hoping for better views, and am joined by local birder - Rolan Nelson. Forty-five minutes later, we get a repeat performance of the flight call. But this time I'm able to follow the bird to a distant log, half hidden in the long grass. I run like crazy, getting close enough for a distant scope view…

Smith's Longspur. Warm cinnamon-brown body tones, and distinctive Longspur shape and posture. The diagnostic bright white outer 2 tail feathers are completely hidden on the perched bird. Notice the longish primary projection on this bird.

We watch the bird for 5 minutes before it leaps into the air, calling and showing its white outer tail feathers. It makes a wide circle over the entire area before dropping down into the short, muddy area. Another quick sprint, and I'm 10 feet from a feeding Longspur…

Smith's Longspur.

Like many birds this year, patience finally pays off. After 3 days of tracking the bird down, it's incredibly confiding. It's a real treat being able to watch it feed right next to me, picking at the long vegetation and occasionally sticking its head up, periscope-like to scan the horizon for danger.

Here's a movie of the bird feeing in the grass...

Smith's Longspur feeding in the grass - the movie!

And that's it for Washington! Thank you Pacific Northwest for 3 great birding experiences - the chimney of roosting Vaux's Swifts, the ferry over to Vancouver Island for Sky Lark, and the chase for the Longspur.

I'm jetting off to Anchorage today, and then to Gambell, St Lawrence Island tomorrow. I guess that means it's officially fall.

+ + +


NEW YEAR BIRDS (1): Smith's Longspur

Wednesday, August 28, 2013


It's late afternoon and I'm running out of options.

"I'd allow 3 hours"

This is Hans de Grys' suggestion for time allocation in chasing the Sky Lark on Vancouver Island. This is great advice. Fantastic advice except for the numerical part: it's now 7 hours and I still haven't seen or heard a Sky Lark. 

The Sky Lark is a European bird. Growing up in the UK, in a village surrounded by fields, it was a familiar bird of my childhood. An otherwise nondescript brown bird, it comes to life during spring when it flutters high above the ground, so high it almost disappears into a tiny dot, and delivers a continuous, liquid song. It's the background music to pastoral England. Well - it was 30 years ago. Today, it's estimated there's only about 10% of that population - a reflection of changing agricultural practices (especially planting cereal crops in the winter rather than the summer thus depriving the birds of open fields during the breeding season.)

So - what's it doing over here? Barely surviving - that's what. After many failed attempts in the 19th century to introduce the bird onto mainland USA, it finally took hold in 1903 on Vancouver Island, Canada. It gradually spread south to the San Juan Islands (WA state) and east to the Canadian gulf islands. By 1965 there were over 1,000 birds. Since then, its decline has largely mirrored that in the UK, and for many of the same reasons. Today it's only found on Vancouver Island - at the airport, the Vantreight bulb fields and the Martindale Valley. 
To Vancouver Island. 
(Not all these people have come for the Larks)

I arrived on the ferry this morning and I've been spending the day alternating between not seeing the birds at the airport and not seeing them at the bulb fields. Admittedly, this isn't the best time to be looking for this bird - they've stopped singing, and haven't formed winter flocks yet. 

Vancouver Island airport. A certified Sky Lark free zone today.

It's 5pm, I'm back at the bulb fields desperately scanning through plowed fields, becoming more and more anxious as the sun moves closer to the horizon. In the back of my mind I'm resigned to spending the night on the island, which means being forced to repeat the agony again tomorrow. And even further back in my mind is the prospect of having to come back later in the year if I strike out tomorrow.

The Vantreight bulb fields. Another popular spot today for not seeing Sky Larks.

"What are you looking at?" A car pulls up next to me. They must be wondering why anyone would have a telescope pointing at the middle of a muddy field.

"Nothing" I only just manage to omit the adjectival profanity. "Absolutely nothing. I was hoping for Sky Lark. I've been here all day." And will be tomorrow, I think.

"Oh. That's not good! Let me call a local guide - I think they've seen them recently." She's a birder. And a birder with connections. Her name is Carolyn. And she just may be my savior today.

"OK. So, the bad news is they're not here. Or anywhere, pretty much - apparently they only recorded 17 singing males this year." 17! Yikes. 

"The good news is that they were seen a few days ago at a different field." Finally some good news.

Carolyn very kindly drives to the correct field with me following. We spend a few minutes checking before she has to leave and I thank her for leading me in the right direction. Again, I'm blown away by how friendly and helpful local birders have been in my travels this year.

It's a very scraggly field, and almost impossible to see the ground - and thus the birds. But at least I know where to look. And I have the whole of tomorrow. I walk around the edge hoping to catch sight of movement, and then I hear it - a sound I haven't heard for over a decade. It's a partial song of the Sky Lark. I look around, and spot a bird flying low across the field - on bowed, fluttery wings showing white trailing edges and white on the edges of the tail. And then it's gone - deep in the scraggly.

And then I hear it - the liquid trill of the Sky Lark. I look around, and there's a bird flying low across the field, showing a white rear edge to the wing and white on the sides of the tail. And then it's gone - down into the scraggly stuff. 

Sky Lark! Wow. Phew. I try looking for it on the ground, but never succeed. I have to do with another quick flight view, and that's it.

Time for another gratuitous photo of a field with no birds.
This one though actually has the larks. Well, one of them.

Maybe today wasn't so much of a surprise. This whole month has been tough with the birds really making me work for them (Blue-footed Booby, Snowcock, Mountain Quail, Herald Petrel...) I guess that's what happens when you get to the 700s. I'm running out of the easy ones.

I race back to the ferry and the relief of being connected to civilization again (I didn't take out a second mortgage to activate my phone for use in Canada so I'm reliant on the free wifi on board.)

As soon as I turn my phone on, I find out that the Smith's Longspur was seen again today. Damn that bird! Seriously! I was really looking forward to a relaxing day tomorrow of blog writing and drinking lots of coffee (hey - this is Seattle, where they pretty much invented the stuff. At least the good stuff.) Now I have to go chase this bird again, which means a lot more driving. This bird is quickly ruining the relaxing part of my trip. 

So, rather than spend the night in Vancouver, I drive as far south as I can before falling asleep. I get to Tacoma and set my alarm for an early start tomorrow.

And thank you Carolyn. You saved my day!

+ + +


NEW YEAR BIRDS (1): Sky Lark

Tuesday, August 27, 2013


I'm in Washington State, 4 days before my flight to Alaska and St. Lawrence Island. I'm here for a couple of geographically-convenient targets birds: Vaux's Swift (my last code 1 bird of the year) and Sky Lark. As I'm on my way, I hear from my local Big Year friend, Hans de Grys, that there's a Smith's Longspur out at Ocean Shores. It's quite a rarity out here (they breed in central Alaska) and is attracting a lot of attention from state listers. And from me - it would save a trip down to the grasslands of Oklahoma this winter. A trip I'd be more than happy to miss!

As I land, I check the local listserv (rather cutely called Tweeters) and find the bird was seen first thing this morning. Fantastic! I have enough time to get the Longspur first, and then head back to Seattle for the Swifts. I'll have plenty of time to relax before Alaska and catch up with Hans.

Ocean Shores forms the northern entry to Grays Harbor, a vast estuary of the Columbia River south of the Olympic peninsula. It's the second time I've made the 3-hour drive this year (the first being for Rock Sandpiper back in February.) The road gets narrower, windier and slower until I finally arrive at the wind-strewn beach that is Ocean Shores.

Welcome to Ocean Shores!

There's a good number of birders there when I arrive. And most of them are leaving. There are generally two types of leaving in birding: (1) you've seen the bird and you're happy to leave; (2) you can't find the bird and are giving up and need to get home to feed the kids / feed the pets / it's already 2 hours later than you said you'd be home (honey) / you've realized this is a ridiculous hobby, this is the last bird you're ever chasing and you're going to take up knitting instead. From the dejected faces, I could tell this was the bad kind of leaving. It's not long before I hear the scuttlebutt -  a dog walker came after the first sighting and they (presumably the canine part of the double act) scared the bird off. Despite much stomping around in the short grass, the bird has not been seen since. Damn!

I spent an hour walking around the short grass, mainly to reassure myself that it really wasn't here (it wasn't!) and then gave up. 

Peregrine Falcon - probably not helping in the Longspur (no) show.

Eight hours later, I arrive back in Seattle. OK - it was really 4 hours - but based on much empirical data I'm aware of a multiplier effect (of at least 2) after missing a bird that makes the drive back seem much longer. And even with the novelty effect of Kurt Cobain having grown up there, Aberdeen is still not the most exciting place through which to drive. 

Frank Wagner Elementary School in Monroe is famous throughout the US birding scene as a roosting site for migrating Vaux's Swifts. The loss of their natural roosting sites - big hollow Douglas Firs - has concentrated the birds in man-made structures such as chimneys, which provide an internal surface on which the birds can cling (swifts cannot perch, they can only hang.) It's one of only seven sites down the west coast which support the vast majority of migrating swifts, most of which have recorded up to 20,000 birds in a single evening.

Monroe Elementary School - with the chimney in the background.
(The chimney is no longer used, but has been preserved for the swifts.)

I arrive in Monroe an hour before sunset, and as soon as I get out of the car I hear swifts above me. They look like the cigar-shaped Chimney Swifts of the east coast (and one of about 5 birds that appears on my paltry yard list) but the call is much softer and sweeter.

Vaux's Swift. Notice the cigar-shaped body and the crescent wings.

For the next hour the birds continually swirl over the school in a giant seething mass. They're in constant contact with each other chattering away high above me. Occasionally one makes a  sortie for the chimney, diving straight for the opening only to pull away at the last minute. The latter activity increases steadily towards dusk - they're either practicing the approach for the actual landing, checking to make sure the chimney is safe, or just having a lot of fun!

As it starts to get dark, and the birds are presumably convinced that all their friends are there, they suddenly start entering the chimney. Again they hurtle towards the opening, as a column of birds, then put the brakes and gently flutter in. They reverse direction in doing so, from head-first to tail-first. If you drove past this, you'd think they were bats. 

Vaux's Swift funneling into the chimney for the night. 
Swifts spend the whole day on the wing, never perching. They must be pretty tired!

And within 5 minutes they're gone! Inside, they're hanging from the walls and are packed like shingles. By overlapping each other like this they're able to conserve body heat and enter a state of torpor for the night, like hummingbirds (bizarrely their closest relative in the avian world.) The camera at the top of the chimney counts the number of swifts roosting each evening - tonight it's 728. 

Swifts entering the chimney - the movie.

As the darkness becomes complete I head off north, ready for my trip tomorrow to Vancouver Island, Canada. I'm going for one of the last exotics on my list - the Sky Lark, a bird introduced from Europe. And like many of the exotics, it's not doing so well.

Oh - and I guess the dog didn't do such a great job of scaring the Longspur away. It was seen this evening, sitting on a log posing for pics. Damn! Now, where did I put those knitting needles?

+ + +


NEW YEAR BIRDS (1): Vaux's Swift

Sunday, August 25, 2013


"So, we're going!"

It's 5:30 in the morning at Hatteras, NC. I breathe a huge sigh of relief and silently thank the pelagic sea gods. I'd slept in the car the previous night, listening to the wind howling outside, wondering if this last-minute trip was wise; yesterday's storm cancelled both pelagic trips in MA and NC, and threatened to derail today's plans. It's going to be rough, warns Brian Patteson, but we're going.

And rough it was. Half the boat were sea sick, with some spending almost the entire day running between the side of the boat and emptying what was still left of their stomach into the Atlantic, or hunched over in a state of nausea. I counted myself lucky, among the few that felt fine the whole day.

Target birds today were White-faced Storm-petrel, White-tailed Tropicbird and Herald Petrel. The storm-petrel was a slim chance, but was on my wish-list as that was the bird I was missing this weekend after the MA pelagic was cancelled. The White-tailed Tropicbird - well, I feel like I've been chasing them all year. And the Herald Petrel - like the Tropicbird - I missed by a day on my last Hatteras trip.

The blue, azure waters of the gulf stream weren't far from shore, although we had to fight to get out there. We were seeing the usual stuff -  good views of Audubon's Shearwaters, Wilson's Storm-petrels, large numbers of Cory's and a few Great. Oh - and an Ovenbird that whizzed past, probably wishing that it was hunkered down somewhere on dry land. As we reached the warm waters of the gulf stream the current was far stronger, tossing the boat around every time we stopped for a bird.

There were some great birders on board, including Tom Johnson. I'd known Tom from his tantalizing eBird reports filed from way out at sea - places only describable with a set of GPS numbers. He's a bird spotter for NOAA, and spends large amounts of time doing surveys along maritime transects. I'd imagined him as a wizened old fisherman type, pipe in mouth and sou'wester on head. Of course, he's anything but - young, no pipe, but he did have the requisite facial hair and a noticeable ease at sea.

The waves continued to pound as we make our way slowly through the gulf stream, looking for sargasso and the birds it attracts. At times, several of the many Black-capped Petrels we encounter follow the slick, performing dazzling aerobatic maneuvers as they're seemingly thrown about in the wind. It's amazing they're not throwing up too after the G-force they must be experiencing.

"TRINDADE PETREL. TRINDADE PETREL. 7 O'CLOCK" It's Tom Johnson shouting, and within seconds the stern is full of excited birders, fighting to hold on to the pitching boat, binoculars and cameras in hand, all staring in the same direction. And there it is! A dark Pterodroma petrel. It's probably the only bird we see today that doesn't have a bright white underwing. The bird is solid dark above, with a silvery-gray streak below. The wings seem impossibly long, reaching out to take advantage of the wind. 

Trindade / Herald Petrel - dark underside with silvery gray bases to primaries. Notice the long pointed wings and short bill. Photo by Tom Johnson. Used with permission.

The bird moves quickly, from 7 o'clock, to 8, 9, 10, up the port side of the boat and finally out of view. And in less than a minute it's gone. 

Trindade Petrel is a bird with an identity problem. Open up your field guide or checklist, and you might not find it. Variously named Trindade, (and a bunch of misspellings such as Trinidad, Trinidade) or Herald Petrel, it's a bird that ornithologists are realizing is a complex of more than one species. The bird we've (almost certainly) seen is Pterodroma arminjoniana arminjoniana which breeds on islands in the South Atlantic, off Brazil (Trindade and Martin Vaz.) The Pacific subspecies, P. a. heraldica is considered by many to be a distinct species. Oh - and there's also a form that breeds in the Indian Ocean...

Whatever it's called, I'm happy! After making the trek to Hatteras three times this summer, I finally come away with a rarity. And although a different bird, it makes up for the cancelled Mass pelagic and the White-faced Storm Petrel that's now relegated from my list of gettable birds. 

It's the last pelagic out of Hatteras this summer. Thanks to Brian and Kate for making these such great trips - they do a fantastic job finding birds out there and getting birders onto them. If you've never been - then go! You can find them here.

And that's it for the east coast. After a brief visit home - barely long enough to pack and say hi / bye to Gerri and the cats - I'll be heading west, to Seattle and then to Gambell, on St Lawrence Island, Alaska. A place where you really can see Russia. And hopefully lots of Russian birds too.

+ + +


NEW YEAR BIRDS (1): Herald / Trindade Petrel

Saturday, August 24, 2013


It would be an understatement to say that I'm not having much luck with pelagics this year. I've managed to miss all the ones with the rarities on - I've spent 63 hours at sea this year with no code 3+ birds - and then either get on boats where there are no birds, or boats that don't actually go anywhere. Today was a boat that didn't go anywhere. 

My plan for this weekend was the 2 day, overnight pelagic out of Cape Cod, MA. This is an almost slam-dunk for White-faced Storm-Petrel, as well as other rarities; I've had Great Skua on this boat in the past, and not been on the boat when they got Little Shearwater. Anyway, that's all academic now, since the weather was so bad today the boat didn't go out - and it's not going to be rescheduled. A similar fate befell John Vanderpoel in his big year. Pelagic birding is so hit and miss - with usually more of the missing than the hitting.

So, I spent most of this morning all over Expedia, mainly to reassure myself that I'm still actually birding and doing something vaguely productive. I'm heading down to Hatteras again this evening. They didn't go out today - bad weather - but hope to go tomorrow. If they do go, there's still a chance for White-tailed Tropicbird and Herald Petrel, as well as White-faced Storm-petrel. This would be my last east coast pelagic this summer, so any of these would be last chances.

After that I'm coming home and packing for Alaska. I've managed to travel most of this year with a shockingly small amount of luggage (most of which is my telescope) - which means if you've seen me a second time I'm probably wearing the same thing you saw me wearing the first time. And probably slightly smellier. This time though, after freezing in the Pribilofs during the "spring", I'm taking more stuff (ski pants and even more layers.) I'll either need bigger bags (although I'm approaching the limit on raised eyebrows from air stewards and actually getting my bag into the overhead compartment) or I'll wear more clothes on the plane, or I'll just abandon my principles (and pay for checked luggage!) So, keep your eyes out for a hipster dufus wearing 3 coats on a plane near you...

On my way to Alaska I'll probably stop at Seattle and try for Sky Lark and Vaux's Swift, and hopefully catch up with my friend, Hans de Grys - who's now finished his crazy mid-year to mid-year Big Year and is back to his day job teaching chemistry.

Apart from rarities, I still need to work on some code #1 and #2 birds. Here's what I still need for the year:

Code #1:
  • Vaux's Swift (hopefully in WA state before or after Gambell.)

Code #2:
  • Sharp-tailed Grouse (really need help on this. Don't have any good ideas except Arrowwood NWR in ND, which is a bit of a trek. Any ideas?)
  • Mottled Petrel (probably not going to happen)
  • Black Storm-petrel (CA pelagics in Sept.)
  • Whooping Crane (Aransas in Dec)
  • Common Ringed Plover (the nesting birds on Gambell will probably have left by the time I get there, so probably not going to get this bird.)
  • Whiskered Auklet (trying to plan a trip out of Dutch Harbor after Gambell - or before Barrow in early Oct.)
  • Sprague's Pipit (Dec in Texas)
  • Smith's Longspur (Dec in the south)
  • McKay's Bunting (Dutch Harbor, or Nome in late fall)
  • Sagebrush Sparrow (probably wintering birds in the southwest.)
  • Eurasian Tree Sparrow (IL late in the year, when there's nothing else to chase!)
I'm most worried about Sharp-tailed Grouse - so I'd love any suggestions. I'm still amazed that I've seen all the other grouse and quail this year and that this is the only one I still need - so I should be pretty happy to be in this position. Thank you again Mountain Quail!

OK. Off to Hatteras. 2 hour flight. 5 hour drive (from RDU). 3 hour "sleep."

+ + +

Tuesday, August 20, 2013


This is a week of second chances. Yesterday's Blue-footed Booby was, incredibly, the second chance this year for a bird that is often absent most years from the ABA region. And today was my second chance at another previous miss - Curlew Sandpiper. This time on Long Island, NY.

Phoenix was thus a quick stop - flying in from Virginia in the morning, and out on the red eye at night. Red eye? More like red ribs after spending the night squished between the window and a very elbowy neighbor. At least the free eye mask meant I didn't have to witness the claustrophobic seat invasion.

The Curlew Sandpiper was first reported on Sunday, about a week after the one I missed on Plum Island, MA. Given the latter bird only stayed for 2 days, I was nervous about chasing this one. Hey - it could even be the same bird; Long Island seems to be on the flight path for shorebirds leaving MA - at least that's what seems to have happened for the Red-necked Stint earlier in the year.

Ninety minutes after leaving Queen's I arrived at Mecox bay, a sheltered cove on the east end of Southampton. The area the bird was frequenting was easy to find: follow the trail out to the beach, turn left when you see all the muggles having fun (swimming, sun-bathing, throwing frisbees), climb over sand dune (taking care not to entirely fill your shoes with sand) and enter a secluded, smelly mud flat (replace sand in shoes with mud.) 

The smelly mud flat was teeming with shorebirds, terns, gulls, and…

Black Skimmer. What a beauty!

Lots of Semipalmated and Least Sandpipers, Plovers, White-rumped Sandpiper, Sanderling. But no Curlew Sandpiper. This was a pretty small area, with most of the birds clustered around a pile of rusty metal wire. If it wasn't here, it wasn't here. I'd had a feeling this could be an awkward bird. It's a fairly common rarity, but one that's actually quite easy to miss. I start walking around the mudflats, in case I missed a few spots. Nothing. And then, as I come back to the metal heap, I see it: large shorebird, reddish body, long, drooping bill. It's feeding non-stop, like a clockwork toy, spinning around picking at the mud. Curlew Sandpiper!

Curlew Sandpiper. 
Note the deep red undersides which are splotchy - it's molting into its winter (basic) plumage. 
The strong supercilium (eye stripe) is also a feature of the winter plumage. 

I watch the bird for about 10 minutes before it dramatically runs over to the metal heap, drops down underneath it, tucks its bill in and goes to sleep! I bet this is where it was hiding when I first arrived. 

Not the most comfortable of places to sleep, but if I were a Curlew Sandpiper in this heat and bright sun, that's probably where I'd hide. But since I'm not a Curlew Sandpiper, and probably couldn't fit under the wire heap, I instead head back to the shade of the car, which, unlike heaps of rusty metal on beaches, also has a/c.

Nice spot Mr. Sandpiper. But how's the a/c situation?

The great thing about being back home in the northeast, is that I get a ride home from Gerri, who very generously picks me up from Queens. The bad thing is the traffic. Those 75 mph roads in Arizona are a distant memory as we're crawling through CT, and then the Boston / Cambridge traffic. But it's worth it to be home again. And it's my first chance to properly celebrate hitting 700 for the year…

Celebrating at the Cambridge Common.

+ + +

BIG YEAR LIST: 701 + 1 provisional

NEW YEAR BIRDS (1): Curlew Sandpiper

Monday, August 19, 2013


Blue-footed Booby is perhaps one of the oddest of birding experiences I've had this year. It took 4 forms of transportation today: taxi (to Norfolk, VA airport), plane (x3), rental car (3 hours) and finally a canoe (500 calories.)  It's definitely the only lifer I've had with a paddle - and the only canoe-assisted tick this year. Oh - and it's also #700 for my Big Year! Woo-hoo indeed!

A happy birder! This man has just seen his 700th bird for the year. 
(And he didn't fall in, despite all the excitement)

It's also a bird I thought last week would be my 700th. And it was - just a different bird, different state, and a later date. After the heartbreak of missing the New Mexico Blue-footed Booby (see here - it was taken into rehab while I was flying into Dallas) it was perhaps fitting that I'd get another chance to make this special bird my 700th. And also to be in AZ where my Big Year started. And like a lot of my Big Year, I was alone. The celebration was no less intense - although I had to ensure I didn't capsize the canoe!

Oh - before I forget, here's the bird:

Blue-footed Booby - Patagonia Lake, Arizona.

And here's the bird flying. Note the long white tail, and white patch on the back...

When Jan 1st turned this year, I had no idea I'd be doing this. I was scrambling to plan a quick birding trip to Arizona, but that was it. See the intro to my Big Year - inappropriately filed in May (!) What started off as a few successful trips morphed into a medium year, and then into a big year. An accidental big year. Even then, I was thinking 600 or maybe 650 would be a great achievement. To be at 700 in August, given the unplanned start is truly surprising - most especially to me. I've enjoyed every one of those birds. I've enjoyed the chases, the planning and the highs and the temporary lows. But most, I've enjoyed the connection I've made with other birders and the places it's taken me. Every bird and trip is a reminder of what a unique community birders are - ever willing to help a fellow birder. I'm sure it'll be these connections that stay with me. Last week was a painful one, and I'm grateful for all the support - offline and online I received.

So - what's next? After flying into Phoenix today, I'm on a flight out this evening to JFK for the Curlew Sandpiper - seen throughout the day today. A chance at getting back the bird I lost last week in MA.

So - back into chase mode. I'm in Gambell, Alaska the first week of Sept, and then a week of pelagics on the west coast.

But now, I'm trying not to look too far ahead - and just enjoying the Booby Prize!

+ + +

BIG YEAR LIST: 700 + 1 provisional

NEW YEAR BIRDS (1): Blue-footed Booby