Saturday, December 28, 2013


"What can I get you, sir?"

"Umm. I'll have the Great Skua, please. I believe it's medium rare. And I'll have a side of Tropicbird. Oh wait - that's probably out of season. Albatross?"

At least, that's what I'd like to say. But I don't, because (a) I'm hungry, (b) it's the only place in town that's open, and (c) they're about to close. I'm also wearing a Red Sox cap, and I don't want to give them another reason to not serve me. And so I play it safe.

"I'll have the grilled tuna."

I'm back in Hatteras, North Carolina. It's my 4th time to the Outer Banks this year and Great Skua is on my big year birding menu. (And yes, they are medium rare.) And while I'm eating my non-skua dinner (and apparently forgetting the advice about not drinking alcohol the night before a boat trip) I'm thinking about the next day - a pelagic trip on the Atlantic looking for the only currently chaseable bird in North America that I haven't seen this year - the Great Skua. And like many of the trips this year, I'm nervous. Will I see the bird? Will everyone else see it except me? Will I fall overboard? Did I leave the iron on back home? Is tuna normally this tough, or did I *actually* order the skua?

I should also mention that I have new traveling companion on this trip - Travis (the traveling trinovid.) I've been birding with him already this year - in Barrow and Adak. He's also doing a big year (he's over 600), and keeping a blog here. Travis - I should mention - is a pair of Leica Trinovid binoculars. After having a blast with him earlier in the year, I was very happy to be asked to look after him for the final week.

Travis (on the left.) Looks like he ignored the no drinking rule too. 
(And what's that? The remains of a Skua dinner?! Typical!)

And so the next day - today - starts like most potentially great birding days with what never feels like enough sleep. And while it's still too dark to actually see any birds.

6:30am. Hatteras, NC.
Brian and Kate preparing the Skua - our boat for the day.

There are 7 of us on the boat. As well as Brian Patteson, the captain, and Kate, chief chummer and bird spotter, there's Lynne Miller (of the ABA), Nate Swick (birding superstar and ABA blogger), and Bruce Richardson - who has a ton of experience birding Australia as well as the US. Jay Lehman and I are the big year birders on board, with only days left in our quest.

Lynne and Bruce. Both hoping for a Great Skua lifer today.

As the sun peaks over the watery horizon, the ocean in all its splendor and horror is quietly revealed to us. An ocean that is completely bird-free. But not for long...

Whoa! Where did all those gulls come from?

It always amazes me how fish offal and beef fat can transform a completely dead, bird-free ocean into a gull feeding frenzy. You have to respect a creature that can not only smell beef fat from a great distance, but then fly over to investigate and pick fights with other gulls just so that it can eat the disgusting stuff. (A not dissimilar phenomenon can be seen in the UK with humans at kebab vans on a Friday night.)

Chum - beef fat and fish parts. Just add gulls.

As well as the many Herring Gulls that are now trailing the boat, we start attracting other species too...

Black-legged Kittiwake (immature) - a nice surprise and a state bird for Nate Swick

Manx Shearwater - dark upperparts with bright white underparts

Northern Gannet. Preparing to dive-bomb into the sea.

As well as the birds, we also spot a Hammerhead Shark and Loggerhead Turtles.

Loggerhead Turtle. One of a pair. 
Notice the barnacles on its back.

We're having a great time - we've seen a very impressive range of birds and sea creatures. The screaming cacophony of gulls continues to flap, dive, glide, beg and even use my shoulder as a bathroom (that's lucky, right?) In fact, the gulls are doing everything except what they're being fed to do: attract a Great Skua.

Skua is the only bird name derived from the Faroese language. And no, that's the not language used by Ancient Egyptian rulers. Think further north: the Faroe Islands - a rocky archipelago belonging to Denmark that's actually closer to Norway and Scotland. Great Skuas breed there, as they do in Iceland, Norway and Scotland (where they're called Bonxies.) They're large, heavy gull-like birds, that are chocolate brown. They winter in the Atlantic Ocean and survive on a piratic lifestyle - harassing gulls and gannets, scaring the hell out of them until they drop their food, which the Skuas greedily scoop up.

"Damn it! This map doesn't have Skuas on."

Despite the season and the snow I left behind in Boston, out here at least, it's a beautiful, balmy day. Blue skies. Warm breeze. I'm just thinking about putting on some sun block, and whether I really did leave the iron on, when...


It starts so softly that I first think it's that's voice in my head, the one I'm mentally practicing for when I spot one and can shout it out. Or that I'm mentally willing someone else to shout. And then again, much louder...

"SKUA! Dark bird, white in the wing."

The shouting is coming from Nate, and he's pointing at the back of the boat. This is it. It's really happening. (Must pay attention!) Kate immediately gets on the bird. 

"Going left. Below the horizon. Going away from the boat."

I'm not on the bird. Did she say away from the boat? Still not on the bird. Away doesn't sound good. Maybe this is all we're going to get? What if I...and then I see it. A dark speck moving left.

Great Skua (in red circle). Enjoy!

It's a terrible view, and I'm aware that Jay is not on the bird. Hey you ungrateful Skua! Come and check out all the gulls we've been feeding! And then, it's almost like the bird hears my thoughts. It banks and starts beating its heavy wings in our direction. We watch as the bird circles and starts chasing gulls. Even without my binoculars, I can see the bright flashes of white in the wing. As the light hits its back I can see the beautiful gold flecks. And, like a July 4th pyrotechnic display, I can hear "oohs" and "aahhs" coming from some very happy birders around me. 
Great Skua. Oooh! Ahhh! 

Great Skua. Notice the large amount of white at the bases of the primaries, 
and the gold flecking on the chocolate brown upperparts. 
The bird is large and very heavy with a powerful bill.

The sense of relief is palpable. It's a life bird for Bruce and Lynne, and an important year bird for Jay and I.

Very happy big year birders: Jay Lehman and Neil Hayward

Great Skuas are not as accommodating as their cousin, the South Polar Skua. They generally creep up on gulls, then sneak away just as fast. They have little curiosity about boats, and once found, don't stick around for long. Apparently (and thankfully) this bird didn't read the guidebook. We were treated to an amazing show - we watched the bird for several minutes as it flew round in circles, landed on the water, chased gulls, and, in one final and incredible gesture, flew right by the boat. (Thank you!) I've seen Great Skua in Massachusetts twice, and this was by far the best view. 

We continue chumming all the way back to shore, which brings in some new birds, including a Sooty Shearwater:

Sooty Shearwater

as well as large numbers of Lesser Black-backed Gulls - a very uncommon bird anywhere else:

 Lesser Black-backed Gull. Yellow legs, dark gray upperwings.

And as we get closer to shore, we start seeing pelicans:

Brown Pelican - immature top, adult below

Thanks to Brian and Kate for a wonderful day. They have such an amazing record for finding difficult birds like the Great Skua. It might look easy, but it's not: there's years of experience involved and knowing where and when to chum. Thanks for delivering again!

Happy birders aboard the Skua!
From left: Nate Swick, Lynne Miller, Bruce Richardson, 
Jay Lehman, Brian Patteson, Neil Hayward. Front: Kate Sutherland.

Six hours later, Jay and I are toasting champagne at Chris Hitt's house in Chapel Hill. What are we celebrating? To big years! Chris did one in 2010, and Jay and I are just finishing one in 2013. 

Great Skua was big year bird #746 for me - and very possibly the last bird of the year. There was a lot of excitement today about beating the ABA big year record - set by Sandy Komito in 1998 (who - perhaps ironically for the day - had SKUA as his license plate.) He saw 745 birds, plus 4 that were new to the ABA region (745+4.) Three of those would eventually be accepted by the checklist committee giving him a final total of 748 (745+3.) I started the day on 745+3 and ended on 746+3. Have I beaten the record? Maybe. (It would be nice!) But none of my provisional birds (the 3 species new to the ABA - Rufous-necked Wood-rail, Common Redstart and Sparrowhawk) have been voted on yet, so I'll likely not know definitively until next year.

So. Back to the champagne: to big years! It's fun to compare big years - and even more fun to potentially set a new record (especially one held for 15 years.) I never set out to break a record, and the person I was competing against most of the year was myself. Could I plan things better? (Yes.) Could I be better at identifying birds? (Hell yes!) Could I have done things differently? (Absolutely.) Could I have seen more birds? (Yes - hint: start at the beginning of the big year.) Could I have had more fun, met more amazing people, seen more spectacular places, learned more about myself? Probably not. That's what the big in big year means. 

And so, to a big year! They don't come much bigger than this.

+ + +

BIG YEAR LIST: 746 + 3 provisional (Rufous-necked Wood-rail, Common Redstart, Eurasian Sparrowhawk)

NEW YEAR BIRDS (1): Great Skua

Wednesday, December 25, 2013


"Painted Bunting!"


"Red-headed Woodpecker!"

I'm at home, enjoying the Christmas holiday - one of the few holidays that I've been lucky enough to spend at home this year. Gerri is very excited and is doing some indoor birding. 

"There! Right next to the Polar Bear!"

Polar Bear? Home is Cambridge, MA. Not the Arctic Circle. And the unusual rarities are made of glass and not feathers. Gerri's been busy decorating the tree with reminders of my Big Year. 
Red-headed Woodpecker. One of the first birds I saw this year (Jan 10th) -
near the Museum of Fine Arts. Quite a rarity for Boston.

Painted Bunting. Always a fun bird to see - 
and a life bird for Gerri on one of our spring Florida trips.

I'm appreciating the slower pace this week, after the racing back and forth to Alaska over the past month. It's great sleeping in a bed rather than a car / plane / airport. And I'm appreciating eating proper food (apparently, cranberry scones from Starbucks are not proper food.) Also - having more time to check out social media and catch up on communications has shown me just how big this year has been for many people who've lived vicariously through this blog. For birders seeing familiar places and birds, or new places and dreamed-of rarities. And for non-birders, who've hopefully caught a glimpse of what makes birding so special.

OK. Not a bird. But seeing a family group of Polar Bears in Barrow
the most northern city in the US, was definitely one of the highlights of my year. 

Blue Jay. One of the many Jays I saw this year: Gray, Green, Pinyon, Steller's, 
Scrub-jays (Florida, Western, Island) and Mexican. 
And, of course, the Whiskered Jay of Ohio (Jay Lehman - my Big Year buddy for the year.)

And - importantly - the Big Year is not over yet! I still have a week left, and there's one bird in the country that I still need and that's chaseable - Great Skua, a large brown piratic bird of the Atlantic Ocean. It makes its living by stealing food out of the mouths of gulls (which is pretty impressive / amazing / disgusting if you've ever seen what gulls eat, plus all that gull saliva.)

 Owls - if there's any useful advice about doing a Big Year (apart from "don't!")
then it's get all the owls before the end of June, while they're still calling.
One of my favorites was watching a Northern Pygmy-owl eating a lizard in Arizona.

I've been in touch with Brian Patteson, and he's very kindly agreed to run a trip out of Hatteras, NC, on Dec 28th. Brian has had excellent success finding this bird in the past - and Hatteras has become one of the best places to see Great Skuas. And - if we needed any more luck, then we're heading out in a boat called Skua. I'm happy that Jay Lehman is on the boat (he's searching for Gray Partridge over Christmas - presumably scouring pear trees) - as well as Lynne Miller and Susan Jones (both of the ABA) that I met in St. Paul this year. And Bruce Richardson who've I've yet to meet. And, of course, Kate Sutherland will be on board chumming birds in and doing a great job of spotting and identifying distant specks on the horizon. 

Ummm...of course, the Blue Madeupbird?
The similar and distinctly less blue Ring-necked Pheasant ended up taking a long time. 
I eventually caught up with them in Eastern Colorado.

Cedar Waxwing. The last Waxwings I saw were Bohemian - hundreds of them in Anchorage, AK. But...I was too busy looking for a Dusky Thrush to pay them much attention.

I'm also looking forward to spending time with Chris Hitt in Chapel Hill. After completing his own Big Year in 2010 (704 species in the Lower 48) he's become the expert of Big Years, and has been a good friend and supporter this year. 

Porcupine. (Really Gerri? Looks more like a hedgehog to me.)
I was stuck behind a very slow-driving porcupine in Rice Lake, MN this May.
An hour later I got Golden-winged Warbler.
Two hours later, I got a body-coating of ticks.

Whale. I spent 14 days at sea this year, and saw many whales - the most 
amazing of which was the Blue Whale, seen on Debi Shearwater's boat out of Monterey.

Even after a year of being on the road, I'm still excited about the next chase. While North Carolina could well be the last trip of this year, I'm hoping that there'll be some feathered reason for me to dash off after Hatteras to an island off Alaska, up a canyon in Arizona, or on a ferry to the Dry Tortugas of Florida. Anywhere - just as long as the bird isn't a White-cheeked Pintail!

Happy Holidays to everyone that's been reading this blog - and thank you to everyone that's been following online. And a big thank you to Don Crockett for putting together this gadget that's keeping me awake at night...

(from 2014 - it's stopped now - but was counting down the 
days, hours, minutes and seconds)

And thank you Gerri for all your support this year. Thanks for a wonderful Christmas, for all the wonderful bird ornaments (who'd have guessed that no-one makes Rufous-necked Wood-rail Christmas ornaments - surely a great business opportunity for the ABA?)

"Now - where can I hang this cat?"
Gerri modeling the Big Year Tree.
+ + +

BIG YEAR LIST: 745 + 3 provisional (Rufous-necked Wood-rail, Common Redstart, Eurasian Sparrowhawk)

Thursday, December 19, 2013


It's my birthday. My 40th birthday. I'm sprawled across four seats in Seattle airport doing a good impression of sleeping (good enough to fool anyone but the person actually wanting to be sleeping.) Not how I expected to be celebrating the day - but not an entirely atypical day for me this year. As I'm drifting in and out of consciousness I'm thinking about the previous day. In Alaska. A day that began and ended in the dark...

I arrived in Anchorage yesterday at 1:30 am after a long day and 3 flights from Fort Lauderdale. It's my third time to Alaska in the past 4 weeks, and I'm still stupidly surprised that it's cold here in the winter. It's -6F. (Although if you adjust for the "Florida Clothing Factor" that makes that brings it down to around...umm.. well...bone-chillingly cold degrees Fahrenheit.)

I was headed to Homer where a Rustic Bunting was found a couple of days ago coming into a feeder. I was there in the spring with Wilderness Birding, before heading out to the Pribilofs. Aaron Lang drove us the 4+ hours from Anchorage to Homer which gave me more time to gaze out the window - a good thing: it's one of the most beautiful drives in the country.

The road runs southeast from Anchorage along Turnagain Arm - a branch of the Cook Inlet that forms the north coast of the Kenai Peninsula. Ancient, enamel-capped mountains of the Kenai Range reflect in the icy-cold waters below. Beluga whales play here in the summer. The hillsides hide bears, Dall sheep and moose. This time though, in the middle of the night, it just looked dark. And lonely. And cold. 

Alaska. In the winter. In the dark.

There's snow blowing across the icy road. The occasional truck materializes from a bend and temporarily blinds me with its beams. Otherwise, I have the whole road to myself. It takes all my concentration to stay awake and navigate each turn. I'm reminded of the dangers of not doing so as I pass vehicles buried in ditches of snow.

It's still dark when I pull into the Two Sisters Bakery for breakfast (sunrise here is about 10:30)

I've been driving all night, except for a quick 15 minute nap on a pull-out that turned into an epic 2 hour slumber. I needed it.

Homer is a pretty artsy place. If there are hipsters in Alaska then they're here. And if they're here then they're sipping lattes and eating granola at the Two Sisters Bakery.

"The bunting's only 2 minutes away!"

I'm met by Aaron Lang who picks me up in his monster truck. I'm very happy to see him again. I had a wonderful time on his Wilderness Birding trips in Alaska this year - to remote Gambell out in the Bering Sea, and here in the Kenai Peninsula. Aaron is not only a great guide who knows his birds, but he's a fun person to hang out with. 

The promised two minutes later brings us to a house in northern Homer. A gaggle of well-wrapped birders is standing on a snow bank peering into a neighboring yard below. Welcoming waves and a few "it's still here!"s and "we're looking at it now!"s bring an immediate sense of relief. The almost 2 days of travel to get here will be worth it.

We climb up the snow bank and position ourselves to look down onto a deck. We can hear juncos "zit, zit" ing about on the deck and in the trees. They're after the seed that's liberally scattered across the snowy floor. I'm following directions for the bird, "right of the planter", "left of the two juncos" - until my magnified vision alights on a fat, stocky bird, almost horizontal in its posture. Its reddish color and striking face pattern confirm its identity - Rustic Bunting!

Peekaboo! Rustic Bunting hiding on the deck.
Notice the slightly raised crest on the back of the head and the pale lower mandible.

I watch as it hops around, greedily sucking up the sunflower and assorted bird seed. 

Rustic Bunting (left) with Junco (right.) Notice the strong white lines on the face: the supercilium streaking back from the eye and the submustachial stripe from the bill. The flanks are streaked in red, and the folded wings have two white bars. The small white square at the back of the face is typical of Rustic Buntings.

It's lucky to be alive after making the unplanned crossing of the Bering Sea. A bird like this will probably never make it back home - it's lost forever. The best it can hope for is a pleasant winter with new friends (growing up in Russia it will never have seen Juncos or American Robins) and avoiding the new predators (Sharp-shinned Hawks and domestic cats.)

There's a blizzard warning with a large snow dump forecasted for this evening. I'm keen to get on my way before then and thank Aaron for yet another great Alaskan bird.

Aaron Lang. Resident of Homer and owner of Wilderness Birding

It's light on the drive back to Anchorage which gives shape to the blind hills and curves of the night before. The waters of Turnagain Arm are icy cold and sluggishly moving …

Turnagain Arm - looking across the water to the Kenai Mountains to the south.


The Alaska Railroad parallels Turnagain Arm 

Alaska is such an amazing and visceral place. As Janis Cadwallader, a birding colleague from the Pribilofs this year, puts it - the scenery is so stunning that sometimes it just hurts to look at. Alaska's painful, rugged beauty is inspiring, humbling and intoxicating. I feel so lucky to have spent so much of my year here (54 days, 8 trips) - a state in which I've seen over 50 birds that I've seen nowhere else. It's a wild place. Even in Anchorage airport...

"beep, beep, beep"

My alarm brings me back to the present - time to get up from my makeshift Seattle bed. After visiting 3 corners of the US this week - California, Florida and Alaska - I'm heading home to the 4th, to Massachusetts and a birthday dinner with Gerri. My year of travel, of chasing ephemeral feathers, is almost up. But I know the memories and images will last a lifetime. And I'm still hoping there'll be a few more to chase before the new year...

+ + +

BIG YEAR LIST: 745 + 3 provisional (Rufous-necked Wood-rail, Common Redstart, Eurasian Sparrowhawk)

NEW YEAR BIRDS (1): Rustic Bunting

Monday, December 16, 2013


I've swapped the giant redwoods of Northern California for the sticky mangrove swamps of Florida. And an Asian rarity for a Caribbean one. The early morning mist is slowly lifting off a pond in Matheson Hammock Park, 10 miles to the south of Miami.

And I'm hoping the mist is the only thing coming out of the pond...

I'm here looking for a La Sagra's Flycatcher - a bird normally found in the moist forests and mangrove swamps of Cuba, the Bahamas and the West Indies. They're an annual winter rarity in southern Florida: I chased two in the spring and missed both. I'm hoping it'll be third time lucky today.

La Sagra's are one of the Myiarchus family of flycatchers - a group of birds that look very much alike: brown head and back, yellowish-white underparts and a reddish tail. Thankfully they're easily separable by their diagnostic calls - in the case of this bird, it's a high pitched "wink, wink" (listen here at xeno-canto.)

It's early. The sun is barely up and birds have yet to stir. As I'm waiting for the bird, I'm reminded of another morning, back in January, waiting for another Myiarchus flycatcher to start calling. That was the Nutting's Flycatcher in Western Arizona, near Lake Havasu. At the time, it was just a fun birding vacation. If you'd told me then that I'd end up doing a big year, I'd have laughed at you and / or used a few choice expletives. But the success of that trip, and a few trips to Canada in the winter got me thinking: if I were ever to do a big year, this would be a great start. Sure, there was a bunch of stuff that I hadn't chased - SIberian Accentor, Spotted Redshank, Citrine Wagtail, Gray Heron, etc (all birds that I'd look back later on with regret...) But still, it wasn't a bad start. 

So, in some ways, my accidental big year, the one I never intended, started with a Myiarchus flycatcher, and is almost about to end with another. Once I'd decided to do a big year, around April, I wrote up that Nutting's Flycatcher trip and intended to write up all the other early trips. But a big year is intense - being on the road over half the year, traveling almost 200,000 miles by plane, another 50,000 by car, throw in a few boats here and there, barely left me enough time to write up my current trips. Or feed my cats. Or see my girlfriend. (Order of those activities not related to importance.) Some day I'll write up that first part of the year...


Was that it? And again. "Wink. Wink." Sure sounds like a La Sagra's. The bird is calling continually, seemingly moving around in the mangroves ahead of me. I nervously edge forward, not wanting to scare the bird. And then I see it - a largish brown and white bird, sitting erect on a branch. It's the La Sagra's!

La Sagra's Flycatcher. Brown head with (lowered) crest at the back, long bill
and silky-white underparts (most other Myiarchus flycatchers have more yellow underparts.)
The tail is obscured, but would show central reddish tail feathers.

It's very active, mostly staying out of view in the mangroves. They're known for being skulking (many visitors have left here only hearing it) and so I feel very lucky to have seen it so well. It's very vocal, calling vociferously for several minutes at a time, and then silently disappearing for 5-10 minutes before its next recital.

La Sagra's Flycatcher. This view shows more of the crest 
on the back of the head, as well as the pale wing bars.

What a beautiful bird! And such an engaging personality. It seemed to sense me, and spent time quizzically encircling me, trying to work out just what I was doing. I wonder how surprised it would be to know that the large creature with the funny metal and glass object was admiring it, enjoying its presence, and adding it to a list of 746 other species of birds seen this year. Yeah - it would probably think that was kinda weird. 

As I was about to leave, I heard a rustling in the mangroves behind me. I peered in, wondering what kind of animal this could be, only remembering foolishly at the last minute about the alligator warning. Would my big year end in the jaws of a gator? Would I ever be found? Do alligators eat Swarovski scopes or just Kowas? Would someone find my cell phone and at least prove that I'd seen the La Sagra's? Why am I wasting time asking all these dumb questions when I should be running? Wait - can't alligators out-run humans? Enough with the questions!

And then the mangroves opened emitting a dark and hungry beast. It looked a bit too dark for an alligator. And too hairy. But I guess that must be the local subspecies...

Matheson Hammock Alligator. Hairier than your regular alligator.
(And *possibly* not as dangerous)

It didn't manage to outrun me as I shrieked back to the car.

This wasn't my only target stop today. There was another bird in Florida that I still needed - the White-cheeked Pintail (also known as Bahama Pintail reflecting its origin.) I'd chased this bird twice in the spring, at Pelican Island NWR. I thought it'd be fairly straight-forward - it's a duck, they sit on the water, pretty hard to miss. Wrong! This bird was only seen at one pond and only for a brief period each day. (No one had discovered where it was hanging out for the rest of the time.) There was an eBird report on Friday, from the same location, suggesting the same bird was back. Would it be third time lucky on this bird too?

Pelican Island NWR is about 3 hours north of Miami and was the first national wildlife refuge in the US, established in 1903 by the executive order of the president, Theodore Roosevelt.
The pond where the duck had been frequenting was named after the recent 100 year anniversary - the Centennial Pond.

I arrived at noon, and nervously walked out to the pond. Would the duck be there this time? A quick scan across the water showed it to be the identical to all the previous times: Pintail free.

Centennial Pond - White-cheeked Pintail free. Again.

On previous visits, there had been flocks of Blue-winged Teal - with which the Pintail would associate. This time - no Teal. I waited for 2 hours, during which nothing happened. Literally. Nothing. Time for a coffee break. Maybe the change of scene would cause some change upon my return? No - same old ducks.

I ran into local birder Doug Beach who mentioned another, much larger pool with a viewing platform, "Joe's Lookout" that's often filled with Blue-winged Teal. It was a mile walk through the mangroves, but since nothing was happening here, I thought it was worth a try.

Compared to Centennial pond, this new pond was alive with birds: lots of Blue-winged Teal, Green-winged Teal, Gadwall, Wigeon, Mallard. In fact, every type of duck you could imagine in Florida, except for White-cheeked Pintail. After an hour or so of searching it was growing dark. I admitted defeat and walked back to the car. Foiled again!

As the sun was starting to set, and the sky slowly moving through a kaleidoscope of color, I was thinking that every birder needs a nemesis bird. Well - maybe "needs" is the wrong word. But we all have them - birds that just won't show for us - despite much searching and chasing and other people seeing them without any difficulty at all. For a long time this year Mountain Quail was that bird for me. Guess I have a new one now. Who knows - maybe the bird will be back more regularly before the end of the year. It there are multiple reports in the next week or so, I'll probably give it another try.

Somewhere out there a White-cheeked Pintail is maniacally laughing to itself...

Last night, I got a text from Aaron Lang (of Wilderness Birding) to say that a Rustic Bunting was in Homer, AK. It's been seen today - and apparently has been coming into a feeder since the 11th. I could stick around in Florida for another day and another try for the Pintail. But I'm not feeling very confident. WIth only two weeks left, I have to prioritize birds - and the Rustic Bunting seems like a better chance. But it doesn't come easy: it's a whole day of 3 flights from Fort Lauderdale to Anchorage - getting in at 1:25 am on Weds. Then a 4-5 hour drive. Hopefully without snow or ice. Oh - and there aren't any flights out of Anchorage on the 18th, 19th, 20th...Nothing. Yeah - it's going to get harder to do big year stuff during the holidays. Maybe I could get a ferry home? Isn't that Northwest Passage thing open now?

+ + +

BIG YEAR LIST: 744 + 3 provisional (Rufous-necked Wood-rail, Common Redstart, Eurasian Sparrowhawk)

NEW YEAR BIRDS (1): La Sagra's Flycatcher