Saturday, January 3, 2015

Musings on my Favorite Birding Moments from 2014 -- Part One

Female Eastern Towhee -- Cheeha-Combahee Plantation (private property) on the ACE Basin Christmas Bird Count -- December 28, 2014
December 31, 2014

           Tick, tick, tick ... just 22 minutes from 2015.  Not being a New Year's Eve reveler, I would prefer to be tucked in bed dreaming of New Year birds.  BUT, I cannot sleep through the fireworks so I blog instead and think of my favorite 2014 birding moments, knowing that at the stroke of midnight, my eBird list will tick over to ZERO for the year.  Yes, I do have my eBird list open to watch it happen.  Ok, yes, I will have to refresh the page.  But I prefer this over watching the ball drop at Times Square on TV.

            Though I certainly birded less this year, I did see more bird species with 271 being the total for 2014 with 14 new life birds!  Eight of those new birds were found in Maine and New Brunswick this summer!   If only we could travel more often and further afield -- the birds we could collect on our lists, in our photos albums and, most importantly in our memories!  My eBird life list rests at 364.  My actual life list is probably 367 since I have not ever put in a couple of birds from years past  -- before I was a birder.

            Before Carl retired for the evening, I asked him what was his Best Bird of 2014.  It is a tough question.  How do you define the best bird?  Does it have to be a Life Bird?  For Carl, it most certainly must involve his being able to capture it in a decent photo.  His first thought was of the Spruce Grouse that we saw in the northern Maine woods.   And I agreed!  That was certainly a Best Bird!

Female Spruce Grouse -- Northern Maine Woods -- Telos Road -- July 18, 2014
 
He also thought of the Black Guillemot that we saw off of Campobello Island, in New Brunswick and the Wilson's Warbler from the northern Maine woods.  But since neither of us got good photos of those birds, they did not qualify as "Best Bird" for Carl.  Had our Puffin Boat Tour not been cancelled due to weather, we might be able to offer up a Puffin as a best bird.  The cancellation of that tour just gives us more impetus to schedule a return trip to Maine sooner! 

                Carl then asked me what was my Best Bird for SC.  For that, I could name "our" injured Pomarine Jaeger at Breach Inlet from July.

Pomarine Jaeger -- Breach Inlet, Sullivan's Island, SC -- July 11, 2014
 But that would not be based just on photography or the fact that it is a Life Bird.  We were rooting for Mr. Bold Personality's survival once he was transported to a rehabilitation center.  You can read more about him in the following blog posts:  "Look What Hurricane Authur Blew In -- One Week Later!" and "Update: Look What Hurricane Arthur Blew In -- Pomarine Jaeger" and "Update: Health Report on Convalescing Pomarine Jaeger"  and finally and sadly, a memorial post, "Goodbye to the Rugged and Handsome Pomarine Jaeger."  Yes, I was a bit enamored of this particular bird.  Though I found him handsome, he was not the looker that this Long-tailed Duck was! He was another Life Bird spotted on Sullivan's Island last February!

Long-tailed Duck -- Sullivan's Island, SC -- February 2, 2014

      If personality counts in the equation for Best Bird over Life Bird Status, then this banded Piping Plover is certainly a contender.  

Piping Plover -- Folly Beach County Park -- November 8, 2014
  
Piping Plover -- Folly Beach County Park -- November 8, 2014
This bird knew we were watching him.  As he fed up and down the beach in front of us, he would turn and face us bobbing his head as though to say, "Yeah, I am interesting.  What of it!"  You just got to love a bold bird with attitude.  We sent the band information into the Bird Banding Laboratory in hopes that we would hear more about this bird.  Every time we see a banded bird, we report it.  Once again, we received another enthusiastic response from the bander herself, Alice van Zoeren, from the Great Lakes Piping Plover Conservation Team from the University of Minnesota.  You can learn more about their work on their site:  Great Lakes Waterbird Research Program -- Piping Plovers.  She was thrilled that we had reported her bird as it certainly helps these researchers track these threatened bird populations!  She shared with us the following information on this particular quirky individual:

The plover you saw at Folly Beach hatched at Wasaga Beach in Ontario, Canada in 2010 and came to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in 2012 to breed. He has the amusing habit of incubating rocks until his mate lays some real eggs. Guess he just can't wait to have something to sit on. I'll attach a photo I took of him protecting his "nest". 

And here are some photos that Alice sent to us of this eager Papa bird!

The Piping Plover's practice nest for incubating -- Sleeping Bear Dunes National Seashore, Michigan -- May 3, 2013 -- Photo by Alice van Zoeren

This Piping Plover practices incubating on rocks while waiting on his mate to lay the eggs -- Sleeping Bear Dunes National Seashore, Michigan -- May 3, 2013 -- Photo by Alice van Zoeren

Piping Plover on his summer grounds at the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Seashore, Michigan -- July 4, 2012 -- Photo by Alice van Zoeren

Now you have to love a "Mr. Personality" bird with an interesting story!  So indeed, he has earned a Best Bird status! 

                Truly, there are a few more stories of "Best Birds" for 2014.  Do you have a Best Bird?  Please feel free to share your Best Bird story below.  How fun it is to reminisce on another well-spent birding year!  But we should not limit these ruminations to "Best Bird."  After all, sometimes it is not just about a bird, but about the birding experience.  In my next post, I will recall some of my favorite birding moments of the year!

              Until then, Happy Birding in the New Year to all!