Friday, December 23, 2011

Thinking About My Bird of the Year 2011

Friday, December 23, 2011
It's been an incredible year of bird watching. As I think back on some of the sweet birds I've seen—some of them lifers, some just old favorites—I find it nearly impossible to pick just one as my BOY—my Bird of the Year. Here are some of the nominees: Above is the lesser prairie chicken I got to see, with dozens of his fellow lekkers, outside of Woodward, Oklahoma, during the Lesser Prairie Chicken Festival. What a soul-stirring morning spent in a small blind, waiting for enough of the dawn to coalesce so I could see these incredible birds perform their ancient courtship ritual.

An even rarer life bird came to me (really I went questing after it) in central Texas in late June. The male golden-cheeked warbler that I found at Friedrich Wilderness Park north of San Antonio was my next-to-last U.S.-breeding warbler species (only the hard-to-see Colima warbler remains unchecked on my life list).

Actually the first golden-cheeked individual I saw was a begging fledgling, which looked a whole lot like an adult bird only rattier and fluffier of plumage. When the adult male came in, followed by the adult female, and the three of them dropped down to drink and bathe in a small pool 20 feet away, my identification was confirmed. And I began to suppress a scream of joy. It was a extra poignant to see a fledgling of this federally endangered species—and to think of how few fledgling golden-cheeked warblers there were in the world at that moment.

I'm often asked, as most birders are, to share which species is my favorite bird. Since my pre-teen years, my answer has been red-headed woodpecker. I'm not sure why, but this bird just gets me fired up. Perhaps because this is a bird of contradictions. They are increasingly rare here in southeastern Ohio, but they were common in the southeastern Iowa of my childhood. They are ID-able from a great distance in flight flashing the semaphore of white and black wings, yet they often go unnoticed as they perch quietly. Some red-headeds migrate, others don't. Where they are common they are reliable to see, but they can also show up just about anywhere, especially in fall migration. They are often confused with the much more common red-bellied woodpecker and species that has, at best, a red Mohawk stripe of red. And the red on the red-headed's head (say THAT 10 times fast)—well it's perhaps the most compelling red on any bird. Yep, it's my fave. This year we heard about a nesting colony of RHWOs about an hour away from home in West Virginia, so we took several trips there to commune with them.

While traversing the New River Gorge Bridge on the catwalk below the road surface, I got to enjoy my closest-ever look at an adult peregrine falcon. The above photo was taken with my Canon G12 point-and-shoot camera. This bird was CLOSE! The bird of prey highlight of the year for me.

The local birding grapevine whispered in my ear about a possible sandhill crane in our county. I was initially doubtful because we have an exploding population of great blue herons in the region. Sure enough, at dusk the same day I first heard about the crane, we found it. Foraging in a field of newly sprouted sweet corn. It stayed around long enough for me to get several birding friends out to see it. My first-ever Ohio sandhill crane and, if I kept a Washington County, Ohio bird list this would be a nice addition to it!

These are just four of the nominees for my BOY. I'll do my best to share the rest during the holidays, before the list stats anew at 12:01 am on 1/1/12.


On December 24, 2011 at 9:28 AM Johnnny said...

I vote for the sandhill crane. It looks like a real life Big Bird. I could see it a lot better by clicking on the picture. Its eyes look incredible. Thanks, Johnnny

On December 26, 2011 at 10:24 AM steve moore said...

I vote for the RH Woodpecker. It was the first bird my grandmother ever showed me and if you squint real can turn into a Ivory Billed

On December 26, 2011 at 4:25 PM Catnapping said...

I would love to introduce you to an ornothologist who has great interest in the Lesser Prairie Chicken.


His avatar is the prairie chicken, but today it's a red x. He rocks!

On December 29, 2011 at 7:16 AM Mpho Phiri said...

Hi Bill,
Your RHWO's will make it. Looking forward to the encounter.

On December 29, 2011 at 9:16 AM Chatterbirds said...

I am partial to Lesser Prairie Chicken. Rare, hard to see, boasts character and it dances!

On December 31, 2011 at 6:50 PM birdchaser said...

Nice birds. I'm never able to pick on BOY, so always end up picking a Top 10 (with honorable mentions as well!).