Thursday, January 5, 2017

Looking Back, 2016's Missing Notables

Though much of 2016 felt like I had fallen off with my blogging efforts, I actually kept pace with prior recent years. I managed to produce 27 blog posts which surpassed 2015's 20 and came close to 2014's record high of 29. However, I spent a great deal of time outside in 2016 amassing a large array of photos that are simply taking up disk space on my computer for lack of time to process and organize them. My will to be out in nature, to spend less time online, superseded my best of intentions to do more with my photos.

So we have transitioned from 2016 to 2017. Wisconsin's balmy, high 30s weather at December's end has been supplanted by winter's freeze. Seemingly the cliche thing to do as we pass from one year to the next is to reflect on the passing year. I've done a bit of it. Such contemplation feels awfully loaded this time around, most of which is best kept quiet within my neural synapses. 

A few days ago, I settled down to the task of tying 2016 up with a bow. In doing so, I perused my serious backlog of photos which includes two trips to the Lower Rio Grande Valley and two weeks in Colombia. My photos were littered with many "notables" missing from my 2016 blog entries. I whittled those down to my top ten:

ONE. In early January, like many birders within and beyond the Midwest, I went to see the Ivory Gull at Canal Park in Duluth, MN. I spent two days with his lovely creature and communed with some soulful birding friends along the shores of my dearest childhood friend, Lake Superior. Ivory Gull became my ABA life bird #1 for 2016. Unfortunately this bird likely met its demise a few weeks later. It was observed appearing in poor health and subsequently disappeared (translation...into the clutches of death). My most bittersweet lifer to date.

TWO. Late February through early March, I headed to Colombia on a birding trip lead by Tropical Birding's Nick Athanas. His summary of our trip can be found here. Colombia was my second birding trip to the tropics of South America, the first being the equally amazing trip I took to Ecuador in 2014. Per my usual, I collected many photos on both these trips, but have never found the time to properly organize and log them. Thank goodness for my my handy eBird app which allowed me to log most of the birds I saw while in the field. At least I have that to jog my failing memory. Unfortunately my DSLR zoom lens was malfunctioning while in Colombia despite my having just sent it to Canon for cleaning and (botched) repairs. Apparently they returned my lens with something misaligned which resulted in lots of poorly focused images. Fortunately I also traveled with my mirrorless DSLR and its zoom lens. The images I captured sufficed for documentation but left a little to be desired in the clarity department.

This Santa Marta Blossomcrown was a favorite trip bird of mine. It is endemic to the Santa Marta mountains of Colombia and was seen at a single location, Bellevista--Vereda. I spotted this hummingbird tucked in the tangle and managed to obtain a fair picture. Bellevista was productive for hummingbirds, butterflies and picking up some local sweet wine which we discovered mixed well Club Colombia Negra beer. 

THREE. Colombia offered looks at hundreds of amazing birds, the nature of birding the tropics. I am limiting this post to including just two photos from that trip. Since I am rather enamoured with hummingbirds, my second photo includes a species from my all time favorite class of hummingbirds, the hermits. This Pale-bellied Hermit was seen at Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona where we also saw several Lance-tailed Manakins, Blue-billed Curassow, and White-bellied Antwren among other equally compelling creatures. This may not be the most stunning of photos, but I find the behavior and structure of the hermits quite fascinating which necessitated inclusion of this photo. These hummingbirds tend to use flowers far more than feeders. So finding them and capturing images presents a greater challenge than the easy pickings of feeder birds.

FOUR. In April I headed to the Lower Rio Grande Valley for birding and a visit with my winter Texan parents. My parents have been wintering in Mission, TX for several years. So I have had the fortune of taking numerous trips to El Valle for birding (and family.) Spring 2016 was a good season for seeing and hearing White-collared Seedeaters. I caught up with the seedeaters in Salineno along the banks of the Rio Grande River. Though not a life bird, I had only seen this species once before on a brief encounter in Laredo a few years back. Experiencing this bird singing on territory was a worthy satisfying second encounter.

FIVE. During my foray to the Lower Rio Grande Valley, I picked up ABA life bird two for the year, Elf Owl. Unlike the twenty-something long-hair who blasted this owl with his mega-flash when it peeped from its cavity at dark, I opted to spare this bird additional blinding assault. My high-iso, grainy, digiscoped photo sufficed. What moves birders to think it's OK to blind an owl upon waking, seconds before it leaves its cavity to hunt for the night, is beyond my comprehension. But if 2016 taught me anything it's how unbelievably self-serving our species is in how we treat each other and the natural world around us.

SIX. May to birders is what Christmas is for devout Christians. The excitement of May seems unparalleled to any other month and is not just limited to birds. The ephemeral blooms of spring are equally compelling. Having missed the White Lady Slipper orchids in 2015, I was ecstatic to discover hundreds blooming more impressively than I had witnessed before in southern Jefferson county, WI!

SEVEN. The same day I was out looking for the lady slipper orchids, I received a text from my friend, Tom, about a White-winged Tern being seen in Manitowoc, WI. Some birder, I am. I had never heard of a White-winged Tern. I pondered chasing for a bit then responded, no thanks. I could feel Tom's disappointment and bewilderment at my disinterest. It was late in the day. I was frustrated with the traffic I had endured while out trying to bird close to home. I sure as hell was not up for the two and half hour drive to see a tern. But my interest in this bird peaked as the eve wore on and I realized a White-winged Tern is a chase-worthy ABA Code 4 species. A Code 4 species in Wisconsin! I had to go for it. So once I heard it was reported the following day, I went...and I saw it, its Little Gull friend, some Franklin's Gulls and even better, one of my favorite birding pals, David La Puma. 

White-winged Tern, ABA life bird #3 for 2016
EIGHT. Memorial Day weekend I traveled to Upper Peninsula of Michigan to my parents' summer residence in Luce County. A Eurasian Tree Sparrow was visiting the feeders at Whitefish Point Bird Observatory in neighboring Chippewa County. He was an easy target that became ABA life bird #4 for 2016. It is difficult to find much enthusiasm in putting a tic on my life list next to an introduced species, especially one that is such a close relative to the loathed, chickadee-massacring  House Sparrow. 

NINE. (We're almost there...) Mission Hill in Chippewa county, Michigan. I try to visit here once each May to peer out high above Monocle and Spectacle lakes and Lake Superior's Whitefish Bay. May brings the most amazing crushing views of Black-throated Blue Warblers from this vista.  My eyes will never grow weary of this striking fair lady.

TEN. How can one follow a brilliant Black-throated Blue Warbler with a boring tern? But that is June. Back to the Manitowoc Impoundment for another tern. This time it was an Arctic Tern, hanging out where the White-winged Tern had been in May. Despite Wisconsin having numerous records of this species, for me it was a life bird, ABA lifer #5 for 2016. I don't regularly keep track of the ABA life birds I add each year. In fact I don't believe I got around to eBirding either tern...yet. But five in one year is pretty good for me given I have limited my travel to redundant locations in the U.S. in recent years. 

If you made it this far, good on ya mate. 

I closed out December 31, 2016 completing my third Christmas Bird Count of the season. Following the last owling of the eve, I gazed upon this ethereal crescent moon admiring its majestic darkness. Venus and Mars were keeping a close eye...and I was pondering...

...David Bowie, "the shrieking of nothing is killing me." 2016, you were so unkind (but you got nothin' on the hell that will be 2017).

In every moment since November 8th, I can feel the impending change. 2017 is now upon us, large and looming...paralyzing me with a constant sense of unrest and worry. But momentum and necessity are moving me forward. despite my wanting to retreat more and more from the nastiness I have witnessed in both politics and on a personal level. I daydream of insulating myself in some perfectly blissful time capsule...indefinitely...until the world is a better place. But what time? What year? Alas there is NO GOING BACK. And surely, I do not want to stay here. There are no re-dos. What's done is done. What has been said stands as truth...a grain in every utterance. This is it. So here we go, eyes closed. I'll see you on the dark side of the moon...


Seagull Steve said...

Ivory Gull and White-winged Tern...damn. That's something else. And you have to go to the LRGV to visit you parents??? That's some luck. My parents usually have a Costa's Hummingbird in their yard at least.

one of many said...

Hehe. Yeah, my parents would never see that much of me if it weren't for them picking such an awesome birding location for their winter residence. :)