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2013: The Reckoning

January 29, 2014

I know there’s some sort of unwritten rule that says that a blog author is supposed to produce some sort of a roundup of the past year within the first month of the next year. I was waiting so long to get to this post that I may as well have just combined it with 2014. Thing is, 2013 was a pretty epic year for me. I entered eBird checklists for 8 states (3 of them were airports, but still). I picked up 38 ABA Area lifers and 8 new birds for North Carolina. I passed 1000 for my all time world list and hit 550 even for the ABA Area.

Oh, and I went abroad, seeing India (very brief trip, but lots of new birds) and Aruba (longer trip, but fewer new birds). I was asked to be a spotter on Brian Patteson’s pelagic trips and invited to be a member of the North Carolina Bird Records Committee. I witnessed the bird that broke the ABA Area Big Year record. I moved and got to start a new county list, blowing past 100 by the end of the year.

It was, in short, a good year. Of course, I barely wrote about any of it. But I will regale you with brief glimpses of the year that was, even though I’m nearly 1/12th of the way into the year that is. Gimme a break, it’s been a busy year!

Hitting the Century Mark

I got to experience the Space Coast Birding Festival for this first, and hopefully not the last, time this past year. I was involve din a number of excellent field trips, but perhaps the most fun was the North Brevard hotspots trip I ran with Jeff Gordon and a local birder on my last day. Two other groups of birders had run this trip with day lists that neared 100. So we had a goal. We worked these lesser known spots hard that day, picking up local goodies like Ash-throated Flycatcher and Florida Scrub-Jay. We ended the day at 100 species even, beating the other group’s total by 2. That, friends, is a good day.

The North Brevard hotpots trip ticks off Redhead late in the day.

The North Brevard hotpots trip ticks off Redhead late in the day.

Passage to India

So I got to travel to the other side of the world in 2013, as a representative of the ABA to the Global Birdwatching Conference in Gujarat, India. Sure, my bag didn’t make it until the day I left. Sure, the 11.5 hour time difference completely turned me around. Sure, the travel was grueling and the logistics often weird. But man, INDIA. Gujarat is not the biodiversity hub that other parts of India are, but it’s pretty impressive. India is a land of contrasts, and a completely different sort of place than I’m used to, both birding-wise and culturally. And I wrote quite a bit about all that. The highlight of the entire trip, though, was likely to be the flock of Sociable Lapwings, a critically endangered shorebird, that we found on the plains of Gujarat on a trip to Chhari Lake. What great birds, and what an incredible trip.

Sociable Lapwing - Gujarat, India

About 1% of the estimated global population of Sociable Lapwings.

Lapwing spotting with the family

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’d like to get my son into this birding thing. Of course, it’s fantastic to encourage an interest in nature in young people, but honestly, having a more or less willing partner in these adventures means that I’ll probably get out in the field more. Ulterior motives? Sure, but with plenty of beneficial side-effects. Back in February, while the east coast was experiencing one of the most extensive Northern Lapwing invasions in birding history, I had been talking with friends about how it was only a matter of time before someone finds one in North Carolina. And lo and behold, Martin Wall, one of North Carolina’s most adventurous birders (I don’t know that anyone goes to more out of the way places), found the bird. It was, remarkably, only about an hour away from my door. When I got the news I was sitting at home, having just put my son down for a nap. A short time later, I’d woken him up and we were making tracks north for this bird. Naps can wait, lapwings rarely do. We got it. He saw it. It was a good day.

Noah scope

My son adds Northern Lapwing to his state list. Helluva blocker there, boy.

Aruba. Now that song is in your head. right?

I got to use my passport twice this year, which is more than usual. The second time was a family trip to Aruba, an actual desert island off the northern coast of South America. It wasn’t specifically for birding, but I did get an opportunity to get out a couple times and see a few Caribbean specialties and a couple birds more known from South America. Aruba is a strange place, it’s hardly a tropical bird mecca, but there are a few cool species. Venezuelan Troupials abound, Brown-throated Parakeets cry out from ornamental palm trees, and the wind blows like you wouldn’t believe. I even picked up a rare bird for the island, though it was only a Yellow-rumped Warbler (still a 6th-7th record!) I ended with around 60 species at the end of the week, which was tops in eBird until Steven Mlodinow came down and laid waste to my Aruba Big Year dreams. Oh well.

Cattle Tyrant - Aruba

Cattle Tyrant, rapidly spreading from South America and coming to an ABA Area year you in a decade.

Offshore is the best shore

I got offshore more in 2013 than I ever had before, and saw amazing birds every time. My last trip in 2012 was disappointing in that I endured my first ever pelagic trip in which I got zero lifers. I’m happy to say that that trend ended in 2013. In June, I got three days out of Hatteras with the ABA where I spotted a Trindade Petrel, the bird of the tour, on the last day. In August, I got offshore for two more days, along with birding raconteur Steve Tucker and other friends and had two amazing days including full frontal views of that same amazing Pterodroma (along with a lifer Long-tailed Jaeger, finally). And just before the year ended, I was present with the inimitable Neil Hayward broke the ABA Area Big Year record with a Great Skua. Yeah, I spotted that one too (which was really satisfying, I don’t mind saying). Both absolutely highlights of the year.

Herald 'Trindade" Petrel - off Hatteras, NC

The most beautiful Pterodroma. I will broach no argument.

Here’s hoping 2014 turns out to be as much fun! I’ve already got a couple exciting trips in the hopper so we’ll see you then! Thanks for reading!


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