Best Bird of 2013

If you have been following my blog (thanks), you probably know that I set out to do a “big year” in the state of Indiana in 2013. My goal was to see 250 species in the state, but those plans quickly fell apart when I got a new job, moved to a new city, bought a new (old) house, and had a new baby. So the big year simply became a year list, but I still went chasing after new things. I had 38 life birds in 2013, bringing my total to 220, up from 182 on January 1, 2013. And on January 1, 2012 my life list numbered 109 species. So although where I sit may not be particularly impressive, I am pleased with the birding prowess I have gained in the past two years.

Many of the new birds that I saw in 2013 were particularly noteworthy: Evening Grosbeak, Long-Tailed Duck, or the Snowy Owl that I just saw today. However, I was guided to those birds (and quite a few others) by precise directions to known locations where others had already staked out the bird and observed its habits in enough detail to post reliable instructions online for rookies like me to find them. While seeing new and rare birds is always great, doing it in this way leaves something to be desired. That is why none of the birds previously listed are my best of 2013. The one I am choosing is one I found myself:

American Bittern

American Bittern

This American Bittern was the 90th of the 151 species of birds that I saw this year. I saw it in its expected range and habitat during its expected time of year in the spring at Eagle Creek Park in Indianapolis, not far from my home at the time. It was the last bird I saw on my last birding outing in Indy before moving to Fort Wayne, and I found it myself. I was so excited to see it because it was uncommon enough to be something I was not expecting, I was able to get a great photo despite these birds’ reputations for hiding out in tall reeds, and it is a big impressive predator. And I found it myself. Did I mention that? Stumbling across a bird in this way and appreciating it in the moment easily trumps following a list-serv to get to some Wal-Mart parking lot to find somebody else’s bird. Here’s to more encounters like this in 2014!

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Finishing Strong

2013 was an insane year, as I have mentioned in previous posts. However, I was able to get out one last time with the hopes of closing down my year list in a big way, and I think I succeeded. I began the year by dipping on a vagrant bird from the west (remember the Varied Thrush?) but was able to end by striking gold with a Snowy Owl.

#149 Snowy Owl

#149 Snowy Owl

This Snowy Owl (#149 and LIFER) is one of about 20 that have descended upon Indiana this year. It has been hanging out in the town of Wabash for the better part of three weeks, and once my work travel and holiday plans wound down, I was able to go after it. I spent the better part of an hour circling the Wal-Mart and surrounding strip malls scanning the rooftops looking for this Arctic beast, because that was where it was reportedly hanging out. After committing to one last pass before giving up, I finally saw it on a building down the street from where it was reported to be. It gave me a great photo opportunity and didn’t seem to mind my presence (probably because it was about 30 feet above and 30 yards away from me). Then I got to watch it barf up a pellet, which unfortunately I could not get on camera.

Following that success, I set my sights on ending the year with a round number. So on the way home I stopped at Arrowhead Prairie.

#150 Northern Harrier

#150 Northern Harrier

Immediately, I saw several Northern Harriers for #150 (and lifer). This one was polite enough to pose on a trail marker.

#151 Northern Shrike

#151 Northern Shrike

I was about ready to head home, until I decided to check out that one last bird silhouette in a distant tree. Expecting it to resolve itself into yet another American Tree Sparrow, I was surprised to see my very first Northern Shrike (#151 and lifer (again!)). I watched it for a few moments, scattering flocks of sparrows as it dove among the weeds.

I ended up finishing my “big year” 99 birds short of my goal of 250, but I am very happy with everything I was able to see this year. I will have a post tomorrow for 10,000 Birds detailing my best bird of the year, and I am looking forward to starting the 2014 list in 2 days!