Way better than a partridge in a pear tree

Christmas has come and gone this year, and it was a great one. Not only is Walter now old enough to realize that something special was going on, but for the first time in about a decade, I did not have any travel plans except to go across town to the in-laws to devour the traditional German raisin bread (Stollen? Stahllen? Stellin? The pronunciation is up for debate among the clan).

It’s better to give than to receive, I know, but since this is a birding blog and I am the only birder here, I would like to let you all know about the cool stuff that came my way on Christmas this year. I would be remiss if I did not mention the fancy¬†dinner out for Jaime and me provided by my sister, the homemade oriole feeder forged by my uncle-in-law, and the newest record by my favorite band provided by my beautiful wife, all of which are great. But again considering the subject matter of this blog, I feel obligated to mention that a pretty great Christmas present for any birder is a sighting of a Snowy Owl approximately five miles away from their house. And that is exactly what I got.

My long-awaited county Snowy Owl!

My long-awaited county Snowy Owl!

I would like to give even more props to my aforementioned beautiful (and smart, funny, good-at-baking, etc) wife for understanding this enough to let me flee the house alone in the middle of Christmas afternoon to go and chase this bird. The year 2014 was supposed to be about me finding my own birds (remember the Strategic Year? Me neither), but I was not about to pass this up. As an added bonus, it is located right in the middle of my upcoming Christmas Bird Count territory on January 3rd. I hope it sticks around until then.

The appearance of this owl comes just one week after my previous post griping about not having it on my county list yet. So, thank you birding gods! And if you are still listening, I still don’t have my own damn county Eskimo Curlew yet.

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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!