It’s time for my favorite column of the year. This is the time when I look back on the past year and give my top 10 birding highlights. Every year, I struggle to narrow it down to 10, but I will do my best and perhaps put a few honorable mention moments on my website in the next few days.
10. I visited my brother in Naples, Fla., in April and, of course, birds were everywhere. Waders such as egrets, herons, limpkins, and ibis were the dominant species. We have our fair share of waders in New England, for sure, but they are more numerous and more brave in the Sunshine State. I enjoy my visits to Florida, but always long for New England when I’m away.
9. A solid bald eagle sighting has to make this list. A summer canoe trip to the Bashakill Wildlife Management Area in Wurtsboro, N.Y., yielded just that. We saw the female and male, but the young eagles that locals said were around escaped us. The comeback of the bald eagle is a great conservation story. I hope it continues.
8. One last sighting outside of New England ... Last winter was the Year of the Barred Owl, or so it seemed. People were seeing barred owls all over the place, day and night. My son and I were driving to Hoosick Falls, N.Y., last February to see another one of my brothers when, about half an hour shy of our destination, sure enough we saw a barred owl perched on a wire hanging over Route 22. The next morning, we saw another barred owl perched on a Welcome to New York sign. The photo was taken from the Vermont side of the sign so, technically, it was a New England sighting.
7. The Christmas Bird Count is always on this list somewhere. My CBC birding partner Frank and I found 52 species, totaling nearly 2,000 individual birds. The birds, the camaraderie, and feeling of doing good for conservation make the Christmas Bird Count a special event each year.
6. This year, after many years of procrastination and talking myself out of it, I tried my hand at selling some of my photography as Christmas cards. I was a vendor at a few craft fairs and did pretty well. The selling part was great, but talking to people about the photography and turning them on to birds was the real highlight. I’ll try again next year and try to figure out how to sell them online.
5. This spring, small flocks of common mergansers made their home for a few days at a small pond adjacent to a nearby shopping destination. I love my common mergansers and my sightings are typically of huge flocks hundreds of yards away. To see a few up close and personal was an unexpected treat, if only for a few days.
4. Barred owls were not the only species garnering attention last winter. Pine siskins were plentiful throughout New England and farther south and I certainly played host to more than my fair share. They stuck around for a long time, too, and visited daily in rain, sleet, snow and sun.
3. I started a new job a few months ago and, of course, I figured out a way to feed the birds out the window near my desk. I found a large, curled oak leaf, rested it on the flat top of a yew bush, and threw in some shelled sunflower seeds. I fill it daily and watch the juncos, white-throated sparrows and song sparrows partake.
2. I was sitting at my computer, probably writing a bird column or something, when my youngest son, Will, came charging up the driveway and into the house. He had been fishing with some friends at the nearby lake. “Dad, there’s a bird stuck on fishing line. I feel so bad for it.” I put the canoe on the car and rushed to the lake. An eastern kingbird tangled in fishing line was dangling helplessly from a tree over the water. Long story short, Will and I paddled out to the bird, untangled it and set it free. The full story, including when the bird poops on my head, is archived on my website. Visit www.birdsofnewengland.com and put “kingbird” into the search field. I was proud that Will felt compelled to leave his friends and come get me to help a bird in despair.
1. The top highlight of the year is a morning I spent with three loons at Pillsbury State Park, near Lake Sunapee. The three-day camping trip was marred with rain on two of the mornings, but the middle morning featured a beautiful sunrise and mirror-like water with fog lifting. I saw the loons in the distance and stopped paddling. Eventually, they worked their way over to me and gave me fantastic views. Patience certainly paid off that morning.
I hope everyone had a terrific 2019. Best wishes for an even better 2020. I look forward to sharing more bird stories in the year to come.