Saturday, February 18, 2017

Post #92 - Guidelines for posting rare bird sightings to public message boards, social media, and such....

Sorry for the lag between posts, but between my last day in my research lab at USC yesterday and leaving for Spain in a few hours, it's been incredibly hectic around her this past week! This trip to the Extramadura Region is going to be amazing, so please do stay tuned for a full report when I get back. 

Here's where I'm headed

Here's a short video about the festival I'm attending

In other non-fake news, I'll be headed to Belize and Guatemala from March 9-18, so please keep that on your radar as well. 

So, Sonia and I were cruising around doing some errands recently and somehow the topic of birding message boards came up. During the conversation, Sonia said, "There's no way, even if was 100% sure of a rare bird, that I would EVER post it. I'd be WAY too scared. The whole message board thing is so intimidating!" I was so intrigued by this comment that I figured I would use it as a blog topic. I am hoping that this precipitates comments/discussion, so please chime in with your own thoughts in the comments section.

There isn't a written set of rules on how to post bird sightings to public message boards and rare bird alerts, but I'll offer a few suggestions based on my own experiences. Much of this is tongue-in-cheek, so please keep that in mind. He's a Cinnamon Teal to get us started.

***Click images for higher resolution views***
Loads more at my Instragram Account

Cinnamon Teal - Anus cyanoptera
Orange County, California
Canon 400mm f/4 IS DO II +1.4x III on EOS 1D Mark IV
1/3200 at f/5.6, ISO 800, handheld

Be concise
Just tell us what you bird(s)saw and where you saw it/them. We really, really don't need, "Our intrepid group of 12 birding souls arrived at Plum Island at 7am. Weather on that Saturday was cloudy, a light wind blowing from the north. It was reminiscent of the winter of 1927......." and so on and so forth. GET TO THE POINT. Many birders read posts on the fly, so brevity is important. A bird post is not the place to exercise your latest and greatest prose. 

Do capitalize birds names
Again, please make it easy on readers. CAPITALIZATION makes bird names stand out from the surrounding text. This is particularly important if you post in the verbose style discouraged above. If you're going to torture readers by writing a novel, make THE BIRDS standout, particularly if it is a rare bird in which there will be a lot of interest. Contrarily, capitalizing HOUSE SPARROW (or even posting about it, for that matter), is grounds for a swift kick to the ass.

Do not use 4-letter codes without defining them
Though convenient, a significant proportion of birders do not understand the 4-letter code convention. Take the 2 seconds to write out the full name. If you wish to use the 4-letter code, please define it after first using the full name. "I saw a Varied Thrush (VATH) in a tree. The VATH ate a berry and then took a dump." See, its that easy. But, please avoid being a 4-letter wise guy "I saw a Ruff (RUFF) at the pond. There was also a Sora (SORA) present." Doing so would make you a PUNK.

If you don't understand the 4-letter code thing, it's just a way to make recording birds sightings easier. It comes from a bird-banding shorthand. Information on the coding nomenclature can be found here.

Here's a rarity that we'd want to hear about!
Fork-tailed Flycatcher - Tyrannus savana
Lyme, Connecticut (Oct 2013)
Canon 500mm f/4 IS on EOS 7D
1/1600 at f/7.1, ISO 320, handheld

Post rarities ASAP
Birding in the 21st century moves fast. Posting from the field will allow others to keep up. If you wait until 10pm to post that you saw a Spoonbill Sandpiper at Bolsa Chica at 9am, then you can expect a midnight visit from the birding mafia. You might even wake up with a broken spotting scope in your bed. Learn to post from the field as that will benefit everyone. It is also worth noting although eBird is great for documenting sightings, it is NOT the preferred method to disseminate sightings quickly. If you find a rare bird and you create an eBird checklist to reflect this, it could take hours or even days for the moderators to review the sightings and make it public. Online rare bird alerts of various sorts (message boards, Facebook, Twitter) should thus be used in addition to eBird. If all else fails, you can always call someone who can make a quick post on your behalf.

Add a photo if possible
This is difficult to do using traditional email groups but easy to do on Facebook and other social media platforms. If you find a rare bird and have a camera with you, take a photo of it and then take a photo of the bird on the camera's display screen and post that. That way we have some hard evidence of the sighting before people start rushing towards it.

Go ahead and post if you're not 100% sure of the ID, but make sure to say that you're not sure

"I saw a Yellow-green Vireo" is different than "I saw a bird that looked like a Yellow-green Vireo." It's worth letting others know what you're thinking if you are reasonably sure that you saw something rare.

Give specific directions
We've all been lazy/guilty of the "previously reported location" offense at some point. This posting default is generally useless and functions to send readers scurrying through older posts to as they try to find more specific details. We've all benefited from nice, precise descriptions of rare bird locations, so please go ahead and return the favor to others.

Refrain from posting about ridiculously common stuff
Yes, that Northern Cardinal on your feeder is beautiful, but so are the 15 that I saw in my local patch that same day. There needs to be some kind of line drawn so that message boards aren't cluttered up with sightings of common birds. I think most birders understand this, but a few have been known to abuse public access to boards.

Don't make it personal
As amusing as I find message board personal feuds, try to refrain from attacking others. I know it's rare (and it is really funny when it does happen), but please remember that once you hit the send button, it's a done deal.

OK, that's it for the moment. I am very curious to see what I have missed. I'd love to hear from you about what you like about message and even more about what drives you crazy. I think it would be a good laugh for everyone.

Here's one that probably won't set message boards on fire....
American Pipit - Anthus rubescens
Orange County, California
Canon 400mm f/4 IS DO II +1.4x III on EOS 1D Mark IV
1/5000 at f/5.6, ISO 640, handheld

Monday, February 6, 2017

Post #91 - Upset of the century - Northern Shoveler beats out Emperor Goose!?!?!?

A few administrative notes before we get rolling!

First, I am super stoked to announce that I have partnered with Zeiss as part of their Prostaff program! I've been using their amazing Victory SF binoculars for just over a year now (I love them), and I am very happy to promote all of their optics moving forward. Interestingly, I have a connection to Zeiss that goes far beyond birding as I've been using Zeiss microscopes in a scientific research capacity for the better part of 2 decades. My current CRISPR protocols have been greatly aided by the Zeiss scope on which I create my transgenic (genetically engineered) animals. It's great to be working with an optics company with which I have so much personal history!

Second, I have finally started an Instragram account and would love to have you follow along. This is going to be strictly for birding and travel purposes and won't be diluted with any irrelevant content. I've loads to share, so please get on-board, stat. Here's the sort of stuff that's already waiting for you!

Great Gray Owl - Strix nebulosa
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada (-10F!)
Canon 500mm f/4 IS on EOS 1D Mark IV
1/320 at f/5.6, ISO 800, handheld
***click all images for higher resolution views***

I am also trying to drive traffic toward my flickr account, so - if you're on that platform - I'd really appreciate it if you follow me there as well. It's actually quite important that I build a presence on both of these photography platforms, so thank you for helping me do that.

OK, when we think about the greatest upsets of all time, we'll undoubtedly visit the USA ice hockey team beating the Russians in the 1980 Olympic semifinal. But what about when the Duke Blue Devils beat the then-undefeated UNLV Runnin' Rebels in the 1991 NCAA basketball championship? or Maybe James "Buster" Douglas knocking out a then-37-0 "Iron" Mike Tyson in Tokyo in 1990? Maybe it was Leicester City winning the Premier League title last year? But Northern Shoveler over Emperor Goose? I'll explain.

 "Miracle on Ice"

 On Tuesday, January 10th, an Emperor Goose appeared in Pacifica, just south of San Francisco. This species, which usually generally resides in the Bering Sea and nearby Aleutians, only rarely makes it to the lower 48 states. When it does, usually along the Washington, Oregon, and Northern California Coasts, it causes a predictable commotion in the birding community as folks mobilize to chase the wayward bird. However, this individual caused no such initial buzz. Why? Because it took 2 full weeks for the photographs of the "strange goose" on a local golf course to reach someone who could recognize it for what it was! When that finally happened, on January 24th, the expected all-hell broke loose, and birders rushed towards Pacifica with hopes of seeing the rare goose. That day was a Tuesday, and as such I was glued to the Zeiss microscope as above described. The bird stuck around through the week, and on Friday I prepared for a 6-hr chase that I hoped would at least partially redeem the derailed Ross's Gull chase of two weeks prior. As a final preparation, I checked the weather. It was going to be crystal clear up and down the California Coast. Seeing that, I quickly cancelled my chase.

What the heck, what gives? Why would perfect weather make me abandon my chase? Well, we've had an unusually wet winter here in Southern California, and, as a result, many recent weekends have been either rainy or cloudy. This has prevented the sort of naturally lit, color-saturated photography that I generally prefer. Looking at the forecast, I saw that my goose chase would cost me my best photographic opportunity in months, and I decided that I wanted to use the light to shoot rather than to drive. I had the previous week visited a spot with loads of active Northern Shovelers, and I thought that I could do some real photographic damage on them if I just had the right light. It was in favor of this plan that I abandoned my goose pursuit, and that's how the common duck beat out the rare goose. I think I made the right decision. I saved a ton of gas (and $) and had a really relaxing 2 morning's worth of shooting. I just hope I can get Emperor Goose in its normal range if I ever make it to Alaska. Incidently, the bird is still present. Maybe it will stay until the first week of March when Sonia and I go to SF to find an apartment.

Northern Shoveler - Anas clypeata
Canon 400mm f/4 IS DO II + 1.4x III on EOS 1D Mark IV
1/5000 at f/5.6, ISO 640, handheld

Canon 400mm f/4 IS DO II + 1.4x III on EOS 1D Mark IV
1/5000 at f/5.6, ISO 640, handheld

Canon 400mm f/4 IS DO II + 1.4x III on EOS 1D Mark IV
1/5000 at f/5.6, ISO 640, handheld

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Post #90 - The death of the ABA Big Year.....(and Wood Duck photos!)

First, a quick housekeeping note. I have started an Instagram account specifically for my bird and travel photography. I'd love for you to follow along! Also, PLEASE feel free to share any of my content (blog, flickr, Instagram, etc) with other birders or potentially interested parties. It would be huge help as I try to build my birding brand and a community around it. Thank you in advance for anything you can do! Now down to business.....

I was this week contacted by Olaf Danielson of recent ABA Big Year fame. He asked me what - if any - connection I think exists between Big Years and bird conservation. I told him that I would integrate those thoughts into an upcoming blog post on which I was working. I think that his question provides both a nice starting and an ending point for some recent musings I've anyway wanted to share with you. I present these thoughts as point-counterpoint, and I'll from there tell you what I see as the future of the ABA Big Year.

Wood Duck - Aix sponsa
Canon 400mm f/4 IS DO II on EOS 1D Mark IV
1/4000 at f/5.6, ISO 800, handheld
(on stomach in mud and goose crap)
***As always, click images for higher resolution views***

Point - Put a stick in the ABA Big Year. It's over, done, kaput....
It has never been easier to find birds in North America than it is right now. There are more birders covering increasingly fragmented habitat, and news of any notable finds spreads instantaneously through phone, text messages, eBird, Facebook, and a host of other electronic means. With everyone privy to exactly the same information, information no longer matters in the Big Year equation. Information rendered moot, money becomes the overriding - almost perversely so - predictor of Big Year outcomes. Number of species observed correlates only to the funds expended; Love of birds, ability to identify them, drive to educate others about them, or desire to conserve them have exactly zero bearing on the numerical outcome of a Big Year. The fact is that anyone with a big enough checkbook can amass 750+ species during a Big Year.

Beyond that obvious - and potentially fatal - flaw to the Big Year model, increased amounts of information further skew the already unbalanced ratio of birding time to travel time towards the latter. With rarities being reported from multiple places at once, there's little to enjoy one bird before the rush for the next commences. This imbues birds with the qualities of temporary bounties, a mindset that does not lend itself to anything outside of running up one's list.

The environmental impact of Big Year associated travel should not be ignored. Yes, the planes are generally going wherever they are going with or without Big Year birders aboard, but there needs to be more discussion of what this might mean moving forward. It's only a matter of time until someone uses a private jet for a Big Year. That is exactly why we need to have this discussion before it reaches that ridiculous point.

Lastly, it is worth mentioning the confusion including Hawaii in the ABA region will cause. It seems a "+ Hawaii" or "- Hawaii" designation will have to accompany any Big Year moving forward in order to give it the appropriate context. It's just cumbersome. Travel to Hawaii will required yet more money from Big Year birders and compound the financial considerations outlined above.

Summary - When money becomes the prime indicator of outcome, it's over. It's as sadly true in birding as it is politics or sports. This is why the ABA Big Year as currently modeled is dead.

Wood Duck - Aix sponsa
Canon 400mm f/4 IS DO II on EOS 1D Mark IV
1/4000 at f/5.6, ISO 800, handheld

Counterpoint: The ABA Big Year is alive and well!
With the aforementioned access to information, Big Year totals once mythical are now completely possible. It's inspiring to see what can be achieved with the aid of these new technologies and speed of communication. This past year was a perfect example of this; Having 4 birders break the previous record was fun, especially for those folks unable to undertake such indulgences themselves.

Secondly, not every Big Year need establish a new record to be valuable or worthwhile. A Big Year is a personal journey and a fun experience and a birder can take it as seriously as he or she desires. No one has to spend the $100,000 that a record breaking Big Year requires. Big Year birders inevitably report that the people are the best part of the adventure. The birds are just the excuse to interact with the world and the people that populate it in new and interesting ways. 

The travel that birders do is negligible in the grand scheme of general world overpopulation. PR is priceless, and the attention Big Years garner will outweigh their environmental impacts. The community would be advised to spotlight Big Year efforts; That exposure will likely draw additional people into birding. The wider the tent, the greater collective our birding voice will be. If properly harnessed, that voice could be a potent force for conservation. Any attention paid to birding is ultimately a good thing. 

Summary - A Big Year is a personal project. If birders and those beyond latch onto it, that's momentum on which the entire community would be well-advised to capitalize. We should therefore encourage similarly ambitious efforts moving forward.

Wood Duck - Aix sponsa
Canon 400mm f/4 IS DO II on EOS 1D Mark IV
1/4000 at f/5.6, ISO 800, handheld

At this point we're right back were we started, at Olaf's question. Is there a connection between Big Years and conservation? In my mind, than answer is a loud and resounding "No". Which Big Year birder blogged the most about conservation last year? Who raised the most money for conservation? Were funds raised significant compared to the cost of the Big Year itself? We don't know because as a community, we generally don't care - at least in the context of Big Years. We ask about species totals, but generally ignore the conservation, outreach, and education aspects of the equation. 

We, as a birding community, need to demand that Big Years be about more than species totals if the existing big money, big travel model is ever to evolve into something more substantive and sustainable. We need more creative Big Year propositions, efforts that try to do more while using less. How many species can be found with only $5,000? With only 10 flights? With just hitchhiking? With only a bicycle? There are an infinite number of possibilities. How about a Big Year with a ~week in each of the 58 National Parks? How about a public transportation Big Year? It would be fun and easy to put an education or conservation slant on any of these alternatives, and I think they'd be really popular within and beyond the birding community.

The Big Year isn't dead, but it does need some fresh life breathed into it if it's going to be relevant well into the future. Right now it's a circus - a really fun and exciting circus, but a circus nonetheless.

NOTE: My dream Big Year if I had the money and/or the desire? I'd put 52 ping-pong balls into a bag, 1 for each state and 2 wild-card balls that must be used on Canadian provinces. Every 7 days (as I went along, not ahead of time) I'd pull a ping-pong ball and immediately fly/drive to the state/province indicated and bird that area for the next week. Once a state/province was visited, the ball would be tossed out so that each area is visited only once in the course of the year. I would make some form of rule so as to avoid going FL > AK > SC > HI, for example, but generally the entire adventure would hang on the balls (ugh, that didn't come out right, sorry). Pull Alaska in January? Rhode Island in June? That's the adventure!

Curios to see if I get skewered or supported on all of this. Have at it in the comments section either way!

Wood Duck - Aix sponsa
Canon 400mm f/4 IS DO II on EOS 1D Mark IV
1/4000 at f/5.6, ISO 800, handheld

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Post #89 - Extremadura Birding Spain - Southern Spain, February 23-28, 2017!

I am stoked to announce that I have been invited to attend the Extremadura Birding Festival in Southern Spain, February 23-28! This festival looks amazing, and I would encourage everyone to watch this very cool promotional video they have put together from last year's festival. Spain will be a new destination for me and is a place I have wanted to bird for many years. I'm super excited!

Extremadura Birding Festival Promotional Video

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Post #88 - Alder Flycatcher and the bird chase that never was....

Congrats to Tim Avery (UT) for being the first to figure that out that I am missing Alder Flycatcher from my ABA list. I know, I know, it's criminal. I am sure that I've seen one at some point, but without a call to definitively separate it from the very similar Willow Flycatcher, it's remained off my list. Alder was one of those birds I just figured I would run into at some point but never did. The sad truth is that this bird was a casualty of my alcoholism as much as anything else; Birding took a very distant back seat to drinking for many of the years I lived in Alder's range. Once I got sober and found bird photography as a replacement addiction, Empids (Flycatchers of the genus Empidonax) honestly weren't a high photographic priority. I guess it's appropriate that I bring this up this week, the 7th anniversary of my sobriety. 

Alder Flycather? Hell no! It's an underexposed Willow
from my very early photography days....

As for the rest of this installment, most of you know that I am a avid (though not rabid!) ABA lister. So, when California's second Ross's Gull showed up in Half Moon Bay (HMB) this week, I prepared for my first big bird chase since May of last year. That particular chase took me 6 hours north, from LA to Sacramento, to successfully tick the Code 5 Marsh Sandpiper as ABA bird #703. This Ross's Gull chase would prove to be of equivalent length and hopefully net me a species rarely seen outside the Arctic Circle. 

Self explanatory (I hope)

Ross's Gull sightings in Southern Canada, US

The HMB Ross's Gull was found and identified on the afternoon of Thursday, January 12. Here, I should pause to explain my "third day" theory of bird chasing. This applies to chases where a good chunk of the day ( > 3 hours, one way) will be required to reach the sought bird. It seems to me that a significant portion of rarities are of the "one and done" sort; They appear one day and disappear the next, and, in so doing, guarantee that any second day chase necessarily fails. However, if a bird stays long enough to be observed on a second day, then at least something can be said about its behaviors and tendencies from one day to the next. At that point, the first data set exists, and it is from that information that I decide if I'm going travel some great distance to try/travel to see the rarity on the third day. In short, I'm willing to trade some amount of success ('ticks') to avoid some amount of failure ('dips').

In the case of the wayward CA Ross's Gull, I was anyway unable to chase on Friday (Day 2) as I had work responsibilities that couldn't be postponed. Work responsibilities and the "third day" theory thus dictated that Saturday would be the day of the big chase - assuming the bird was seen on Friday (which it was). The problem was that I had an unbreakable commitment in LA from 10am to 2pm on Saturday. Even if I left right after that event, it would be dark when I reached HMB, so my search would need to be conducted the following morning, on Sunday (Day 4).

Watching my phone during that Saturday commitment, I could see the HMB bird was showing well through the morning and midday of Day 3. It was feeding in the same muddy field as it had been on Friday, and the chances that it would be present there or very nearby on Sunday to me seemed very good. All systems were "go" for a Saturday evening drive and Sunday morning search.

Incidently, Ross's Gull has been sitting like a splinter in my mind for the last 3 years. It was actually the last species that I chased a great distance but failed to tick. I drove 5 hours from Boston to Montreal and 8 hours return - in heavy, heavy snow - only to come up empty in December of 2013. 

And so it was with redemption in mind that I wrapped up my Saturday commitment, loaded up the car, and prepared for the 6-hour drive. Adrenaline was pumping, and I had my favorite Celine Dion CD in hand to keep the high going. Well, not really. Anyway, just after I locked the front door and turned to walk to the loaded car, I received word that a Peregrine Falcon had just caught and killed the Ross's Gull. The chase - like this story - ended that fast.

Here is an eBird checklist showing the Ross's alive - and in the grips of the falcon. 

It was like this...

....or this

Instead of chasing the gull, I had a surprisingly productive weekend of photography around my usual SoCal haunts. I'll leave you with one of the shots, a nice consolation prize for the shortest bird chase in history.

Osprey - Pandion haliaetus
Canon 400mm f/4 IS DO II on EOS 1D Mark IV
1/4000 at f/5.6, ISO 800
*click for larger, higher resolution view*

Friday, January 6, 2017

Post #87 - New for 2017: Travel info, Art contest, ABA list

First off, Happy New Year! I hope 2017 holds good stuff for everyone! Anyway, this is just a quick update to let everyone know about some new stuff that I have added to the blog for this - the blog's third - year. These new features are presented as tabs below the main banner photograph, so please take a few minutes to check them out. But, before I dive in, I'll give you this Ruddy Duck from last week to get things started.

Ruddy Duck - Oxyura jamaicensis (winter plumage)
Los Angeles County, CA
Canon 400mm f/4 IS DO + 2x III on EOS 1D Mark IV
1/800 at f/8, ISO 800

Without further photographic interruption, the first new feature is a the "International Travel" tab. On that page I will archive posts from my various international trips. I hope that my experiences abroad will inspire you to visit some of the amazing places I have been fortunate to visit in the last few years. I have some really exciting travel planned for 2017, but you'll have to check out the page to see where I'm headed. I might at some point try to create a similar directory for domestic destinations, but I'll start with international for now.

The second new tab is the "Art contest". As the Speckled Hatchback is an imaginary bird, I invite (nay, beg!) readers to submit renderings of what the bird looks like in your respective heads. Submissions will be displayed and archived under the tab, and links to contributing artists homepages or online portfolios will accompany each submission (if so desired). There's a special incentive for the first submission.

The final tab is my "ABA list". As an unapologetic ABA lister (though not enough to fly for single birds), I figured I may as well formally present my ABA list, as much for myself as anyone else. As a fun challenge (should anyone be serving a life sentence or be generally bored to tears), I'm missing one Code 1 bird. It's painfully embarrassing, so much so that I'll only tell the story of how I've missed it if someone figures out it's missing.

*note - Tim Avery correctly pointed out that I am missing the Code 1Willow Ptarmigan. Interestingly, I overlooked this bird so there are two Code 1 birds that I am missing. The absence of WIPT isn't awful since I've only a few days in their usually range, well north of my various points I've ever called home. The other missing Code 1 bird, by contrast, is inexcusable considering I lived in the heart of its nesting range!

*another note - Shelley Rutkin has correctly pointed out that I am missing the Code 1 Horned Puffin. She is correct but again, that's not the bird about which I was thinking. I should clarify that I've never birded Alaska or Northern Canada. The bird I'm missing is a regular in the lower 48, which generally rules out WIPT and HOPU.

*yet another note - Tim Avery has figured it out. I'll hold off posting the answer in case anyone else wants to take a crack at this silly thing.

OK, that's it for right now. I am trying my best to make this blog as informative and as fun as possible. I hope to add new features as ideas strike me. If you have ideas for things/features you'd like to see, please let me know.

I'll leave you with this guy. He was photographed at absolute last light, and the small hill behind which he was standing cast a horrible shadow over his lower ~third. I decided to go with a portrait to eliminate it.

Burrowing Owl - Athene cunicularia
Imperial County, CA
Canon 400mm f/4 IS DO II + 1.4x III on EOS 7D2
1/500 at f/5.6, ISO 800

Friday, December 30, 2016

Post #86 - 2016 in Review including Top 10 photos!

My 2016 was filled with many amazing birding experiences and memories. My two trips to Colombia were certainly the highlights, but my first cruise ship pelagic, my attendance at various birding festivals, and a newfound interest in 'county birding' were certainly noteworthy as well. I also this year pushed my ABA Life List (non-Hawaii) to the 700-mark with the addition of White-throated Thrush in Texas in February. That plateau is one at which I have been looking for nearly 30 years, so it felt really nice to finally join that club!

ABA #700 - White-throated Thrush
Estero Llano Grande State Park, Weslaco, Texas

Let me first say that I realize I have shorted readers on Colombia coverage. This is by design as I have promised to give the Audubon Society first crack at my content. We'd hoped to be able to release that content after the proposed peace deal was signed this fall, but the failure of the measure to pass a public referendum has delayed our plan. We want the content to make a nice 'splash' once the peace process is officially done. That being said, a revised peace deal looks like it is right now being brokered, so I hope to be able to share more Colombia content in the near future. I will say that as important and as historic as the peace process has been, there really isn't any reason to delay travel to Colombia. The country and its people are fantastic, and, with a bird list approaching 1900 species, it should be at the top of every birder's attention.

Tayrona National Park on Colombia's Caribbean Slope

Closer to home, I went to Texas twice, once in February for the Laredo Birding Festival and again in November for the Rio Grande Birding Festival. Between those events, I made an appearance at the SW Wings Birding Festival in August. At each of these I met many wonderful folks and managed to see some cool birds. The same can be said for the cruise ship pelagic I took in May. Those excursions, coupled with a few new birds I added in California and  few 'armchair ticks', pushed my non-Hawaii ABA list from 698 to 713.

699 - Crimson-collared Grosbeak (4) (TX, Feb)
700 - White-throated Thrush (4) (TX, Feb)
701 - Blue Bunting (4) (TX, Feb)
702 - Scripps's Murrelet (CA, Feb)
703 - Marsh Sandpiper (5) (CA, May)
704 - Cook's Petrel (3) (CA, May)
705 - Murphy's Petrel (3) (CA, May)
706 - Hawaiian Petrel (3) (CA, May)
707 - Eurasian Skylark (3) (Victoria, BC, May)
708 - Woodhouse's Scrub-jay (Split, July)
709 - Red-legged Honeycreeper (5) (First accepted ABA record from Texas 2014)
710 - Plain-capped Starthroat (4) (AZ, Aug)
711 - Craveri's Murrelet (3) (CA, Aug)
712 - Dusky Warbler (4) (CA, Oct) - Found by Roget Schoedl and me in Orange County!
713 - Amazon Kingfisher (5) (TX, Nov)

Closer to home, 2016 was a continuation of the SoCal holding pattern that began in 2015 when we moved to LA to be closer to Sonia's family. I greatly - and only very begrudgingly - prioritized birding over photography this year. While I actually prefer shooting, the results around here have been too inconsistent to justify passing on what is usually good birding. If I drive a few hours to escape the coastal hoards I can find the personal space in which to shoot, but weekday work and weekend family commitments usually prevent that. There is decent birding much closer, so that's where my time has been spent. Most of my local birding was done in Orange County, but I've more recently done some birding in my home LA County to at least get a flavor for it before we move. I did also find a tiny local park near our apartment that I try to visit once a week or so. Building up my park list has been a fun diversion on those days when other commitments or traffic prevent getting further afield.

My local patch, like a boss.....

Overall, my photographic output plummeted this year; It was my least productive in the last seven. My standards for a keeper have certainly increased over the years, but most of the decline was due to lack of subjects here in 'the sprawl'. I did manage to squeeze out a few good frames, and I'll give you these as my 2016 Top Ten.

Please click images for nice, high resolution views!!!

Cactus Wren - Campylorhynchus brunneicapillus
San Diego County, CA
Canon 500mm f/4 IS + 1.4x III on EOS 7D2
1/3200 at f/8, ISO 800

Mallard X Northern Pintail hybrid
Orange County, CA
Canon 500mm f/4 IS on EOS 7D2
1/3200 at f/5.6, ISO 640

Elegant Tern - Thalasseus elegans
Orange County, CA
Canon 400mm DO IS II on EOS 7D2
1/5000 at f/5.6, ISO 400

Black-chinned Sparrow - Spizella atrogularis
Orange County, CA
Canon 500mm f/4 IS on EOS 7D2
1/2500 at f/8, ISO 800

Black-vented Shearwater - Puffinus opisthomelas
Orange County, CA
Canon 500mm f/4 IS on EOS 7D2
1/4000 at f/4, ISO 800

Western Sandpiper - Calidris mauri
Orange County, CA
Canon 500mm f/4 IS on EOS 7D2
1/4000 at f/5.6, ISO 400 

Gambel's Quail - Callipepla gambelii
Amado, AZ
Canon 400mm f/4 IS DO on EOS 7D2
1/4000 at f/5.6, ISO 640

Hooded Oriole - Icterus cucullatus 
Amado, AZ
Canon 400mm f/4 IS DO II on EOS 7D2
1/4000 at f/5.6, ISO 800

Multicolored Tanager - Chlorochrysa nitidissima
Cali, Colombia
Canon 500mm f/4 IS + 1.4x III on EOS 7D2
1/125 at f/7.1 ISO 1600

Chestnut-crowned Antpitta - Grallaria ruficapilla
Rio Blanco, Colombia
Canon 100-400mm f/5.6 IS II on EOS 7D2
1/200 at f/5.6, ISO 1600

So, that's basically what went down this year. I want thank everyone for hanging in with this blog. The more time I spend birding, the more I believe that birding is as much about the community as it is anything else. This blog is one small little way that I can stay connected to that community, so its nice to see at least a few of you enjoy reading what is effectively my personal birding journal. There's lots more comming next year, so please stay tuned! Best of luck with your own 2017!