Thursday, December 31, 2015

Post #49 - 2015 Recap, My Favorite Photos of the Year

Well, I suppose I may as well put a bow on 2015. It has been a year of incredibly transition for Sonia and me. Three huge changes dominated this year. First, I returned from the bike trip; I am now doing a fair amount of travel telling people about it. Second, we unexpectedly moved to Los Angeles when we thought we'd be in Boston. Lastly, and most excitingly, Sonia and I got engaged! As you can see a lot happened!

Common Redpoll - New York - January

Since this post will be a bit on the long side, I'll break it into sections to make it more manageable. That way you can skip the stuff you find boring! I'll mix in a few of my favorite photos from the year to keep it interesting.

1) What is this blog? What will it be moving forward?
2) The move to LA, first impressions, adaptation
3) Photographic set-backs
4) Rise of eBird, patch birding, county listing
5) Birding friends/festivals
6) What to look for in 2016?

Iceland Gull - Massachusetts - March

1) What is this blog? What will it be moving forward?
Right now this blog is functioning a bit like my birding journal. I have absolutely no idea if anyone finds it at all interesting, but that's what it is at the moment. I am hoping in the future to have more time to offer more objective and directed commentary on birds, birding, the environment, and current environmental policy. The problems is that between 2 hours of commuting and 10 hours of work each weekday, what little remaining effort I have is being put into writing my book; That project should be completed in 2016. I will then have more time to generate content here. In the meantime, I hope that my birding adventures, and particularly my photography, will inspire others to get out there and enjoy birds and everything else out-of-doors!

Greater Prairie-chicken - Colorado - April

2) The move to LA, first impressions
LA has admittedly been very frustrating, but it is slowly getting better. There are certainly lots of good birds here, but I have to do a lot of driving to get to them. I am clearly not a fan of the freeways and constant congestion. The other confounding factor is the number of people that live here is Southern California. The sprawl seems to go on FOREVER! It's very difficult to find personal space, particularly for photography, which is difficult to do properly when anyone else is around. It has taken time to adjust to birding patch parks and generally developed areas; I simply cannot get the feeling of isolation without driving for a few hours to get out of the sprawl. In Boston, I used to be able to bird/shoot on weekday mornings and still make it to work by 10:30 or so. No more. Getting around LA is just such a incredible headache. I am now, sadly, relegated to the weekends when places are overrun with people. I think, after 8 months here, I finally have at least a basic idea of how to approach birding here. It's just really different....

Greater Sage-grouse - Colorado - April

3) Photographic set-backs
My photography really, really suffered this year. There birding areas here are generally so heavily trafficked that its tough to properly work with birds as photographic subjects. Shorebirds are my aboslute favorite, but there really isn't a good, publically accessible estuary unless I go down to San Diego (which is too far unless there's something else going on down there). Malibu Lagoon is OK, but again, small and heavily trafficked. So much of the coastline is either private, developed, or military that access is very frustrating. There are loads of water birds at Bolsa Chica and San Joaquin, but I'm not allowed to leave the dikes to get low along the water. Shooting down on ducks or waders is waste of time; You have to have your lens at their level to get a decent shot. I completely understand why the rules are the way they are; There are simply so many people here that the habitat would get wrecked otherwise. If I am willing to drive 1.5 to 3 hours (one way) I can reach areas with what I consider the requisite space I need for proper shooting. If I could shoot mid-week it might be a different story. I took some nice pictures this year, just not at many as I would like (but I guess that's every photographer's biggest complaint!).

Gray Thrasher - Potential ABA 1st - California - August

4) Rise of eBird, patch birding, county listing
With photography on life-support, I have become obsessed with eBird. I now create checklists for every birding stop I make. The eBird cell phone app has largely replaced my camera, and I find myself birding patch parks and local reserves with incredible diligence so to find every possible species. It's really a ton of fun, and the data is actually useful for birders and scientists alike! I would be lying if I said I wasn't at all competitive about it either. I love seeing my species totals at my various haunts rise with each visit. I have also found a nice number of good birds, something that rarely happened when I was so camera-centric. My rather short Orange County life list (204 species!) is now something I really enjoy building up. Just this morning I added Hooded Merganser, Glaucous-winged Gull, and Eurasian Wigeon. All of these birds just popped up in the course of casual birding and failed photography!

Elegant tern - California - September

5) Birding friends/festivals
My attendance at the Lower Rio Grande Birding Festival was awesome! Not since I attended the Victor Emanuel Nature Tours youth camps did I feel such energy and comraderie around birds and birding. I met tons of folks, saw a few birds, and had ton of laughs in so doing. It was just fantastic! I cannot wait to attend and speak at both the Laredo Birding Festival in Texas February and the Southwest Wings Festival in Arizona in August. Unsurprisingly, many birders now recognize me as the "guy on the bike" and strike up conversation as a result. I love these interactions and, unless I have my camera intently pointed at something, welcome any approach people want to make!

Snowy Egret - California - September

6) What will 2016 hold?
Getting married and finishing my book are my two top priorities. Luckily, the wedding won't suck up too much time we're getting married at a roller skating rink and having the reception at a pizza place! The book will eat up a lot of my potentially free time, but will be incredibly rewarding when it finally comes to fruition.

Phainopepla - California - November

Otherwise, reaching 700 ABA birds is a major focus right now. I'm at 698 (696 lower 48, I've not birded any of Alaska) after adding 3 lifers this year (Least Storm-petrel, Fork-tailed Storm-petrel, and Streak-backed Oriole). Red-legged Honeycreeper and Gray Thrasher are still pending though. I should get Scripps's Murrelet on a February SoCal boat trip, and I could get 3 Pterodroma petrels (Cook's Hawaiian, Murphy's) on a cruise ship pelagic in May if I can make that work. Otherwise, I'll have to wait for rarities to show up here in California. Anyway, 700 birds was a goal I set at like age 10, so it should be a good feeling when it happens at some point next year - especially w/o Alaska!

Merlin - California - November

Though she will never admit to it, Sonia is actually quite the budding birder. She is learning identification basics, but more importantly just enjoys being outside. I hope to encourage and support her as she continues to develop her own bird interest. Being able to enjoy birds and birding in her company would be fantastic!

Lastly, I hope to simply enjoy birds. The best part of my day today was watching Buffleheads and Eared Grebes swimming under the boardwalk at Bolsa Chica. Its amazing how well adapted they are to underwater pursuits, particularly the grebes. 

Lesser Scaup - California - December

OK, that's it for now. I hope 2016 is bird-filled for everyone!

The End! (Dovekie from 2013)


  1. Dorian,
    I just want to say that I love your Speckled Hatchback blog. Ever since 2014 when I was reading Biking for Birds, your blog has been at the top of my website tabs on my iPhone.

    The other blogs I've been reading this year are Operation Migration's blog, Birding w/o Borders, the ABA Blog, Leica's Birder's Blog, and Bourbon, Bastards, and Birds.

    Honestly I think that other than Noah's blog your blog is my absolute favorite. I love your take on photography and always enjoy reading about your tips as well as your thoughts and insight about topics that are happening around the world.

    Please keep up the blog and come to Georgia!

    You're number one young birder fan,
    Patrick Maurice

    1. Thanks Patrick! Glad to hear you're enjoying it. It sounds like it is providing exactly the sort of diversion that I hoped it would!

  2. Dorian, I've been following your blog since you did the bike trip and think it's outstanding. You've gotten a bit more cynical with your move to LA LA land, but the traffic here will do that. Don't be too hard on yourself -- your photos are truly remarkable -- or birding in LA County. I would like to show you some of the great spots here in the South Bay. Alas, people are always an issue. Anyway, congratulations on your engagement and Happy New Year! Keep up the good work. Looking forward to the book.

  3. Congratulations on the engagement!!! That is big news!!

    1. Thanks! Our wedding on roller skates should be fun!

  4. Hey, Dorian; those images look familiar since I was hanging out at naturescapes yesterday, and also managed to find a space in Dave Salem's truck about a week before you were at SJWA!

    I haven't visited the blog for a couple months but always enjoy hearing about your adventures. Don't forget the allures of West Hollywood street photography, and make sure you and Sonia register at B&H.

    1. Het Greg!

      I have yet to bump into David but it is only a matter of time. Slowly finding a photographic groove, but El Nino is going to throw wrinkles into it. Such id life. I hope all is well on your end! I was at the Rose Bowl last week - a great showing by Stanford!