Lifers indicated in bold
The first two times I had chased a Western Tanager in Queens this year, I dipped, which is a birder's term for missing a bird. On Christmas Eve, I was hoping that third time would be the charm. After searching for a couple minutes, I finally got the bird.
On Christmas day, my dad and I went back to where the Townsend's Solitaire was first reported in an a last ditch effort to find it. Unfortunately, we struck out
At first, I thought that Western Tanager would be my last New York bird for the year, but as often happens, I was wrong. Ethan M told me that their was a Tufted Duck at Santopogue Creek in Suffolk County. Since my mom was at work, my grandmother and I went to chase it. I saw and got a picture of a duck that I thought was a female Tufted, but since some birders were suggesting it might be a hybrid, I wasn't 100% sure, so I consulted with other birders. They said it was an immature male rather than a female as I had assumed at first, so I could definitely count it as a Tufted Duck. I also saw Monk Parakeets at a feeder, my last new bird for New York.
With a few days until the new year, I decided to get started on scouting locations in Florida that I had planned to bird. Rather than go to Green Cay and Wakodahatchee Wetlands, we went to Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, where a Vermillion Flycatcher had been seen.
After searching for a while, I noticed a small flycatcher on the side of a canal. I knew from the black mask and red highlights that this wasn't a phoebe, but the Vermilion Flycatcher I had been searching for!
We had sat down to eat lunch when I noticed that Donna Schulman had posted on my timeline saying "Josh--Loggerhead Kingbird, Bill Baggs Park, southern Miami. Just found today." It wasn't until I saw Christian Hagenlocher's post on the ABA Rare Bird Alert group that I realized what she was talking about. When I asked my parents if they would let me chase it, they were firmly against it. I was going to write it off at first, but my friends persuaded me heavily to
The next day, we all went to Spanish River Park as a scouting mission for 2018. This was one of the closest locations to me for Spot-breasted Oriole, and I had high hopes. My plan was to stay in the area of the bird garden and wait for one to appear, which I predicted would be the ideal habitat for one. At first, only a few mockingbirds were around, then a Northern Cardinal, but no oriole. We come back to the spot after going on the trails to hopefully see one to no avail, bird activity at the garden had picked up: two Pileated Woodpeckers, a juvenile Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, and a female Painted Bunting, but still no oriole. More time passes, but the male Spot-breasted Oriole that finally made an appearance was worth every minute of waiting.
Big year birders Yve Morrell and Victor Stoll had both seen the Loggerhead Kingbird together, which also meant I would likely see the bird. Since I would be starting the new year by chasing a mega rarity, I spent the whole evening planning a new route for the first two days. Originally, I was going to bird locally the first day and then chase rarities/clean up on the second, but I decided to go to Miami first and work my way back up, then on the second day try all the local hotspots.
Unlike the more common species of scrub-jay with which it was previously lumped under the name "Scrub Jay," the Florida Scrub-Jay is hard. According to the Birds of North America, "Few North American birds rival the Florida Scrub-Jay for sedentariness or habitat restriction. Although many individuals live for more than ten years, most do not travel more than a few kilometers from their birthplace." Because the oak scrub environments it depends on are disappearing constantly as development expands, this is not a bird you happen upon, but one you must search for. Last year, the final new bird I saw was my lifer Florida Scrub-Jay at Jonathan Dickinson State Park. On New Year's Eve, my dad and I went back to look for the jays again. Fortunately, I knew exactly where in the park to look for a specific pair of jays because a pair will stay in a particular territory year after year, so I didn't have to search as much . They may be getting harder to find, but once you do see them, Florida Scrub-Jays don't disappoint. What excited me even more was that not only did 2013 big year birder Neil Hayward get the kingbird, but he also found a Yellow-billed Cuckoo and a Yellow-breasted Chat in the area. If I could get those species on the first day as well, I would not have to spend as much time looking for them on migration. Satisfied with the birding I had done this year, we went home.
I finished 2017 with 310 species, four short of my 2016 total of 314 (this isn't counting an additonal 47 species from Costa Rica and a Tropical Mockingbird in Florida which I stubbornly chased after it was rejected by the state records comittee). Some of the biggest highlights were Black-backed Oriole, Little Egret, and Mountain Bluebird. There were several setbacks mostly related to school, but also the cancellation of a possible trip to California over the summer and health problems later in the year. Coincidentally, the last bird I saw/heard for 2017 was the same one I started with: a Limpkin. 2017 was big for me as it relates to birds, but 2018, however, would be different. 2018 is the Year of the Bird, a celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. I was ready to test myself to see how many species of bird in North America I could find. My goal was to match Oscar Wilhelmy's total from this 2017 of 503 species, much easier said than done. To get to 500, I would start in the diverse habitats of south Florida, search for the birds in the Rio Grande Valley whose range just barely extends into the United States, then head home to continue school. I would also bird the northern woodlands of the Adirondacks, the marshes and wetlands of Montezuma and Forsythe refuges, the legendary migrant traps of Cape May and New York City, the forests, grasslands, and marshes of upstate New York that are breeding grounds for many species, the coastal islands and boreal forests of Maine, the deserts and mountains of Arizona, venture out into the North Atlantic in search of tubenoses and other seabirds, return to Florida to add any species I missed, and brave the seawatching sites of Montauk, Barnegat, and Race Point before ending in the newest addition to the ABA Area, the Hawaiian Island of Kauai. I am also expecting some important milestones in my birding career: ABA 500, ABA 600, World 600, World 700, and if I'm lucky enough, 800 for my life list. Will I make it to all these places and get above 500 for the year? Only time will tell... This is The Young Birder Odyssey!
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