(Transcript of today's "For the Birds"))
New Year’s Eve can be fraught with disappointment if we focus on all the things we didn’t accomplish in the past year or if we get lost in unrealistic expectations for the coming year. One of the best things about being a birdwatcher is that at the end of every year, I get to go over all the wonderful birds I saw that year. Now that I’m photographing birds as I watch them, my pictures help me relive many of the best moments of the year.
I did plenty of travel this year, but for the most part it was to talk about birds, not to look at them. In January, I was a keynote speaker at the Space Coast birding festival in Florida, where I got my best photos of Roseate Spoonbills and Florida Scrub-Jays ever,
and saw a Crested Caracara carrying sticks and working on a nest.
In March, I spent some time in Indianapolis and in Louisville, Kentucky, adding to my photos of Carolina Chickadees and fox squirrels.
A huge flock of Bohemian Waxwings visited my backyard in April, giving me an amazing photo op.
In April I was a speaker at the Cleveland Metroparks bird festival. I saw lots of cool birds, and thanks to a bird-banding program, also got my first photos ever of a male chickadee’s cloacal protuberance.
In May I saw plenty of cool northern Wisconsin birds during the Elderhostel class I teach each year in Eagle River, and then went to see breeding Kirtland’s Warblers in Michigan.
I got a photo of a female chickadee’s brood patch in June, during another bird-banding program at a birding week at Hunt Hill Audubon Center in Sarona, Wisconsin.
On August 4, a group of Evening Grosbeaks descended upon our yard and remained for six weeks. Grosbeaks were an everyday bird back in our first years of living in Duluth, when our children were little, and for a flock of about 16 to visit us every day gave us a lovely distraction and moments of grace right when Russ was recovering from surgery.
In September I spent time in Missouri, photographing Eurasian Tree Sparrows in my good friend Susan’s yard.
Then she and I headed to the Ozarks, where I finally got a focused photo of a Yellow-billed Cuckoo.
In October I attended a meeting in Philadelphia where I got to visit the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences and see and photograph specimens of Labrador Duck, Eskimo Curlew, Great Auk, Passenger Pigeon, and Carolina Parakeet—species that are all extinct.
Then, in November, I spent my birthday in the Grand Canyon, searching for a bird I’ve been yearning to see since I started birding—a bird that was so close to the edge of extinction in 1987 that every single individual had to be brought into captivity and treated for lead poisoning, and a captive breeding program became necessary before birds could at last be restored to the wild. Watching eight individual California Condors living free, flying high in the sky, was an utterly thrilling birthday gift that made 2011 one of the best years of my life.
In January, Russ and I are headed to Texas and Florida for a couple of weeks. I don’t have a lot of travel planned for the year, but I’ll be plotting out how to do a Conservation Big Year in 2013, trying to see every bird on the American Bird Conservancy’s watch list. Even while I’m planning ahead, I’ll be watching and photographing the birds in my daily life. Whatever 2012 may bring, I’ll be spending next New Year’s Eve looking over lots more photos of lots more birds—my happy way of keeping track of the passage of time.