January 16, 2020
Barn Owl male
Barn Owl male
For this seventh annual edition of the previous year’s best birds, I’m highlighting two exotic species from south of the border and several of North America’s most interesting and revered predators.  I wish everyone reading this column a new birding year as exciting as 2019 was for us.

January 16—On what may prove to be our last trip to Costa Rica, our incomparable guide, Steven Easley, and I trekked our camera gear several miles up the mountains above Savegre for Silvery-throated Jay and encountered a small flock of these uncommon and elusive corvids, a great start for any birding year.

January 24Bald Eagles have become urban birds in Scottsdale, and I photographed the male from a golf course nest as it pulled a trout from the local fishing lake in Chaparral Park, not ten minutes from my front door.

January 25—A smashing month of birding continued as I discovered a roost of Long-eared Owls in a mesquite bosque on the Tonto National Forest and was able to get long envisioned flight shots.

February 2—Hard as it is to believe, I took the Barn Owl flight shot above this column from the open passenger window of a car going 20 mph!  The owl was close in late afternoon sun along a dirt road atop of a levee between two bodies of water, and I was with a good driver, definitely the most memorable image of 2019.

February 16—Ten (!) Black-crowned Night-Herons sitting close together on a grassy lakeshore in pre-dawn darkness was the most unexpected sighting of 2019.  My best guess is that they were gleaning earthworms together after an overnight rain.

March 9—A sooty form Fox Sparrow in the bush by the window outside my computer desk was our first yard bird for 2019.  I never saw it again, and we only had one other yard bird in a year which proved to be below average for new sightings.

April 20—At my “local patch” I saw the first Phainopepla I had ever seen in 35 years of birding there.  Then I saw his mate, followed by nest building and babies in the nest.  The habitat is scrub desert at a well-used, rundown city park.  Phainopepla appeared on last year’s Top Ten list also.

May 10—I was shocked to witness a juvenile Greater Roadrunner, about two weeks out of the nest and waiting in a tree for a parent, snatch a juvenile Verdin that happened to land on a nearby branch.  Yes roadrunners are predators, well camouflaged, and quick on the draw even at a very tender age.

May 28—From a cliff above the California coast I checked off a long-standing item on my most wanted photos list when I was able to get flight shots looking down on Peregrine Falcons coming and going from an aerie below me.  Actually, these were probably the most memorable images of the year.  Nothing trumps Peregrines in flight.

September 21—Well, at least nothing in North America.  Finishing this year’s list like it started, south of the border, we photographed the indescribably spectacular Andean Cock-of-the-Rock, in Peru, again with our always exceptional guide, Steven Easley.

So, yes, 2019 did top 2018 for birding excitement and photographic highlights.  We can’t wait to see what this year brings, but it’s hard to imagine a better year than the one recounted here.  May you find many birds and have exciting adventures in 2020.
Andean-Cock-of-the-Rock male
Andean-Cock-of-the-Rock male