January 22, 2015
Unspotted Saw-whet Owl, Costa Rica
Unspotted Saw-whet Owl, Costa Rica

No January is complete without a retrospective on the best of the previous year--in any endeavor.  This marks the second year in a row that I have done this in a column, and I hope everyone who reads this will enjoy a look back at all the good birding memories they have from 2014.  Here’s my top ten in chronological order, weighted toward “travel” birds this year it seems.  Travel is broadening.  It expands your birdlist too.

January 12—In your quest for overwintering raptors don’t forget the east Valley ag fields, though not as extensive as those in the west, can be just as productive.  My first great sighting of 2014 was a Prairie Falcon marked with blood on its belly.  I found it on the Rousseau sod farms east of the 101 in Scottsdale.

February 8—In many past winter trips to the LRGV (Lower Rio Grande Valley) I had never gotten a decent Hook-billed Kite photo.  I got twice lucky this time with a dark morph male in flight--a good shot but not great, which provides me with an excuse to return to what I feel is the most exciting birding area in the country.

February 26—After several previous attempts, I finally coincided with the flock of Black-hooded Parakeets at the ASU Research Park in Tempe.  This is a thrilling local window on tropical exotica, even if they aren’t countable on the official ABA list.

March 9After birding Mt. Ord northeast of the Valley, on a whim I stopped at Mesquite Wash on the way home despite the expected hoard of off-roaders.  I was rewarded with a first winter Harris’s Sparrow, my best find of the year.

April 30—Along with old friend Matthew Studebaker and four others, I reveled in a long anticipated opportunity to photograph eastern warblers singing amidst Redbud blooms in Ohio.  Cerulean, Kentucky, Prothonotary, Hooded!  Pink Redbud!  OMG!

June 6—Nothing special about Greater Roadrunner in Arizona?  Try to go out and find one on demand!  This one came walking along the concrete wall in our yard, totally unexpected in the middle of residential south Scottsdale, the second of only two new yardbirds for 2014.

July 4—Visiting friends in New England I chanced upon my old nemesis bird, Ruffed Grouse, camera ready but not at hand.  Check out http://jimburnsphotos.com/pages/7-24-14.html for a humorous account of this encounter.

July 8Spruce Grouse in Maine!  It’s always good to see one of North America’s most wanted species, but check out the column about the Ruffed Grouse for the full irony of this sighting.

August 22Unspotted Saw-whet Owl is one of tropical America’s rarest and most local species.  We got this guy while freezing our asses off near the top of Costa Rica’s Turrialba Volcano.

December 25—Merry Christmas from a White-tailed Tropicbird.  Be sure to read my next column for a humorous account of this sighting at the Kilauea Lighthouse on Kauaʻi, Hawaiʻi, a fantastic final chapter to another great year of birding.

I’ll close this as I did last year--I hope your birding year was as good as ours.  Keep on birding.  Bird often.  Bird hard.
White-tailed Tropicbird, Hawai‘i
White-tailed Tropicbird, Hawai‘i