January 23, 2014
2013's Best Baby
2013's Best Baby

No January is complete without a retrospective on the best of the previous year.  I’ve never done this in a column.  I hope everyone who reads this will enjoy a look back at all the good stuff that happened to them in 2013.  Here’s my top ten in chronological order, weighted toward big birds it seems.  Are big birds more memorable?

January 19—Eschewing my usual trek to the far west valley ag fields for overwintering raptors, I went east to Ellsworth, then south toward the San Tans and stumbled upon a totally cooperative adult rufous morph Red-Tailed Hawk that left its perch in perfect morning light exposing to the camera every feather in its fully extended near underwing.

February 9—A winter trip to Whitewater Draw in Cochise County produced a flock of Sandhills flying, in sunrise light, across the pewter clouds of an approaching snowstorm, certainly the most visually dramatic sighting of the year.

February 10—On the same trip we found a pair of Great Horned Owls huddled together on a beam in the old hay barn.  Very cool, very unusual to see a pair of these top predators in the same binocular field, let alone in the same photo frame.

April 13—Painted Redstarts on territory were the highlight of a weekend in Madera Canyon introducing two birding friends from the Midwest to southeast Arizona birds.  This sighting pretty much ended my having to hear about all their eastern warblers.

April 23—A vantage point along the Verde River furnished a long visualized, but hardly expected, up close sighting of a Bald Eagle capturing a fish and leaving the water with it.

May 11—Driving through east Texas with my friend Greg Lasley, we passed a fencepost raptor with a white head which had us scratching our heads and making a U-turn.  With a full crop, it posed for close photos which led to its identification as a subadult Swainson’s Hawk, a plumage with which I was totally unfamiliar.

June 11—Tracking a Peregrine nest I discovered on the Tonto led to some fun observations of hatchlings begging, trying out their wings, and parents bringing prey and carrying out old carcasses.

December 8—I refound and photographed the Boyce Thompson Varied Thrush and was reminded once again how one region’s common birds are visual stunners when they turn up out of territory in an unexpected place.

December 10—The last of only three new yard birds in 2013, a Black Phoebe at our fountain reminded us once again that any bird may turn up anyplace, even when the habitat seems all wrong for the species.

December 30—The Agami Heron we spotted via canoe in Costa Rica, shy, local, and hard to find in that country, provided a fantastic final chapter to another great year of birding.

I hope yours was as good as ours.  Keep on birding.  Bird often.  Bird hard.