Day 366 + 5 - January 2016 Recap

Thursday, January 05, 2017 0 Comments A+ a-

Okay, so for 5 days I've gone on and on about a bunch of random side portions to my big year. What I'm sure you want (or I imagine) is the cut-down recap of the year. I figure I will do this over a few posts. This first one will cover January, followed up by a Feb-March post, then an April post, aMay post, and a Jun-August post. The September, and probably a couple more to finish out the year. It might end up being about 10 posts--so you'll have a few more here to read. But this should help tie into some of the posts throughout the year. With these will be the real places, people, and bird names so that it doesn't just sound like a crazy person (much like the last year). So without further adieu, here we go.

It was a cold foggy January 1, 2016 whenI left my house in the mostly dark. The temperature read 1 degree F on my car. Yikes. I headed to the Sandy Fishing Pond near my home so I could nail down a bunch of birds quickly to start the year. I hoped I could pick up a waterbird for my first-year bird and avoid a starling, pigeon, or some other run-of-the-mill species. I also knew a Common Loon had been seen here they day before so I thought that would make a cool FOY bird. The drive went well and as I pulled onto the main road to the pond a Black-billed Magpie swooped low past my car. Schucks! Not what I expected, but better than some of the alternatives. My Big year was officially underway.

4th species of the year, one foggy Common Loon

I parked and walked through the fog where after spotting an American Coot and a Mallard, the Common Loon emerged from the fog and swam quietly past as I watched. It was an exciting start, and I would tally 17 species before leaving. I had a specific target that had been around a few days a few miles away. A Brown Thrasher would be a huge get for my year and there was a stakeout. I made it to the bend in the Jordan River where the bird had been and it was bitterly cold. The sun started to rise, making for an amazing scene. The bird showed briefly but in typical thrasher fashion it kept low and in the thick of things. As I headed home I tallied the first House Sparrows and Rock Pigeons of the year. 39 species before 10:00am.

Sunrise on day 1. It was cold, icy, and beautiful

I ended the first day high in the mountains picking up a few high elevation species like Mountain Chickadee and Steller's Jay. I'd planned to look for a flock of Common Redpoll that I assumed were still around, but the road into the area was impassable due to recent snow storms. I would leave that species for another day (that never came), and end day 1 with 45 species. It was the slow and orderly start I expected.

Typical winter morning birding alone on the shores of the Great Salt Lake.

The first week I started working on my strategy--stick to chasing rare birds, and make specific, timely excursions for the specialty species of the season. On that table now was a Red-shouldered Hawk that was overwintering, and provided distant but good enough look for even a crappy digiscope. I nabbed winter specialties like American Tree Sparrow, Cackling Goose, and Rough-legged Hawk before I came across my only Mew Gull of the year--and the first of many Merlin that would be seen. At the end of the first week, I was up to 69 species. What seemed like a low count was part of my strategy--what was important were the species I was getting.

A very uncooperative Varied Thrush at Garr Ranch

The second week of 2016 I started sneaking around. I made a couple short morning birding trips in lieu of later in the day lunch hours and picked up a Eurasian Wigeon and a Varied Thrush. I also managed to pick up my Barrow's Goldeneye, Greater Scaup, and Northern Shrike for the year. The end of the first week would be huge--I headed to Alta at the top of Little Cottonwood Canyon, just a few miles from my home where the local feeding station was slammed with Rosy-Finches. I picked up the expected Black and Gray-crowned, but more importantly I got conclusive looks and a photo of a mixed in Brown-capped Rosy-Finch. A mega year bird.

The first mega of the year--a Brown-capped Rosy-Finch at Alta

Additionally, I added Pine Grosbeak cleaning up my winter finches in a matter of minutes. The BCRF was the 94th species of the year.

The Rosy-Finch flock gorging on the feeders during a snow storm.

The 3rd week was a big week for my year, as I made my first trip to southwest Utah for the year--this trip with friends Kenny Frisch and Nate Brown. The point of the trip was an almost annual winter birding trip to the slightly warmer Mojave desert corner of Utah.  And it gave us a chance to bird my favorite place in Utah, Lytle Ranch.

Welcome to Lytle Ranch, a view I never tire of.

 This meant good birding and the chance for a number of FOY species. I aggressively checked off species from my year list on the first morning--and while I picked up the needed wintering birds, the highlight of the day was a first state record "Eastern" subspecies Purple Finch that we found.

I think we were all surprised by this eastern Purple Finch in the desert.

We continued making our rounds through the desert checking the usual lakes, parks, etc, where I gleaned Crissal Thrasher, Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, Cactus Wren, White-winged Dove, and Abert's Towhee. I was getting most of the birds I needed, so we tried our luck on a vagrant Golden-crowned Sparrow which we found without a hitch.

The best look we got at the Golden-crowned Sparrow before it skulked under the bush.

The day ended with a Greater Roadrunner, Snow Goose, and Marsh Wren. I managed to go the entire year without photographing this little wren, despite hearing 100's and seeing dozens. Oops!

Despite how this may look, I was at the property line.  No birds in the marsh today...

The following day we wrapped up our trip and added Vermilion Flycatcher and Rufous-crowned Sparrow to our haul. Back in Salt Lake, I sat at 135 species on the year. I finished the week off with my 1st of 4 Long-tailed Ducks on the year.

A lovely Long-tailed Duck that was seen by almost every Utah birder in 2016.

This one was the most cooperative and was a pretty good looker. During the 4th week, I decided to get a couple resident birds out of the way with an easy Golden Eagle and Juniper Titmouse. I picked up my first Thayer's Gull and Ross's Goose of the year, and ended the week with the lone Harris's Sparrow I would see for the year.

One of my favorites, this Harris's Sparrow was an easy pickup fo the year.

In the final days of January, I spent some time looking through gulls. I needed a lot and hadn't taken too much time on them yet. I was able to relocate a Glaucous Gull that was found earlier in the day on January 29th and found the first Western Gull of the year. Birds 144 and 145 on the year. And just like that, January was over. I drove 1,508 miles during the month, walked almost 24 miles on foot, and spent just over 70 hours looking for birds. It was a thrilling start to my year and had me more than 20 species ahead of my previous pace. I also had some great pickups that I didn't see in my previous big year that included the Brown Thrasher, the Purple Finch, and the Brown-capped Rosy-Finch.

Many times during 2016, I found myself birding with a "good friend".  My son Cam joined me when I went on after work chases, and weekend jaunts that I didn't tell anyone else about.  I think he had a good time for the most part!

2016 Year List: 358


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