I've just caught up with our official 2011 bird list, which I forgot to keep updated in the final months of the year. We have 137 birds on the list this year, including birds seen in California. That's up from only 95 last year, but we didn't have a western trip last year.
Our birding highlights of 2011 included:
- Rare whooping cranes in Rice County in the fall (also spotted by others in the spring):
- My first sight of a large gathering of sandhill cranes at the Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge in early November.
- My first white-tailed kite, seen hovering over dunes in a Berkeley, CA, bayside park in August -- a beautiful, medium-sized white hawk that at first I took to be yet another gull but whose hovering behavior caught my eye as something very different. This is a coastal bird, in the U.S. generally only to be seen along the west coast, the southern Texas gulf coast and the tip of Florida.
- My first scarlet tanagers, seen on the same mid-May day as 10 or so species of migrating spring warblers at the Cannon River Wilderness Area; the bay-breasted warbler became a new favorite for me the same day.
- A March trip to California that included shorebird- and waterfowl-watching in fairly industrialized East Bay locations and a very enjoyable outing to the Las Gallinas Wildlife Ponds (a.k.a. sewage ponds) in Marin County. Birds included marbled godwit, black-necked stilt, dunlin, pectoral sandpiper, American avocet, willet, American wigeon, northern mockingbird, black-crowned night-heron, black-bellied plover, western grebe, surf scoter, black turnstone and snowy egret. (Addendum, Jan. 8: I've been reminded to add violet-green swallow and cinnamon teal to this trip report.)
- An August trip to California with my then-almost-12-year-old son, where we saw the above-mentioned white-tailed kite and hiked up into the Sunol Wilderness Area in the southern East Bay hills to see golden eagles soaring around the hilltops. This was by our terms a substantial hike (about three hours fairly steeply uphill and down again, in very dry conditions), which challenged and rewarded both of us. I came away from it with an enhanced sense of power to push myself physically and an appreciation for my son's stamina. I'll close with this image of that trail: leading onward and upward to new discoveries about ourselves and the world.
Wishing you adventures in 2012.