31 December 2014

Top Ten Lifers of 2014

Each year I like to look back at the best birds of the year.  Usually I rank the top 10 lifers and some years I cheat and put extra on the list but this year I have a fairly concise top ten.  I have always lived on the East Coast and even though I have visited Colorado on occasion, this was my first full year living in the West.  With that I present my Top Ten Lifers of 2014, all of which were found in Colorado.

Number 10: Barrow's Goldeneye
Location: Timnath Reservoir 
Seen with Daisy on my day off of work right near the shoreline - 2 males and 2 females present.
Barrow's Goldeneye vs. Common Goldeneye

Number 9: Franklin's Gull
Location: Horseshoe Lake, Loveland
Seen with Emily and the dogs on the drive back from Boulder in April. 

Number 8: Sage Thrasher
Location: Pawnee National Grasslands
As Andy and I were chasing better weather we headed to the grasslands where we had killer looks at a Sage Thrasher.  The other bird highlight was a Sprague's Pipit within 10 feet away.

Number 7: Prairie Falcon
Location: Red Rocks Park
My brother came to Denver for a conference so I took him on a nice walk around Red Rocks where we were greeted with a flyover Prairie Falcon circling over the iconic rock.

Number 6: Magnificent Hummingbird
Location: Coal Creek Canyon, in the foothills above Boulder.
With reports of a Magnificent Hummingbird in the foothills I decided to give a chase since it was sticking around for a week or more.  I was able to drive up Coal Creek Canyon a few days before a major snowstorm.  The hummer came in for numerous visits during my morning and I even had some moment alone with it on the deck.  I hope this magnificent wayward bird made it safely south before the storm.  

Taken from Coal Creek Canyon

Number 5: Evening Grosbeak
Location: Fawn Brook Inn, Allenspark, Boulder County
After a mishap of missing a plane to Florida we took a drive up Allenspark to find winter birds.  We were in luck we found a flock of Cassin's Finch, Evening Grosbeak and even one Gray-crowned Rosy-finch.  It was a beautiful winter day with birds all around in the snowy gardens of the Fawn Brook Inn.  This spot is wonderful in all weather - perfect for hummingbirds in summer and winter specialists in the cold months.  
Taken at Fawn Brook Inn

Number 4: Rough-legged Hawk
Location: Colina Mariposa Natural Area outside Fort Collins
On New Year's Day, Emily and I went in search of birds and we were rewarded with a Rough-legged Hawk flying low over the open space south of Fort Collins.  We watched it until it disappeared over the housing communities.  Over the winter we saw numerous Rough-legged Hawks on our travels in Larimer County.  Each one was a delight.
Taken in North Larimer County near Douglas Reservoir

Number 3: American Dipper
Location: Poudre River near Mishawaka
After quitting my job at Larimer Humane Society and before heading to Ithaca, New Year I took a day to head up into the Foothills.  After coming down Rist Canyon I saw my lifer Northern Shrike in the top of a pine.  Feeling extremely lucky I decided to drive slowly down Poudre Canyon and scan for Dippers.  As I passed the Mishawaka I saw a bird dive off a rock and slammed on brakes. I maneuvered to a nearby parking spot at the Mish and had crippling looks at a nemesis bird.  It was a perfect birding moment and a little gift from Colorado before I move back to the East Coast.
Poudre River near the Mish

Number 2: Painted Redstart
Location: Crow Valley Campground, Pawnee National Grasslands
Warblers are my number one favorite bird and it's without surprise that my lifer Painted Redstart came in a the near-top of the list.  It was a close call and I would argue a tie with first place but I'm putting this colorful little warbler at number two since it's a vagrant.  The Painted Redstart was only a 30-minute drive away so after work I scooped Emily up from work and we headed east to the Pawnee National Grasslands.  Crow Valley Campground is a tree oasis in a grassland desert.  I'm always surprised by what shows up in this small tree-lined campground.  We were the only people in the campground for most of the time and had plenty of chances to watch this fast and lively migrant.  It was feeding in the treetops for most of the visit and a few days later I heard it had departed.  
Crow Valley Campground Painted Redstart

And at Number 1: Red Crossbill
Location: 1st seen in South Dakota Black Hills but later seen in Grandview Cemetery

That's a photo of Lark above in the Black Hills of South Dakota.  It's memorable because minutes after snapping this picture I saw a bird fly onto a nearby rock.  It was a Red Crossbill and then a juvenile joined it.  They only stayed a few minutes but this little family was a perfect addition to the lifer list.  A month later I saw a whole flock of them at Grandview Cemetery.
Look at that beak!
The Crossbill made the top bird of the year because of one simple thing - that beak!  The Red Crossbill is an amazing bird to behold and definitely is the Top Lifer of 2014.  It's one of those birds I have been salivating over since I flipped through my first field guide.  I feel blessed to have seen such an amazing bird and have such a special up-close encounter on my first time.  

The other eight lifers that I picked up in Colorado this year were: Cassin's Finch, Winter Wren, Clark's Grebe, White-faced Ibis, Cassin's Vireo, Brewer's Sparrow, Sprague's Pipit, and Northern Shrike.

Here's to 2015 being a bird year for all!  I'm expecting some seabirds to top my list in the coming year.

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