Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Birder of the Year report

WildBird readers chose the Birder of the year from the 2005 Backyard Birders and Forum Birders, described in the November/December 2005 issue. (Look at The Lister’s Forum and Birder’s Back Yard in each issue for your chances to become Birder of the Year.)

As the 2005 Birder of the Year, college student Leigh Johnson of Newport Beach, Calif., received a Bushnell Elite 8x43 binocular, a Bushnell Elite spotting scope, round-trip airfare for two to south Texas and a rental car, courtesy of Bushnell Performance Optics. She and her mother received two-night accommodations at Alamo Inn in Alamo, two-night accommodations at Vieh’s Bed & Breakfast in San Benito and guided outings.

In the July/August 2006 issue of WildBird, Johnson recounted the trip.

The trip to the Rio Grande Valley of Texas was an incredible experience. We--my mom, Amy Hooper and I--started off the trip by spotlighting for Common Pauraque on Saturday with Sheridan Coffey and Martin Reid. We walked along the water at Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park. When we finally saw a pauraque fly, it became my first lifer of the trip. My nonbirding mom unexpectedly enjoyed the outing so much that she chose to bird with us for the rest of the trip.

Sheridan and Martin enthusiastically guided us for the first two days. On Sunday, we first stopped at Anzalduas County Park (956-585-5311) and saw Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks, a quirky species. The Turkey and Black Vultures (a lifer) riding a thermal over the park provided an unexpected surprise. We also saw Golden-fronted Woodpeckers, a Northern Parula, Couch’s Kingbirds, Great Kiskadees and a magnificent Scissor-tailed Flycatcher.

On our way back to Bensten, I spotted my life Harris’ Hawk. Once at Bensten, we got our first look at Green Jays, and on a feeder, we watched a Long-billed Thrasher, an Altamira Oriole and an Indigo Bunting take turns. In a photo blind, we heard Plain Chachalacas calling from all sides.

Next stop: Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, where we birded with intern Heidi Trudell. Life birds included Black-crested Titmouse and Roseate Spoonbill. We sat to wait for the day’s last lifer, a Buff-bellied Hummingbird.

On Monday, we visited the hawkwatch at Santa Ana and saw Broad-winged Hawks, Mississippi Kites and many others overhead. The lift-off was breathtaking. Up the river at Chapeno, we picked up Ringed Kingfisher from a distance as well as Brown Jays, one juvenile and one adult. We later parted ways with Martin and Sheridan and headed to San Benito.

Tuesday morning, Pat Wade joined us as our guide, and we quickly got my first lifer of the day: Tamaulipas Crows carrying nesting material. Then we went to the Sabal Palm sanctuary, where I got my life Carolina Wren singing on a branch. We also saw the controversial Gray-crowned Yellowthroat.

The Aplomado Falcon (unbanded) and the White-tailed Hawk provided roadside treats on the way to South Padre Island, an amazing place. My last lifer of the trip was Upland Sandpiper off-island, and like my first Texas lifer, I lost a pint of blood to the mosquitoes in order to get it.

I gained more than 40 new birds, enjoyed fantastic experiences and met some superb people. To top it off, my mother gained a better understanding of who I am and what birding is. I’d say that alone made it a successful trip.

(For pictures and more details about the trip, visit the April 8, 9, 10 and 11 posts.—Ed.)

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