Waaaaay back in the murky depths of, um, early December, Corey over at 10,000 Birds tagged me to name my top five desired life list birds. This required some thought. So much thought, in fact, that I couldn’t narrow it down to just five.

So here for you today: My top 5 would-be lifers in just the ABA area.

I had to set some ground rules for this. I didn’t include any extinct or presumed-extinct birds, otherwise they would have taken over the list. Obviously I would give the left nut I don’t strictly speaking have for a look at an Ivorybill, Bachman’s Warbler, or Carolina Parakeet. This led to a strange conundrum, in which I couldn’t include the bird I most want to see in the world; the California Condor, of course, which I can (and must!) see, but which cannot at present go onto my life list because, according to the finicky but ultimately necessary ABA listing rules, it’s extinct in the wild and the current, post-captivity free-flying birds don’t count, sorry.

I still really want to see one, though.

I also didn’t include any birds that appear in the ABA area only as accidentals; those will be dealt with in the next entry.

Still, it was really hard, and this list has to be understood as not so much as hard and fast, but as a sort of ponitilistic expression of a larger vision of seeing and understanding all sorts of birds and their habitats. That said, let the meme begin:

1. Vermilion Flycatcher. As a kid, I would flip through the Peterson’s Guide, dreaming of birds I had never seen, and I’d often linger on the Kingbirds and their kin. We had Eastern Kingbirds in plenty on the Olde Homestead – someone, after all, had to keep the Red-tailed Hawks in line – but the rest of that section was the stuff of dreams.
Chief among those dreams were the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher and the Vermilion Flycatcher. Scissor-tailed came true, wonderfully and improbably, in 1997, when the Olde Homestead briefly played host to a vagrant. But I’m still waiting for a Vermilion.

2. Marbled Murrelet. The alert reader will have deduced that I have a thing about auks. And this is perhaps the weirdest and wildest of all the alcids. It also represents one of our weirder and wilder ecosystems, the oldgrowth temperate rainforest of the Pacific northwest. Maria Mudd Ruth does a better job describing exactly why this bird rocks in her excellent book on the subject than I can in this little paragraph.

3. Black Rail. It’s a mystery wrapped in an enigma wrapped in elegantly spangled black, gray, and rust feathers. Where does it winter? We don’t know! Is it declining? We don’t know! What is its breeding behavior like? We don’t know! There could be one standing behind you RIGHT NOW, but if you look around, it won’t be there.

4. Whooping Crane. Arguably, this bird is in the spot that the California Condor should have had. Whooping Cranes were as close to the brink as the Condor, and required as much effort and intervention to save, but since a few birds were never taken into captivity, they’re an ABA 2 rather than an ABA 6. But I can’t take away from the appeal of the Crane in its own right. All cranes are freighted with a resonant load of wildness and majesty; the Whooping Crane, five feet tall and starkly white, is among the most splendid species of bird life that the continent has to offer.

5. Blue-winged Teal. Every birder has some embarrassing gaps in the old life list, things they should have seen years ago but simply haven’t. With the Red-headed Woodpecker and Blue-gray Gnatcatcher both cleared out of the most embarrassing slot this year, Blue-winged Teal moves up in the rankings to become the unseen bird that taunts my dreams.

Up next: my top five most wanted birds world-wide. I may have to flip a couple thousand coins, so it could take awhile.