It’s that time – the number is big and round, and we’re making top ten lists! Because I am totally susceptible to peer pressure, here are my top ten birds of the decade – the latter part of the decade is more heavily represented than the start, because I stepped up my game both birding-wise and in notetaking as time went on.
1. Western Meadowlark, Dryden New York April 2000: It feels, looking back, like I took a long hiatus from birding in the 90s. In fact, it can’t have been more than a couple of years, because the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher at the Olde Homestead was in 1997, and this was my fist big post-hiatus twitch, and I know I did some light birding in between. Still, this was my first time chasing a rarity without having to ask my parents for a ride (I asked the Inimitable Todd for a ride instead.)
This bird, so brown and basic and in the middle of so much nowhere, had a formative influence on the Inimitable Todd’s attitude towards birding, and it took many years and some amazing owls to convince him that I wasn’t completely crazy for delving into this hobby. I, on the other hand, was thrilled; it was my most difficult id to date (although greatly aided by the fact that the bird had been previously identified by others).
Since the Meadowlark was singing and defending territory, it made an appearance in the new Breeding Bird Atlas for New York, which I just so happened to get for Christmas this year.
2. Anhinga, Tarpon Springs, December 2002: Todd’s skepticism about birding does not extend to larger birds. My skepticism about Florida doesn’t extend to the avifauna. Snakebird sums up the result of this faith and hope.
3. Little Auk, off Islay, Scotland, August 2005: My birding life and writing life collided for the first time in Scotland. I’d traveled to Glasgow for Worldcon (it seemed like a good idea at the time) and afterward The Inimitable Todd and I took a side jaunt to Islay before returning to the States. I added a number of cool birds to my lifelist on this trip, including White Wagtail and Eurasian Oystercatcher. But the high moment occurred when I looked off the side of the ferry and saw a Little Auk (aka Dovkie) in the choppy sea. This was my first alcid (though I had already been obsessed with Great Auks for years), and it was immediately burned into my synapses, to emerge later in strange and mysterious ways.
4. Black Phoebe, San Francisco, May 2006: Another bird that summed up a trip full of many great birds (and non-birdy good times). On the first day of my first trip to California I spotted these jaunty, bold birds hopping from tree to lawn and back again in the park. I continued to spot them daily on a trip that also brought me Western Grebe, Black Oystercatcher, Black-necked Stilt, Anna’s Hummingbird, Oregon Dark-eyed Junco, and (post-Alanis ironically) my life Brown Creeper. They became my inner symbol of California.
5. Western M!^&*&%$@^%^#g Reef-Heron, Brooklyn, July and August 2007: The bird I never saw inspired two Livejournal posts that later became the rootstock for this blog, and eventually my MFA portfolio. None of the other birds I haven’t seen, and there are many, ever did as much for me.
6. Northern Lapwing, Chew Reservoir, England, July, 2008: There are certain birds that I’ve always stared at in the field guide and coveted, and Northern Lapwing is one such species. When I met Charlie from 1000birds.com on my second trip to Great Britain, I mentioned this, and Charlie – a superb and dedicated guide – got it for me, along with Shelduck, Hobby, Common Kingfisher, and a lot of other really great birds.
7. Burrowing Owl, Cape Coral, November, 2008: After so many years of Inimitable Todd tolerantly grinning at my birding escapades in the wake of the Western Meadowlark Incident, he was bitten hard by the owling bug and showing him these big-eyed popup creatures sealed the deal. Except, of course, that he technically showed them to me… Coming on the same day that I saw the Florida Scrub Jay, this experience was even better.
8. Harlequin Duck, Long Island, March 2009: Another bird that earned covetous stares in the field guide since I was old enough to read is the Harlequin Duck. A trip to Long Island with fellow bird-bloggers Corey, Patrick, and John let me see them at last. And though the traditional method of seeing sea ducks is to squint through a scope at them, these came and frolicked virtually around our feet. Good times.
9. Black-footed Albatross et al, Pacific Ocean off Southern California, September 2009: I went into my epic and long-awaited pelagic trip wanting to see an albatross. And I saw an albatross… and so much more.
10. Brown-headed Nuthatch, Charlotte NC, December 2009: I started the decade by adding a small brown and yellow bird to my life list, and I ended the decade by adding a small gray and brown bird to my life list.
And tomorrow I get to wake up and start a new year list, again! It’s a good life.