December 31, 2008

2008's Top Five "Birdy" Moments

As has become sort of a tradition, I'm choosing to do a "Top 5" list to close out 2008. As has ALSO become sort of a tradition, I will be copying Patrick's idea.

So, here are my top five "birdy" moments of 2008.

5. 2008 Christmas Bird Count
I had been planning on posting a report of my experience with the '08 CBC, but I got a little distracted. So I figured this would be as good a place as any to put it. Even though the day was wet...very, very wet (it rained the entire time), I still had a great experience. I love participating in the CBC. Not only does it give me an excuse to go out birding (as if anyone needs an excuse), but the camaraderie of gathering together with other birders and tallying the day's count is always exciting. There's such a sense of anticipation and delight at learning what everyone saw during their count.

As I mentioned, my count was very wet. I volunteered for a 7.9 mile route down the Going to the Sun Road, starting at the Lake McDonald Lodge, then turning off toward Kelly Camp around the northeast end of the lake. The snowshoeing wasn't necessarily that difficult, but I still got drenched from the outside (rain) as well as the inside (sweat).

The most anticipated spot along my route was the bridge at the head of the lake over McDonald Creek. Sonja had been spotting dozens of eagles here a month ago, all feasting on the spawning kokanee salmon. I saw four, plus about a half-dozen Chestnut-backed Chickadees, some Pine Siskins and a Steller's Jay.

But the highlight of the entire day was spotting the little American Dipper happily diving into the creek in search of aquatic invertebrates. These little birds absolutely amaze me every time I see them. They have a tremendous range (from interior Alaska to Arizona) and are completely non-migratory (given that there is an open stream available year round). It's hard to believe that the little birds toughing it out all winter north of Fairbanks and those chillin' in the warm perennial streams of southern Arizona are the same species. This bird is why Sunday's CBC is on my top five list.

4. Any morning spent enjoying Montezuma Well
As much as I love living at Glacier National Park, I really miss Montezuma Well. There are very few places I have ever been where you can actually feel the spirit of the place. Montezuma Well is one of them. The sense of timeless magic and peacefulness is palpable. Each season has a different sort of magic, too. In the winter, my favorite thing to do is walk slowly up to the rim from the parking lot. As you crest the ridge you are suddenly bombarded with the adorable squeaking of dozens of American Wigeons. Hearing that sound brought a smile to my face every single time. In the summer, the place to be is in the little oasis at the end of the trail where the water emerges from the cliff face into the prehistoric irrigation canal, the Outlet. Sitting comfortably under the dense forest canopy with your feet soaking in the 74 degree water, while the Arizona sun scorches everything not in shade, is an experience you'll never forget. And the birds know this, too. Even in the heat of the afternoon I never failed to see/hear all manner of birdlife: Summer Tanagers, Hooded Orioles, Bridled Titmice, Canyon Wren, Rock Wren...

3. Madera Canyon
What more can be said about Madera Canyon? Any visit to that birding paradise deserves a spot on your top 5 list!

2. Madera Canyon
And if you go more than once, it deserves TWO spots on your list!

1. Yellow-billed Cuckoo
Even my trips to Madera don't trump this little gem of an experience. It was my last official day working at Montezuma Well, and I decided to take a video camera to document my commute to work along the prehistoric irrigation canal that ran behind our house. I had assumed that I had seen all the new species that I would see in Arizona, considering we would be moving to Montana within a few days. Imagine my surprise when I heard a bird I had been dreaming of seeing for nearly 20 years during my morning walk. And I had the video camera along to document the moment! So here it is, my top "birdy" moment of 2008:

Happy New Year to all of my faithful readers. Here's hoping that 2009 lives up to it's promise:

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