Thursday, July 19, 2012

Top 10 birds of 2011

Yes, this is coming out 6 months late.  And it is on a much lower plane compared to my top ten from 2010 (it’s what I get for visiting Europe instead of the Neotropics).  But better late than never!

In 2011 I saw 405 bird species, of which 92 were lifers (way down from 907 with 649 lifers in 2010).  About two-thirds of these lifers I found on a couple trips to Europe, with 48 coming while exploring Greece and Croatia and 15 more from a later trip to Prague to attend a Society of Wetland Scientists conference. 

Making a top-10 list is a highly subjective (not to mention silly!) exercise.  Last year every bird I listed was a life bird from the tropics and listed by the IUCN as a species of concern. Also most were endemic and thus could only be found in a relatively small geographic area.  

This time around I didn’t see nearly enough endangered, impossible-to-find birds, so I’m mixing in some somewhat mundane birds that were significant because of where I found them.  But I’m only considering including birds that I found (or co-found); chases don’t count.  So the Allen’s Hummingbird in Catawba Co., NC and the Franklin’s Gull at Jordan Lake, for example, won’t make this list despite being fantastic birds for North Carolina.  Other people (Dwayne Martin and Thierry Besancon) did the hard work of finding and identifying these out-of-range rarities.  

Otherwise I’m making selections based on rarity, difficulty to find and/or identify, and to a lesser extent on charisma/looks.

In keeping with last year, we’ll make this a challenge.  I’m sure many folks have seen many of these birds, but has anybody seen them all?  Send me your total out of ten and whoever has the most will win a prize: an original Brown Boobies t-shirt in the size of your choice (S M L XL). 

On to the list!

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10. Olive-sided Flycatcher

Olive-sided Flycatcher - Pocosin Lakes NWR

This is a declining species that is a pretty rare migrant through North Carolina.  It is especially rare in the coastal plain where there have only been a dozen or so records.  I found mine on August 11 in Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge.  

Nice tuxedo jacket! A rare sight in coastal NC
*bonus point if you have seen one in the coastal plain of NC*

9. Eurasian Bee-eater

Eating bees! (I think)

Also not particularly rare, but perhaps the most colorful European bird (a relatively unimpressive accomplishment in a continent that has nearly cornered the market on Little Brown Jobs).  I saw hundreds of these (quite a spectacle!) migrating through the Greek Isles while I was Island hopping my way from Rhodes over to my brother’s wedding on Paros. 

Lot's of Bee-Eaters!

8. Greenish Warbler

Greenish Warbler and its genus–phyloscopus—are prime example of the uninspiring plumage and identification challenges that the European birder faces.  It wouldn’t even matter if I had a decent photo of it…it would still be a drab bird and there still would be lingering identification doubts.  Luckily it was singing in the Red Bog I visited on a field trip as part of my conference in the Czech Republic. This wetland we visited has relict boreal vegetation from the Pleistocene and may be one of the southernmost refuges for this high-latitude species.  

7. Anhinga
Anhinga - Durham, NC

Tom Krakauer and I found this bird at a housing development pond in Northern Durham County, which was the first record of the species for the Durham Christmas Bird Count. 

It was a mild enough winter I guess

These are trash birds in Florida, but very rare in Durham...especially so in winter. 
Anhingas in Florida are hard to miss
*bonus point if you've seen an Anhing in Durham*

6. Citrine Wagtail
Citrine Wagtail (female) in Rhodes, Greece - rare this far west

I found a female in a creek bed in Rhodes Greece in May.  It was flagged as "rare" by ebird's filters and apparently it does not frequently stray this far west on its migration.  Unfortunately it was not the colorful male, but I was lucky that it was keeping company with a couple Yellow Wagtails, which made it much easier to identify. 

*bonus point if you've seen a Citrine Wagtail west of Asia*

5. Eleonora’s Falcon
Eleonora's Falcon - light morph

This is a really cool raptor with a relatively small breeding range that covers some Mediterranean Islands.  I saw dozens on the Greek Island of Tilos, which is thought to support 10% of the world's population.  It comes in two color morphs.

Eleonora's Falcon - dark morph

4. Short-toed Eagle

I'm not sure how rare a bird this is, but a woman from the Hellenic Ornithological Society on Tilos told me that it had not been previously recorded on the island.  So it was completely unprecedented  here at least!

Short-toed Eagle - a first for Tilos, Greece

I wrote up a formal description and sent them links to my video, but never heard anything back from any ornithologists or bird records people. 

*bonus point if you've seen Short-toed Eagle on Tilos*

3. Long-billed Dowitcher

Long-billed Dowitcher - Falls Lake, NC

I saw a lot of rare shorebirds on Falls Lake at the end of last summer, but this is the only one that I "discovered."  I was surprised later when I couldn't find any previous records for Durham, so as far as I can tell, this bird was a Durham County first. 

A first for Durham (?)

Perhaps others have had 'dowitcher sp.' at Falls Lake that were suspected of being Long-billed that were never confirmed.  Mine was kind enough to vocalize so there wasn't any doubt.

*bonus point if you've seen Long-billed Dowitcher in Durham*

2. Audouin’s Gull

Audouin's Gull is the only bird on this list that is currently experiencing any sort of extinction risk according to the IUCN which declares it to be 'near-threatened.'  In the 1960s it was one of the rarest gulls on Earth with only some 1,000 remaining.  Now the population is some 10 times the level of its low point, and stable thanks, no doubt, to some diligent effort by conservationists.  Despite the recovery, Audouin's Gull is still a rare bird that is pretty strictly pelagic, so tough to see.  I saw mine from a ferry near Nissyros, Greece.

1. Yellow Rail

I actually went on two successful Yellow Rail trips in 2011. Both were in Carteret County in sections of North River Marsh, one was in January and the other in December. This is one of the most difficult to see of all breeding North American bird species. Our (now infamous) method for finding them is documented here and here.

* * *

So leave your score in the comments below (the bonus points are to break a tie) and take your shot at the prize!  

Hopefully somebody can top Derb Carter (last year's reigning champ).  I haven't gotten him his t-shirt yet, but I'm sure he doesn't need two!


  1. Your title is, like, totes throwing me off here. It's like the Scott Winton from 2010 is speaking to us all now...

    I have seen 3 of these mentioned birds. I was going to try for a Yellow Rail once, but I chickened out... : )

    1. Thanks for the catch Laurence!

      I'm guessing you've seen the other three North American species on the list. No the first entrant you're currently winning the challenge!

    2. Yes you got it Scott; I'm very xenophobic with birds and will only look at American specimens (not really).

      I read your posts on the mystical Yellow Rail. It's amazing to think y'all have regions there whee you can see up to 6 Rails--truly incredible.

      I better go find a Yellow Rail the next couple days to cement my lead here.

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  3. Here's my list:
    1--Olive-sided Flycatcher
    1--Eurasian Bee-eater
    2--Anhinga (I had one on a Durham spring count, so 1 bonus point)
    1--Citrine Wagtail (Israel, so no bonus)
    1--Short-toed Eagle (Israel)
    1--Long-billed Dowitcher
    1--Yellow Rail
    8 points total

    I have not seen Greenish Warbler, but I have seen 7 other species of Phylloscopus, including 3 in the ABA area (Alaska)--Arctic, Willow, and Dusky. Does that count for anything?

    Norm B.