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Saturday, January 5, 2013

2012 Year in Review: And the Winners Are ....

As 2013 dawns, it is worthwhile revisiting the birding highlights from 2012.

First let's get the summary statistics out of the way:

Total species photographed: 411
Number of Lifers:                 111
Countries birded:                  USA, Canada, Australia, India
States birded:                       Michigan, Florida, Texas, Washington, Ohio, Alaska, Arizona,
                                           California, New Mexico, Ontario, Haryana, Kashmir, Victoria

And now, without further ado, here are the the 2012 winners in all your favorite categories:

Best Vireo: White-Eyed Vireo
Seen at: Corkscrew Swamp, FL. On a cool January morning, a white-eyed vireo starts its day. The stunning white eye, delicate green hues, and yellow spectacles all add to the charisma of this beautiful vireo.

Best Sparrow (US): Black-Throated Sparrow
Seen at Sabino Canyon, AZ. This boldly patterned sparrow is unmistakable.

Best Sparrow Lark (International): Ashy Crowned Sparrow Lark

Seen at Sultanpur National park, HR, India. The Ashy Crowned Sparrow Lark is endemic to the Subcontinent. A plain sparrow-lark, the male's face is distinctively marked with black giving it a simple yet powerful elegance.

Best Warbler (in Migration): Cape May Warbler
Seen at Magee Marsh, OH. A cape may warbler feeds off fresh Spring shoots. Not a flashy warbler, the Cape May's yellow and chestnut hues coupled with the black streaking make it an understated dazzler.

Best Warbler (on Territory): Mourning Warbler
Seen at Port Huron SGA, MI. This warbler's grey hood and black bib is responsible for its name [as if in mourning dress]; however, its appearance is sure to cheer anyone up.

Best Shorebird (US): Buff-Breasted Sandpiper

Seen at Lake St. Clair Metropark, MI. The buff-breasted sandpiper is seen in the US only briefly in migration. Its very delicate buff and brown colors make it blend perfectly with the earth.

Best Shorebird (International): Hooded Plover

Seen at Anglesea Coastal Reserve, AUS: This threatened plover is a real stunner with a scarlet bill and eyering; white collar and black hood.

Best Tern (US): Arctic Tern
Seen at Anchorage, AK: Thanks to its 40,000 mile yearly migration, this is one bird that does not know what Winter is. Living in a world with two summers, the Arctic Tern will easily travel more miles in its lifetime than the average human.

Best Tern (International): Black-Bellied Tern
Seen at Dal Lake, Kashmir: This freshwater tern is declining in its Asian habitat and is now classified as "Endangered".

Best Kingfisher (US & International): Laughing Kookaburra

Seen at: Lorne, AUS: A massive kingfisher, the Laughing Kookaburra is a signature Australian species that is impressive both vocally and visually.

Best Mimid: Brown Thrasher
Seen at Tawas Point State Park, MI: A common bird but very rarely seen; it is also a very accomplished songster.

Best Bunting: Snow Bunting
Seen at Lake St. Clair Metropark, MI: A bunting so well adapted to the cold that its wintering range includes states such as Michigan!

Best Worst Photograph: Cerulean Warbler
Seen at: Port Huron SGA, MI. Despite several good looks at the Cerulean; an attempt to capture the image resulted in this horrific photograph that bears pitiful testimony to this amazing warbler. Needless to say, this does not "count" in the 411 species recorded in 2012.

Best Parrot: Crimson Rosella
Seen at Brisbane Ranges National Park, AUS: A wonderful combination of deep crimson, blue and black, this is an attractive Australian parrot found in the Southeast of the country.

Best Pardalote: Spotted Pardalote

Seen at Serendip Sanctuary, AUS: The pardalotes comprise a family of 4 species of birds also known as peep wrens that are endemic to Australia. The spotted pardalote is a tiny jewel.

Best Creeper: Brown Creeper
Seen at Magee Marsh, OH: The only member of its family in the US.  Recent morphological studies suggest, however, that this tiny bird could be split into two: a "Northern" and a "Mexican" species.

Best Gull (US): Lesser Black-Backed Gull
Seen at Little Estero, FL: This European gull is a regular visitor to the US in the winter.

Best Gull (International): Silver Gull
Seen everywhere in Australia: the silver gull is a pale gull that is commonly found all over the country.

Best Alcid (West Coast): Tufted Puffin
Seen off Protection Island, Puget Sound: The tufted puffin's over-sized orange bill, white facial mask and dual tufts [absent in winter plumage] make this an unforgettable alcid.

Best Alcid (Eastern US): Razorbill

Seen off Sanibel Island, FL: The razorbill is an alcid of the North Atlantic. For reasons currently unknown to modern science, the Winter of 2012 brought many razorbills to both coasts of Florida.

Best Heron (US): Reddish Egret

Seen off Sanibel Island, FL: The reddish egret is exclusively coastal and our most flamboyant heron as anyone who has witnessed their "dancing" feeding technique can attest.

Best Heron (International): Purple Heron

Seen at Bhindawas, Haryana: The purple heron is a widespread Old World heron found in Southern Europe, Africa and Asia. It has an extremely long and slender neck with a delicate stripe running across its length.

Best Bittern (US): American Bittern
Seen at Attwater Preserve, TX: This cryptic heron is in its "I'm invisible" posture as it attempts to blend in with its surroundings.

Best Bittern (International): Little Bittern
Seen at Dal Lake, Kashmir, India: The Little Bittern is a widespread heron of Asia, Africa and Southern Europe.

Best Owl (US): Burrowing Owl
Seen at Cape Coral, FL:  A unique owl that nests in a burrow. Large, yellow eyes are distinctive.

Best Owl (International): Eurasian Eagle Owl
Seen at Bhindawas, Haryana, India: A large owl with orange eyes, this owl is widespread across Europe and Asia.

Best Duck (US): Hooded Merganser
Seen at Naples, FL: A stunning duck; the male is unmistakeable with a prominent, round crest. This is the smallest merganser in America.

Best Duck (International): Chestnut Teal
Seen at Serendip Sanctuary, Victoria: The male has a "racing green" head and a chestnut-brown body. Found commonly across Southern Australia.

Best Dove (US): Inca Dove
Seen at Estero Llano Grande, RGV, TX: A small dove, the scaly look is distinctive.

Best Dove (International): Crested or Top Notch Pigeon
Seen at Forest Rd (en route to Serendip), Victoria: A grey pigeon with a pointy crest; sole member of its genus.

Best Oystercatcher (US): American Oystercatcher
Seen at Little Estero, FL: Orange bill, yellow eyes with orange eyering -- unmistakeable shorebird!

Best Oystercatcher (International): Pied Oystercatcher
Seen at Coastal Victoria, AUS: There are a dozen oysetercatcher species in the World; all of them share a definite family resemblance!

Best Chase of a Rare Bird: Rufous-Backed Robin
Seen at Sabino Canyon, AZ: A Mexican visitor to the US, this is a very desirable thrush to see and it delighted several birders in the area. Required multiple trips to get a decent photograph.

Best Buttonquail: Barred Buttonquail
Seen outside Sultanpur National Park, India: Not a true quail -- the sex roles are reversed: the female is more colorful and also polyandrous.

Best Landfowl (US): Osceola Wild Turkey
Seen outside Corkscrew Swamp, FL: The Tom turkey is always resplendent with his "beard", red warts, and plumage iridescence.

Best Landfowl (International): Black Francolin
Seen outside Sultanpur National Park, IN: This is the state bird of Haryana and the striking combination of black, chestnut and white gives this francolin an irresistible appearance.

Best Grebe (US): Red-Necked Grebe
Seen in Anchorage, AK: This is one red-neck everyone can love.

Best Grebe (International): Little Grebe
Seen at Dal Lake, Srinagar, India: A small grebe that constantly dives to escape unwanted attention.

Most desirable species that failed to photograph
-- American Dipper. Alaska July 2012.

Several opportunities were missed at a Salmon hatchery largely due to several fishing-minded visitors who were oblivious of the dipper and spooked it on every occasion as they ogled the fish in the hatchery pens.