Thursday, August 9, 2018

A New Set of "Keys"

Recently, I haven't had much time for blogging, but I have had some awesome highlights over the last month and a half.  These have been key species that I have enjoyed.

The best was an adult male Ruby-throated Hummingbird that showed up at Hassayampa River Preserve on July 12th, 2018.  Luckily, I was off that day and didn't go after the Five-striped Sparrows that I was thinking about looking for.  I was sitting at home and being lazy when a report came through that Mary McSparen and Laura Ellis were looking at a Ruby-throated Hummingbird.  Once pictures came through to Caleb that the bird was good, I decided to chase the bird, and I was fortunate to have great looks at it.  In the history of Maricopa County birding, this record represents the first for Ruby-throated Hummingbird, and it is officially the 461st bird for the county list.  Fun stuff!

It wasn't long after that I decided not to make a trip for Five-striped Sparrow that my buddy Walker Noe called me up and suggested an evening jaunt down to Box Canyon to look for Five-striped Sparrows.  We succeeded!  This was only the second time I've seen Five-striped Sparrow, after my first brief sighting was of an individual in Montosa Canyon in 2012.

I recently went up to the White Mountains with my sister Talia and brother-in-law, Tom.  We hiked both Baldy Trails to equal out a 17 mile hike.  Some of those epic White Mountain birds were included in the hike.

On July 25th, I was looking for odes in southeastern Arizona, when a report came in that a Fulvous Whistling-Duck had been found at the Green Valley WWTP while I was close by.  The report came in later in the afternoon, and with the WWTP closing at 4 PM, it didn't give birders too much time for a chase.  My location from Empire Cienaga would put me to the spot at 3:40 P.M.  I was excited to attempt seeing this bird again.  Prior to this chase, I had missed the Whistling Duck four times in Maricopa County, with each one being by a day or less.  When Google Maps took me to the wrong spot this time, I was almost positive it would be the fifth miss in five tries.  I got my crap together and managed to find the right entrance to the WWTP with minutes to spare.  Thanks to Andrew Core, Molly Pollack, Mark Stevenson, and Dave Stesjkal, I was pointed in the right direction while in the fence.  I was able to take one one minute distant look at the duck at 358 PM, and I ran out of the WWTP to be out of the exit gate by 4.  It was frustrating because I really wanted to see the bird longer.  But it was good to finally see this species.  And an official lifer at that!

Another trip to southeastern Arizona was taken because of a Yellow-green Vireo down along the Santa Cruz River.  For the third time in my birding life, I struck out on Yellow-green Vireo.  A Green Kingfisher flying along the river was an awesome consolation.  On my way back, I got to stop at that Green Valley WWTP again and enjoy the Fulvous Whistling-Duck for 40 minutes.  This observation was much longer, and better too...

Friday, July 13, 2018

Crying Wolf On A Birding Blog


February 18th, 2018, was a day I will always remember.  It was the first time I got lucky enough to see my favorite animal, the Gray Wolf, in the wild.  I was on a birding trip with my friends Janet Witzeman and Josh Wallestad.  Josh, Janet, and I were driving through a snow storm en route to seeing a Boreal Owl that someone had found roadside in the famous Sax-Sim Bog.  As we were closing in on owl and growing in our anxiety levels, something unexpected happened.  While I didn't think anything could possibly top the Boreal Owl or come close to matching the owl's excitement, the exact opposite happened.  A wolf was walking across the road ahead of us and it stood out among all of the rapid snowflakes that were coming down everywhere.  At first I thought it was just an animal of some sort, and I'll never forget Josh saying, "No, that's a wolf!".  The wolf gave us a decent look to the naked eyes as I started to brake the car.  As soon as Janet handed me my binoculars and when I started to get into the motion of lifting them up, the wolf trotted off into the woods, not to be seen again.  He seemingly emerged out of the snowstorm, and went back into it just as quickly.  The sighting fulfilled a life long dream of mine of seeing a wolf, and I found myself wishing over and over that I had a picture to go along with it.  As we looked at the Boreal Owl minutes later, it took me awhile to focus on the Boreal Owl.  Not because there was an intense snow storm taking place, but because I had just seen my first wolf, the one animal I would choose over such an owl.

I've thought about that Gray Wolf a lot ever since I was lucky enough to see it.  Since my first sighting, I've been wanting another.  I even had thoughts about going to Yellowstone National Park to look for wolves there this summer, but that plan would need more preparation for another time.  My recent vacation was a hardcore birding trip to Greenlee County, Arizona.  Greenlee County is the most under-birded county in the history of Arizona ornithology, and I decided to spend six days in it, covering it from north to south.

The first three days of my trip, July 3rd through July 5th, I would spend in the Hannagan Meadow area.  Hannagan Meadow is a beautiful place, and is an area that is in range of the Mexican Gray Wolf.  The Mexican Gray Wolf is indeed, a wolf!  And a wolf that lives in Arizona.  It's quite amazing actually.  Mexican Gray Wolves are the smallest subspecies of Gray Wolves and are a lot smaller than their northern relatives.  At most, a Mexican Gray Wolf will weigh roughly 85 pounds, while a northern Gray Wolf can get above 150 pounds.  Mexican Gray Wolves are critically endangered.  After roaming the southwest throughout Arizona, New Mexico, and Mexico, Mexican Gray Wolves, who were commonly called "Lobos", were hunted and killed to the brief of extinction.  The last known wolf died in the 1970's and before that, conservation efforts finally kicked in.  After captive breeding and decision making, it was then decided that Mexican Wolves would be re-introduced into the wilds of Arizona and New Mexico again after a long absence.  In 1998, the recovery program began when 11 wolves were re-introduced into the Blue Range Primitive Area of east-central Arizona.  I can still remember getting a poster as a kid of that first wolf to celebrate the event.  That wolf truly had the look of freedom in it's face.  Twenty years later, the program has had limited but yet a decent amount of success.  Even though all of this time I've known about Mexican Wolves living in east-central Arizona and even though I've seen the animal at the Phoenix Zoo many times, it's never really sank in to me that we actually have wild wolves in Arizona!

My recent Greenlee County trip was all about birds from the start.  At least that's what I thought it was going to be.  From day 1 of the trip, I noticed this really awesome valley that was green, full of surrounding conifers and aspens, and it had some small open meadows.  As I drove by it and glanced harder, I realized it had a road going down the valley and it turned out the road paralleled a creek called Foote Creek.  And that road branched right off of the Highway 191 that I was driving on.  I decided to hike it the second day, and I was impressed because it was as awesome as it looked by driving by hiking it on foot.  It held appropriate habitat for my biggest target bird of the trip, the Dusky Grouse.  Aside from that hike, I thought Foote Creek would be the perfect place to see a variety of wildlife, especially when driving by it and looking down on it from Highway 191 in the open meadowy spot.  Whenever I would drive by it, I would glance at it carefully..

I was on my third day of the trip on July 5th, 2018.  The time was great, and a lot of it was spent birding in high coniferous/aspen forest above 9000' in elevation for birds such as Dusky Grouse and Canada Jay.  Because a lot of the region suffered from a devastating wildfire in 2011, it has made those species harder to find.  I was coming back to Hannagan Meadow on that day to spend the last three hours birding in that habitat after birding the day away at the Blue and Black Rivers nearby.  As I made my way back towards Hannagan Meadow, I made a few stops.  One was to get in contact with my Dad and let him know where I was going to be on the coming days for my trip (Greenlee is a remote wilderness county for the most part!).  The other was a one minute stop on Highway 191 to wait for a guy to collect tail feathers off of a road killed Wild Turkey that had been recently hit.  I've thought about it a lot, if I didn't make those two stops I may have missed what was next.  Timing can be perfect in life, or it can be awful.  This time I would be on the perfect end of it.  As I passed by Foote Creek and glanced down into it on that east side of Highway 191, I saw a large canid standing in the meadow and near the entrance to Foote Creek.  And it didn't strike me as a Coyote...

As I looked closer, it gave me a wolf kinda vibe..

I slammed on the breaks of my truck and reversed.  I grabbed my binoculars and looked at the animal, who was also looking at me.  Good grief, it was a Mexican Gray Wolf!

At this point, what stood between my truck and the open meadow area that the wolf was in were some conifers that made it challenging to get clear photographs.  I backed up a few feet to where I had more of an open look.  The Wolf was curious for about ten seconds, and then it trotted off a few feet to where there were conifers blocking my few.  What a smart animal...

Once again, I put my truck in reverse and backed it up a few feet to get past the conifers that were blocking me.  This time, the wolf was closer and we stared at each other for a little while longer before it started to trot away in the opposite direction.  What a beautiful animal.

Right before it started to trot off, I noticed a second wolf behind it!

Wolves are intelligent and have high communication signals with each other.  The second wolf didn't seem too concerned about me, but once the first signaled that they should bail, it listened and trotted off too.

As I was looking with my eyes and snapping pictures quickly and looking through the viewfinder of my camera, I could see that this second wolf has a radio collar!  Fanfreakingtastic!

As the conifers blocked my view of the wolves again, I jumped out of the truck and continued to watch them as they trotted up into a heavily timbered ravine above and on the west side of Foote Creek.  I focused on them with my binoculars more this time than trying to get photos.  Here is the one photo I got of this sequence, can you find the wolf?

With some branch cracking sounds and a few more glimpses, I wouldn't see the wolves again.  I walked down into Foote Creek and walked where they had walked hoping to find a nice track print without any luck.  I also thought about following the wolves further to see if I could see them again, but I thought what I had was as good as it could get, and I let the wolves be.  A few more times throughout the remainder of that day, I did drive up and down that area of Hannagan Meadow with my eyes open.  When I found this Coyote, it made me jump for the first second before I realized it was a Coyote.  I couldn't help but think of the sound of a booing crowd when I realized it.

When driving around the White Mountains of Arizona, people will notice these signs up about the Mexican Gray Wolves and their re-introduction.  For the first time it really made sense to me, ARIZONA HAS WILD WOLVES!!!  How epic is that.

I had to leave the White Mountain region early the next morning to complete birding the southern half of Greenlee County for the trip's remaining three days.  Even though I didn't get Dusky Grouse or Canada Jay, the Wolves were as good as it could ever get, my favorite animal, better than any bird could possibly be, and a great way to leave the White Mountains..

The Aftermath

After posting my wolf pictures on Facebook social media, I had my friend Melissa contact me.  Melissa had worked on Mexican Gray Wolf stuff before in the White Mountains with wolf biologist, Genevieve.  She showed the wolf pictures to her and Genevieve already knew which wolf the radio collared one was and wanted to talk to me about my sighting.

I got a call from Genevieve and she asked me about my sighting, and I told her everything.  I was immediately informed about how rare it is to have a sighting like I had.  She thanked me and I asked her more about the radio collared wolf.  It turns out the wolf radio collared is named and numbered 1477.  He was born in a pack called the Elk Horn Pack, who lives in the Escudilla Mountain area.  When 1477 was a year old, Genevieve put that radio collar on him and the radio collar stands out that she was able to instantly recognize which wolf it was.  She told me that 1477 dispersed not long after that from his birth family, the Elk Horn Pack and went further south.  1477 then met the un-collared wolf who I first saw.  The un-collared wolf, I guess I'll call her Naomi, has been traveling with and paired with 1477 for some time.  1477 and Naomi have been together long enough and Genevieve told me they've shown behavior that they have a den in place.  Because of this, these two wolves have reached pack status, and will be given the name the Eagle Creek Pack.  I think it's epic that Naomi hasn't been touched by human hands, and I'm glad that she was the first wolf that I saw out of the two.

Something really cool that Genevieve explained to me was that from the radio collar of 1477 and the other wolves that they have collared, that daily signals are sent to their computers about the whereabouts of each radio collared wolf.  I asked her if she could look up July 5th, 2018, the day of my sighting.  She looked it up and said, "oh yeah!  Yep.  He (1477) was throughout Hannagan Meadow that day and on both sides of Highway 191".  I was blown away.  Genevieve also told me that they have close to 75 wolves radio collared in Arizona and New Mexico.

For more information on the Mexican Gray Wolves of Arizona, Arizona Game and Fish Department has an excellent source of information on their website.  I'll include a link here.  Go down to monthly reports to see information on the packs, including information on my encountered radio collared wolf, #1477.

To me, this sighting is the best I've had with wildlife, it beats everything else.  Ever since I've been a little kid, wolves have been my favorite animal.  To have two sightings in a year has certainly been epic!

Saturday, June 30, 2018

18 Years and a Parula

I've been birding for 18 years now, and it seems crazy that it's been that long.  My first real "birding" took place on June 18th, 2000, at Goldwater Lake in Prescott, Arizona when I wrote down field notes of observations.  Before that it started to pick up in Greer, Arizona.  In those 18 years I've seen some awesome things, and over the past month, I've certainly seen some more awesome things, such as a new life bird.  Before that life bird, there were some other great highlights.  And then there was that life bird.  Following the life bird, I'll look back on some birding memories from past to present.  This might be a fun post to write, maybe it'll be fun for you all to read too ;)

My Phoenix Suns won the rights to draft the Number 1 overall pick, and it looks like they made a good choice with Deandre Ayton.  After the Spotted Owl excitement that Caleb and I had in the Sierra Anchas, it seemed like some of my friends wanted to draft the Spotted Owls as their number one pick.  I returned to the spot again with Walker and Dara, and the Spotted Owl pair gave us a show.  Seeing Spotted Owls in the wild is always a spellbinding event.

Seeing a Raccoon peeking out of it's sycamore tree home was a highlight too in those Sierra Ancha Mountains.

The following week I returned to the Anchas again with my friend Jeff hoping to find the Spotted Owls.  We started off by covering multiple habitats in Gila County, such as Roosevelt Lake and upwards in elevation to the coniferous forests of the Sierra Anchas.  This Black-throated Gray Warbler and Red-faced Warbler, along with many other birds, were seen in quantity.  

Jeff and I had great fun exploring the Anchas.  We even drove over part of a fallen tree in the middle of a rugged road, talk about fun!  But we got skunked on the Spotted Owls.  And the perfect animal crossed our paths to prove it...

The Sierra Anchas are a mountain range that has extremely limited coverage.  Birders need to do more reps there.  Here is the canyon that harbors Workman Creek.  Jeff thought it was really cool too!

Caleb and I went on a trip to Madera Canyon.  Once at Madera, we hiked up the Carrie Nation Trail.  What a neat trail it was to hike, and there were many great SEAZ birds to go along with it.  Elegant Trogon anyone?!

Our first Sulphur-bellied Flycatchers of the year were stand out too.

Earlier in June, I went with Gordon Karre, Janet Witzeman, and Laurie Nessel to the Chiricahua Mountains.  It was a great time spent with friends while looking for the Slate-throated Redstart without luck.  Here, our quartet was in the South Fork of Cave Creek Canyon, one of the most scenic places one may see in Arizona.

We did spend about 6 hours looking for that Slate-throated Redstart, which would've been a milestone bird for Janet.  Even though we didn't see it, we still had a blast.  That time also included fixing a flat tire.  It wasn't an easy fix, we had to dig a hole into the ground to create space to fit the spare tire on.  Recent discussion among birders suggest birders look for the Redstart from the road.  We stuck to that, but we did go 30 feet off of the road to enjoy the shade of a huge pine tree.  There was pure soil on the ground on the path where we walked to the pine tree, and there was pure soil all around the pine tree.  There was no vegetation immediately around that would support any Redstarts.  We were good, and we weren't disturbing any habitat.  One birder, Doofis Magoo I'll call him, was an exact rule player.  He tried to explain ethics to us and gave us his two cents about us breaking ethics by sitting at even an arms reach off the road.  After I gave him my two cents back in less than 15 words, he left almost immediately.  I can remember Janet saying, "that guy was in the wrong place at the wrong time".  I can't stand birders who are like that guy, and the four of us didn't go any further past the infamous pine tree.  Some other birders may have gone further, but I don't really care.  It's their call, their business.  A door knob wasn't able to get to us, after all, it was just a door knob.  We were treated to a handful of southeastern Arizona birds between Pinery and Cave Creek Canyons, such as the Elegant Trogon.

A stop in Dave Jasper's yard in Portal gave us views of a female Lucifer Hummingbird.  It's a hummer I don't get the chance to see often, and it was a lifer for Laurie!

A recent trip up to Mount Lemmon was the first time I've thoroughly birded the Catalinas from the low to high elevations.  The place is amazing.  Here are some bird highlights from the time I spent there.

Yellow-eyed Junco

Buff-breasted Flycatcher on nest near Rose Canyon Lake in Catalina Mountains

same Buff-breasted Flycatcher

Red-faced Warbler

Guess which nest this belongs to?

Answer:  Yellow-eyed Junco

Rivoli's Hummingbird

June 20th was the day, and the main highlight trip of this post.  Caleb, Dara, and I were after a Tropical Parula.  The Tropical Parula is a Mexican warbler that reaches southern Texas and very rarely strays into southern Arizona.  This Tropical Parula, who I am talking about as being a potential buddy of mine, is about the 6th record for Arizona of his species, if I remember right.  He'd be a buddy to Dara, Caleb, and me if we could land him.  As we made our way through a long trek into Ramsey Canyon of the Huachuca Mountains of southeastern Arizona, we started our search.  It wasn't long before we were greeted by two Tufted Flycatchers.  Three years ago these small flycatchers were a huge deal, and now, they are reliable in two locations and seem to be increasing.

Before our hike, the three of us enjoyed a dawn bird chorus in Carr Canyon.  A Mexican Whip-poor-will was among the many and it sounded off a few times before going down.  What Caleb, Dara, and I did that day was hike down from the Comfort Springs Trail via Carr Canyon for 2.3 miles into Ramsey Canyon.  We had to do this due to Ramsey Canyon being closed on Wednesdays.  The hike is a scenic one.  Miller Canyon has always been my favorite canyon in the Huachucas, Carr Canyon has always been Dara's, and Ramsey Canyon has always been Caleb's.  We took turns saying why each other's was better than the other's, but Caleb boldly stated that Ramsey would be the favorite of all three by the day's end.  Once we got down into Ramsey I was blown away.  Birds were everywhere as we made our way down canyon towards the Parula's haunts.  In the bug world, we were distracted by the epic Apache Spiketail, which is the Liam Neeson of odes.

We crossed a creek, enjoyed more Spiketails, and before we knew it, we were at the stakeout spot for the Tropical Parula.  From here, all it was a waiting game.  In the midst, Dara showed off her food supplying skills.  Because of that, we all enjoyed a Snickers bar.  And then, The Boy heard it.  A good song was now playing in the trees.  And down steep slopes and a ravine we went.  It wasn't much longer before that Tropical Parula we were listening too became our buddy.

Tropical Parulas breed in oak and pine woodlands throughout their range.  This bird felt right at home in the whereabouts of his haunt.  We had Ramsey Canyon and the Tropical Parula to ourselves that day, and man it felt good.  This bird is very closely related to the familiar Northern Parula.  The main difference is the lack of eye arcs and the fact the Tropical Parula has a black "masked" look to it.  There's some other differences of course, such as the solid mango chest on the Tropical male.  Here are a selection of photographs I was able to obtain of this worthwhile bird.

After the initial detection of the bird, the Parula continued to sing away for close to an hour while we were in the area.  The adventure with Caleb and Dara was a great one, and the Tropical Parula was a lifer for all three of us!  I was thrilled to share the adventure with my friends and two birders that I respect.

Ramsey Canyon held one more awesome bird for us just past where the Tropical Parula was.  A singing tanager turned into the rare Flame-colored Tanager.  For Caleb and I it was only our third sighting of the species, and for Dara, it meant reeling in another great bird and lifer!  Caleb mentioned how incredible it was to have Tufted Flycatcher, Tropical Parula, Flame-colored Tanager and a handful of other things like Elegant Trogon, all on one checklist!  The Boy makes the best of points...

By the end of the day, we managed to combine our three favorite Huachuca Canyons:  Miller, Carr, and Ramsey, all into the itinerary.  And Caleb was right, Dara and I changed our minds.  Ramsey Canyon is all of our favorites now.  The Boy was right again, what can we do....

18 Years of Birding 

My first field notebook still seems like a classic to me in my own mind.  I cut pictures out of a magazine and pasted them on the front of a spiral notebook I bought at Walmart.

The inside flap had the same thing.  Real creative Tommy.

Over 100 pages of field notes filled my first book from 2000-2002.

Here's what I looked like when I first started birding.  I was just about to go into the 8th grade.  Just a little nerdy...

My first birding buddy wasn't technically a "birder" when I first started birding.  He was into wildlife watching lots of times, but when he found out that I became a birder, he decided to become a birder too.  This was one of my all time best friends who was my grandfather, Harold Crosser.  I got to share my first three years of birding with him, mainly through stories, before he passed away.  The second he would see me, we would have a conversation about it.  As shown in the picture below, there were always a lot of people around us and we'd always have our own conversation in the midst.  The bond we had was one I'll always remember.

My first real birding trip came from Greer in August of 2000 for 5 days.  After I decided to bird, I birded here and there, but when that Greer trip came around, I was stoked.  I had just turned 14, and those 5 days in Greer and throughout the White Mountains gave me about 60 species of birds.  And that's when I became obsessed with birding and haven't looked back.  I didn't have a good field guide at that time, and I had to check one out at the library.  My Dad saw the library book in my stash of things I was going to bring on the trip.  He told me I couldn't bring it because it was a library book.  I decided to put the book in a hidden place in my backpack and I managed to hide it from my Dad the entire trip.  If it weren't for Roger Tory Peterson's Western Birds, I wouldn't have been able to know much about what I was looking at.

2000 to 2008 were years that I birded a few times of year around Phoenix and always on vacation.  From 2009 through present, birding has taken over, and I'm always out birding.  Since field notebooks in my early days, technology has given us eBird and a handy eBird field app that we can use from our smartphones and enter our sightings in, from the field.  Birding has certainly changed and come a LONG way as the world has changed since that millennium year.  

After some thought, here are my Top 10 favorite birds through 18 years:

10.  Painted Redstart:  Never get sick of seeing it, even though they are very common

9.  Osprey:  The first bird I watched

8.  Elegant Trogon:  Doesn't seem right to be seen in Arizona

7.  American Dipper:  North America's one and only aquatic songbird, epic

6.  Spotted Owl:  Mysterious and wild but yet welcoming

5.  Laysan Albatross:  Can fly for thousands of miles at once over open ocean, can't believe I've seen one

4.  Northern Hawk Owl:  Fierce and it doesn't care

3.  Boreal Owl:  Completed one of my biggest goals, is freaking cool looking, and loves the spruce-fir

2.  Great Gray Owl:  Intimidating and majestic

1.  Northern Goshawk:  Became my favorite bird at a first glance, and it's a powerful and fearless predator who lives in those forests I love to bird in most

My Top 10 Favorite Arizona Birding Locations:

9.  Duncan Birding Trail:  There's something epic about this place

8.  Gilbert Water Ranch:  A classic that I used to go to 2-3 times weekly in 2009 when I really got serious about birding.  It was the location where I learned the most at.

7.  Morgan City Wash:  This spot is appropriately described as "an oasis in the desert".  And it really is.  When I go to Morgan City Wash, I almost expect the unexpected..

6.  Roosevelt Lake:  Roosevelt Lake is huge, and it's intimidating to bird.  One needs an entire day to bird it well.  That is why I like Roosevelt Lake.

5.  Miller Canyon:  The first place I really got to enjoy the birds in Southeastern Arizona, and it's left an impact!

4.  Glendale Recharge Ponds:  It's my patch and only 15-20 mins from home, and it's a location where one can see a ton of birds on any given day.  It's also one of the best shorebirding spots in all of Arizona.

3.  Slate Creek Divide and Mt. Ord:  My favorite Maricopa County locations.  Slate Creek is epic because of it's remoteness and replications of southeastern Arizona canyons that feature pine, oak, Doug fir, and sycamore.  Mount Ord has always been my quick escape for birding and more and gets me into pine forests faster than any other spot.  

2.  Greer:  Greer is where I grew up outside of home due to annual family vacations that were taken for long periods of time.  It was the perfect place to be taught about nature, and it was also the place that led me to this epic thing called birding.

1.  Mt. Baldy:  Mount Baldy features my favorite habitat in Arizona in good quantity, which is spruce-fir forest.  Birding in spruce-fir forest is life.

Spots Outside of Arizona I've enjoyed the most:

Washburn County, Wisconsin:  My Dad's family is from this northwest part of Wisconsin.  Great for seeing eastern warblers!

Sax-Sim Bog, Minnesota:  Great Gray Owl.  Boreal Owl.  Gray Wolf.  Enough said..

Mount Rainier National Park, Washington:  One of the most scenic places I've been to.  Boreal Owls with Walker and Khanh.

The Pacific Ocean outside of San Diego:  My first pelagic trip I took was out of San Diego with Gordon.  Two Albatross species and a handful of other sea birds.

Kandiyohi County, Minnesota:  Home of the Josh Wallestad family.  Great eastern birding too, I got many lifers here.

San Jacinto Mountains, California:  A mountain range close to Arizona where Dominic and I saw White-headed Woodpeckers and more.

To close, my top birding experience was my first look at Boreal Owls.  Seeing my first looks at Boreal Owls meant me completing an Owl Big Year.  To complete that goal, I traveled to six different states to see and photograph the 19 species of owls that breed in the United States and Canada.  It was the funnest thing I've done in my life.  And the epic Boreal Owl was the closer...