Charles Dickens was onto something when he wrote, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”
I think all of this applies to 2020.
Now that it’s nearly over, we can start thinking about what the new year will mean for public health, the economy, and our democracy. We may also think about simpler things, such as our birding goals and resolutions. Jonathan and I have some to share with you soon. In the meantime, enjoy a seven-minute read of our year-end summary, peppered with some visuals.
2020 – Year-in-review “A to Z”
Anna’s Hummingbird. Strange things have happened this year, so it’s only natural for an Anna’s Hummingbird to turn up on Nov. 2 in Lake County, Indiana—a second state record. It’s a treat when homeowners kindly share their rare guests with the birding community, which is not always the case with western hummingbirds. #SharingIsCaring
Birdquesters. Pandemic pods are all the rage, obviously. Birdquesters is a close-knit group of friends that includes me and Jonathan and a couple that we go birding with on a regular basis. Kristina and Logan took us in and let us tag along on their big year antics (via caravan). Without their friendship, we would’ve gone a bit nuts.
Camping. Camping and staycations go hand in hand, and camping has certainly gained popularity along with other outdoor activities. We purchased a new tent in January, anticipating our semi-annual camping trip during the Biggest Week in American Birding, which was canceled. Five months later, in the cold weather, we got our fill of camping.
Dodo. Perhaps the most inane, exciting thing about the iOS 14.2 update was the new Dodo emoji.
Exploring by bike. “Bikesploring” is super enjoyable! On a bike, you can see and hear more than you can in a vehicle, and you can find more birdy habitats to check throughout the year. You don’t have to be a fast or accomplished cyclist, just get out there with your binoculars and ride.
Fire pits. Who else upped their fire pit game this year? The best buy we’ve made was a Solo Stove. It felt glutinous in the moment, but it helped us to stay warm while social distancing outside in the late fall.
Grasshopper Sparrow. Grasshopper Sparrow is a special concern species for Indiana. Two of the six we found were in a semi-developed neighborhood that used to be a grassy field, so we’re seeing the loss of their habitat at the local level. The upside is that it made us appreciate and pay more attention to grassland species.
Home. It’s been a good year to enjoy being at home. Being an über homebody is “in” right now. And staying home has its perks, including board games, naps with the pets, and jogger pants.
Indiana Dunes. The Indiana Dunes offers the best birding in the state. While I enjoy staying within my five-mile radius bubble and birding Boone and Marion Counties, I admit that the pull of Indiana Dunes is strong. It’s an extremely biodiverse region, and I find new reasons to like it on every trip to the north.
Juncos. Juncos are the bird bookends for a calendar year. They’re lovely; they have a sweet, watery trill; and they have five-star tail-fanning skills. We have the Slate-colored variety where we live, but an Oregon appeared in our eastern yard on Nov. 3. Pretty neat.
Kitchen creativity. Ever heard of “restaurant remakes?” It’s when you recreate a favorite restaurant dish in your own kitchen. Sure, takeaway or “carry out” is an option, but remakes are a fun way to take my mind off things and vary our meals. I cooked to keep calm and carry on.
Lakewatch. Choose the best answer: Lakewatches are (a) bone-chilling, (b) tiring, (c) a rollercoaster of excitement and anxiety, (d) demoralizing, or (e) all of the above. If you live in the Midwest, lakewatch is unavoidable. We did it a few times and learned some tips from the lakewatch pros to identify birds in flight and at a distance. The best bird we had was a Little Gull in a flock of Bonaparte’s. Worth it.
Metal Birders. Metal Birders is a small crew of good people. At the start of the year, we made a deal to have monthly meetups to go birding together more often. We did it once, then the pandemic hit. Our group chat, in several ways, got us through this year with plenty of laughter and birding conversations. 🖤
Nemesis success. It can be frustrating to come up empty handed time and again for a single species. The bird that we have tried for several times in the past but haven’t seen is Western Grebe, so it feels very good to chase one successfully.
Owls. Some birders think owls are overrated. (Not us.) However, if you’re lucky enough to encounter one, the reward is high. Our favorite experience was a spectacular show of eight Short-eared Owls hunting in the dusk. We also learned a lot from an owling adventure in Hoosier National Forest. Mostly, we need to study the bill snap sounds of each species.
Personal eBird locations. Out with eBird hotspots, in with personal locations. I researched bunches of property maps to better understand what public lands are available to us and to find new bird habitats locally. This was a productive exercise for our five-mile radius.
Quotidian. I keep on thinking about the importance of birding during the pandemic, either on a daily or as-needed basis. Birds and birding got us through this Twilight-Zone Groundhog Day, as I’m sure it did for many birders and bird enthusiasts.
Records. Our turntable ran more frequently in an effort to find calm in all the turmoil. Listening to vinyl while cooking, sipping adult drinks, or lying on the couch doing nothing was a good change from streaming random music in the background.
Sound recordings. In the summer, Jonathan surprised me with a shotgun microphone, and I spent more time capturing bird vocalizations to slow down and improve my observation skills. My favorite recording? The melody of a Song Sparrow on territory at a local patch.
Texas. One way to get through the year was to make plans, though I know it sounds counterintuitive because of all the uncertainty. Our “COVID carrot” is a road trip to Texas at the beginning of 2021. We researched the specialty species of the Rio Grande Valley, as well as how to travel safely and responsibly.
Upland Sandpiper. When you can’t find Upland Sandpiper an hour away at a reliable hotspot and one lands at an airport 15 minutes away a couple months later, it’s a huge win in my book.
Varied Thrush. Varied Thrush is the most Halloween-looking North American bird, with rusty orange-and-blue-black plumage and an eerie song. It’s ghost-like as it disappears into the mature forests of the Pacific Northwest. And it’s a wonder that one showed up in Indiana in October.
Winter finches. Warblers would be my first choice, but a winter finch superflight is taking place to the delight of birders in the northeastern U.S. Twenty minutes south of us at a suburban residence, we twitched our lifer White-winged Crossbill. Now that we’re in mid-December, it looks like we’re in a minority of birders still hoping for Evening Grosbeak, Red Crossbill, Pine Grosbeak, and Common Redpoll. Perhaps next year. 😉
Xema sabini. “Xeme” means a slightly fork-tailed gull, and Xema is a “monotypic genus,” with Sabine’s Gull being the only species in the taxon. The Sabine’s we saw in 2020 was a flyover at the lakefront. I love the bold, spectacular wing pattern of this gull. Who doesn’t?
Yard birds. It’s been a banner year for yard listing because of stay-at-home orders and remote work. Usually, we log between 50 and 66 species, but we surpassed that with 86, including Winter Wren, Black-throated Blue Warbler, and Lincoln’s Sparrow. Maybe our new micro-prairie has something to do with it.
Zoom events. In-person activities and experiences came to a halt and everything went virtual, thanks to Zoom. Each week, a plethora of events were held online, including local Audubon chapter programs, American Birding Association’s Virtual Bird Club, Let’s Bird Together From Home, #BlackBirdersWeek, and Hog Island Audubon’s “Making Bird Connections” series—all of which were fully free of charge. It was truly amazing.
Warm winter wishes and happy birding to all the Rogue Birders out there!