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my year in birds: 2021

Well, here we are, it was 2020 all over again due to the covid-19 pandemic — at least for us. We did not travel, but we did a little birding close to home.

  • Total life birds: 1114. Two armchair ticks with taxonomic changes. There were actually a few losses but more gains, although I confess to no longer remembering what they were.
  • Total ABA-area birds: 587. Same (thus, the lifers were world birds).
  • Total state birds: 333. The most unexpected was a Roseate Spoonbill that appeared at a roadside pond and later a retention basin only a few miles from home. Although we heard about it within an hour or so of someone posting a “what is this?” to social media, there were mobs of people there. We got to see it right from the car, and did get to lean out the window and talk to an old friend. A Neotropic Cormorant in Wayne County was one of several in southeast Michigan this year (one pair attempted to nest in Macomb County). Only slightly less strange, but much less attractive, than the spoonbill. A LeConte’s Sparrow was the final expected pickup.

Home county

  • Total birds, Washtenaw County: 245. The spoonbill, plus a flyover Mississippi Kite from the back porch!
  • Total birds in my home township of Lodi Township: 205. The kite, along with Common Merganser and Sedge Wren.
  • Yard birds: 154. The kite.

Former work county. Again, I don’t get down there much, but am always looking to add to the county total.

  • Wayne County: 273. The cormorant, and Wilson’s Phalarope, which was the first nesting record in the county in many decades.
  • Total Dearborn birds: 231.
  • Total birds at work: 203.
Filed in Me

Like many Americans, today for me marks the one-year anniversary of lockdown or stay-home-stay-safe, depending on your viewpoint and attitude. Mine was the latter, and we’ve been successful.

In 2005, I did a fair amount of reading and research on zoonotic viruses, because as an ornithologist I was “involved” with H5N1, doing testing on migratory birds. So I followed the news of covid last January and February. Each time I went to the store, I’d stock on up on a few more things; in general we have tended to be pretty well prepared materially for short-term disasters. On March 13, 2020 I went to my Pilates class, the store, the pharmacy, and the vet to pick up supplies for poor Juniper, who had developed a major health issue a month or so before. I remember feeling more uneasy than I had during the bird flu threat because clearly this was much worse. Still, we thought we might need to stay home for a few weeks or a month, going out only when needed, and taking precautions. (That stint with bird flu left me with spare real N95 masks!) Kingfisher was able to continue working full-time from home.

I think April and May were the worst months for me. The virus was spreading; the federal government was not simply failing to launch an appropriate response, but was going through stunning display of denial, ignorance, and incompetance; the uncertainty about both the short and long-term future was peaking; and the political divides were accelerating. The stories about people dying alone in overwhelmed hospitals brought me to tears each day.

At this point, as well, Juniper was not really responding to any treatment of what we initially thought was just a UTI. Of course, I couldn’t be with her the times we had to go to the emergency vet. I spent many anxious hours in the car while she had several ultrasounds, an x-ray, and exams. Some of the vets she saw sort of settled around some sort of tumor in her lower abdomen, but unless she had more invasive procedures for a diagnosis — at a specialty clinic at least an hour away — we would not know for sure. Given her age (14 this month!) we would not subject her to surgery that would not add much to her life expectancy, we settled into doing everything we could to make her comfortable. Our hearts were shattered to think we were going to lose her.

I’ll skip to the end of that story — as time went on it was clear she did not have cancer, because things really didn’t worsen and she had no other signs other than a bad reaction to one of her medications. Once we squared around her medications, supplements, and diet her symptoms became much more managable. She is happy, goofy, and very active for a senior cat, although her condition will likely always be categorized as “idiopathic cystitis.” There is some sort of auto-immune component, I think, as her entire life she has suffered from food and skin allergies. Among the things I have become grateful for this past year is the time I’ve had to do research and understand feline health, and especially be here for her constantly to provide the care and routine she needs. I worry about how to maintain it when things become more normal, but the other thing 2020 taught me was to be prepared as best you can, and not plan or worry too far into the future about things you have no chance of anticipating.

Over the summer, we expanded our veggie growing game and improved our pantry organization (I tend to go hog-wild organizing things when other aspects of life seem out of control). We received all our groceries and other goods via delivery or occasional curbside pickup. Our human contact was extremely limited — talking briefly at a distance with neighbors, a few necessary medical visits, a couple trips for Kingfisher into his office to exchange technology and clean off his desk for the long-haul work-from-home gig. We cut each other’s hair, and managed to stay out of each other’s hair. We did not have any sort of social visit until August 31 when my completely awesome pet-whisperer and friend came by and we talked outside, masked and distanced in the driveway (she kept me sane all year and her friendship is another silver-lining to this dark year).

This was also the summer of BLM and enormous political upheaval. We binge-watched a lot of pretty bland but pleasant British television shows to distract ourselves, starting with “Cruising The Cut”, basically a guy with a go-pro puttering through the English canal system on a narrowboat; we’re currently on “The Great British Menu.”

I have to stop here. I was going to try to list all the shows we’ve watched as well as the cozy British detective novels I’ve been reading before bed as a sort of roadmap through 2020 but it now just seems so trite.

I told myself I was going to write about the past year for myself and for history. And now I see that I can’t be more than just superficial here. I’m not as anxious as I was at the beginning of 2020, but so much has happened that has changed my life even though we have had it so, so much easier than most people. I’m not ready to tap into the anger and despair, the incredulity and disappointment, the outrage and sorrow, the surreal experience of living through a year with multiple historic events unfolding simultaneously. My world has become both very small, while at the same time tapped into the churn and turmoil of the global community.

I feel today hope and caution, resignation and weariness. Maybe later I can add to this. Then again, who knows what tomorrow may bring.

Filed in Me

my year in birds: 2020

Well, here we are, mired in the stay-at-home covid-19 pandemic. I know a lot of people did a lot of local birding in 2020, for lack of travel and other safe activities. I was home, but pre-occupied with other stuff.

  • Total life birds: 1112. Nothing new, although I think the recent split of Mexican Duck may be an armchair tick…I’ll revise next year.
  • Total ABA-area birds: 587. Ditto.
  • Total state birds: 330. Black Vultures have been becoming more and more common in Michigan the last number of years. Finally picked one up in my home home county.

Home county

  • Total birds, Washtenaw County: 243. Black Vulture and yard Northern Saw-whet Owl.
  • Total birds in my home township of Lodi Township: 202. The vulture, the owl, and a Solitary Sandpiper in our wet woods, and a singing Prairie Warbler (which I initially thought was on the soundtrack of a movie on television) in the backyard.
  • Yard birds: 164. The owl, sandpiper, and warbler.

Former work county. I don’t get down there much, but will leave my totals here because I’d certainly add to it if I can. With the awesome flight of winter finches this season, I was really hoping to add Evening Grosbeaks. They seemed to move straight through southern Michigan. While we did get them in the yard a few times and we made 2 trips to Wayne County to look for them, no luck. Maybe on the return flight!

  • Wayne County: 271.
  • Total Dearborn birds: 231.
  • Total birds at work: 203.
Filed in Me

my year in birds: 2019

Well, I did do a little traveling in 2019: to Wisconsin for my sister-in-law’s birthday, and to Montana for spouse’s old friends reunion. I’d been to both states before, so no lifers on these trips. My life bird this year was Whooping Crane, in my home county.

  • Total life birds: 1112
  • Total ABA-area birds: 587. Note this is two more than last year, and I think the bird other than the crane may have been an armchair pickup of a bird added to the ABA list from a split.
  • Total state birds: 329. The crane and Brewer’s Blackbird (also in my home township).

Work county. Alas, now that I have left my long-time job, my former county, city, and workplace lists will likely not grow much, although if something really interesting shows up I might run over there and take a look.

  • Wayne County: 271. For whatever reason, I had somehow missed Common Gallinule in the county.
  • Total Dearborn birds: 231.
  • Total birds at work: 203. The last bird for these 2 categories was a Yellow-crowned Night-heron at work.

Home county.

  • Total birds, Washtenaw County: 241.
  • Total birds in my home township of Lodi Township: 198.
  • Yard birds: 161. Coolest was an Eastern Whip-poor-will that was around for a couple days; it was also a township and county bird for me. Alder Flycatcher was an expected species. Several others were flyovers: Caspian Tern, Trumpeter Swan, and Greater Yellowlegs. The tern was also a township and county bird. Yard list is now 176 species.
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my year in birds: 2018

“Birding” in the sense of really spending time in the field looking for birds has largely fallen by the wayside. My work over the past few years expanded into broader ecological endeavors, heavy on botany and entomology. But in keeping with tradition, here is my catch up post.

  • Some new life birds since the last update: Elegant Tern and Red-breasted Sapsucker (2017 on a visit to California) and Spotted Redshank (2018, in my home county), and Slaty-backed Gull (2018, in my former home county).
  • Total life birds: 1111.
  • Total ABA-area birds: 585.
  • Total state birds: 327.

Work county. Alas, now that I have left my long-time job, my former county, city, and workplace lists will likely not grow much, although if something really interesting shows up I might run over there and take a look.

  • Wayne County: 270. Last two were notable. One was the first confirmed record for the county for Say’s Phoebe, found by my other half at his work place, a big corporate campus, in December. The other was the above-mentioned gull.
  • Total Dearborn birds: 231.
  • Total birds at work: 203. The last bird for these 2 categories was a Yellow-crowned Night-heron at work.

Home county.

  • Total birds, Washtenaw County: 237.
  • Total birds in my home township of Lodi Township: 194.
  • Yard birds: 156; my better half has seen more species, so the yard list is actually 169. After 16 years, our yard list in Dearborn was 138.
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10 years with “the bug”!

Juniper (a.k.a. Juni, June Bug, The Bug, My Beautiful Girl) has been with us for ten years now. At nearly 12 years old, she is still as goofy, sweet, and playful as ever. We lost our beloved Sophie in 2013 and it was devastating for all of us, including Juniper. She was clearly depressed for some time, and when she finally came out of it, her personality was much more affectionate, and she became much more attached to me. Thus, she spends more time in my lap than ever before (and she sleeps in exactly the same place beside me as Sophie used to), but still gets the wild zoomies on a regular basis. We now also have another cat, Liberty (Libby). More on her another time, as this is Juniper’s special day!

We love you June Bug!


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still with me?

Did you think I had just given up, abandoning bootstrap to the graveyard of dead blogs?

The last few years have been a crush of winding down my university job, taking an offered premature retirement, and transitioning to more freelance work and more free time (in theory, at least). Although I have kept several of the outlets for my previous gig functioning, I’m going to rechannel my continued research output and outreach to other venues, including right here. I’m not sure if I will ever get back to the level of productivity of personal essays here that I used to, but we’ll see what happens.

You haven’t heard the last of me yet.

Filed in Me

my year in birds: 2014

My traditional compilation, after the second full year in my new home and home township.

Once again, due to many (expensive) house projects, we did not travel.

  • New life birds: None.
  • Total life birds: #1100. No change.
  • Total ABA-area birds: 579. No new species this year.
  • Total state birds: 315. A Western Kingbird showed up a few miles from home. We found out as we arrived home after running a lot of errands, and (to give you an idea of how little I chase birds anymore) I took a nap instead of going to see it with Kingfisher. It hung around, and I saw it the next day.

Work county

  • Wayne County: 265. New species this year was Wild Turkey (finally).
  • Total Dearborn birds: 226, new was Glaucous Gull.
  • Total birds at work: 197, that Glaucous Gull was there.

Home county– as I’m catching up here, I won’t start annotating these lists for a year or so.

  • Total birds, Washtenaw County: 217
  • Total birds in my home township of Lodi Township: 164
  • Yard birds: 141; my better half has seen more species, so the yard list is actually 156. After 16 years, our yard list in Dearborn was 138.
Filed in Me

my year in birds: 2013

My traditional compilation, which is essentially the same as last year, except that I’m filling in the baseline data at my new home and home township.

Otherwise, nothing new as we did not travel. Like last year, I picked up an armchair lifer, which I am counting because 1) it’s my list, and 2) I made a specific trip to find this species to have in “escrow”. See last year’s armchair lifers note regarding list “rules,” although I do not submit my lists to the ABA. In fact, this year I’m letting my membership lapse. Not so much over the whole premise of competitive bird listing — I accept that’s what this organization was founded on and I do support the more conservation-oriented direction they are going in — but because of their movement to providing much of their member services which used to be in print online. I’m obviously no Luddite, but I spend far too much time in front of the computer for business and pleasure. I’ve already converted most of my professional journal subscriptions to online only, especially since my employer does not pay for my memberships and getting print versions are very expensive. Unfortunately, I find that I skim the contents and sometimes the abstracts, but far fewer papers ever get downloaded and read. Same with the many newsletters and other materials I now get electronically.  I have so much more information available to me, and yet I feel that I utilize and absorb less and less of it. I particularly do not want to be tethered to some sort of device to do all of my pleasure reading. Anyway, on to the list.

  • New life birds:  Purple Swamphen. Seen at the epicenter of establishment at Pembroke Pines in Florida in 2002.
  • Total life birds: yep, that was #1100.
  • Total ABA-area birds: 579. No new species this year.
  • Total state birds: 314, nothing new this year.
  • Total birds, Wayne County  (where I work): 264, same as last year.
  • Total birds in my new home township after first full year: 150.
  • Total Dearborn birds: 225, nothing new.
  • Total birds at work: 196, nothing new.
  • Yard birds, new house, after first full year: 126 (though my better half has over 130, I think). It took us a long time to get a Rock Pigeon (and we’ve never had one at the feeders), but I think less than a month to get Evening Grosbeak, a species that I hadn’t seen in the lower peninsula in over 20 years. Turkeys are resident, we’re waiting for one of the Pileated Woodpeckers we’ve seen in our woods to made a feeder appearance, and Connecticut Warbler is already on our list.  No complaints here!


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my year in birds: 2012

My traditional compilation.

I took no trips at all this year, as my father was ill and passed away, and we bought and sold a house. We barely had time to eat, much less bird.

  • New life birds:  I picked up an armchair lifer with the split of Gray-lined Hawk (saw mine in Nicaragua in 2009) from Gray Hawk (which I have seen numerous times in the U.S. as well as Mexico and Honduras). Okay, I know the “rules” state a species must be valid when seen and retroactive species are not allowed. If you submit your lists to the ABA, which I do not. Of course, I know dozens of people who also violate Rule 4 (Diagnostic field-marks for the bird, sufficient to identify to species, must have been seen and/or heard and/or documented by the recorder at the time of the encounter) and Rule 5 (The bird must have been encountered under conditions that conform to the ABA Code of Birding Ethics). This is why, in fact, I don’t participate in competitive bird listing.
  • Total life birds: 1099.
  • Total ABA-area birds: 579. No new species this year.
  • Total state birds: 314 (new this year were Scissor-tailed Flycatcher and Red Crossbill).

I moved to a new county this year, but I’ll still be working in my old home county of Wayne and old city of Dearborn. So I’ll keep those lists, and start  few new lists. I probably will not work too much on my new home county list, and I don’t live within a city limits, so I will be keeping a township list instead.

  • Total birds, Wayne County: 264 (new: Scissor-tailed Flycatcher).
  • Total birds in my new home township: 86.
  • Total Dearborn birds: 225 (new species this year: Dickcissel and Northern Shoveler). I saw 148 this  year.
  • Total birds at work: 196 (new this year: Northern Shoveler).
  • Yard birds, old house final life tally: 138 (added in 2012: Red-shouldered Hawk and Louisiana Waterthrush).
  • Yard birds, new house: 78. My husband Kingfisher spent more time here before we officially moved in, and has 96 species for the yard.

Happy New Year.

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