Looking back: 2013

In terms of my treatment status, 2013 was a rather up-and-down year, characterized by periods of stability and instability. The former periods ran roughly between January-May and November-December, broken up by a long summer and early fall of no treatment, and frequent surgeries. My birding during the course of the year followed this periodical trend. I got out into the field a good deal during the stable times, but regrettably hardly ever during the unstable months. It was definitely a tough year, and one I’m more or less happy is over.

The highlights of my birding over the course of the year included another great trip out West, to Arizona and California in March, a record-breaking Fairfield Big Day Effort in May, a terrific tandem of short birding trips to Cape Cod and New Hampshire in June, a fun November of birding highlighted by a trip to Québec, and a fantastic end of the year in December, highlighted by a short trip to Florida that included some birding.

I broke out of the gates with a strong start to the year in January, highlighted by some great local birding. I noted a number of infrequent visitors to Fairfield, such as Northern Shoveler, Long-eared Owl, Horned Lark, Snow Bunting, Yellow-breasted Chat, Red Crossbill and Pine Siskin.

Long-eared Owl

Long-eared Owl

February started off with a great day trip to Central Massachusetts, the highlight being an awesome flock of Pine Grosbeaks.

Pine Grosbeak

Pine Grosbeak

I got out for a little birding in Fairfield and Westport during a week of treatment soon after, and enjoyed birds like Lesser Black-backed Gull at Burying Hill Beach, Green-winged Teal at Bulkley Pond and a male Northern Shoveler at Southport Beach.

Lesser Black-backed Gull

Lesser Black-backed Gull

I spent my last weekend of February on an unbeatable trip to Québec. In just one weekend, we notched three Great Gray Owls and a host of other northern specialties, including Bohemian Waxwing and Hoary Redpoll.

Great Gray Owl

Great Gray Owl

I finished up our shortest month was a fun morning at nearby Sherwood Island State Park, noting two different owl species, including Northern Saw-whet, a wintering White-crowned Sparrow and some quality waterfowl on the Millpond.

Before long, it was March. Just as the local residents were beginning to jump into the breeding scene, I was off to California and Arizona with my dad. Our whirlwind trip through the Southwest was largely successful, highlighted by birds like Scripps’s Murrelet, Mexican Chickadee and Black-capped Gnatcatcher.

Scripps's Murrelet

Scripps’s Murrelet

Mexican Chickadee, Pinery Canyon, AZ

Mexican Chickadee

Black-capped Gnatcatcher

Black-capped Gnatcatcher

We arrived home just in time for April, a month in which I continued my fanatic birding pace. The start of the breeding season culminated in a terrific day on April 14th, enjoying some newly arrived breeders, including Louisiana Waterthrush, Pine, Palm and Yellow-rumped Warblers, Eastern Towhee and Field Sparrow.

Louisiana Waterthrush

Louisiana Waterthrush

I closed out the month with an exciting morning at Lake Mohegan, one of the best spring birding locations in all of Fairfield. Newly-arrived Neotropical migrants abounded, including seven species of Wood-Warblers, highlighted by my FOY Blackburnian.

Blackburnian Warbler

Blackburnian Warbler

May started off extremely slow in terms of migration, as prevailing east winds kept the floodgates completely shut for the first ten days of the month or so. I did enjoy some great local birding during this period, as I scouted for the upcoming Fairfield Big Day effort.

The floodgates surged open just in time for Dave Hursh and my Fairfield Big Day effort, which netted 118 species, besting our old record by two.

Although I was not able to make it out too much this past May, as opposed to my daily birding the year before, I kept the pace going, with periodic trips to the Birdcraft. The highlight of my May 16th visit was surprisingly not a warbler but a nice White-crowned Sparrow, a scarce spring migrant in Fairfield.

White-crowned Sparrow

White-crowned Sparrow

May ended with some rough cancer-related news and my treatment, once so promising, ended abruptly.

With surgery scheduled mid-month, I spent the first half of June making up for all of the lost time I knew I would have, with trips to Cape Cod and New Hampshire, notching birds like Piping Plover and Black-backed Woodpecker.

Piping Plover

Piping Plover

Black-backed Woodpecker

Black-backed Woodpecker

June turned into July and July into August, but my birding hardly picked up following a rough surgery. I enjoyed a tiny spurt in my dead graph of sorts during August, culminating in a late-month trip to Sandy Point in New Haven, highlighted by a nice Red Knot, a species I don’t often see in Connecticut.

I picked up the pace a little with a strong weekend in mid September, with birds like Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, Bay-breasted Warbler and Blue Grosbeak to show for it.

However, this weekend was merely an illusion when compared with my local birding the autumn before. And following another surgery the next week, my birding took a long-term hit.

After a rough start to the fall, I got up and dusted myself off at the beginning of November, and embarked on a fantastic two months of birding.

It all started with a terrific Barnacle Goose in Bethlehem, CT and a mind-boggling Black-chinned Hummingbird, the first state record for Connecticut, in Fairfield the next day.

Black-chinned Hummingbird, Fairfield, CT

Black-chinned Hummingbird

I kept things going with a local trip the next week. Diving into the thickets at Pine Creek, I emerged with birds like American Kestrel, Brown Thrasher and Fox Sparrow.

Following my weekend at Pine Creek, a rare, after school chase found me in downtown New Haven, enjoying a first winter Red-headed Woodpecker.

Red-headed Woodpecker

Red-headed Woodpecker

The next weekend, things really heated up with an unreal, life-affirming trip to Québec, highlighted by an adult Ross’s Gull, one of the most incredible and ethereal species I have ever laid eyes on.

Ross's Gull

Ross’s Gull

Thanksgiving break soon arrived, with a new treatment right along with it. I began a new life on Cabazitaxel with birds like Greater White-fronted Goose and Lapland Longspur in Connecticut. The break ended with another hugely successful Cape Cod birding day with Dave Hursh, highlighted by a self-found King Eider and Short-eared Owl.

King Eider

King Eider

After some treatment-related setbacks to begin the month of December, I was on the road again, headed for a fun weekend in Miami, Florida with some good friends. I was able to sneak in a little birding during our time down South, with birds like Short-tailed HawkYellow-chevroned Parakeet and Red-whiskered Bulbul to show for it.

Short-tailed Hawk

Short-tailed Hawk

The weekend before Christmas found Jim Orrico and I working the Connecticut shoreline, and coming out with Eurasian Wigeon, Barrow’s Goldeneye, Rough-legged Hawk and others.

Barrow's Goldeneye

Barrow’s Goldeneye

And although I wasn’t able to do much CBC birding this year, a short stint the next day with Charlie Barnard at his Stratford-Milford CBC territory, Seaside Park in Bridgeport, was fantastic consolation. “Kumlien’s” Iceland Gull, Common Raven, Gray Catbird and a Lapland Longspur were just some of the highlights on a great morning of birding.

2013 was certainly a crazy year, with some decent birding nonetheless. However, I’m more than happy to put this rough year aside, and begin anew in 2014, with a new treatment to boot. I’m sure I’ll see some of you out in the field tomorrow morning, where I hope to get that year list returning to its former pace.

2014, you couldn’t have come soon enough!

-Alex

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3 Responses to Looking back: 2013

  1. Charlie Barnard Jr. says:

    Alex,
    You had a wonderful birding year and your photos are first rate, just as your birding abilities are. It is always a great pleasure for me to go birding with you because you are not only a really good birder, but you also approach every trip with such enthusiasm and such a positive attitude. I hope that 2014 brings you better health and many wonderful experiences.
    Charlie

  2. Helen says:

    Happy New Year, Alex! What a great summary of your birding year in 2013! You are an excellent writer. I have enjoyed birding by proxy with you. I wish you all the best for 2014. –Helen

  3. Liz Altman says:

    Alex,
    Beautiful photos!
    Here’s to a much better 2014! (and a repeat for the Sox…)
    – Liz Altman

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