What A Difference a Year Makes

Birding in May 2019 vs. May 2020 – not even close.  Some numbers:

May 2019 May 2020
Ebird Checklists 152 54
Species Seen 298 156
Species in Washington 85 156
Shorebird Species 24 12
Raptors 18 13
Woodpeckers 10 6
Flycatchers 15 9
Vireos 8 3
Sparrows 18 9
Warblers 35 8
ABA Lifers 2 0
ABA Life Photos 10 0
States Birded 17 1

Quite a difference in every category, but the biggest difference is that in May 2019, I birded with more than 100 fellow birders while in May 2020, I birded alone.  Thank you COVID-19.  I may have gotten less sleep in 2019 but I sure had lots more fun.  And oh yeah in 2020 just barely into a planned two day birding trip in Eastern Washington, I unavoidably hit a deer on Interstate 90.  The deer did not survive; my brand new car was significantly damaged; I was physically unhurt but emotionally and psychologically pretty scarred.  It could have been oh so much worse, but it was not a good day.

The New Car – Post Intersection with the Deer


Of course a major difference between last May and this May is that last year I was fully absorbed in my 50/50/50 Adventure trying to see 50 species in each state on individual days.  That provided a framework and purpose to my birding with defined goals and a drive to meet them.  I was managing a “project” and I have come to realize that I have been doing that in one form or another most of my life and it is important to my mental state and energy levels.  Indeed 2020 has been the only year without focus, without a project and without goals.

There was a goal in the beginning as this Spring was supposed to be one with the very important goal of further testing and hopefully cementing my relationship with Cindy Bailey.  As we entered our second year, we had trips planned to Florida, Cuba and Arizona.  Some birding, but lots of other activities as well, and the trip to Cuba would be a new place for both of us and our first travel as part of a group.  We expected to learn a lot and hopefully prove further that we were flexible, compatible and happy together.  Cindy then had a long trip planned to England in May, and I was going to bird in Texas and other spots trying to add a few more ABA Life birds and/or photos.  Not to be, any of it, as the horrors of COVID-19 caused every trip to be cancelled and our activities to be severely limited.  We have survived but it has not been fun, or at least not in the ways we had sought.

One day is often indistinguishable from another.  No restaurants, no travels, no visiting friends, often a gray malaise and a listless enervated existence.  Cindy has coped better than I have as she has been working out with a personal trainer – not in person but over Zoom – a meeting application that has become a large part of many lives – and has put much energy into a very cute knitting project for a new baby expected by her niece.  Granted there have been frustrations and some less than lady-like language at times but all in all a very positive undertaking.

The Baby Blanket – A Work in Progress


One thing remains unchanged from last May to this May.  Migration is at its peak and it is the best month for birding  almost everywhere.  So despite the limitations and despite the absence of others and despite the unwanted deer intersection on Interstate 90, I have gotten in some birding even though as shown in the earlier chart, not like last year, or any other of the last 9 years for that matter.  Birding remains that familiar turf that adds some consistency to this year’s chaos.  There have been no really special birds, nothing new for the ABA or the State and no new photos, but I have added three species to my Snohomish County list in May (after adding Great Horned Owl in March} bringing the County total to 261, most in any county in Washington.  The May additions were American Avocet, Dusky Flycatcher and Yellow Breasted Chat.  My state list for 2020 is currently 261 species.  The average in the previous eight years at this time is about 25 species more and in almost all of those years and but only for a single day, in this year, I had traveled out of state for significant amounts of time.

But given the tragedy of COVID-19 and what could have been a truly horrible accident with the deer, I am able to see the glass as half full rather than half empty.  I just hope it get even fuller the rest of this year.  So celebrating the fullness that is there, here are some favorite photos for May 2020.

American Avocet and Black Necked Stilt – County Line Ponds – Avocet Also Seen at Eide Road

American Avocet2 (2) Black Necked Stilt1

Wilson’s and Red Necked Phalaropes – County Line Ponds

Wilson's Phalaropes Pair (2) Red Necked Avocet

Lark Sparrow – Oak Creek Visitor Center

Lark Sparrow3

Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers (in the same tree) – Wylie Slough

Downy WP Male Hairy WP1

Yellow Breasted Chat and Lazuli Bunting – Umtanum Creek and both also in Snohomish County

Yellow Breasted Chat2 Lazuli Bunting4

Yellow Warbler and Bullock’s Oriole – Bullfrog Pond

Yellow Warbler1 Bullock's Oriole1

Cinnamon Teal and Yellow Headed Blackbird – County Line Ponds

Cinnamon Teal Couple (2) Yellow Headed Blackbird (2)

Cassin’s Finch and Common Yellowthroat – Bullfrog Pond

Cassin's Finch.1ajpg P5180988 (2)

Warbling Vireo and Western Wood Pewee – Bullfrog Pond (and elsewhere)

Warbling Vireo2 Western Wood Pewee1

Red Breasted Sapsucker – Scriber Lake Park

Red Breasted Sapsucker1 (3)

Pigeon Guillemot – Edmonds Waterfront

Pigeon Guillemot

Swainson’s Thrush – Spencer Island and Many other locations

Swainson's Thrush

Great Horned Owls – Adult and Owlet – Wylie Slough

P5180893 (2) P5180922 (2)

Black Headed Grosbeak – Many Locations in Eastern and Western Washington

Black Headed Grosbeak4

Western Kingbird – Whatcom, Yakima and Grant Counties

Western Kingbird (2)

Black Throated Gray Warbler – Many Locations in Snohomish County

Black Throated Gray Warbler

Keep safe everyone!!


North, East, South and West…Well Not So Much South

Prompted by a related challenge from Diane Yorgasin-Quinn, I scanned my Ebird ABA list looking for species whose names had ties to geographical areas – like “Eastern” Kingbird – and  whether I had seen them in the eponymous geographical areas.  Interesting results.

I came up with 9 “Eastern” species, 20 “Northern” species (plus one “Northwestern”), and 10 “Western” species.  There were no species with “Southern” in the name and only a single species with “South”.  Where I have seen them is a bit complicated and definitely determined by how I have defined areas.  For example any bird seen in Washington counts as both North and West.  Any bird seen in Maine is both North and East.  Similarly a species seen in Florida is both South and East and anything in Southern California or Southeast Arizona is both South and West.  Hey it’s my system.

With only a couple of exceptions most species were seen in the area corresponding to the name, e.g. Western Pewee in the West and Eastern Screech Owl in the East.  One exception is the Western Spindalis seen only in Florida and thus both the South and the East but definitely not the Western geographical area.  Another exception is the Eastern Yellow Wagtail, seen only in Nome Alaska and thus in the West and North but definitely not in the Eastern geographical area.  Finally there is the Northern Beardless Tyrannulet seen in Southeast Arizona, thus not in the Northern geographical area but in both the South and the West.  Many species were seen in more than one area.  For example, I have seen Northern Mockingbirds in the East, South, West and North and the same is true for many others of these species with their geographical names.

All of the birds are shown in the photos below with the geographical areas where I have seen them following in the parentheses.  (East, South, West and North).  All of the pictures are mine except for the Eastern Whippoorwill, Northern Jacana and Northern Goshawk.  I have very poor photos of the latter and none of the first two.  Hopefully someday for the Whippoorwill but doubtful for the Jacana – seen at Maner Lake, TX more than 40 years ago.

“Eastern” Species

Eastern Bluebird  (E, S, W, N)

Eastern Bluebird 4

Eastern Kingbird (E, S, W, N)

 Eastern Kingbird1a
Eastern Meadowlark (E, S, W, N)  

Eastern Meadowlark Singing

Eastern Phoebe (E, S, W, N)

Eastern Phoebe2
Eastern Screech-Owl  (E, S, W, N)

Eastern Screech Owl5

Eastern Towhee (E,S, N)

Eastern Towhee

Eastern Whip-poor-will  (E, S)


Eastern Wood-Pewee (E, S, W, N)

Eastern Wood Pewee

Eastern Yellow Wagtail  (N, W) 

Eastern Yellow Wagtail1 - Copy

“Northern” Species

Northern Bobwhite (N, E, S, W)

Northern Bobwhite 1

Northern Flicker (N, E, S, W) 

northern flicker

Northern Rough-winged Swallow (N, E, S, W)         

Northern Rough Winged Swallow

Northern Cardinal  (N, E, S)      

Northern Cardinal Male

Northern  Gannet  (N, E, S)  

Northern Gannet - Copy

Northern Harrier (N, E, S, W)

northern harrier on snow goose
 Northern Mockingbird (N, E, S, W)      

Northern Mockingbird1

Northern Parula  (N, E, S, W) 

Northern Parula Warbler
Northern Pintail  (N, E, S, W)

Northern Pintail

Northern Shoveler (N, E, S, W) 

Northern Shoveler

Northern Waterthrush  (N, E, S, W) 

Northern Waterthrush

Northern Goshawk  (N, W)

Northern Goshawk

Northern Fulmar (N,W) 

Northern Fulmar3

Northern Saw-whet Owl  (N, W) 

Northern Saw Whet Owl2

Northwestern Crow (N, W)

Northwestern Crow
Northern Pygmy Owl (N, W)

Northern Pygmy Owl2

Northern Shrike (N, W) 

 orthern Shrike Okanogan

Northern Wheatear (N, W) 

Northern Wheatear female

Northern Hawk Owl (N, W)

Northern Hawk Owl 1

Northern Beardless Tyrannulet  (S, W)

Northern Beardless Tyrannulet 2

Northern Jacana (S) 

Northern Jacana

“Western” Species

Western Bluebird (N, S, W)                    

Western Bluebird

Western Grebe (N, E, W)

 Western Grebe
Western Gull  (N, S, W) 

Western Gull

Western Kingbird (N, E, S, W)

Western Kingbird
Western Meadowlark (N, S, W) 

Western Meadowlark

Western Sandpiper (N, E, S, W)

Western Sandpiper with Worm1
Western Screech-Owl  (N, S, W)               

Western Screech Owl

Western Spindalis (E, S) 

Western Spindalis5
Western Tanager (N, W)

Western Tanager1

Western Wood-Pewee (N, S, W) 

Western Wood Pewee

“South/Southern” Species

South Polar Skua (N, E, S, W) 

South Polar Skua Flight1

Diane’s challenge was actually about birds with specific cities or states in their names like seeing a Nashville Warbler in Nashville (I have) or a Louisiana Waterthrush in Louisiana (I have not).  There are many other place specific species names.  I think there is another blog post coming.  Thanks Diane.


Mayday! May Day!

“Mayday” is used by aviators and mariners (and often firefighters and police) to signal a life threatening emergency.  “May Day” is a holiday generally May 1st celebrating the arrival of Spring.  This year there is not really much to celebrate as COVID-19 continues to severely limit our lives and our birding activities.  Today is May 1, 2020.  If all had gone according to plan, this would be the day for final packing and planning before flying off to El Paso, Texas tomorrow with Bruce LaBar.  We would then be heading to Big Bend National Park in pursuit of a Colima Warbler – an ABA Lifer for both of us and a species found only in that park and after a long hike.  Well, maybe next year…  At least my health is good so no need send out a mayday message for medical care, so this will be the other kind of May Day post – a celebration of Spring even if vicariously.

Colima Warbler – Big Bend Texas – Photo by Greg Lavaty

Colima Warbler

I don’t recall any specific planning to be out birding on May 1st in any previous year, but since the month of May is perhaps the best month for birding throughout the U.S. including in my home state of Washington, I expected a review of my birding observations would come up with many trips on that day.  Since my birding is primarily by memory or fantasy at this time, I went back through recent history and put together a May Day list of species seen.  All are from May 1st trips since 2011 when I first started using Ebird.  They are from 8 of the 9 years and cover trips in 4 states: Massachusetts, Connecticut. Florida and Washington.  Altogether the species total is 165.  No real rarities but a nice selection of birds.  I have selected a Dynamic Dozen photos to represent the list and then include the full species list at the end.

Bachman’s Sparrow – Florida – May 1st, 2017

Bachman's Sparrow5

Baltimore Oriole – Connecticut – May 1, 2019

Baltimore Oriole1

Black and White Warbler – Connecticut – May 1, 2019

Black and White Warbler1

Canada Jay – Washington – May 1st, 2015

Canada Jay

Florida Scrub Jay – May 1st, 2017

Florida Scrub-jay

Limpkin – Florida -May 1st, 2017


Louisiana Waterthrush – Connecticut – May 1, 2019

Louisiana Waterthrush-1a - Copy

Red Cockaded Woodpecker – Florida – May 1st, 2017

Red Cockaded Woodpeckers 5

Snail Kite – Florida – May 1st, 2017

Snail Kite Flight4

Swallow Tailed Kite – Florida – May 1st, 2017

Swallow Tailed Kite

Tufted Titmouse – Massachusetts – May 1st, 2018

Tufted Titmouse

White Headed Woodpecker – Washington, May 1st, 2011

White Headed Woodpecker


The Full List

American Coot Cliff Swallow Little Blue Heron Rose-breasted Grosbeak
American Crow Common Gallinule Loggerhead Shrike Ruby-crowned Kinglet
American Goldfinch Common Goldeneye Long-eared Owl Ruby-throated Hummingbird
American Kestrel Common Grackle Louisiana Waterthrush Rufous Hummingbird
American Redstart Common Ground Dove MacGillivray’s Warbler Sage Thrasher
American Robin Common Loon Mallard Sandhill Crane
American Wigeon Common Merganser Marsh Wren Savannah Sparrow
Anna’s Hummingbird Common Nighthawk Mountain Bluebird Short-tailed Hawk
Bachman’s Sparrow Common Raven Mountain Chickadee Snail Kite
Bald Eagle Common Yellowthroat Mourning Dove Snowy Egret
Baltimore Oriole Dark-eyed Junco Northern Bobwhite Song Sparrow
Band-tailed Pigeon Double-crested Cormorant Northern Cardinal Spotted Towhee
Barn Swallow Downy Woodpecker Northern Flicker Steller’s Jay
Belted Kingfisher Dunlin (pacifica/arcticola) Northern Harrier Swainson’s Hawk
Bewick’s Wren Eastern Bluebird Northern Mockingbird Swallow-tailed Kite
Black Vulture Eastern Meadowlark Northern Parula Swamp Sparrow
Black-and-white Warbler Eastern Phoebe Northern Rough-winged Swallow Townsend’s Warbler
Black-billed Magpie Eastern Towhee Northern Shoveler Tree Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee Eurasian Collared-Dove Northern Waterthrush Tufted Titmouse
Black-necked Stilt European Starling Orange-crowned Warbler Turkey Vulture
Black-throated Gray Warbler Fish Crow Osprey Vesper Sparrow
Black-throated Green Warbler Florida Scrub-Jay Ovenbird Violet-green Swallow
Blue Jay Gadwall Pacific Wren Virginia Rail
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher Golden-crowned Sparrow Pacific-slope Flycatcher Warbling Vireo
Blue-headed Vireo Gray Catbird Palm Warbler Western Bluebird
Blue-winged Teal Great Blue Heron Pied-billed Grebe Western Kingbird
Boat-tailed Grackle Great Crested Flycatcher Pigeon Guillemot Western Meadowlark
Brewer’s Blackbird Great Egret Pine Siskin White Ibis
Broad-winged Hawk Great Horned Owl Pine Warbler White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper Greater Yellowlegs Prairie Falcon White-crowned Sparrow
Brown-headed Cowbird Green-winged Teal Purple Finch White-eyed Vireo
Brown-headed Nuthatch Hairy Woodpecker Purple Finch White-headed Woodpecker
Bufflehead Hermit Thrush Red Bellied WP White-throated Sparrow
Bushtit Horned Grebe Red Cockaded WP Wild Turkey
California Quail House Finch Red-breasted Merganser Wilson’s Warbler
Canada Goose House Sparrow Red-breasted Nuthatch Wood Duck
Canada Jay House Wren Red-breasted Sapsucker Yellow Warbler
Carolina Wren Killdeer Red-shouldered Hawk Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Caspian Tern Least Flycatcher Red-tailed Hawk Yellow-rumped Warbler
Cattle Egret Least Sandpiper Red-winged Blackbird
Chipping Sparrow Lewis’s Woodpecker Ring-necked Duck
Cinnamon Teal Limpkin Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)

As written earlier, birding now is mostly by memory and fantasy.  The photos and lists above are from those memories of earlier May Days.  Now for some fantasy.  Proving I have way too much free time, I looked through some Ebird reports from the 1st of May throughout the ABA area and came up with a dream list of birds that have been seen on that day and that I would love dearly to see as all would be ABA Lifers.  Here is a top 10.

Colima Warbler – Texas; Yellow Green Vireo – Texas; Buff Collared Nightjar – Arizona;  Ruddy Ground Dove – Arizona; Black Noddy Tern – Florida; Bahama Mockingbird – Florida; Murphy’s Petrel – California; Mottled Petrel – Washington; Black Faced Grassquit – Florida; and Black Tailed Godwit – Newfoundland

12 species seen but they would be ABA Life Photos (all reported on May 1st somewhere):  Common Black Hawk; Golden Winged Warbler; Eastern Whippoorwill;      Chuckwill’s Widow; Cerulean Warbler; Henslow’s Sparrow; King Rail; Black Rail; Groove Billed Ani; Smooth Billed Ani; Sprague’s Pipit and Mourning Warbler.

Yes, quite a fantasy list.  I would settle for any one of them — and it doesn’t even have to be on May 1st!!  And of course what I really most want is that male Smew – but did not see one on the Ebird ABA reports for May 1st in the past 10 years.  I’ll take one any day at all.